Joe Perry knows how to maximize his schedule. As he waits to kick off his upcoming tour with the supergroup Hollywood Vampires – which counts Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp among its ranks – the Aerosmith guitarist is hard at work in a California studio cutting songs. At this point he's not sure where they'll all end up – possibly on a solo album, another Hollywood Vampires release or maybe even an Aerosmith LP – but he tells Rolling Stone that he's keeping a steady pace. "For me, it's really about writing music," he says.
The sessions began as an instrumental solo record, but that changed course when a colleague of his suggested bringing in some vocalist friends. These tracks are the only songs he knows for sure will be on his solo album.
"One night, Iggy Pop stopped by the studio after he'd done a show here and listened to a couple of tunes," Perry says. "Within a couple hours, he had finished [recording] everything and that was really the turning point for the record. It was really, really good to go that way. And then Terry Reid sang on at least four songs, and David Johansen came in." Working with the New York Dolls singer proved to be something special for Perry. "I hadn't had a chance to work with him since the Seventies, since we were spending a lot of time together," he says. "We've been friends for such a long time, but we've never really had a chance to get in the studio and get in a solid situation. We got three or four tunes."
Now Perry has a short list of a few more people he'd like to get in the studio with him. "That's one of the main reasons we're out here in California," he says. "Boston's a great city and there are some really talented cats, but out here there is always somebody passing through or they live out here. It's just been a wider spread of friends and neighbors I can ask if they want to come in and have a go."
One of the songs that Perry has been working on, the shuffling electric-blues burner "I'll Do Happiness," came out last week. It features Reid, the gravely-voiced British solo artist who almost joined Deep Purple and the band that would become Led Zeppelin in the late Sixties, who growls the chorus line. But Perry says the song isn't necessarily emblematic of the rest of his recordings.
Asked if the tracks with Pop and Johansen would be punky, Perry says the music is coming from another place. "It's got all kinds of sounds, but I would probably say 'funky' is the quickest way to put it," he says. "Everything starts with rhythm and that vibe. When I'm writing songs, it always starts with some variation of R&B and funk, whether it's been from the first Aerosmith stuff 'til what we're going to work on this afternoon.
"Zak Starkey's playing drums on this particular track," he continues. "He'll probably play on a bunch more, I hope. So in some ways it doesn't have a focus. But again it's about making music and wherever it feels like going, I've got a couple of songs that are definitely instrumental-oriented and funky in that kind of groove and I would say there's a little bit of everything in there. Certainly, there are things on there that are a little bit different than, say, what would go on an Aerosmith record."
Perry says he's also hopeful that he'll be able to get some of his fellow Vampires into the studio before the tour, which begins in May, depending on their schedules. But he says that even if they don't, it won't impact their set list of cover songs. "We certainly have enough songs between the deluxe Vampires record and the original version," he says. "and, hey, we're free to play whatever we want."