Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images
Steven Tyler Talks Going Solo, "Love Is Your Name" & Country Music
After four decades of making music with Aerosmith, Steven Tyler wanted to try something new. For years, the GRAMMY-winning frontman has dreamed of crafting a solo record. And after meeting Big Machine Records President and CEO Scott Borchetta at a MusiCares event, Tyler decided it was the right time.
He hit pause on Aerosmith, went down to Nashville, worked with some phenomenal songwriters, and recorded 15 songs. Teaming up with Southern hitmakers like Rhett Akins and Hillary Lindsey, it is no wonder his new album, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, came out a bit country. Tyler is currently on the road, spreading his new country sound around North America with the help of backing band Loving Mary.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Tyler to discuss his decision to make a solo album, the magic behind the album’s songwriting sessions, and the process of sprucing up classic Aerosmith tunes with the help of a little banjo.
You’re out on the road now in support of your debut solo project, We’re All Somebody from Somewhere. How is touring on your own different than when you’re out on the road with Aerosmith?
My first and foremost love is with Aerosmith. They are my bitch. They are my band. They are my brothers. I never feel better than being home at Christmas with the kids or on stage with Aerosmith. It’s just the way it is. It’s a little harder doing two hours and doing all the singing. I’m still doing all the singing with Loving Mary but there is so much background and beauty and fun and love. My God, we all kiss on the lips before we go on stage. We’re all such good friends, it’s ridiculous. It’s just a different animal. With 40 years being in a band, you always have to put up with 40 years of caca. And the country band is a new band, it’s a new album, it’s all new. New is good man!
What inspired you to do a solo project?
The band inspired me to go do a solo project because Joe Perry has done about four of them, Brad [Whitford] has done a couple of solo projects. And I’ve always wanted to. Every time I write something, I put it into Aerosmith. And I thought, “What if I write something and put it into a band that I created?” So Marti [Frederiksen, a frequent Aerosmith collaborator,] put together [Loving Mary] and it was something we talked about for years. And they are country. Rebecca Lynn Howard sings bluegrass and Suzie McNeil had an album on her own and she sings so good, so much like me. I want to take her on tour with me and Aerosmith. Marti and I wrote “Jaded” together and Marti and Joe Perry and I wrote a bunch of songs together. It’s the same kind of family but we put together a band down here to deliver it differently. We’ve got banjo and ganjo and I’ve got a violin player in the band now, Jenee Fleenor.
It came from who I cut my teeth on. My first album was Johnny Horton and The Battle of New Orleans. “All for the Love of a Girl” was a huge song to me when I was 13. I didn’t know what sex was and I wasn’t really looking at girls at that age. I kind of felt that funny feeling, the way he sang that song about women. It was like, “Whoa. What?” And then the Everly Brothers, their harmonies. That’s what I learned from.
I met Scott Borchetta at a fundraiser for MusiCares with Carole King and he came up and he introduced himself. He said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Well I’m thinking about doing a solo project.” And he said, “Well it just so happens I have a label down in Nashville and if you ever want to do something, come on down.” And I went down and I did a couple of shows for CMT and I fell in love with this place. I felt a vibe. Something drew me there. And I thought, “Maybe I can write with a bunch of people.” I just started meeting some crazy people and feeling and hearing great songs and thought, “Shit. I’d love to write with some of these people.” So I rented a house and springtime came and the songs started coming. It was just one magic moment after another. I ended up buying a house there. I just fell head over heels in love with Nashville.
Did you have any initial hesitations about going country?
I just wanted to do a solo record. When I started writing, I wasn’t going to go down and start yodeling. It wasn’t “Tyler goes country!” In fact, I didn’t want to tell anybody that I was doing a country record. I don’t have it in me to be one genre. That was one of the magic things of Aerosmith was that I could write a song like “Dream On” and then have other rock and roll songs like “Movin’ Out” and “Make it” and “One Way Street.” While I was writing these songs, it wasn’t to write a country record; it was just to write a song with somebody that I had never written with before really.
What was it like working with all those Nashville songwriters?
I sat in a room with Chris DeStefano, great songwriter, and Rhett Akins. Rhett picks up this guitar and says, “I’ve been playing the same lick for 30 years, every time I pick up a guitar.” And I said, “Well did you ever put it in a song?” and he goes, “No.” And I said, “Well we’re going to wrap a song around that.” And the next thing you know, we’re in a room and throwing lyrics around and an hour later, we’ve got “Only Heaven.” And when Rhett walked out for a minute to take a pee, I said to Chris, “Get me a mic. Let me nail this sucker.” And Rhett was walking in and within 20 minutes, we had a song and it was just unreal. The magic of it all. So I’m enamored by any kind of a process that will allow me to be creative and literally come out of a room with a song that’s new and no one has and write lyrics and put my own passion into it. Instead of arguing with people about my passion, I can sing it into a song and have it come out good.
Your first single, “Love is Your Name,” is written by Lindsey Lee and Eric Paslay. How did you stumble upon that one?
I went to a club called The Bluebird [in Nashville]. It was Music in the Round so there are new songwriters that get to play. I play a song, you play a song, he plays a song, she plays a song. This girl started playing this song. And a year later I came back and Marti had it on his laptop. I said, “Did we write that?” and he said, “No. Lindsey Lee wrote it with Eric Paslay.” And I said, “Has anyone done it?” and he said, “No.” And I said, “Good. I am. Get on the phone. I want it. I want that song. I don’t give a shit if I didn’t write it. I don’t care. I think it’s a great song.” And that’s how it went down there.
I didn’t write any of those songs by myself; I wrote them with a lot of great musicians. And as soon as I walked in the room, the magic happened. There are 14 songs with 12 different songwriters and in each one, I went in the next time with a bunch of strangers and I walked out of there with the same thing, like “Holy shit. What just happened today?” I think it’s my talent and their talent and the magic of the town and Scott being down there and the great recording studios there, Blackbird Studios and House of Blues, so many different places. I’m still in awe of this record. It's kind of scaring me. I figured these songs are either too good or I’ve missed the mark (laughs). And it wasn’t until we sequenced it that it started sounding really good to me. I heard the magic and went, “What?”
One thing that I love about your solo live show is that you played some Aerosmith songs but with new arrangements and a myriad of different instruments, like banjos and violins.
When I walk on stage, people heckle me to death anyway, “Walk this Way.” And we knew that there were going to be three or four that people ask for. I get it. I’m certainly going to do “Jaded.” I’m certainly going to do “Dream On.” I wrote that myself. It’s an Aerosmith song in that Aerosmith played that but I wrote that. It came out of my head. So it’s not so much an Aerosmith song as something that I just thought, “What can I do in the set that I wrote?” just to personalize it. ”Janie’s Got a Gun,” I wrote that. “Cryin’” I wrote the melody and all the lyrics with Joe with another guy, Taylor Rhodes. So I wanted to take things that I was thinking about a long time ago and put it together with some country musicians and see how that would work. I got some great people in the band. The way Elisha [Hoffman] plays mandolin and banjo and ganjo and throw that on top of “Train Kept a Rollin,’” that is sick. Then we do six of my songs. It was so fun. It’s one of those things where we started rehearsing and I just thought, “Why not?”
Do you see yourself after Aerosmith or maybe intermittently doing more solo albums?
I’m sure we’re going to do another Aerosmith album at some point. We’re doing another Aerosmith tour. I’m sure of that. I don’t know how to do anything other than that. That’s what I do the best. I love making music, whether it’s called a farewell tour or a brand new beginning country career or whether I do a talk show in the future, or become executive producer of some grand television show.