What do rock legends do on their days off? They go find more gear. “I could have rented a condo there and just rolled around naked in all this stuff,” says Tom Hamilton of his recent trek to a music equipment expo. “I would have been ecstatic.” But time away has been the problem for his band Aerosmith. Although they’ve spent the past decade touring and being as present in the public zeitgeist as ever, they hadn’t managed to get an album of new material out the door since 2001. Music From Another Dimension finally arrives now after years of fits and starts.
“It’s just an amazing feeling of accomplishment,” he says, “because we have tried to get it going two or three times in the last ten years and been unable to really get the thing up to escape velocity. But this time we finally got everybody focused on that same goal of having a new album out.”
The title of the record points to a few things. New music. Far-out artwork. And a full circle return to where the band started. “We always have one of those dry erase boards up with title ideas on it, and we had a whole list. Music From Another Dimension was one of them,” Hamilton explains. “What made that the title is a friend of ours who’s an artist named Casey Tebo did a bunch of artwork based on if that was the title. We loved his artwork, so it was kind of the artwork that made us like the title.”
“We were working with Jack Douglas who produced our seventies albums, and it was as if we were reaching back into another time for the spirit of the record and the reference points that we were going to follow. So that other dimension could mean the time dimension, thirty-five years ago when we started doing our first records.”
Douglas was in the room when Aerosmith was still getting off the ground as songs like Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way were crafted, putting him in a unique position to get the most of out the now legendary quintet. “His relationships with each member of the band were developed before we were huge, so he doesn’t have to pay any special homage or tribute to anybody. He can pretty much talk to anybody like a buddy, like a friend. Yet at the same time he’s very serious and sets the pace really high in terms of the workload. We work really hard when we work with Jack, and yet at the same time it’s still really fun, a lot of laughing and fucking around and trying weird things, always with that goal of coming up with a finished product.”
Still, there was back and forth between the five band members as to just what the new album should or shouldn’t be. First single Legendary Child sees Steven Tyler invoking a “little bit of nostalgia” by revisiting his own four decade old Walk This Way lyric. But the next single, Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, initially had Hamilton apprehensive. After the band locked itself away with longtime collaborator Marti Frederiksen and realized they’d unwittingly written a country leaning song, they then had to decide whether to bring in a country singer to guest on it, ultimately settling on Carrie Underwood.
“Steven loves to blow things up and make them larger than life,” Tom explains, “and there was one night toward the very end of having the album done when Carrie Underwood was in town. We had already talked about how it might be interesting to try to get some well known country artist to sing on it, so she happened to be in town and Steven kind of snuck her in on a night when everybody was out of the studio and they recorded that. I was very reticent because I was very attached to the record being a raw statement, a real statement of what this band is, which is a rock band. I didn’t want it to be something where we went and tried to cover all these different genres to see if we could cross over. But the thing turned out really well. And when something turns out really good and it’s a really good piece of music, you have to judge it according to that. So I still felt a little nervous about it, because I was afraid that it would pull people’s attention away from this rock comeback album, which is how I looked at it. But being that the song came out really good, we all decided to put it on there, and we’ll see what happens with it.”
Underwood is far from the only guest star. Johnny Depp is “on there somewhere” in a Joe Perry-penned song called Freedom Fighter, though fans may have a hard time spotting his subtle rhythm guitar work. Julian Lennon lends backing vocals on another track. But Hamilton is hoping the focus stays on the album tracks which see Aerosmith doing their the best straight up rock and roll work. “Beautiful was a song that I always thought would come out as one of the best songs on the album. I think it came out great. The lyrics are a bit abstract for a lot of people, but I think that was a really good song,” he says, also pointing to Street Jesus and Legendary Child as standout tracks.
There’s also an acoustic rocker called Tell Me, whose lyrics are sung by Steven but written by Tom, in a new experience for them both. “I got to a point where I became frustrated because I was coming in with ideas but having trouble getting them to that point where Steven would finish them off,” Tom explains of the band’s lyrics-last writing process. “I realized that some of these things would never see the light of day if I didn’t learn how to write at least basic lyrics for him. So I’ve been working really hard on doing that, working hard on the goal of writing a song from start to finish, and Tell Me is an example of that. And then there’s a song on the deluxe version of the album called Up On The Mountain which is the same thing, and I actually sang that one. It was a huge thrill to write all the melody and lyrics for Tell Me, and hear Steven singing what I’ve written. I think just that night when he did that vocal was such a high for me that I would have been satisfied if that was as far as the thing ever went. Fortunately it came out really nice and wound up on the album. I just hope people pick up on it and I hope they like it.”
Some fans had begun to question whether the long promised new album even really existed. But the band that found its way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than a decade ago is still thinking in present tense terms. “It’s pretty normal for a band to get to the point where we are and say, why the hell do we have to put ourselves through the agony of getting an album started? Why don’t we just go out and play the songs that we do have, and do that in our later years? But some of us really felt like we needed to be part of the game, and we wanted to prove that we we’re a living functioning band. If you want to show that, you’ve got to make records.”
And while there’s no firm timetable, Tom promises that Aerosmith fans won’t have to wait another twelve years for the followup to Music From Another Dimension. “I would like to go in the studio tomorrow,” he says. “We do have some touring coming up for the year, so it’s not a realistic dream. But I think that’s probably one of the smartest things that we could do. Learn from what worked on this album, what worked and what didn’t work, and get in the studio and give ourselves six months with the goal of coming out with an album right away.”