“I think Prince died so I could live,” says Steven Tyler, the former frontman of Aerosmith who has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, logged nine number-one hits and won four Grammys. “I think we both have the same disease,” he adds of his fellow music icon. “Today I’m sober and alive. Will I be dead tomorrow? I don’t know.”
Let’s hope not because Tyler—whose recent foray into country music has yielded two critically acclaimed singles, “Love Is Your Name” and “RED, WHITE & YOU”—is, at 68, on a roll…again. Talking about his relocation to Nashville and forthcoming solo album, due out this summer, Tyler reveals a longtime desire to set out on his own path professionally. “I knew I wanted to do a solo record—it’s like that [Foreigner] song ‘Feels Like the First Time,’” he says, “I had never written with folks like the ones down here; to walk into a room, drink some coffee and eight hours later you have a song.”
Indeed, Tyler credits the creative energy of Music City USA for opening him up to composing and performing songs in a fresh, unfettered way. He describes how the “music mecca” is full of “songwriters who are so phenomenal,” a place where you can pick up a hitchhiker with a guitar, take his demo CD, “and when they get out of the car, you’ll hear a song that’s better than most of the shit you’ve written,” he says. “It was like me coming here was the start-over—my own personal musical Bethlehem.”
Tyler is eager to introduce this rhythmic reawakening to listeners outside the confines of Nashville (and certain corners of the internet, where his singles have racked up more than 12 million views on YouTube). On May 2nd, he’ll perform “Steven Tyler…Out on a Limb,” an intimate concert at New York’s Lincoln Center that he’s put together with acclaimed Hollywood director Brett Ratner. The event, comprising songs, personal stories and candid revelations, will benefit Janie’s Fund, Tyler’s charitable initiative that helps girls overcome the trauma and abuse of neglect, in collaboration with the major non-profit organization Youth Villages.
As he sees it, country is the new rock, but even better, because “it records in the truth—and I love truth,” Tyler says, ruing the fact that most popular hits these days are about little more than leaving the bar every night with somebody new. “I want to leave the bar with you because I’m somebody new,” he explains, “I come from the old school, where the inflection’s not just showing anger and nothin’ but a good time, but also some lyrics that have a story to tell.”
According to Tyler, he hasn’t felt this way since he was first “zooming in on the possibility of being in a band and wanting to make it,” he recalls of getting his start in the mid-to-late-‘60s. It was then that a young and ambitious Tyler was in a band called the Chain Reaction, under Columbia Records, a group of guys from Yonkers whose music was dubbed, somewhat quizzically, “The Boston Sound.”
As he says, “exuberance and good old-fashioned passion” may have lured him to Nashville, but Tyler’s got plenty of energy to go around. One other area of intense interest for him is driving: convertible sports cars to be exact. Among the auction items going on the block at the upcoming concert at Lincoln Center—a roster of lots that includes a five-day stay at Tyler’s Hawaiian getaway and pieces from his personal on-stage wardrobe—will be his 2012 Hennessey Venom GT, one of the fastest automobiles ever built. It zips from zero to 200 mph in 15 seconds, exceptional performance Tyler once put to the test on an airport runway with Jay Leno sitting shotgun.
“I like to feel the wind in my hair,” he says of his decision to buy the $1-million-plus supercar. “Why make a living playing ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’’ if you can’t at least go that fast, right?”