Feature: Aerosmith returns to songwriting roots


LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The album cover looks like an ad for a ’50s B-movie, all plumes of smoke, hissing serpents and the kind of exaggerated facial expressions evocative or either great ecstasy or imminent peril.

Inside the CD booklet, there are pictures of old ticket stubs from gigs past and a drawing of the band from 1982 that looks like something Jeff Spicoli might doodle in his notebook instead of paying attention in history class.

Aerosmith spells things out clearly, in all caps, on their latest disc, “Music From Another Dimension!” right down to the packaging.

This is an album meant to rekindle a sound, a feel, even a look, of the past.

To do so, the band members put less of an emphasis on working with writers outside the group — though not everything was penned solely by the band — focusing more on collaborating with one another.

They even went and recorded it like they would have in 1976, sans the bell-bottoms, tracking the album with the dude who produced career-making hits such as “Toys in the Attic” and “Rocks.”

“We really wanted to return to the formula we used in the early days,” guitarist Brad Whitford explains during a day off from the band’s current tour in New York City. “Back in those days, you couldn’t really write with anybody else because you didn’t have any credentials. We felt like, ‘Let’s put that old familiar suit on of just taking the band, going in the studio with Jack Douglas and seeing what happens.’

“We got away from that in the Geffen years, with mainly Steven (Tyler, singer) and Joe (Perry, guitarist) writing with some other writers,” he continues. “We had some great success with that, and a few duds, but that’s songwriting. So we decided, ‘Let’s just go right back to square one.’ And we had a lot of fun doing it.”

“Music From Another Dimension!” isn’t a total throwback, though.

There’s a duet with Carrie Underwood, a song written by Diane Warren and plenty of studio gloss, in places, reminiscent of the band’s radio-tailored ’90s output.

But then there’s tunes such as “Street Jesus” and “Lover Alot,” locomotive jams where guitars exude the buzzing menace of downed power lines and Tyler sounds manic and unhinged, as if his scarves were on fire.

Both songs were written partly by Whitford, who has long contributed some of Aerosmith’s heaviest tunes.

“The stuff that moved me was high impact,” he says of his rock ‘n’ roll background, speaking in a deliberate, unhurried pace, his laid-back tone the opposite of his guitar playing. “I was always so impressed with some of the works of Jimmy Page, Hendrix and Jeff Beck — those real powerful moments just really knocked me back. I guess that I looked for those kinds of moments that I could create that would have that same impact. And, you know, I found a few of them over the years.”

Whitford’s a distinct presence in the band, a well-tutored player who balances Perry’s more instinctive style.

It’s this mash of contrasts that define Aerosmith.

“We’ve got all these great players who also have very different and definitive ideas about their music and Aerosmith’s music,” Whitford says. “You’re always getting a musical sucker punch in this band.”

But it’s not always easy getting everyone on the same page, musically or otherwise.

The friction within Aerosmith has been well documented, and it was only a few years ago that the band publicly pondered moving forward with a different singer than Tyler.

To hear Whitford tell it, the group has become more adept at getting out of their own way.

“It’s about letting go and letting the music rule the roost,” he says. “We’ve gotten to know each other very well, we’ve been together for so long, so there’s a lot of history, and there’s always stuff going on in the business side or even personal stuff. You’ve just got to leave that space and get into the musical space, which has to be completely wide open.

“There’s a beautiful sort of forgiveness about that,” he continues. “It’s like, ‘(Forget) all that (crap), I love you and I love your music, let’s just take a ride.’ That’s really what it’s like, ‘Let’s just get out of here.’ It’s a nice thing to be able to do, still, after all these years with these guys.”

These years that Whitford speaks of have spanned four decades.

Nowadays, the band’s shows are filled with parents with kids in tow.

If Aerosmith has come full circle, so has their audience.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met father and son and mother and daughter, ‘Oh I saw you in 1978, so I had to bring my son,’ ” Whitford says. “In some cases, it might be the only thing a father or a son or a mother and daughter might do together, which I’ve been told. That’s pretty interesting,” he chuckles. “Guess we’re doing our part to save the American family.”

Jason Bracelin is an entertainment writer for the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal. Contact him at JBracelin@reviewjournal.com