Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton Explains How He Grew New Wings on ‘Music From Another Dimension’
In the years since, the band issued ‘Honkin’ on Bobo,’ a blues-inspired disc with several covers; they’ve toured the world several times over; dealt with various health issues; and, of course, they’ve enjoyed their fair share of drama. While they may not always be on the same page personally, it is clear that the band rededicated themselves while creating the ‘Music From Another Dimension’ record.
Bassist Tom Hamilton, who takes a bigger role on this album than he did on some of Aerosmith’s past releases, spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock about maximizing his efforts on ‘Music From Another Dimension,’ the band’s touring with fellow rock vets Cheap Trick, and his favorite bass parts.
Thanks Tom for the interview, we’ve got to say this sounds like a very rejuvenated Aerosmith and it ranks up there as one of the group’s best records in ages.
Thank you. We’re just starting to hear the messages from the outside world about how they feel about the album. We’ve done a lot of interviews leading up to the release of it and of course you try to figure out what people think by how they ask their questions, so it’s good. We’re starting to get lots of messages like you said and I hope everybody feels that way.
We know you’ve been anxious to do a new record, especially since it’s been so long without original material. So now that it’s done and you’ve had a summer to go play a bit, how excited are you about this album?
I look at where we are and we’re sitting here with this record with 15 songs on it and we have another version of the record that’s got 19 songs on it and thinking about how I’d visualize this moment for years and visualize how I was going to maximize my contribution to it.
I had sort of a bucket list of goals that I decided I really needed to get working on. We’re not anywhere near the end of our career, but we’re a lot further from the beginning of it and whenever that comes someday I felt really strong about wanting to make a contribution to this record that I could point to. I could just tell people that yeah, I’m the tall guy in the back with four strings on my guitar, but here’s some other things about me that maybe you didn’t know in terms of a couple of the songs that I wrote. So yeah, it’s been years of struggle. It’s been years of suspense. And now here we are on the verge of actually releasing it and it’s a fantastic feeling.
You mentioned the fact of maximizing your effort on this and checking back, this is the most writing credits you’ve had on a record since ‘Draw the Line.’ Obviously you’re always part of Aerosmith’s music, but do you hold more of a special place for the songs you helped develop?
Well there’s two songs that I wrote completely. One of them is called ‘Tell Me’ and I’ve had a demo of me singing on it for a while now and I just always pined away to hear that song and those lyrics with someone like Steven [Tyler] singing them. It’s a real joy. It’s so validating. I went home from that session when he did his vocal on it and I just realized, ‘Oh my God, no matter what happens with this record or this song, I’ve just crossed this line into a new world where something that I wrote has been validated.’ It’s proof that a great singer can come in and make it a really good song. So that was a fantastic feeling, and now I’m looking forward to the feeling of seeing what the public at large thinks of it. And then there’s a song on the deluxe version of the album called ‘Up on the Mountain’ that I actually sang. So I’m really on the edge of my seat about that one.
But most of the songs on this album were heavily developed by everybody in the band. We had a little system where we had our big recording room, which is our main live room, and then we had a little conference room where we’d sit around the table with small amps and work out arrangements and some of the arrangements of these songs we’d literally pounded away for three days or four days before we found something that we wanted to record. But it was a really fun process because we could really yell at each other while we’re playing, yell suggestions, and hear Jack [Douglas] coming up with ideas. It was just a great way of putting it together.
You mentioned ‘Tell Me’ and recording your own version with vocals, which leads us to asking about the backing vocals on that, which almost have that dream-like, psychedelic quality. Did that come from you or did it come from the full band fleshing out the song?
Well Steven and I are really huge Byrds fans and there was a Byrds song written and sung by Gene Clark, one of their early ones and I can’t remember the title of it, but there’s a verse where he sings over a droning vocal that’s just holding one note and I’ve always loved that and Steven too and we were talking about the song and it was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of the verses done like that?” and Steven was just dead on it and there were these beautiful background vocals that are such a huge part of the arrangement, and he loves to do that. Steven loves to put the ear candy on there and all that structural stuff that makes a song so cool to hear. It’s truly beautiful too.
For our money, ‘Lover Alot‘ has to be one of the best Aerosmith songs in years and we know it’s out there for people to hear. Can you tell us how that one came together and your thoughts on hearing it whole for the first time?
I love that song. It’s one of those songs that came in, and I think that was Brad [Whitford]‘s riff that song is based on. Either that or ‘Street Jesus,’ I keep mixing them up in my head. But ‘Lover Alot,’ it’s a classic Aerosmith riff-rock song with a wis-eass, in-your-face vocal from Steven. I just love the vocal he put on there. And some of the lyrical tricks, where he talks about a girl in a lily-white dress and she’s so f—ing passive aggress. I just thought that was so cool. We’ve been rehearsing that song with a bunch of others over the past week and it’s gonna go right in the set. It’s going to be really fun to play live.
We know with in the Aerosmith mode of operation, a lot of times the lyrics are left up to Steven. Having such a feel for what musically is put together, is there a song on this record where you absolutely felt what Steven did lyrically was just the perfect match for what you had in mind for one of the songs?
‘Lover Alot’ is definitely an example. ‘Street Jesus,’ some of the lyrics are kind of abstract, but it’s a guitar song and really about the guitars and so the vocal, he’s got a lot of latitude and wacky ideas to put in there and he took full advantage of that. But ‘Lover Alot,’ ‘Street Jesus,’ and then there’s a sort-of-a-ballad called ‘Closer’ on there that I really like. It’s kind of a slow, mid-tempo, you could call it a rock ballad, but the thing I like about it is the word ‘rock,’ cause it really sounds like it’s in the rock genre. So hopefully people pick up on that.
We know you worked with [producer] Jack Douglas on this record, and for you personally, what was your initial relationship like working with Jack in the ’70s and how has it evolved up to present day?
Jack, he has the musical chops. He has the technical chops, the musical knowledge, but he’s a gifted leader and coach. He has always been really great at getting us focused and ready to work, either on the phone or back at work, but really making for a fun time. The guy can hear the potential in a weird riff. If you come in with something interesting, and off the beaten path, a lot of producers would says, “That’s not what we’re really doing. Come on, we need stuff that’s more blah, blah, blah.” But Jack will hear that and know what it can be developed into by working with us.
That’s a thing we had developed pretty early on in our first record that we worked with him on, which was our second record, ‘Get Your Wings,’ and then when we went into the studio to do the following record, ‘Toys in the Attic,’ our relationship with Jack and our relationship in the studio was just that much ahead. That’s when we were really starting to feel like comfortable in there and not worried about the red light being on and really thinking about ideas. So that album was just a blast to make, and ‘Rocks’ was the same process. Again, with Jack Douglas, lot of laughing, lot of hard work, but you know if Jack is on a project and you walk in with an idea that has some merit, he’s going to help you bring it to the band and he’s very good at refereeing all that stuff. Because everybody comes in wanting to participate and everyone comes in with ideas and he really makes everybody feel like their ideas are being heard.
This summer you had a chance to get out for shows with Cheap Trick – how did that go?
Those guys have so many good songs. That’s why we love ’em. They’re not the latest, loudest, or flashiest new band, but they’ve got a group of great songs, they’ve got a full set of ’em. They’ve got a great style and we’re old friends with them and it feels good being out on the road with those guys.
What is the camaraderie like with those guys. Do you talk music or being musicians that do music all the time, does the conversation take you elsewhere?
We talk about all of the above. Rick [Nielsen] is a really great guy to talk to. He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s really 100 percent committed to the music he plays and so we’ll talk about anything from gear to traveling to laughing at funny things that happened.
Robin [Zander], awesome singer. I remember walking up to him and asking if he did anything special to keep his voice in shape so he could do this night after night. He kind of hunched his shoulders and said, “Not really.” I just thought, “Wow, what a lucky guy.”
And then you’ve got Tom [Petersson], who is really kind of a classic … he’s not English, but he’s got an English look and he plays the 12-string bass and has figured out how to make that fill up their sound. And these days, their drummer is Rick’s son, Daxx, and he’s doing a great job filling in for Bun E. [Carlos] on drums.
We were looking at your Twitter account polls and the one that cracked us up was asking fans if they preferred the 45-minute bass solo or the one-hour bass solo. So that being said, what is the bass part that you’re most proud of and likewise, what is the bass part done by another artist that you think is the most brilliant?
Well, I think the ‘Sweet Emotion‘ bass thing is pretty dear to my heart. The fact that we have a song where people know the song because the bass part comes in first, that’s pretty rare.
[As for the others], I like Paul McCartney‘s playing on ‘Lady Madonna.’ Other than that, pretty much everything John Paul Jones ever did, especially on the first two Led Zeppelin albums. His taste and his ability is just so huge. I always looked up to his playing. He’s an awesome musician.
I know that you’d likely never go the length mentioned in the Twitter poll, but what are your thoughts on trying out extended bass solos?
It depends, doing a bass solo is something where it reaches a point of musicality where it reaches everybody or you can do something that is just a bass player’s solo, and I think those are the ones that drive people toward the doors. But if you do something that is melodically very interesting and rhythmically very interesting, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t enjoy it as much as any other instrument really.
With ‘Music From Another Dimension’ coming, do you have a release day ritual?
My favorite thing to do when a new record comes out is to drive around with the radio on and just wait for one of those moments when one of your songs comes on. I remember the first time I heard an Aerosmith song on the radio, it was ‘Dream On,’ and I can remember the street I was driving on and the feeling of, “Oh my God! There it is! There it is! And there are probably thousands of people within miles of me right now that are listening to it at the same time and God I wish I knew what they thought.” That’s a huge thrill, hearing them on the radio.