A Conversation with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler
Mike Ragogna: Steve, Aerosmith has a new DVD, Rock For The Rising Sun, and it's the result of what was a major mission for the group--to play in Japan after its nuclear crisis.
Steven Tyler: It was. We felt in our hearts that there was something we could do and that we should do at that time. Aerosmith's huge in Japan and we have been since the first day we got there. There's this affinity that the band has for Japan, and we were already abroad in South America watching these horrific films of what was going on. Joe and I got to thinking...we already glow, we've already been radiated enough from being rocketed all over this planet for the past forty years. Let's go over and see if we can bring a little joy.
MR: Beautiful. When you played that first night, was it sort of like, "Oh my gosh, we're actually here." Was there any concern for the band's safety?
ST: I think we took our fear and packed it away. With the conversations we had with each other, it was more about trying to bring Aerosmith music, bring a moment of joy over. It was time to get them happy, even for a moment. It was kind of like the USO, bringing what we've got over to them. This concert was a no-brainer. "Are we going to get hurt?" Of course we went over there with antibiotics and whatever they say to take, but I don't think the radiation was that bad. None of us has had anything checked out. It was more about making them happy. Get them out of the mood that they're in and bring a little joy to a country that just saw the worst.
MR: When you were on stage, did you acknowledge, "Here we are on stage with you, our pals, who are in trouble," or was there another kind of energy?
ST: I think we spoke about it in the press over there, we didn't really go off about it on stage, though. It was more about playing music and being there for them in a time of horrific circumstances. We didn't really talk about it, I didn't think while I was on stage about what I was doing. We do what we do, the best, and that's what plays. The music was great, they loved it, and we wound up, every night, playing much longer than we ever were allowed to, going into curfews. It was just a good time. It was to get them out of the funk of what was going on, even for the moment. What's interesting is it's the same way in America. Whether the money's gone or we're feeling the ramifications of the economy. Regardless, a band like Aerosmith goes on stage and sings, and people love it. They sing along with me, I start loving it, the band loves it. That's what happens when you sing and people sing along. You're actually doing something for the moment for everybody, getting them out of life itself. From the everyday, humdrum of whatever they're doing to "Holy s**t, look, there's Joe Perry! And he's playing my favorite song!" It's always been that way for us, so to turn around from South America and go and do Japan was a luxury for us. That we could do that and it could be worth something to them, it was great. Then when we were home at night, our hearts felt really big. Mine felt really big.
MR: That's where I was going with that. I imagine you guys felt really close with the crowd, maybe even closer than you've felt before because of what they were going through.
ST: We were, we felt it. We certainly heard it when I could talk to people backstage or on the street. It was one of those things that we do just like Boston Strong, where first we go "Okay, we'll show up." Because if it makes them money or it's a fundraiser or anything like that, we're going to help the people. Second of all, I would be honored to go there while they're going through such a bad situation. So I felt it, I felt it from the people on stage. It was a known thing, but we try to transcend it through the music and going to something like, "Living On The Edge." Not only are they and were they at the time, but they got a chance to sing along with it. That's all I ever ask for.
MR: So this DVD is not just a concert but also a documentary of what was going on in Japan at the time. As you guys were putting it together, did you and director Casey Patrick Tebo feel like this was perhaps an important documentation to be made?
ST: Positively. Casey kept saying, "This can be great. We can do a documentary. This can be great." A lot of people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what these directors say, and Casey Tebo has gotten his share of people having their opinions. But the guy on the other side of the lens, he sees what's going on. He knew that this was going to be something a lot bigger than Aerosmith just being there. He could take it as a documentary and show the rest of the world, and he was on it! He was on it strong, and I love the man for it. I brought him in to follow me around like eight years ago because there was a lot of crapola going on with Aerosmith. I thought, "Wouldn't it be funny if someone just saw a day in the life of what it was like to be in a band?" So I brought him out years and years ago and then he became our videographer, and for this, he saw what was going on. It was just magic, you know? Now everyone's going to see a great movie. The songs we played over there were great. The band had come from semi-breaking up to being back in the saddle again. We were back doing what we do best--being a band, and we realized it was time to do a new record, and I think you can hear it in the soundtrack of it all.
MR: Yeah, it's really well done. When you look back at your body of work--the big statement that is Aerosmith--how do you feel about the band's legacy?
ST: It hasn't stopped. There may have been some time between an album, but it hasn't stopped. We just put a brand new record out, we just did Boston Strong and I mixed it here in Maui yesterday with Marti Frederiksen and that's out. We're forever doing something. Something is going on around the energy of this band. I just finished a movie called Epic, and I'm looking forward to doing a lot of projects in the future. I just finished talking with a lot of people in LA about that, I'm not at liberty to speak about right now. A lot, a lot, a lot of projects coming up in the future. I never didn't think this band wasn't going to be a movie, because everything that's ever happened is like "What?"
MR: It's quite a story.
ST: From being in a band that was working the clubs in New York City waiting for Aerosmith, and then coming to New Hampshire and finding a band where I could have everything that those bands I was trying and trying and trying to work with in New York had, and it was right in my backyard up in New England. Moments like that to our first number one single with Diane Warren to children being born to our induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame, Grammys, and videos going off the charts and Songwriters Hall Of Fame, all of it has always been mysteriously, wonderfully all scripted out before by someone because there's no coincidence and my only question is how far is it going to go? I've got the passion to ride this surfboard all the way to the shore.
MR: Beautifully said. You were a judge on American Idol where you were a mentor and an advisor, so let me ask you this. What advice might you have for new artists?
ST: That's a pretty generic question.
MR: Yeah, it could be anything.
ST: Don't pick it, it could get infected.
ST: That's one answer, another could be cultivate your passion with a mixture of desire and love of what you do and let your desires be your guide and keep your eye on managers and lawyers and have a song in your heart. Just know if you believe in it enough, you can get other people to sing it.
MR: Very nice. By the way my favorite American Idol episode with you was the one where you loved this guy Caleb Hawley, do you remember him?
ST: I do!
MR: Caleb was wonderful and you encouraged him so much. I thought he was going on to other rounds, I was really surprised he didn't.
ST: Yeah, you know, it's a television show, remember? Who wouldn't have passed on Bob Dylan singing? Singing and your passions, they have to be brought out somehow and they should be first and foremost by you. But if someone doesn't give you positive feedback, your flickering candle will go out in a second. So I always believed a couple of good comments--Christ, I can live for two months on a good comment.
MR: [laughs] All right, let me ask you one more question. With the Rock For The Rising Sun concert tucked behind you, are you keeping an eye on what's going on over there still?
ST: Yes, in fact we're going over in two months! It's kept quiet, but when it's quiet, I think that's when you need to worry the most. We haven't heard about it being fixed, we've just heard that the radiation appears to have stopped leaking, and you know what that means. Nobody knows. We still don't know the extent of the cleanup or how far it went. I'm very curious about stuff like that. We'll see.
MR: Is there a cautionary tale behind what happened in Japan when we look at America?
ST: You know what, man? You've got to use your own grandma-given, grandpa-given intuition. You will never hear what's really going on and there's no secret message, it's just simply that. You need to sleep with one eye open, unfortunately. We never know what's going on with the government, we never found out who even shot Kennedy, and why do you think they're not going to let out the truth until way after everyone's passed away? So that they can get out of it! Nevertheless, the truth should have been there and should have been given out to the American people. We are more often than not kept in the dark about things. Who didn't think that once you did this thing called "the internet" that people could and would be listening to you? So now it's a big thing that people are worried about people listening to them? That's what it was invented for! In many ways, it could be good, in many ways, it could be bad. But for it to be surprising to people is surprising to me. That's the way it is.
MR: Yeah, it seems that the internet, especially with news as it's happening minute to minute, has been an empowering tool for information, especially about things like what happened in Japan, so you're not relying totally on a government's spin.
ST: Maybe, but we also found out way later than when it happened. So again that's why I say the grandfather and grandma intuition. Think for yourself. I never heard any news that it was completely cleared up in Japan, did you?
MR: That's right, no I haven't.
ST: And I haven't heard any news since about how good or bad it's gone. All you can do is hope that it's going all right. All I know is that we're going over to rock their world again and, oddly enough, they rock ours.
MR: Nicely said, and let's end it there. I really appreciate your time, you're amazing, Steve.
ST: Thank you.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Aerosmith's Joe Perry
Mike Ragogna: Joe, after watching the Rock For The Rising Sun DVD, it's pretty obvious the Japanese loved Aerosmith for coming over and doing what you did. When you took your "Back On The Road" tour to Japan, did you realize its significance at the time?
Joe Perry: Well we didn't realize how much of an impact it was going to have, but obviously we were watching after the disaster and my wife and I were talking about it. So we're watching the weather, we're watching the radiation problems and all that, we're trying to decide if we should go, and we'd heard that some other acts had postponed their trips to Japan and there were a couple that were going over and we had our own trepidations about going. But we talked to some friends that we have over there and we felt, "Let's roll the dice and let's go!" The fans in Japan have always been great to us but when we got there this time, it was a whole different level of "Thank you for coming." The shows were more intense and it was definitely a whole different energy around the tour. Our video guy, Casey (Patrick) Tebo, who's usually got the camera rolling anyway for documenting our coming and going started interviewing people. He picked up on the vibe pretty quick. He started interviewing some of the fans, and he said, "Guys, I think we've got something here. This could make a really cool DVD. This is different." He was certainly right. So we filmed a little bit more stuff that we hadn't really done, we're always going out and visiting museums or shopping at all the stops here and there but this time we really made sure to always have somebody bring a camera. He said, "I think I've got enough for a full-length DVD." It's a documentary. When we initially asked Sony if they wanted to put it out, they looked at it like it was a concert DVD and I don't think they got the point right off. This should come under the heading of "documentary" and not just concert footage, like a live DVD. So he did a demo of it and we were knocked out and we said, "Well we're going to put it out, one way or another." That came to pass and I think it says a lot for the Japanese people. It shows their strength and their will to go on. It turned into a lot more than what we thought it was going to be.
MR: Don't you think this is not only a document of a period of time when they were in danger, but also of the spirit of the people, that this wasn't going to take them out? And didn't it also show the spirit of Aerosmith, that it wasn't going to take you out of wanting to put your name and your music behind an event that was this critical to that country?
JP: Well, we felt just like any other people that are living with something like that. It's something that goes on daily. Last time we were there, in the English-printed daily Japanese Times, you open up the second page and it looks like a weather map. You look at it closer and it's actually a map that shows the forecasted radiation levels. There's a map of Japan there with all the cities and there are all these concentric circles coming out from where the reactor is and the numbers are all printed there. It's something they live with every day. Just because it isn't on CNN here it doesn't mean the disaster is all fine and well. Every once in a while...there will be something that will come up on the news that shows you just how close to imploding that thing is. But basically it's pretty much out of everyone's minds here in the regular media.
MR: There's a little irony there, we may ignore it because our news cycle prefers to go to a political story or whatever, but this is radiation that probably came over is coming over to the States.
JP: Without a doubt. There was something in the underground news about the amount of radiation that's sweeping up in the debris that was going to take "x" amount of months to drift over through Hawaii and then to the West Coast of the States. That's like an island of debris, and that's not talking about the radiation from the air currents and all that. Anything like that which happens ends up spreading around the world. They can identify the different kinds of radiation and they're testing kids from Florida who've got certain amounts of radiation from Chernobyl in them. Same with Fukushima. It's spreading. I would venture to guess that anybody that's eaten sushi in the last year probably has a fair amount of radiation in them from Fukushima.
JP: And talking to some of our friends over there, they'll say, "We know this is a good restaurant to eat at because they get their fish from the North Atlantic." It's something they live with every day. That's something that's very apparent when you're there.
MR: Joe, when Aerosmith took to the stage for the first time during those concerts there's suddenly that reality check, isn't there? The whole thing comes together; why you're there, the people that are being affected, even you taking the risk going over there to perform. What was it like for you and the band personally when all that came together during the first concert?
JP: Well, we felt a lot of gratitude that things weren't worse, for one thing. Number two, we were really glad that we could come over and raise the people's spirits. That's what we do, we're entertainers, that's what the gig is. We try and take their minds off it, and that holds true for pretty much the whole deal, like in Boston for the Boston Strong show, which was about helping bring Boston together and give the people a focal point of, "We're not afraid to get together and have a party and have some fun," just to take your mind off of what is a really lousy situation. That's kind of been our gig from the beginning, I think. Rolling the dice and taking the shot is probably one of the reasons why we're still around, because we're not afraid to do that.
MR: At this point, are you aware that through playing shows for Boston Strong, the Japanese tour, etc., that you bring a spotlight to issues in this way, maybe influencing others to do the same? Do you feel like you're showing other bands how to do it?
JP: Well, yeah, I think that's a good point, if people look at it that way and they can get it. But we're not out there to preach, that's too strong a word. It's about example, that's the strongest teacher I think there is. You've got to work at it and you've got to give back. That's how we've raised our kids and, I don't know, I guess it's just been the vibe of my whole life. We've supported the sea shepherds now since I saw the first episode of Whale Wars in whatever small way we could. When we were down in Australia, we finally got a chance to go down there and do some photos and call attention to the fact that this organization is just an amazing group of people. Just by doing that, I think we're trying to help and give it back. We've never been a political band, we don't use our songs as vehicles for that kind of stuff. Again, we wanted to be entertainers when we started this and we kind of stuck to that, but it doesn't mean we can't show people by example. There are ways we can help, all of us.
MR: Nice. Joe, do you think there's any kind of cautionary tale we should learn from what happened in Japan?
JP: I think people have to look ahead and be prepared. A lot of decisions that were made way back when they designed that thing...it was pretty obvious that there were design flaws as they were building it and now it's way too late. People have to think ahead about what the repercussions could be with some of these things. Nobody thought the water would go up any higher than ten feet on the levies in New Orleans. Well guess what? Mother Nature decided the water was going to go up to eleven feet. I see the government going for the bucks in the short run and who knows--whether it's the GMO stuff, whatever--there are people out there fighting the good fight to identify that stuff and hold it back, but I just don't get what these people are thinking, Big Pharma and all them. How do they sleep at night? How do they look at their kids and go, "What we're doing is making a better world for you." My wife and I really keep our ear to the ground about what's going on. Unfortunately, a lot of the grunt work that was laid for some of these disasters we've left ourselves open to, it's too late to do anything about it and we're handing it off to our kids. Everything from f**ked-up Social Security to GMO, fish...you know what I mean?
MR: Yeah, yeah.
JP: I think people have to be more aware of what the repercussions are of their actions.
MR: Absolutely. We talked earlier about mentoring, so what advice do you have for new artists?
JP: Make sure you're in it for the right reason. If you really love it for the right reason--because you love the art and you just have this compulsion to make the art or make it happen, whether you want to be a painter or a musician or whatever--just make sure you're in it for the right reason. The wrong reason would be because you want to get in and out of a limousine. Otherwise, you're going to end up having a pretty empty, hollow life if you are successful, because that stuff goes away really fast. But if you get satisfaction out of playing music and entertaining people and it makes you feel right, then go for it.
MR: Joe, this was really special and I so appreciate your time.
JP: No problem. I was looking forward to talking to you guys (The Huffington Post) because we're fans.
MR: Thank you so much, sir.
JP: Thanks a lot. Keep up the good work.
MR: Thanks, I'll pass the word along. All the best.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Casey Patrick Tebo
Mike Ragogna: Casey, what gave you the idea to document Aerosmith's Japanese concerts and trip?
Casey Patrick Tebo: Weeks before, we were in South America and the band was playing amazing. This was right after all the American Idol rumors and fighting and whatnot.... Steven wiped out in the bathroom in Paraguay and the tour was going to be canceled. But the next day, he did that show and it was the greatest show I had ever seen. He was bloody, bruised and even missing a tooth, so I knew something was in the air with this band and I just thought I had to capture it. A few days before we left for Japan, we got calls telling us we were not going, they were scared of the radiation. But the band, at the end of the day, decided to go for the fans, and I just realized that I could not go there without capturing everything.
MR: Were you concerned about the radiation?
CPT: Absolutely, though people are also scared of unprotected sex, but they still do it. Without sounding crass, I guess what I mean is you just say f**k it and do it, then you wake up the next day, and wonder, "Jesus am I going to regret this in 10 to 15 years?"
MR: What was it like interacting with the Japanese people knowing the challenge they had just been through?
CPT: If you know anything about American history, you're talking about a culture that pretty much would do anything asked of them regardless of the consequences during World War II. They are proud, stoic, loyal, and resilient. Regardless of what they had just gone through, they were extending their hands to see if they could help US...the band and crew I mean.
MR: Do you feel that this experience has changed your life? The band's?
CPT: Unrelated to the band or the people of Japan, yes. Without sounding egotistical, it's changed my life as a filmmaker because one thing I've learned trying to make movies is people like to talk, talk, talk, talk. There's lots of "I'm going to do this," "I'm going to do that," in this business. For me to take a chance just to shoot all the stuff and put a movie together in the hopes the band would like it and maybe put it out, that has changed my life for sure. Instead of relying on other people, sometimes, you just have to do everything on your own without asking questions. I did a lot of jobs in the past with production, TV commercials and whatnot and every time there were problems, I felt like, "Maybe it was me?" Finishing this film on my own solidified the answer, being that was not the case.
Related to the band? Sure, it shows that people outside the US--more specifically Japan, and South America--people there really care about their rock 'n' roll. Yeah, young kids consider guys like Steven and Joe absolute gods. We're talking about thousands of kids chasing them down the street. In the US, you have some people that want their autograph but most people act like they don't give a s**t. That shows you how horrible the attitude in America is towards great rock music.
MR: Did the gravity of the situation affect Aerosmith's performances, like were they even more committed to doing their best shows, etc.?
CPT: Absolutely. I think one of the things that stood out to me was it seems like everybody was getting along at these shows. They all just put their bulls**t aside because they knew that there was something bigger going on here.
MR: Did you ever think, in your lifetime, you would have intentionally put yourself in harm's way to help out a culture?
CPT: Before I had kids, maybe. But since I become a father, it definitely made it more difficult to step foot there. The weird thing is there were some guys on the crew bitching and complaining the whole time. They were wearing chemical masks, and radiation proof jackets. I mean, look, I get it, you're looking out for your safety. But it's a little bit insulting to walk around Japan like that, don't you think? Not to mention the rest of the crew, who are a bunch of road-tested guys, think of the other guys as complete pussies.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
CPT: This seems like it may be a question suited for Steven and Joe. But if you're guessing my opinion, here goes. Stop worrying about Facebook and Twitter, and just try to write good songs.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne