Joe Perry Can’t Compare Playing in Aerosmith + Hollywood Vampires – Interview
While it started as a side project between Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp to honor fallen rockers, Hollywood Vampires eventually took off and became an entity of its own. The band is now just weeks shy of releasing their sophomore album Rise, which will be out June 21.
The new album differs from the debut in that it's comprised mainly of original material written by Cooper, Perry, Depp and Tommy Henriksen. That's not to say there aren't any tributes on it — covers of David Bowie, Jim Carroll Band and Johnny Thunders are included as well.
We recently had the pleasure of hopping on the phone with guitar legend Joe Perry, who is currently in the midst of a 50th anniversary tour with the almighty Aerosmith in Las Vegas. To find out about the differences between playing live with each group, the inspiration behind the new record and what it's like being in a touring band with an A-list actor, continue reading below.
The debut album was a nod to fallen musicians, consisting of covers. At what point did you decide, when you were thinking of ideas for the second album, that you were going to write your own songs for it?
Probably when we were on tour behind the other one. We were realizing that, even though a couple of the members changed from the first tour, the core of the Vampires I'd say is Alice, Johnny, me and Tommy Henriksen — Alice's guitar player. We really felt like we had, between the four of us, enough material that we really felt like we had to do this record. After playing live with each other on tour, you kinda discover everybody's strengths and weaknesses. If you feel that match-up, where one guy doesn't do that well but somebody else does, it all works out and all evens out to something bigger. That's what we felt, and so we decided to make a record that was truly original.
How was the process of writing original material for this album when you and Alice, especially, have had your own separate careers over the last five decades? How do you go about separating yourself from that?
Well, I learned a long time ago you have to go in there and start from zero. What you did yesterday — no matter how successful or unsuccessful or in between — you're still starting from zero. You have to walk in, you have to do it every day, like with any other art, and look at the blank canvas and create everything you've got to bear. I had just finished my last solo album within a couple of months before starting this record, so I was kind of on a roll in the studio anyway.
But, of course, there were certain things. This took a whole different direction than something I would've done with Aerosmith or even put on a solo record. Tommy and Johnny are great lyric writers. Johnny's a poet, he's got stacks and stacks of notebooks. I like to write riffs, and Tommy's good at all of that, too. So all in all, we made a pretty venerable team.
Sometimes, there'd be one of us in the studio working, sometimes all three of us. Sometimes Johnny would leave a couple of notebooks on the coffee table, and Tommy would come in in the morning and sort it out and edit some of the lyrics to make him sing better, and there'd be a set of lyrics. I'd come in and go, 'That sounds like it'd be something heavy' or whatever, and that's kind of how it works. Usually by the evening, we'd all be there together pulling things together. Probably the first three or four songs on the record came together pretty fast.
The vibe of the music overall is a bit darker and heavier than Aerosmith. Is that something you were striving for, or when you're writing with the band does it just happen that way?
I was conscious of having to shift gears a little bit. Tommy has the uncanny ability to sound like Alice when he sings, and he's been working with him for a lot of years now. So he can pretty much do a rough imitation of Alice. It kinda helps with the lyrics, and the way Alice sings can be pretty dark. So I consciously shifted gears and moved the whole thing over a couple of feet, at least from my end of things, to cut loose on some of the darker stuff.
But then there's also that same sense of humor. I think Aerosmith has a sense of humor in a lot of the stuff we do, but this band is a lot more frank about it and there's certainly a lot of that underlying it. As much of this is dark emotional stuff in there, there's also a lot of humor, which makes this band a lot of fun to be with, too.
The first two singles from the album are "Who's Laughing Now" and "The Boogieman Surprise." But I wanted to ask specifically about the opening track "I Want My Now," which is the longest on the record. What statement were you hoping to make with this song, especially by putting it at the beginning of the album?
It's a commentary on the state of things. There's that sense of people wanting things now. They don't want it later, they don't want it tomorrow, they want it now...That's what's driving it. But I think we had more than a lot of laughs with the lyrics on that one as well. This record deserves more than one listen, you can take those lyrics like that on whatever level. To take it on the commentary, on the way of society today, I don't think we wanna...go there. The lyrics are there, you can take what you want from them. But we had a lot of laughs with most of the lyrics.
Moving onto the live performance, how does that aspect differ for you and Alice playing as Hollywood Vampires as opposed to your main gigs?
If you told me I was gonna be in two headlining bands at this point in my life, I would have to say that you're crazy. It's one thing to go out and do a solo record, and kinda go this way and that way. You might write a bunch of music and have a bunch of singers come in like I did on this last one, I write all the lyrics myself. That's kinda like just picking up a journal for the week and just laying that down.
But to play with a band like the Vampires, the only thing I can compare it to is when you put a band together when you're kids. It's a garage band, and you get out there and you're just learning how to play, but you're friends with everybody. One guy lives down the street and you're friends, you're not necessarily picking people to be in the band because they're great players.
Over the years, we've all gotten to know each other, some more than others, but everybody in the touring band that we have now is pretty accomplished at what they do. It's kind of a given, but we're still a garage band — we're friends first. The playing, everybody's really good at it. I have to say, after all these years of playing in front of crowds — big ones, small ones and in between ones — I'm playing as much for the guys on the stage as I'm playing for the audience. It's really a lot of fun up there, and it's different every night. It's that kind of a thing.
Aerosmith — it's so unique to be in a band for 50 years, and know those guys and growing up with them. It's almost impossible to compare it. It goes so deep, we're like a family. I know way too much about Steven [Tyler], I know way too much about Joey [Kramer], they know way too much about me [laughs].
It's kind of like when you walk in the room and you're like a bunch of brothers literally coming together for a family reunion. And it's like, this argument that you had with your dad or between your brothers 20 years ago comes up, it's a whole different thing. We've seen it all and done it all, so it's really hard to compare it. The Vampires are like a pickup band in one sense, but there's a method to the madness.
Going off the comment that everybody is really established in what they do and are talented, a lot of people don't actually know that Johnny Depp was a musician before he was an actor. Were you skeptical at all about how the band would be perceived by the public because he's primarily known as "Johnny Depp the actor"?
We knew that there would be that aspect to it, certainly. In his world, he's at the top. Unquestionably, he's probably the most famous member of the band — but not for music. A lot of people could say he's just in the band as a fluke or as this week's hobby or something, but he's anything but.
In fact, the first time I saw that he was a guitar player was in the movie Chocolat, I saw him playing the guitar as a river gypsy. I knew it was really him playing and I said, 'Wow, that guy can really dig in. If I get a chance to meet him, I'd like to talk to him about guitars.'
I was a fan of his movies and his work up until I met him, and we didn't talk about movies or anything, it was always about guitars and music. We kind of exchanged tales about what we've done in our careers, I've always been fascinated about movie making, and I got to see him work on a couple of movie sets.
But he's really a musician. After the first couple of songs, people pretty much forget that he's Jack Sparrow or Tonto or whatever. He's Johnny Depp the musician, and that's the real thing.
Rise will be out June 21 on earMUSIC. To pre-order, click here.
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