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Interview with Songwriter and Lead Singer of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler

Aired September 20, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET



STEVEN TYLER, SINGER, SONGWRITER (singing): Dream on, dream until the dream come true.

MONITA RAJPAL, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): It's one of Aerosmith's first hits. Written and sung by one of rock's greatest showmen, Steven Tyler.

TYLER (singing): Dream on, dream until the dream come true.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Lead singer of one of the most loved rock bands in the world, Tyler and Aerosmith became poster boys for the American hard rock scene in the 70s. Singing their way to success with their blues-based rock hits like "Sweet Emotion" on their third album.

AEROSMITH (singing): Sweet emotion.

RAJPAL (voiceover): But the end of the 70s and the early 80s saw Tyler succumb to drugs and the original band split. After Tyler battled through rehab, the band pulled together again to make a genre-jumping remix of "Walk This Way" with Run DMC.

AEROSMITH (singing): Walk this way, talk this way.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Proving Aerosmith was back and ready to take on a new generation. A point they made again in the 90s, debuting at the top of the charts with their hit, "I don't want to miss a thing".

TYLER (singing): I don't want to close my eyes, I don't want to fall asleep.

RAJPAL (voiceover): The song made for the film, "Armageddon", starring Tyler's daughter, Liv.

TYLER (singing): 'Cause I'd miss you, baby, and I don't want to miss a thing.

RAJPAL (voiceover): Today, 42 years and 15 albums after bursting onto the stage, they're still rocking. Now, with multiple Grammy awards and a nod from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tyler even took on spotting new talents on the reality TV singing show, "American Idol".

This week, on "Talk Asia", we're in Singapore to catch Steven Tyler as Aerosmith keep it modern, headlining a celebration of social media stars.


RAJPAL: Steven Tyler, welcome to "Talk Asia".

TYLER: Well thank you so much.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much for spending a few minutes of your very, very busy schedule with us. We're in Singapore.


RAJPAL: You've been all over Asia so far. Tell me about that.

TYLER: Well, let me see. We started in Australia. We had three shows in Australia. We went down to the Aucklands for a show. And then, after that, we went to Manila. And we wound up here. And, by the way, I love your show, because when we do Europe - when we go to England and Germany and France and Sweden, I always put on, you know, CNN just to see what's going on, you know.

RAJPAL: Fantastic.

TYLER: And I always see these great reporters talking to Bono about things that they don't talk about in the states. So I'm really looking forward to talking.

RAJPAL: Aw, brilliant. We're very happy that you're here to talk to us. And, you know, you're here for a big event. A lot of people are coming in. But what I think is amazing is that you guys have been together and been performing - you've been performing for what, 40 years? Man alive, you look great.

TYLER: For being dragged behind the truck, or -- ?


TYLER: Standing on the tail of a comet?

RAJPAL: No, I mean, the amount of energy that you have. And you still are able to bring it on stage. Day after day, after all these years, how do you do it?

TYLER: Well, you know, the band met in New England. And I was - my parents had a small resort up there - and I was put to work every summer. I mowed fields and dug ditches and put in water lines and rolled the tennis court and just did a ton of stuff. So I've got that country boy get up and go in me. So did Joe. He grew up around a lake. And Tom and Joey and Brad. And so we decided early on that we were going to - we just wanted our big toe in the door and just that's all we needed.

We were going to make it and we were going to blow every band we played with off the map and off the stage. And so there was no MTV back then. We played everywhere we could - we started in '91. By '98, we played every place in the - every state in the United States but Alaska and Hawaii seven times, eight times. And so, you know, that's it. We just - we love to play. We love getting audiences off. I guess that's it.

RAJPAL: What's interesting is that you're performers, but you're also singer-songwriters. And the songs that you've written have, you know, gone from generation to generation that, you know, grandmothers to young kids are still listening and they really appreciate it. What do you think it is about your music? Because when you look at, say, "Sweet Emotion", written 1975? For "Toys in the Attic".



AEROSMITH (singing): Sweet emotion.



RAJPAL: And today, if it's on the radio, people will listen and they'll sing to it as well - sing with it. What was it - what is it about your music that really is able to bridge any sort of generational divide?

TYLER: I think a good lyric and a good melody. And when you put those together, it's just - there's magic. And, you know, radio loved us. Thank God, you know, that's what making it means. That you get embraced by - and it becomes the backdrop of a year - two years. My high school, which was four years. And it became that. And, again, I don't know what to say - we were lucky. We hit on a good chorus. "Don't bore us, get to the chorus".

I remember Tom playing that do-do-do-do-do-do-do. And I just went, "Sweet emotion". It spread out that line - that word - that group of words real nice. And it just happened to work, you know. And the chorus of "Dream On" and "Walk This Way" -

RAJPAL: You were 17 when you wrote that, right? "Dream On" - you were 17 when you wrote "Dream On".

TYLER: There were bits and pieces that I wrote when I was 16 and then 18 and by 20, I had a nice - I had the shell of the song. And when the band got together, we were a couple of songs short, so I wrote "Make It" for that album, I wrote "One Way Street" and I finished "Dream On". So, hey, the lean years, right? We got a contract with Columbia.

RAJPAL: Yes, Clive Davis noticed you guys.

TYLER: Right? "Oh my God, what are we going to do for songs?" And so, right? What's the mother of invention?

RAJPAL: Necessity.

TYLER: The mother of invention is freaking out that you got your big toe stubbed in the door. And you're screaming and someone says, "Scream something other than a scream". So I decided to put some lyrics to it.

RAJPAL: Didn't you all live in the same apartment? Did you live in the same apartment with Joe and you were writing songs together - just trying to put an album together. What was that like?

TYLER: The real only way to write is for everyone to live together in an apartment so no one can go home to mommy. No one would have another job. Even though we had to get jobs, we still all lived together. So at night, we came back together, smoked a joint, talked about what we did all day. It was peace, love, and war. Everybody smoked weed.

And we wanted to just make it. So I thought living together would be the secret. And I'm very proud to say that it's true. If you want to get a band together - today's the internet. Right? Get a song together, they immediately throw it on the internet, and everybody embraces them. Kind of like the four walls embraced us and having the need to write to pay for the rent, to create music, to, to, to.

RAJPAL: But do you think that the way it's done today is - it takes away from, perhaps the soul of the struggle of putting a good song out there - a good album out there - that you guys had to go through?

TYLER: I think everybody feels pain. Everybody knows the blues. But I think there's a lot of people that know - there's a generation that knows the price of everything and the cost of nothing. They haven't really suffered. They haven't spent time together and had to pay the rent. They haven't lived - they don't have loves lost that they can write about. They instead have an internet that gets them out really, as I see it, too quick. They haven't had a chance - a good wine, man, has to - there's so many songs we write and it's like, "This is not so good".



TYLER: I kind of live spontaneously, from moment to moment. But when you're like that with your kids, you pay the price big. If you don't think that thought out first, you're going to get flambeed.





RAJPAL: The interesting thing about being in a band - and a huge band like Aerosmith - is that you become known as "Aerosmith". How difficult was it - is it - to just be Steven?

TYLER: Oh, it's hard. You know, I get - when I text my kids and I read it back, I go, "Whoa". Because I'm out here on tour mode and I kind of live like that in my mind. I kind of live spontaneously, from moment to moment. But when you're like that with your kids, you pay the price big. If you don't think that thought out first, you're going to get flambeed.

RAJPAL: What kind of a dad are you?

TYLER: A not-so-good because I'm not around, dad. But I'm a loving dad. I get them, they get me. They've seen me on stage. They know my passion. But they keep me in place.

RAJPAL: I think the important thing is, in any child, is that they know that their parents - if they know their parents are happy -


RAJPAL: --then they're happy.


RAJPAL: Is that the same for you guys?

TYLER: Exactly. Yes. I've had some problems in life where I got caught up in drugs and caught up in booze and caught up in relationships of anger - and they've sensed it, you know.

RAJPAL: I've read that you come from a very musical family. Is it true that your dad was a classical pianist?


RAJPAL: Your grandpa -


RAJPAL: And uncle as well -


RAJPAL: -- were classical musicians as well. So it's in your DNA - you had no choice but to become a musician. That's the sense.

TYLER: You know, I saw a brochure from 1912 of my family - "The Tallarico Brothers" -


TYLER: One played cello, one played viola, one played piano, one played guitar. And they get on a train -- because that's all there was back then - and play in these fabulous hotels. These guys were on tour. They left their significant others and went on tour. Did they have relationships with strange ladies in the lobby? You bet your [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. Did they see a side of life that was way different than that mundane living in New York City, working a 9-5? Yes. They were gypsies. And my band - we were that.

RAJPAL: So performing is in your blood.


RAJPAL: Literally.

TYLER: Oh, it is.

RAJPAL: What do you remember about your dad's music? What do you remember feeling about it?

TYLER: I remember growing up under the piano as young as - like, I remember when I was - I don't remember how old I was. But I could just finally reach - my father had a baby grand in the living room of this apartment. And the living room was - I think that it was nine feet by 14 feet. That was the living room. Nine feet. This was in the Bronx. And I lived under my father's piano. And when I could finally stand u and reach the bottom, which is the soundboard, I would put my fingers on it and lift myself up like a monkey. I'd play.

And I remember looking up and grabbing the soundboard. And I pulled this inch of dust down, like, into my eyes. And I couldn't see, but that was the fairy dust of notes that my father played. That was the grandness of the grand piano. That was the dust of all time - of Debussy and Brahms and Bach and Beethoven. That was my induction into the pain of music, if you will. Whatever I make it, it is. I really got some dust in my eyes, but I prefer to think of it as, that's how I grew up - I listened to him practicing every day for two hours every day until I was five.

So, unbeknownst to me, I was sprinkled the Debussy, the Beethoven - so those notes that - Joe Perry, when I met him, he was playing hard bar chords of these English bands that I loved and played in all of my bands. I thought, "If the band knows this, I can bring the dream on. Or I can bring some sort of a melodic something, you know, to it". And therein is the magic.

RAJPAL: What's the songwriting process like for you?

TYLER: Well, I think if you've heard - we grew up in an era where - when I kissed my first girlfriend, the day right before a gig, she brought me this record. And she goes, "Listen to this, it's so sexy". And I never heard a girl say the word "sexy" to me. I was 17. It was Jimmy Hendrix. It was his first album. Dun-bam, dun-bam, do, do, do, do - It was like, "Aaah". I wanted to make love to her, but I didn't know what - I mean, I knew what it was - but it kind of made me blush, listening to that sort of thing.

So I came from that, mixed with what my father played and mixed with feelings and emotions of being in a band where now girls are liking me. Kids are coming up to Joe and asking for an autograph. What? I had my wish fulfilled - I kind of looked like Janis Joplin. I kind of acted like Janis. I had - I started wearing, like, you know, ripped up things. So much so, I took them off and hung them on my mike stand. And it started being our own thing. And I saw it slowly happen, you know?

And so, I think the magic of all that into, you know, Joe would play these great licks, and Tom, and I would just sit there and it would evoke little sayings and things I'd written down, you know. And I don't even know where that came from. Like, that was like - whether it was "Sweet Emotion" or "Cry for the ladies" or whatever, which, of course, I went, "F that". I would never sing that. But it's just what came out of my mouth. Like "Janie got a gun" - I didn't know why I said that, I just - and I filled in the blanks.

And so, a lot of it you take from your past. You take from the front, but the fire of a thumbnail sketch of a song that - Joe's lick and my little line is enough to - it's kind of like the two wood - the pieces of wood of a ladder. And Joe's lick is that first rung. And man, I'm already up off the ground.


TYLER: But when the band kicks in, you go, "Whoa". You want to grab your girlfriend and kiss her. And that was some of the things about rock and roll back then that were, you know, so great.




TYLER (singing): There's something wrong with the world, today. I don't know what it is. Something's wrong with our eyes. We're seeing things in a different way, and God knows it ain't his. It sure ain't no surprise. We're living on the edge.


RAJPAL: Many of the lines that you've written - they've become anthems for people's lives. And almost religious for them. You started singing and the Presbyterian Church choir?


RAJPAL: But, in a sense, was religion a big thing in your house? Or was music more the religion?

TYLER: Religion wasn't - spirituality wasn't - but they brought me to church and I got to sing there. And I recall being in the choir. And, you know, the pastor would speak - it was the Presbyterian Church in the Bronx - and there'd be a sermon and I'd be bored to death and yawning. But we'd be sitting in the pews and we would sing along - "God rest ye, weary na, na, na, na, na. Ba, da, dum, be, boo, de, boo, de, de, ba, boo, bum, ba, do, dee, dee, do". And all these songs. But the whole congregation sang together.

And I remember looking up and seeing - the priest would stand on this table, which had a big cross. And there was a cross behind him. And there was a big shroud over that table. And I always thought God lived under the table. And I didn't know what God was or who He was, but there was that spiritual something lived in the people singing the song and him up there. And I was in fear of it, because it was so strong. And I felt the power there. That's the first time I felt the power of being, in something other than myself, alone, making music and singing. So, with a band, it was like, "Whoa".

RAJPAL: I read that you also felt the power in Lake Sunapee. That's where you had - you were talking about your family's summer vacation - their summer camp -


RAJPAL: -- place that they had. That sense of stillness. And that's where you felt the spirituality and the power - magic. Tell me about Lake Sunapee.

TYLER: Because the Italian family was so, like, "Aah" - the energy. The tumult of all of that - you know, I would go into the woods with my slingshot or my bb gun. And it was real quiet. And in that quiet, I felt a presence. I felt - I felt an energy. I was in awe of it. It was like, "Whoa, what is this?"


TYLER: I felt like life folding into itself in that quiet. In that silence was some magic. And again, I mean, when this band gets together and plays together-you listen to the front of "Sweet Emotion" - put headphones on. "Boo, do, do, do, do". It's like you feel this whoa. That's what - in 1975, that's what was going on. Short of the incense, you can't smell it, but you almost can. You can hear me hit that vibraslap - "Brrr". And the fourth time, I go "brrr -k" - it breaks and falls on the floor.

And you can hear all that organic living stuff. But when the band kicks in, you go, "Whoa". You want to grab your girlfriend and kiss her. And that was some of the things about rock and roll back then that were, you know, so great. Grunge was - man, you wanted to grab your teacher and beat the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] out of him. But, you know, regardless, music makes you want to do something. And that's important.

RAJPAL: You've had a lot of success and creativity and success does come at a price. I read that - I understand that you've gone through rehab eight times, but with every hit, you were trying to get back to that place that you felt in the woods at Lake Sunapee. That's where you were trying to go back to. How dark were those times? How dark did it get for you?

TYLER: Here's what happens - you have this dream to be in a band. You get a bunch of guys together. That's the first year. Then you live in a house together for the third year. Then you get to do a record in- studio, and that's the beginning of the fourth year of being in a band. Or the second year. And months go by and you listen to the playback and it's so intoxicating. Creativity, creative, creator - it's God. There's God in that.

You're making something out of nothing. And that's so intoxicating that, when you smoke a joint after you listen back, it's the same thing. It's the same - that euphoric recall that a drug gives you is the same thing that listening to the "Toys in the Attic" record back. It's like, "What?" I was on a plane a couple months ago, all by myself, in first class. And I listened to our first album, and I wept like a baby. That euphoric recall is the same thing as doing drugs.

And so, every now and then, I'll do a shot of Jack Daniels after being sober and clean for a year. I mean, I was clean - I was sober for 11 years. And I had a foot operation and I did some narcotics and it was like, "Hello Mary-Lou". That euphoric recall is phenomenal. That's what I get every night on stage. I live every night - when I wrote "Cryin'", I wrote it four times. Took me four months.

I wrote it first, someone went, "What was the second verse?" "Hmmm, there was a time, um, I'm not going to tell you something, mmm, girl, that I got to say". And someone went, "What did you say?" And I went, "Nothing, but it feels good to sing". And he goes, "But you're not saying anything". And I gave him the finger, but I had to go back and rewrite it. When I was done, sang it the same way. So when I sing it on stage, I relive that. I can do that through my music.

But, you know, a lot of people like to smoke pot and it gets them out of everyday humdrum and the pain of the anxiety of having to argue with their boss or live with their mother or whatever. It's the great - it clears the table. But, as everybody knows, you just wind up wanting to get more and not dealing with the problem at hand.


TYLER (singing): I don't want to close my eyes. I don't want to fall asleep, 'cause I'd miss you, baby, and I don't want to miss a thing.


RAJPAL: Last question - what do you think is the anthem to your life? Would it be "Living on the Edge" or "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"?

TYLER: That's why I live on the edge. Because I don't want to miss a thing. So therein is the passion and energy of little Stevie following the brook to see what's under that rock. I live for that passion. So I can write the third verse of the song Joe and I haven't written yet. It's just who I am.

RAJPAL: It's a pleasure to meet you, Steven Tyler. Thank you so much for being her.

TYLER: I love you for this.