Steven Tyler as a country singer?
Dream on, right?Well...not quite. The Aerosmith frontman does not consider 2016’s “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere,” his first-ever solo album, to be pure country. But it does display the allure and influence Tyler feels from taking his music to Nashville, where the album was recorded.
“I was drawn to Nashville like the star over Bethlehem,” Tyler, 70, says by phone from San Francisco. “It reminds me of early Greenwich Village and Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, or England in the 60s or San Francisco and Haight-Ashbury and all the great drugs that were going on and people writing around it. It’s the gang, the vibe of the gang was phenomenal.
“And that’s what I felt in Nashville. It almost birthed the songs without me.”
The country/Americana-flavored “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” -- which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country chart when it was released -- isn’t the first solo venture for Tyler. While Aerosmith has been the singer’s primary creative vehicle and continues to work sporadically, he’s also released a few solo singles and has made guest appearances on recordings by Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Run-D.M.C. (a hit 1986 remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”), Santana, country singer Keith Anderson and others. Tyler, a New York native whose father, Victor Tallarico, was a classical musician and teacher, also stepped out of the band to serve a two-season stint as a judge on “American Idol” during 2011 and 2012.
The specter of a full-scale solo album was often bandied about for some time, but in Nashville Tyler -- one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Signers of all time and a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee with Aerosmith bandmate Joe Perry -- found the right environment to realize his ambitions.
“Country is the new rock and roll, if you will,” he explains “There really isn’t rock; Dave Grohl’s trying his hardest to keep it alive, but there’s no (radio) format, and no one’s playing it. So country’s doing its hardest to do it.
“I just thought, ‘Lemme see if I can go to where they are and drink some of their water and breathe some of their air, and maybe we’ll have something.”
Songwriting, Tyler added, was the greatest revelation during the process -- and especially the chance to work with new collaborators after decades of writing Perry and some of their regular composing partners.
“Lookit,” Tyler says, “I’ve never done a solo record, ever. I always wanted to, never did. And it’s such a joy to walk in a room and have somebody go, ‘Well, what do you want to sing about?’ and I go, ‘Y’know what? How about the good, the bad, the ugly -- and me! It was funny at the time, but by the time I walked out of there six hours later, a song was written.
“That’s all I care about is a couple of good songs. To be able to walk into this endeavor, this whole thing and write a song and finish it, wow, holy s***!”
That process also brought out some of the most personal material Tyler has ever written. Much of it is still couched in the clever wordplay and an irreverent attitude, but from the get-go -- the opening track “My Own Worst Enemy” -- to tunes such as “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me” and others, the twice-married father of four, including actress Liv Tyler, digs into his own colorful history in a way he seldom has with Aerosmith.
“Y’know, I’ve wound up in rehab six times; I MUST be my own worst enemy -- and now I could write a song about it,” says Tyler, who chronicled his life in the 2011 best-selling memoir “Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?” “That’s pretty phenomenal. and ‘What Am I Doin’ Right?;’ I’ve got Aerosmith, I’ve got four beautiful children with beautiful women, what AM I doing right? -- and I wrote a song about it.
“Or just social commentary with a great melody, like ‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere -- maybe politically not correct, but so what? I have a chance to do that and I got it and I f***ing nailed it and I feel really good about it.”
Not everybody around Tyler feels quite the same way, of course -- especially in the Aerosmith world. Nashville is happy to have him there; as Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard notes, “So many of us grew up on Aerosmith and loving those songs, so to think that that guy is working down here and wants to be part of country music, it’s...awesome.” Tyler’s Aerosmith bandmates, however, were hoping to be on tour during the summer and aren’t happy to be waiting for their frontman -- again.
“We kind of feel a little bit abandoned by (Tyler),” guitarist Brad Whitford, who resides in Nashville these days, said when Tyler’s album was released. “I guess he seems to think his solo career is going to go great guns, and he doesn’t seem to realize that -- in my opinion -- his fans around the globe want to see him in the context of Aerosmith and don’t really care for whatever he thinks he’s gonna do.
“I don’t know if he gets that but, hey, that’s what he wants to do. I can’t put a gun to his head. It’s just pretty disappointing.”
Fellow guitarist Joe Perry added with a chuckle that, “I’m always annoyed with him. It’s not a personal thing; It’s just the way he goes about certain things, sometimes he’ll just go off and do something without telling us. That’s really what pisses us off.
“But that’s the way he is. He’s also a f***ing amazing singer, so you take the good with the bad. I know he’s gonna be a handful, but I really want to be in a band with this guy.”
Tyler has no plans to abandon his solo career, but he promises he’ll find a way to balance that and his work in Aerosmith. “I would love to go, ‘My heart is in Aerosmith and that’s all I’m gonna do,’ this is so important to me, too,” he says. “I’m not surprised and I’m surprised as hell that it worked out so good.
“And, look, if this record don’t sell, then that means country radio doesn’t want to know anything about some rock ‘n’ roll guy. But all the radio and all the folks I’ve met in country, they’re all in love with a good song, and I think we’ve got a least a couple of those (on the album) — maybe more. This is for real, man. I’m not just vacationing, y’know?”