As a child spending his summers in New Hampshire, Steven Tyler would run a 50-foot wire from the back of his radio to the top of an apple tree in order to pick up WOWO, a Fort Wayne, Indiana, station that would play some of his favorite country songs. “I’d listen to things like Johnny Horton’s ‘The Battle of New Orleans,’ ” Tyler says. “I loved the Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, Jerry Lee Lewis.” More than half a century later, Tyler is connecting with his childhood love by cutting a country album in Nashville. He just released a single, “Love Is Your Name,” which debuted at Number 33 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, and he hopes to wrap the album after Aerosmith finish a summer tour in August. “I feel like a kid who just got laid for the first time,” says Tyler, 67. “Sometimes doing the same-old same-old gets a little constricting.”
What drew you to Nashville?
I was here two years ago to present at a few awards shows, and I just fell in love with the place. I met [Big Machine Records CEO] Scott Borchetta. He offered to sign me to his label, and the rest is history. Nashville is a mecca of song-age. I feel like one of the Three Wise Men that saw the star falling into Bethlehem.
Did you worry that some Aerosmith fans aren’t going to accept you going country?
I might have, for a minute. It was kind of like taking American Idol. I thought, “Would Bob Dylan have taken Idol?” But my heart and my muse sent me here.
If Dylan can write Nashville Skyline . . .
You know what I tell Aerosmith fans? Live with it. They don’t know that Dan Hicks is huge for me, and I listened to him while making our first album. It’s one of the things that spurred “Big Ten Inch Record.”
Are there other Aerosmith songs with a big country influence?
“Cryin’.” Listen to the lyrics. It was country — we just Aerosmith’d it. And how about “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”? Mark Chesnutt put out a country version and had a Number One hit.
What’s the difference between rock and country at this point?
Country songs really spell out what’s on a guy’s mind in no uncertain terms. Rock & roll can be a little more aloof. But country is changing. Jaren Johnston and the Cadillac Three and Florida Georgia Line are proving that you can go any which way. Modern country might add a little a cappella or raps or heavier beats. God knows Brad Paisley plays guitar like a motherfucker. I think country is the new rock & roll — everyone is trying to stretch out.
How do the guys in Aerosmith feel about what you’re doing?
I’m sure they’re not happy. But Joe [Perry] has done five solo albums. I just thought, “Hey, it’s my turn in the barrel.” This is a side project, which has now turned into a love of life. I think we got something here that the radio would love to play. Look, that’s why I’m in it. I love to take the fucking power to wow to the 100th degree. It’s just what I do.
What can fans expect from the Aerosmith tour?
The best rock & roll on the planet. Joe Perry is one of the last great touring guitar legends. The energy I feel with this band is ridonculous. I feel better than I ever did. We’re going to kick some ass.
How is everyone in Aerosmith getting along at this point?
Better than ever. There’s always the past, but we try and keep the past out of it. When Joe gets up in my shit about something, I say, “Don’t squat with your spurs on.” It’s a band, and it’s a family. I’ll do it until I come screeching to a halt, all broken and battered and can’t stand up anymore. I’ll scream, “Yee-haw, what a ride!”
Are Aerosmith ever going to record another album? Joe said recently he wasn’t sure.
I don’t feel that way. The end product is always the song. That’s the fulfillment and the joy. The only way out is through. Whether it’s down the rabbit hole and making love to Alice, I’m always coming out of the rabbit hole – of course, after having a fight with the Queen of Hearts and the fucking Cheshire Cat. That’s neither here nor there, but it certainly gives me a ton of stuff to write about.
Do you think that if you were still on American Idol, it wouldn’t have been canceled?
I think it just ran its course. I love Keith Urban. I got a little peck on the cheek from J. Lo when I played the other night. That’s all a man needs once a year.
Are you going to launch a tour in support of the country album?
Positively. Just not sure when. They’ll be humongous shows I’ll do these songs at.
You could do countrified Aerosmith songs.
Being the lead singer of Aerosmith, I’m not going to not do, say, “Cryin’. ” And “Walk This Way” with banjo is ridiculous.