Talk This Way: Rolling Stone's 1994 Interview With Aerosmith's Steven Tyler

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Didn't you get busted for pot in high school?
Yes, I did. They put a narc in ceramics class. In ceramics class! The cops put me in handcuffs and took me away. You're only 17, they take you back in the room, "Debbie told us everything." But nobody squealed. I looked over, and there was that fucking guy who was in my class.

I got thrown out of high school. I got classified 1Y, youthful offender, by the draft board. I didn't have to go to Vietnam. Youthful offender — gimme a break.

When Aerosmith first got started, how did you feel about all the Rolling Stones comparisons, especially the unflattering ones?
I got pissed. I was using drugs at the time, so I was in denial. Ask me now and I'll tell ya — Mick Jagger was the baddest fucking character on my block. That was also one of the reasons I loved John Lennon. He got back at people through his music The cake was full of interesting stuff, but the icing was for everyone to taste, the melody.

Be tricky. Use it as a tool. Like in "Young Lust" [from Pump]: "Happy just to be in lust/Never have to eat no dust," which is about what it was like to come out of the ashes. It's about using what I've got, not thinking that I'll never be as good as the Stones. But if someone put me down about the Stones back then, I was a little afraid because I didn't want anyone to say I looked like Mick.

What did you feel distinguished Aerosmith from the Stones? American garage-rock attitude?
I don't know. When I wrote "Dream On," I went, "Where did this come from?" I didn't question it. When I read the lyrics back now, for a guy who was stoned, stupid and dribbling, I got something out of there: "The past is gone/It went by like dusk to dawn."

It wasn't that I thought I could ever say half the things Mick ever did in a song. It was, "Could I make it with my gang?" It was about having the intestinal fortitude to do it.

How would you describe the personal chemistry in Aerosmith in light of your own rather extroverted personality?
I'm kind of like Howard Stern. I confront people right away. It's gotten me in trouble. But it can be beneficial because people know what I'm thinking about. I let 'em know where I'm coming from. I kind of like that about me. There's that A-type personality that I have. If you go into a room of B's, the best thing you're gonna get out of it is a fucking yawn. The A personalities may die young from a heart attack, but they do keep that spark alive.

So I'm the guy who comes up with "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" or "Young Lust." The lyrics. Joe comes up with the other side, the great guitar licks, and Brad will come up with his great guitar licks, and Tom will come up with something special [hums the opening bass line of "Sweet Emotion"]. That's when they bail me out. And I bail them out when I'm on fire.

Sometimes I get beaten up for being so easily identified as the patient. As the one that's fucked up and always wrong. For instance, at a band meeting on this last album, some of the guys said: "I don't think you should be singing, 'The buzz that you be gettin' from the crack don't last/I'd rather be OD'in' on the crack of her ass' [from 'Fever,' on Get a Grip]. It's too sexist." And I said: "I'm not putting this album out until this song is on there. I put this down as a statement of where I'm at now, and that's gotta go on this album."

Do the other guys think you're too overbearing in meetings because you talk so much?
Positively. I go too far, and they go, "Slow down! You're not seeing the main point." OK, explain it to me then. That's just left over from my childishness. Sometimes I hear, "Jeez, Tyler's talking too much again."

How do you feel when you leave one of those meetings, especially when someone gets on your case or another band member says something that rubs you the wrong way?
Nothing feels better than somebody telling you the truth. Because what have you got to lose? "You're an asshole." No I'm not, that's how I feel.

You feel good once you've got all that stuff out. Joe will come up to me and say, "You haven't been this honest with me for years." And this is only gonna help with my songwriting. I'm not gonna want to hide from going to his house to write. I can't wait to get over there.

How do you write with Joe? What's the procedure?
I sit down at those drums [points to a kit in the corner of the room], and we start jamming. And all the stuff comes out that doesn't come out when he's jamming with Joey. Because I'm a different kind of drummer. I know how to ride Joe. "F.I.N.E." [on Pump] was written solely because I sat down at the drums and hit this rhythm that came out of his guitar lick. One inspired the other.

Back when we were a nothing band, we'd get into rehearsals at Boston University in the basement, and we would do things like play "Route 66" and keep rehearsing it. I'd say, "Let's grab that one piece in there" [hums the bridge]. We did and came up with "Somebody" [on Aerosmith]. That's what I bring to the table. My rhythms, my little bit of knowledge. My wondering how the other person did it, so let's try that.

When you and Joe were doing all those drugs, how did you keep your shit together enough to get any work done?
Joe comes up with the most outrageous licks. In the old days we would be high, and they'd get lost. So I said, "Get a tape recorder, leave it on." You should hear these early tapes of when we were working on things like "Sweet Emotion." The tapes are full of "What did you just play? What did you do?" "Duh, I don't know." "Rewind the tape recorder!"

How did you get started with the scarves? They're a real trademark.
I was living with a woman on 23rd Street in New York. One of my old bands, the Chain, was playing at the Scene — opening for the guy who sang "Tip Toe Through the Tulips," Tiny Tim — and I had no shirt. This woman left me for Jimmy Page when the Yardbirds came through, and she took all my clothes and threw them outside. I found them in an alley. I took one of the shirts and tied it to the mike stand. It was all ripped. And I kind of liked that — those flowy things that I copped from Brian Jones.

Also, when Aerosmith first started, we'd go out with bands like the Kinks and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. You were a dartboard. "Boo! We want the Kinks!" I put up with that for the longest time. And just as a guitar player combs his hair down over his face to hide behind, I would need something to hide behind too. The scarves would be my thing. And the way I tied them on to the mike, it kind of dressed it up. In the early days I used to put weights on the bottom of them, whack people in the audience with them and pull 'em back like fishhooks. Get those fucks down in the front who were going like this [extends his middle finger].

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