The holidays are upon us and everyone is out there searching for perfect stocking stuffers for friends and family. And what would be more perfect than a new album by a kick ass band from Boston. Music From Another Dimension is Aerosmith’s 15th studio album and features rockers like “Luv XXX,” “Legendary Child,” “Beautiful,” “Street Jesus” and the Joe Perry foot stomper “Freedom Fighter.” Hell, there is even a duet with country’s Carrie Underwood on “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Leave it to Aerosmith to always throw in a little head jerk surprise on an album that has to be their best since the hit-laden late-80’s and early-90’s.
Bass player Tom Hamilton called in last month to talk with me about working on the new recording, his favorite Aerosmith album and what he first thought of The Beatles when they stepped off the plane in New York.
It has been a while since all five of you have been in the studio together at the same time, plus you had Jack Douglas there who produced some of Aerosmith’s best albums. That must have been really special.
It was great because Jack Douglas was producing and we knew we were going to come in to an environment where a lot of the work flow would be taken care of, a lot of the atmosphere we knew would be something fun. Our relationship with Jack obviously goes back to the seventies and that’s great because he established relationships with everybody in the band to where when he comes into the picture now he doesn’t have to walk on eggshells and try to figure out how to relate to everybody like another producer might. You know, it’s already there. We go in and it’s the same type of interaction it was back then, which is great because he is such a good coach. He has the musical and technical abilities but he’s also got a ton of energy and humor and is really good at making everybody feel that their ideas are going to get put out there. So you go to the studio or go to rehearsal realizing that a lot of the sort of interband competition is going to be done fairly and it’s going to be fun.
That works both ways: Not only is it comfortable for him, it was comfortable for you guys too because you didn’t have to get acclimated to a new producer.
Right, and by comfortable I certainly want to say that that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging. It wasn’t easy, this album was not easy at all. It was really hard work. Jack is a great coach and establishes a workflow where a lot gets done but a lot of fun gets had at the same time. We should also give some props to Marti Frederiksen, who co-wrote a few of the songs and produced a couple of them. He is an extremely talented songwriter/producer and it’s fun to work with him because of how fast he works and how talented he is. It’s just really fascinating and you learn a lot about the writing process with him.
How many songs did you guys come in with?
A lot. People came in with songs of their own that were written; people came in with riffs. There were songs that the band had roughly developed in the past that we were still committed to that we wanted to really finish properly. So there was a lot. I had some songs written and Joe had some songs written, Joey had co-written a song with Marti Frederiksen and Brad had a riff that turned into one of the cooler songs on the record. But a lot of it came up during the sessions last summer, when we got started on the album. We have our big live room where we go to record and then we have a small conference room where we go and play with small amps and sort of keep the volume down so we can talk and yell ideas out as we’re playing. So we spent a lot of time in there just developing ideas and fine-tuning them and hacking away on them till they were exactly the way we wanted them.
Has it become easier to do that over the years since you’ve done it so many times or did you feel like it was still a lot of work?
Well, it can be a lot of work where it’s fun because you’re getting stuff done or it can be a lot of work if things aren’t working. Luckily for us, it was working for us, that process was working for us.
What songs did you contribute?
I wrote “Tell Me” and then I wrote a song that’s on the deluxe version of the album called “Up On The Mountain” and then I co-wrote two or three on the album. One is “Can’t Stop Loving You” and the other one is “Beautiful.” I came in actually with a bunch of songs that I had been piling up over the last few years and obviously it was too many. There wasn’t enough space to use all of them so the two strongest ones, according to Jack our producer, were “Tell Me” and “Up On The Mountain.” It’s such a great feeling working with him knowing that everybody was going to be involved 100%.
And this is Aerosmith’s fifteenth studio album, correct?
That’s what people tell me (laughs). I don’t really know. There are so many compilations and live things that I get mixed up. But yeah, I think it is the fifteenth as far as being an album of new material.
What do you remember most about recording the very first Aerosmith album?
I remember the particular flavor of the cocaine we were overusing during those sessions. I remember burning my nose very badly (laughs). You know, it was our first time ever in the studio and people have to remember that back then it wasn’t like now where your laptop can be your studio or there are all kinds of small or mid-level studios that you can go in where you don’t necessarily have to have a record contract. Back then you didn’t go in the studio unless you had backing because it was so expensive. So we went into this little studio in Boston called Intermedia Studios and worked with a producer named Adrian Barber. The difference with that record was when we went in to do that record we had been playing our originals for a while. Before we had a recording career we just had a career going around playing college mixers and frat parties and high school dances and stuff like that. We would play our Yardbirds songs and our Stones songs and Zeppelin and stuff and then we started to work in our originals.
Finally we had enough originals to make a record and we were able to attract the attention of a guy in Boston named Frank Connelly, who was the local music empresario. He got all excited about us and went to New York and found a management company that could help us get a record contract and set that up for us. In the meantime, we proceeded to really fine-tune all of our songs to get them ready to go into the studio. Back then, you really had to have your songs laid out really well before you went into the studio. You couldn’t go in and sort of finish in the studio because it was way too expensive. So I just remember going in there and everybody had to be super-prepared. We were all a little nervous about when that little red light goes on and says you’re recording now (laughs). But I listen back to that and I think, listen to those little shits play; they actually did a really good album there (laughs)
And Aerosmith is still a strong, viable musical entity after all these years. Does that surprise you at all?
I’m surprised that we’re still together yet not surprised because I can see the logic of it. I remember thinking back then that by the time I was thirty-five I would probably have some normal job, which is strange (laughs). But yeah, here we are. I think that there are a couple of things that keep us happening and one is that we know we have a lot of fans out there who would love to hear us play and would love to hear some new songs. And another thing is we like to be able to participate in some of the changes that have come along based on technology revolutions. When MTV started, for instance, we wanted to be part of that. When computer recording came along we wanted to be part of that and see what it was like to make records that way. All these new amazing changes happen in the world that always affects the musical process and we like to be there for it. We don’t want to miss out on anything.
Was there ever a moment when you thought Aerosmith was done?
At the end of 2009, I thought we were about as close as we’ve ever gotten, at least recently. I don’t think I thought the band was on the verge of breaking up but I thought we might not be doing anything for a few years. It got very bad. But it got to the brink and we had nine out of ten toes over the brink there and managed to pull it back and keep the band together. As long as we get the vibe that the fans are really interested in hearing us, it’s going to be very hard to ever break up this band.
When Joe Perry left and Jimmy Crespo came in, how did he really do in the band?
He was great, a great musician and a great writer. If you listen to the Rock In A Hard Place record, it’s all over the place really in terms of the songs but there is a lot of great playing on it. We were in a very tough situation as we were making that record. We were all hitting bottom with a lot of the destructive habits that came along and he came in and he always had great ideas. It’s a very interesting album. I can see why song-wise that it’s kind of bizarre but if you listen to the riffing on there and the playing and the guitar ideas it’s actually pretty cool.
Bobby Schneck, who was recently in Slash’s band, also came in and played with Aerosmith for a very short time, correct?
He filled in for Brad for part of a tour and I think that was the tour I had to leave because I had cancer again. So we had the situation where Brad came back in to the band after his injury and then I had to leave. I think that was all the same tour. And that tour was cursed. It was the one where Steven fell off the stage and hurt himself and we had to cancel the rest of the tour. But Bobby was great on stage and then there was some touring later on that he came and he was my tech.
What is your favorite Aerosmith album?
I’ll say my favorite is the new one but going back I’d have to say Rocks because that was a creative piece for us. It was just very much a band album and maybe I love it because it was so much fun to do it and I remember that process and how exciting it was. I don’t remember there being any like real worrying about whether we were going to get it done and if it was going to be good. We just felt great about what we had and confident and we had a blast.
Do you still own the original drawing for the Draw The Line cover?
Yes, I do. I have it in a secret location and guarded by piranha (laughs). But yeah, I do still have that, absolutely.
Is that like your so-called most treasured piece of Aerosmith memorabilia?
Definitely one of them. I think that and I still have the bass that I recorded Toys In The Attic with.
Where did you grow up and how did you discover rock & roll?
My father was in the Air Force and he got transferred a lot so I got used to the idea of moving around a lot. I was born in Colorado but before I could have any memories there we moved to Virginia and then up to Massachusetts and then up to New Hampshire. I remember one year, I was probably four years old maybe, four or five years old, and my brother was like eight years old and he got an acoustic guitar for Christmas. I remember him in his pajamas in the middle of the living room doing all these Elvis Presley stances with his new guitar (laughs) and I thought, what the hell was he doing, why is he wiggling around like that? But I always looked up to him and he became a pretty good guitar player and he was into an instrumental guitar band called The Ventures and they were just all about guitars. It was two guitars, bass and drums instrumental. So we used to listen to that music and I used to love it so much.
But then I remember when I was about eleven or twelve, I remember the noonday news was on and they were showing The Beatles arriving in New York. And I looked at their hair and I thought, what the hell, they look like girls, what are they doing, that is awful (laughs). It was so stupid and then three days later they were on Ed Sullivan, this big variety show that the whole country would watch, and I heard what they were doing and watched the way they did it and it just changed my life. I actually felt guilty because now instead of my favorite band being The Ventures I was going to desert them for The Beatles. They just completely grabbed me by every fiber in my body.
What do you like to do when Aerosmith is on hiatus?
You know, I become a homebody. I love to just hang at home with my wife and kids and our cat and dogs and I love to read. I could survive any environment if I had a good book to read, I’ll tell you. I don’t need a lot. I love cars, sports cars, and some of the typical things you’d expect.
What do you like to read?
I read a lot of World War II history and I’m fascinated by what it must have been like in Nazi Germany when this revolution happened and then turned into this incredible nightmare. I just find it fascinating. Also, my father was a fighter pilot in World War II and I was always inspired by that since I was a really young child. So I love airplanes but I like to read about history a lot.
Do you know how to fly?
No, and I’m sort of mad at myself that I haven’t done it yet. It’s definitely something that I want to do before it’s too late.
I hate to bring up your cancer but how did you find out that you had it? What kind of symptoms did you notice?
I was up in my studio looking forward to an afternoon of just playing my guitar and enjoying the day and I felt like I had to spit so I went in the bathroom and I hocked one up and spat into the john and it was bright red. And I thought, oh, that’s very strange, but immediately my brain started to rationalize that it’s probably nothing. Then I had to do it again a few minutes later and it was red again so I started getting nervous. But I still believed it was just a freak thing that would clear up in a few minutes. Then it happened a third time and it was bright red and there was a little piece of something that looked like it had tentacles (laughs). Right then I knew that I needed to call my doctor.
So I called my doctor and you start that progression of doctor’s appointments that results in a biopsy and then you hear the bad news on the biopsy and then you start talking about what you’re going to do about it and it’s just terrifying. I was very fortunate, I had great doctors that were very confident about getting rid of it for me. And I remember not being too terribly scared that I had a chance of dying from it. But it’s always in your mind that it’s always a possibility; especially because I had a Stage 3 cancer which was when you have a primary tumor and then you have a lymph node nearby where there are some bad cells in that lymph node and I had that. Whatever, it gave me a sore throat and made me go to the bathroom and have to spit and that probably saved my life because obviously I had no other symptoms. This thing the size of a walnut at the back of my tongue and I had no idea it was there.
Who is Tom Hamilton today?
I think I look at things a lot the same way. I’m kind of an adaptable guy who dreams a lot. My head is always in the clouds thinking about something, which gets me in trouble (laughs). I love to hang out with my friends and my bandmates and my family and drive a nice car, play a nice guitar (laughs). Music is a pleasure-seeking behavior, just like drinking a glass of wine or sex or whatever. It’s a way of stimulating whatever part of your brain creates pleasure, which is, by the way, why I think so many musicians get in trouble with drugs and alcohol because when you do commit yourself to music you are committing yourself to a life of pleasure seeking. Because that is what it is to play an instrument. But I think I’m the same guy but I think I’m better at speaking up for myself and trusting my gut feelings about things. I think I used to be too willing to turn that over to other people. I think I’m better at following my own instincts now.