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Interview: Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Brad Whitford Let the Music Do the Talking

Interview: Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Brad Whitford Let the Music Do the Talking

Photo by Ken Settle

Did you discover any new pedals or amps?
Brad Whitford: I can’t think of anything terribly new. I try and keep the pedals at a minimum in the studio. I just like the purity of the sound. I want the guitar and a cable into an amp and hopefully I don’t have to add anything to that. Unless it calls for it, like some flange or chorus. I try and keep it as pure as you can. A good guitar with a good amp, then the idea is to get a great performance. You can have all that shit and get a shit performance and you got nothing. I really like hearing something that is pure performance and isn’t enhanced in any way. I have one amp actually, that I found when we were doing these sessions. It’s a ’59 Fender Bandmaster. I believe that Pete Townshend used that same type of amp for a lot of the Who stuff. And now I know why! It’s just an amazing, amazing sounding amp, if you can find a good one. It’s a combo–a 3x10 combo. I can plug anything into it—Strat, Tele, Les Paul, it just works flawlessly.

This summer on tour you both were using Echopark guitars. How did you discover them?
Brad Whitford: His [Gabriel Currie] guitars are pretty amazing. My guitar tech, Marco Moir, was telling me about this guy and then when we got into the studio one of his guitars showed up. We plugged the thing in and thought, “My god, something really special is going on.” Since then we have become good friends and he has built a bunch of guitars for Joe now. They are just amazing. They have the soul of an old guitar because he makes them from ancient wood. The wood really makes a difference. He has a real talent, you know, it’s not always an old piece of wood that is going to work. You have to get the right one and have some sort of intuition or ability to actually listen to the wood and know that it’s going to sound good with some strings on top of it.

Joe Perry: Yeah, I think Brad has had one for a few years now. I saw it in his stack. I didn’t really pay much attention to it but Gabriel came down and brought a couple for me to try and I have to say they are probably some of the best-sounding boutique guitars that I have heard—hands down. I use one live pretty much every night. He is just really amazing and he has an ear for detail and is a real artist when it comes to building guitars. He gets it. It’s funny, we’ll be talking about building something idiosyncratic, he will text me pics of it as he is building it. It’s kind of fun to finally get the guitar and if there are little changes we can send it back and he can tweak it. He has also done some work on some of my other guitars, you know, setting them up a little better, especially the Strats.

What specifically does he do to set up your Strats?
Joe Perry: It’s the balancing the tremolo bar and adjusting the action. Because the whole thing, at least for my playing, is I like to have enough range in the bar and then making sure the height of strings is just right high up on the neck. I don’t know, he works some kind of magic in there. But his real forte is turning two pieces of wood into one piece of wood. Gluing the neck on instead of screwing on the neck; doing the dovetailing thing and putting the neck on the guitar and how much of the neck should go into the body—he’s analyzed all that.

When a song begins to take shape, how do you decide who takes the solo?
Brad Whitford: It just seems to be a natural, organic process. That’s another place where Jack might step in and say, “You should play this part and you should play this part.” A lot of times the song just dictates it. Jack might say, “I don’t know what it is, but that has to be a Brad Whitford solo or a Joe Perry solo.” I don’t know what it is but they just speak to us.

For example, Brad, how did the solo on “Tell Me” come together?
Brad Whitford: That’s a song that Tom [Hamilton] has had for some time. I don’t want to make it sound old, it’s not that old. But, we were working that up and it was becoming a unique thing all on its own. We were in the studio one day and Jack said, “I want you to go write a solo for this. Think George Harrison.” I went into this office with a copy of the song and my guitar and sat there for about two hours and came back out. That was it. We got it. I tried to think a little bit like George Harrison.

Are most of your leads worked out?
Brad Whitford: It’s different for different songs. Most of the stuff in the studio will be improvised. Other cases, like “Tell Me” I just wrote the whole thing.

Joe Perry’s Gear

1957 Fender Stratocaster, Dan Amstrong Ampeg (tuned to Open A), Gibson "Bllie" Custom Lucille, Gibson Joe Perry Signature one-pickup Les Paul prototype, Gibson Joe Perry Signature Boneyard Les Paul, Gibson Joe Perry Signature Les Paul, BC Rich Bich 10, Fender Jeff Beck Esquire replica, Fender Telecaster with B-Bender, Chandler Lap Steel, Echopark Blue Rose, Ernie Ball/Music Man 6-string bass, Fender Custom Shop Strat, Echopark Ghetto Bird, Fender Custom Shop Tele (E5 tuning)

'69 Marshall Plexi (KT66 tubes), '70 Marshall Plexi (EL84 tubes), Marshall JTM45 Reissue, Jet City JCA20H, Friedman Dirty Shirley, Budda Verbmaster, '65 Marshall Bluesbreaker, '70 Marshall Major

Effects and Accessories
Bradshaw Switching System, Custom Siren pedal built by Rob Lohr, Boss DD-7 Delay, Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Cry Baby Wah, DigiTech Whammy I, Electro-Harmonix POG, Ernie Ball VP Jr. , Klon Centaur, TC Electronic Flashback Delay, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, TC Electronic Vortex Flanger, MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay, Duesenberg Gold Boost, Option 5 Destination Bump Boost, Shure ULX-D wireless unit, RJM Effects Gizmo, Digidesign Eleven Rack

Brad Whitford’s Gear

Fender Custom Shop '62 Strat reissue, Fender Eric Johnson signature Strat, Epiphone Inspired by John Lennon Casino, '67 Fender XII 12-string, Echopark Downtowner, Gibson '58 VOS Les Paul

PRS HXDA, Fender Twin Reverb Custom 15, 3 Monkeys Virgil, PRS MDT 100, 3 Monkeys BW 119, ’59 Fender Bandmaster

Effects and Accessories
Fulltone Wah, Pigtronix Philosopher's Rock, Pigtronix Disnortion, Boss TU-2 tuner, Framptone Amp Selector, Mojo Hand Rook, Pigtronix Fat Boost, Xotic EP Booster, BK Butler Tube Driver, Eventide Time Factor, TC Electronic VPD1 Vintage Pre-Drive, TC Electronic Flashback Delay, TC Electronic Vortex Flanger, TC Electronic Corona Chorus, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, Fulltone Supa-Trem, Voodoo Lab Pedal Switcher

Click here to watch Rig Rundowns of both Brad and Joe's rigs!

For this album you combined both analog and digital technology for the main tracks. What was the advantage and how exactly did you do that?
Joe Perry: When we recorded the basics, we brought in the CLASP [Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor] system. Basically, it turns the 24-track, or whatever tape machine you use, into a piece of outboard gear so the first thing it’s hitting is the tape machine after it comes off the mic. From there, it goes into Pro Tools, so you are recording on the tape, but also recording on Pro Tools. It locks up with Pro Tools and helps add that warmth to the sound because the way Pro Tools is now, it just about reproduces everything you put into it. You have to take those extra steps to get that warmth and part of that is hitting the tape before it goes into Pro Tools. It is a little better than taking it straight off of Pro Tools and after that we then mix it down to a 2-track tape.

Brad, have you ever considered doing a solo album?
Brad Whitford: Oh man, well if I ever get myself together. I’m not sure how I would approach that because a couple of my sons are amazing players. I think we might do a family album since I have these amazingly talented guitar players in my family. One of my sons played with us last night at Madison Square Garden, so they aren’t slouches. I think that would be a good angle and be more musically interesting rather than just do my own solo album. That seems to be just musical masturbation.

Joe, now that this album is finished, do you have any plans to go back to the Joe Perry Project?
Joe Perry: Yeah, I am going to be working on that this winter as well as my autobiography. It will probably come out next October or November. I feel like it’s time and at the same time I’ll be working on some new music. Whether it takes the form of a whole album or if it’s something that coincides with the book, I haven’t figured that out yet. We’ll see how much time that takes over how much time I can get in the studio.

Is there more to the Aerosmith story?
Joe Perry: What about the last 20 years? Think about it. Walk this Way was written 12 or 15 years ago and it was mostly about the ’70s. The way I see it, there is a huge gap between the time the band got back together until now; stuff that has been in the papers, and how I ‘ve managed to survive through this. It’s an autobiography—it’s the Aerosmith story and my story through my eyes. It’s my truth about it and having a pretty good seat through the whole thing since 1970. I have a pretty good view of the way things developed. The other book that was written, it’s cute, okay? It has all the little stories about throwing TVs out of the windows and getting f**ked up and me leaving the band. I don’t think there is anything in there about my adventures with the Joe Perry Project for three years or talking about five solo records that I have done. There’s stuff that has been written about Aerosmith and not all of it true, but it’s my book, it’s not an Aerosmith book.

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