Don’t Want to Miss This Thing: An Interview with Aerosmith

Aerosmith has released concert DVDs before, but with Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014, they are on the silver screen for one night only. Tom Hamilton tells us about the hits, the fits, and the pursuit of naughty bits.

Aerosmith haven’t put out a live DVD set since 2013’s Rock for the Rising Sun (which showed the group touring Japan in 2011, following the natural disasters that shook most of that country). For their new effort, Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014, they’ve moved things on one step further, deciding to exhibit the concert film in cinemas … for one day only.

The set will please both old and new fans. It opens with “Train Kept A-Rollin’”, and although it features hits like “Love in an Elevator”, “Jaded”, and “Janie’s Got a Gun”, also notable is the inclusion of deeper cuts and fan favorites like “Mama Kin”, “Eat the Rich”, and even “Hangman Jury”.

To help mark the film’s one-day release, bassist Tom Hamilton sat down with PopMatters to talk about which songs are the most fun to play live, the ongoing frustrations of being in the band and why, after 40 years, it’s still all about sex.

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Is going to the cinema ever going to be a substitute for actually being at a gig? 

No, I don’t think so. The sensory input you get from a live show will always be way beyond anything that could be possible on film. That’s why when we set out to make this, we really went all out to try and make it as intense as possible. It really captures the band at the height of its powers I think. We were just finishing a tour of Europe, and were playing really well and having a really good time. I think we brought all that energy to the U.K. show at Donington. 

I don’t know why, but it seems like whenever we play there, it rains all day long and stops as soon as the band goes on stage. I noticed a similar thing when Joe and I played together in high school bands. It’s really weird. Whoever controls the rain must be a fan.

What’s it like seeing yourself at that size? 

I usually hate it. When I watch myself on film, I usually cringe. You see things that you don’t realize you were doing and promise yourself that you’re never going to do them again. Certain gestures or ways of moving. At that size — and obviously we play in front of these big video screens every night — you’ll occasionally glance back and catch this massive image of yourself. That’s pretty startling, particularly if you’ve got a horrible zit that night. 

This band has actually been filming itself for years, and not just what people have seen. We record every show, then sit down and watch it from the audience’s point of view. It’s useful, like an NFL team watching film after the game.

Have you got any new songs to take on tour later on in the year?

We haven’t really come up with any new stuff since Music from Another Dimension!. Maybe we’ll work up something from that record to play. We haven’t sat down and had that meeting yet. I’d like to think we’ll add some songs to the set that we haven’t played for a while, or maybe haven’t played at all. I’d like to do “Seasons of Wither”. “Sick as a Dog” is really fun to play as well, and we get a lot of requests for it. 

Any word on a new album? 

Not really. Steven’s doing his solo project this year, and I’m always working on material, but other than that, no. I’ve accumulated a pile of songs; hopefully the band will try them out at some point. 

Does the will exist to go back in the studio? 

It does for me. Magical things can happen when you’re in there, I always think. There’s not a real appetite amongst all of us to record, but we’re at a point in our career where we can’t put these things off for too long. The thing that I’d like is to figure out a way for the process to be easy and not take forever. As a band, we’re kind of addicted to that mode of being in the studio, trying overdubs and goofing around with the song. I don’t really see it as that productive. 

What would you prefer? 

I’d rather do a record where you go in with the songs finished, record it, mix it and put it out. 

A bit more like the early albums? 

Yeah, with the early ones, the songs were finished by the time we got there, at least from an instrumental standpoint. We’d put the basic tracks down and then Steven would finalize his ideas for the lyrics and what his part was going to be. That process usually only took about four months. I’d love to see that happen again, where you don’t have these things that are so precious you have to spend a ridiculous amount of time on them. 

How are Joe and Steven getting on at the moment? 

It’s kind of a bi-lateral relationship. Things can be going really well with the band, and yet they may still have a burning grudge with each other about something. You never know. We’ve been off the road for a while now, so hopefully the reset button has been pushed and we’re going to start out with a nice blank piece of paper.

Joe’s book came out at the end of last year, didn’t it …

It did. I haven’t heard Steven’s feelings about it. It was a good book. The best one that’s come out so far, I think.

How do the rest of the band exist in relation to what’s going on with the two of them? Are you all lukewarm water, like Derek Smalls? 

Oh man. Sometimes you just have to keep your head down. Other times, you realize you can get in there and be a positive influence on the whole thing. We’ve learned that really indulging petty resentments is something that can hurt us badly, and it’s not worth it. No one ever gets satisfaction from these types of arguments. It just prevents us from moving forwards. 

I think we’ve learned how to have a disagreement without it being the impending end of Aerosmith. But then again, with this band you never know. It can get pretty intense. 

I get the feeling if you were all going to call it a day, you’d have done it by now …

[laughs] Well, you know, I’ve only had one job all my life. I don’t know what else I’d do. I enjoy thinking about trying new things, maybe doing some writing myself. 

Have you got a solo record in mind, given what you said before? 

I have some material that’s pretty far along, yeah. I’m not sure how the band would feel about it. They’ve not listened to it yet. I can only sit with it for so long before I want to hear what it sounds like with musicians behind it. That is something that will happen eventually if we don’t use some of these songs. I’ll definitely go in the studio and see what I can make out of them. 

What Aerosmith songs do you particularly like to play as a bassist? 

That’s an interesting question. It’s fun playing “Toys in the Attic”, because it’s just completely balls-out, and a challenge every night. Same with “Rats in the Cellar”. That’s another endurance test, but very exciting. You get a huge rush of adrenaline. 

Do you mind me asking how your health is now? 

It’s good, although I’m still bearing the wounds of the cancer that I had in ’06 and ’09. I’m at the point where I don’t really need to go for check-ups anymore, but my doctor said “Hey, as long you feel like coming in.” So I go in every few months. They’ve have been able to minimize the long-term issues. One of the things I need to be mindful of is being able to get enough calories. That part of my body [Tom had throat cancer] was really damaged, so it takes me twice as long to eat a meal. I’ve gone from being a person that couldn’t give a shit about food to someone that has to think about it all the time.

Does the process of getting over your illness make being on tour difficult? 

No. It makes me grateful, thankful that part of my life is still there. It makes me want to work even harder. You have to learn how to work around these things and enjoy life in spite of them.

Changing the subject, in his autobiography, Steven said that Aerosmith has always been primarily about sex. Is that still the case? 

It is actually. When we were young, we had these guitars that were like … lust weapons. You went out there as a way to impress women and get them to notice you. That’s still there now: you always want to be admired by the opposite sex. There’s a lot of symbolism in Aerosmith. The whole thing’s a big metaphor. 

Splash image: press photo of Aerosmith