For years Steven Tyler has told us (loudly) in song to dream on. Now he’s living a dream come true, and he’s got country music to thank.
“I’ve always jumped into things with both feet whether it was an Aerosmith album or this thing,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said during a recent media teleconference, about his first solo album, the just-released and very countrified “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere.”
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 13
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State.
Tyler recently kicked off a solo tour aptly titled Out on a Limb, in support of the new disc, which finds him backed by the Nashville-based band Loving Mary. And unlike the typical cavernous arena of Aerosmith tours, this trek is playing smaller, proscenium-style theaters, affording the 68-year-old Tyler a most intimate evening of song and anecdotes. Or as he likes to describe it: “It’s a very living-room thing to play small venues.”
“The last time we did small venues was at the end of that first run of Aerosmith, about ’81, ’82, ’83,” he continued. “We started going down, the band started breaking up. . . [But] I always loved [smaller venues]. I prefer them. I like to look out and everybody’s close, as opposed to 20,000 [people] when there’s the barricade and they keep everybody back, going, ‘We need a fire lane!’ I’m going, ‘What the f—? I can’t see or feel the people.’
“I’m really getting a chance to play, to sing a different style of song, if you will. A little bit more open. We play a little quieter onstage. So you can hear banjo and slide guitar and you can hear the mandolin and it’s just beautiful the way it pokes out.”
As for taking a decidedly country road for his new album, Tyler added: “I came to Nashville. I rented a house. Now I just bought a house so I’m living here full-on. It’s a musical mecca. It was very scary in the beginning. … I started writing with people and within two months I got … some of the greatest songs, I think, I’ve ever written or I’ve ever been part of in writing.”
What follows is an edited transcript of the phone conversation.
Q. What are you looking forward to on your tour? What are you most anxious to see?
A. It’s a cross probably between the looks on people’s faces when we rip into either this new version of [“Janie’s Got a Gun”] that I put together [on the new album]. It’s a little bit darker than the other version but it’s countrified a little. And the look on people’s faces when I rip into “Only Heaven” and “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.” It’s like the same thing — I didn’t know what was going to happen when Aerosmith first made it. But I did notice the looks on people’s faces when they kind of liked it.
I’m in such a high place right now because Nashville’s been so good to me in the last year and a half. And I managed to put together 15, 16 songs that are — it just came out much better than I ever expected. I’m looking forward to playing all those songs live. The vibe here in Nashville is ridiculous. There’s still a big soul beating here, whereas in a lot of other places where it used to, it’s kind of dead because business took over. … It’s so flipped out to turn around and see a whole bunch of other faces [on stage in the band]. I mean, I love Aerosmith. And I’m looking forward to going on tour in South America this October, November. But this is a real hoot. I’ve never done a solo anything and I kind of got jealous that the other guys in the band did. So I took a year off. It’s been a little bit longer but I think you’ll like what you hear.
Q. As a solo songwriter, what was the moment of truth for you when you really knew you had nailed it all on your own? And how is that comparable, to say, when you were coming up with Aerosmith and had the same moment of truth?
A. Well, I think with Aerosmith, Joe Perry, he wrote all the licks, all the great licks. Brad [Whitford] … whatever he put into “Last Child,” that’s his moment. He can take that and that’s his forever. “Dream On” is mine forever. … When I didn’t know anything at all about anything, I wrote “Dream On.” So I trust my intuition. [He sings the familiar “Dream on!”] — when that part came and I went, “Oh s—, I can’t do that on a record. It sounds so stupid and goofy.” And I took a chance and just did it. I think that was a moment with Aerosmith.
But writing a solo record and going off with other people that I don’t know, never met, going to their house, drinking coffee, bull—–ing for two hours and then collaborating like that and writing and coming up with new melodies and new things. … So there’s not “one moment” [with regards to the new album].
Q. What did you learn about Steven Tyler’s voice from doing this [country] project?
A. Well, that it’s all about melody, and melody and I are not strangers. You know, if you listen really close to some Aerosmith stuff, like the song “Once Is Enough,” it’s very country. You know, “Cryin’,” I mean, if I didn’t put that kind of country twang on it. … It’s all about really good melody. … [Nashville-based singer-songwriter] Hillary Lindsey turned me on to a part of [my voice] that I never even knew existed in a song called “Somebody New” on this record. The beauty of coming down here and working with a bunch of country folks is, A: I was cut on country. B: I am a country boy. C: It was all about the Everly Brothers to me.
Q. I wanted to ask you about “Red, White and You.” From what I’d read, you heard that song and you immediately knew that it was one you wanted to sing. That makes sense because Aerosmith’s always been this classic American band. You’ve worn the flag in concert. You played to the Boston Pops on the 4th of July. Can you tell me why that imagery resonated with you, both the flag and the idea of the song in general?
A. Well, you know what, I’ve got many a headspace for music. I’ve got ears for classical. I’ve got ears for great riffs that I could just throw down on. I’ve got ears for the blues. I got ears for pop things. So when I heard that I thought, well, this is something that could possibly be a single because of the way it bangs into the chorus, literally.
… Country is the new rock ‘n’ roll, if you will. There really isn’t rock. [Foo Fighters’] Dave Grohl’s trying his hardest to keep it alive but there’s no format and no one’s playing it. [Radio] is not going to play hardcore rock ‘n’ roll. So country’s doing its hardest to do it. … I like things that you can savor. And like “Dream On,” a lot of people didn’t get that the first time they heard it. But, for some reason, they’re still playing it on radio today. I turn the radio on in the car and I hear “Sweet Emotion” or “Dream On” and it’s just it’s crazy. But I love that. And I like to think that there’s three or four, five songs on this [new] record that hopefully will stand the test of time.
Q. Where did your sense of androgynous fashion came from?
A. Oh, thank you. Well, I wear it well. … I have never been afraid to show my androgynous side because I live through music. [And] I think music is very feminine. In fact, being a male, you know, like I’ve got 70 percent feminine in me that I live through. I’ve got three daughters and a beautiful son and I live female through my fashions, my hair. It just seems to me that it goes along with the music, the Aerosmith music. It always has. So I dress to fit the vibe.