Aerosmith Bassist Tom Hamilton On New Blu-Ray/DVD Release, Band’s Copacetic Chemistry And Obscene Plush Toys
Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton knows a thing or two about touring. Tom, Brad, Joe, Steven and Joey have seen amazing fans in every nook and cranny of the universe and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Famers have unique relationships with many of them. Since 1977, one country which has consistently blown their collective minds has been Japan. The passionate Japanese fanbase has meant the world to the Aerosmith guys over the years and proved to the world that the band is a national treasure to more than one nation. When the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant and devastated Japan in March, 2011 the band knew it needed to make the trip over to play some shows and lift the morale of their longtime fans. The somewhat controversial trip and live footage was captured by director Casey Patrick Tebo and the Blu-Ray/DVD release of “Rock For The Rising Sun” is now available this coming Tuesday, July 23rd. I interviewed longtime bassist Tom Hamilton to talk a little about Japan, the band’s newfound comfort level and much more, read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking with us Tom, I grew up on your music so it’s an honor. How are you doin?
Tom Hamilton: Very well, you’re in the Rockford, Illinois area? Are you like right down the street from Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick?
LRI: Not too far….actually I just interviewed Rick’s son Miles a couple days ago.
Tom: We love those guys, we just did a tour with them and it was amazing. We go way back, we were both produced by Jack Douglas and we both worked at the same studio, The Record Plant. This was way back around the time of our second and third albums so that’s really a long way. Although, it’s been more in the recent years that we’ve done so much touring with them. They’re a great, great band. They play really great and they’ve got a ton of good songs so we love getting together with those guys.
LRI: One thing you have in common with the Cheap Trick guys is the shared association with Japan. I posted something on Facebook about talking with you and immediately 2 or 3 of our Japanese friends got excited, which is great. How far back does the band’s history go in Japan?
Tom: I think our first tour of Japan was back in like 1977 and it just felt like a bolt of lightning. We got off the plane and there was a crowd of fans at the airport and as soon as we got off the plane and into the main hall at the airport we were swamped! We were literally being carried away by the crowd. I remember desperately looking behind us and our bags were all on the floor in the retrieval area and we were kinda concerned about it getting out of control as crazy as it was. The amazing thing was just that it didn’t get out of control and they were just great and followed us everywhere. We would go to see the sights and walk around shopping and stuff and everywhere we went we were overwhelmed by their expression of love towards the band. Their excitement about hearing the songs live and the energy they give off is just an amazing feeling, I almost can’t describe it. I mean, we’ve had that experience in varying degrees in lots of different places, where you get a feeling for the enthusiasm people have for your band, but it’s just an amazing feeling. It really recharges you and every time we return to Japan it is a special thing. The fans are awesome. They make little figurines or do beautiful paintings. There’s a girl in Japan who has done at least 5 or 6 portraits of me. We have a core group of fans who are truly fanatical and go to great efforts still to this day to give you little gifts of appreciation to show you how much they love you and your music. I think that is sort of unique to them, as far as making the dolls and gifts, that’s a very Japanese thing.
LRI: What were the lines of communication between you and your bandmates like when you first saw the devastation from the tsunami, quake and meltdown in Japan? How did you react and how easy was it to come to a consenus as far as going there to play?
Tom: Just total horror. The horror of actually seeing that happening on TV and the overall magnitude of it. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was just horrible and difficult to imagine how that was affecting people, people being killed or injured, losing their homes. It just devastated their whole way of life and then on top of it to see not only the natural disaster destruction but also the radiation from the Fukushima power plant. It was almost like science fiction and almost impossible to totally grasp and understand the true suffering there. As far as the band goes, when we got there I felt like my role was to get there and consider it a normal Japanese tour; and when I say that, bear in mind, a normal Japanese tour is still an amazingly different experience than anywhere else. I didn’t really go over there thinking about the disaster too much, I really wanted to present to everyone our show and our music as normal as possible. Which sometimes was interesting but we didn’t really go too close to the area where the meltdown had happened so I felt it was pretty safe. Within the band, there were varying degrees of concern over the danger of going there or whether we should go there or not at all but I felt pretty confident that we could go there safely. I really didn’t have any hesitations about that. I really believed and felt that there was a way to go there and not be in danger. Even though it was in the back of my head, I felt it was more worth it to go than not to.
LRI: The performances on the “Rock For The Rising Sun” release are showing you guys on top of your game yet again but what surprised me most was watching how animated and excitable the Japanese crowds are. It seems like they are a little less subdued than back in the mid 70s.
Tom: Yeah, at the shows the crowds were a little more kinetic and intense, a little more like western shows than they used to be. When we first started touring there we were really surprised by the crowds and the people there, given the excitement leading up to the shows. We would finish a song back in those days and there would be like a crescendo of applause and then it would just cut off immediately. It was kinda strange to us. We would sort of ask “Well, why are they like that? why do they do that?” and what we found out is that they don’t wanna miss anything. They’re afraid that if they’re just out there yelling and screaming between songs that they might miss something that Steven says or miss something we do onstage. That was an interesting concept to us and we thought it was pretty unique but now there’s much more yelling, hollering and interaction going on than in those days. It’s still different but maybe a little less different.
LRI: I’ve seen the band live a few times and have seen a couple live DVD’s over the years but what makes this unique and really lends to the film experience is the documentary footage. Was it important to you to capture a lot of what was going on behind the scenes and offstage in addition to the live show?
Tom: Yeah. I feel like there’s a lot of good footage there and we were really happy to have Casey Patrick Tebo, our director because we knew from working with him that his taste was something that we liked and really appreciated. The way he does his work is very, very rich in intensity and color, very visually expressive. He was able to hang with us, get in there and really get a lot of moments. It’s nice to be able to present more than just the concert footage, to be able to present the whole experience as it was. It was very important to everyone in the band that if we were going to put something out like this, it had to be something special rather than just some ordinary live concert dvd. We wanted to make sure fans saw something more than that.
LRI: The shows these days, including the Blu-Ray/DVD, are featuring a pretty eclectic set list. You’re including songs like “Hangman Jury”, “Movin Out” and “Lick and A Promise”, songs that fans love as deep album cuts rather than the obvious radio hits which you could easily fashion an entire set around. Is it fun for you to see the reaction to some of those lesser-played songs?
Tom: Yeah, it is….especially when you pick something out of the norm and they like it. You can always worry if you play something outside of the “greatest hits” that it might not go over well but it’s always sweet when it does. The fans, especially in Japan, seem to really appreciate a lot of the deep cuts, it feels like we could pretty much play anything and they would appreciate it. Anything that we like, they’re pretty much going to like. Other places, the fans might have more appreciation for the hits or the ballads or the straight up rockers. Really, our setlist has sort of boiled down to a certain template now that we can take everywhere. We’ve got these songs, where there’s certain things happening or where there are certain moments with Steven can really make an impact and we’ve gotta keep them in the show. At the same time, we’re able to fine tune things and make changes with other songs and try to figure out what the fans might wanna hear there.
LRI: When your latest album “Music From Another Dimension” came out I spoke with your drummer Joey Kramer and he basically told me, all bullshit aside, that the band was getting along better than it had in years and you were getting into a groove again. Is that still the case as you see it?
Tom: Yes, we’ve had this sort of ebb and flow of great times and then disastrous times throughout our career. It seemed like the band always had to crash and meltdown every few years but right now we’re in a really great groove. I think everybody just feels really good about how we’re playing as individuals, how the shows are going as a group and what we’re able to bring to people as a team when we play. I’m one of those people who is able to enjoy that for what it is and not worry about it going away, even though it might. Right now though, we’ve got a good thing going, everybody’s getting on good, feeling good. We’re playing good and trying stuff and it feels great right now, it’s really cool.
LRI: Thanks again for talking to me Tom. Before I let you go, I know when I talked to Joey he had the coffee thing and his book to talk about. I wanted to ask you….Do you have any personal projects that I should mention or let people know about?
Tom: You know what? There’s something that I’ve had for a long time, back in the era of the Beanie Babies, called “Obsceneies” which are like the equivalent to Beanie Babies, except they’re dirty (laughs), well they’re not physically dirty but obscene. I would tell people about it and they’d be like “Well, when are you gonna do it?”. So I had these character that I dreamed up and I found somebody who had the connections to have plush toys made. Sure enough, there was some factory in China that was able to produce about eight thousand of these things. They’re pretty hilarious but I’ve never been able to find anybody who could figure out how to sell em so I think I am just gonna take them out on the road and throw them out to people when I’m onstage (laughs). I have a character named “Scrotilla The Hun” who is a rampaging dick. I have a character named Robin Redbreasts who has breast implants.
LRI: That is not the typical project I hear about when I ask artists about their side business.
Tom: (laughs) I love a good punchline but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be a commercial success. We’ll see, maybe people will hear about it and sort of latch on to it (laughs). Right now I am thinking I will toss them from the stage. Actually, my son got into the box of them and took some to school and got in trouble…..and then I got in trouble (laughs).
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