Aerosmith bassist talks about the band’s “Let Rock Rule” tour plus equipment, future plans and more!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
August 18, 2014
Tom Hamilton has been the bass player with Aerosmith since the band’s formation in the early ‘70s. Since then, the rock supergroup has since become one of the best-selling bands of all time, garnering multiple Grammy awards and nominations, as well as induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. FBPO’s Jon Liebman caught up with Tom in the midst of Aerosmith’s “Let Rock Rule” tour, with special guest Slash, featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.
FBPO: First of all, Tom, how’s your health? How are you feeling?
TH: I’m feeling good. Last year was a struggle, but I’ve been having a great year this year. We just did a six-week tour of Europe, which was a blast, and we’re well into our U.S. and Canada tour. I feel so fortunate that I am able to get out here and do it and that’s because the band is reaching a new level of how we play together. We’ve really been doing some stuff on stage we’ve never done before, in terms of being able to anticipate each other. I’m just very grateful to be here for that.
FBPO: I guess after forty-plus years of playing together, you much know each other pretty darn well!
TH: We do! We still mess up the songs now and then. [Laughs]
FBPO: How did the pairing with Slash and Myles Kennedy come about for the current tour?
TH: They hadn’t been booked yet, so they were available. It was a little bit difficult [at first] because we only play two shows a week and most bands want to play three of four shows a week. But once we were able to make that little thing work, they said, “Absolutely! We want to come out on the road with you guys.” We were very excited because they’re a real band. They are a rock band and they can play as good as any of ‘em. Slash has got such a presence and he’s got such a great style and history of music that he’s written. And Myles Kennedy is an awesome singer, so there’s a synergy going on here that feels really good. It’s really exciting.
FBPO: Who’s coming out to the shows? I’m guessing that in addition to the longtime fans, you’re also seeing a lot of younger people who may not have even been born yet in those early days back in the ‘70s.
TH: [Laughs] I guess you’re right! It’s a huge range, especially in the U.S., but it’s really good to see the younger audience out there. Above all our fans that have been with us for a long time, it’s good to see some of the young kids too because they bring that unbridled enthusiasm. They bring a lot of energy into the environment.
FBPO: What would you like the people – both young and old – to know about the current tour so they’ll be sure to come out to see you, especially if they’ve seen you before?
TH: I want them to know that we’re playing a really good selection of songs that cover the whole of our career. We’re always trying to fine tune that and figure out exactly the perfect set with the perfect ratio of old songs to new songs and we feel like we’ve kind of got it right now. We just feel that’s really important. We want to play music that people are hoping to hear as they park their car and start walking into the hall. If people love our music, they’re going to love the way we present it live. We really want people to have the experience of hearing each song the way they dream about hearing it, along with the extra energy put into it. That’s really what our show is about.
FBPO: So they play and then you play and then Slash comes out and jams with you guys?
TH: We have done that a few times, but we don’t have a pattern yet. They play first, then we play. A lot of times, they’re already on the way to their next city, wherever they’re going. But there have been a few times when Slash came out. We had that in Boston, where Slash was out there and Johnny Depp was out there playing too.
FBPO: I heard about that! How much more can you share with me about the set list? You mentioned there’s some old stuff and some new stuff, as well?
TH: Yeah, let’s see. We start with either “Back in the Saddle” or “Love in an Elevator” and we play “Same Old Song and Dance,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Living on the Edge.” You’d think I’d have it memorized in my head by now! It’s pretty much a lot of what everybody wants to hear.
FBPO: I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up, Tom, but you made a comment recently about Music From Another Dimension! and the fans’ reaction to it. People were interpreting what you said to mean that it was the fans’ fault that sales weren’t stronger for that record. Would you care to explain what you meant?
TH: Well, I can’t remember what I said, but if I said something like that, I was kidding, being facetious. It was not a very big album and who knows why? It’s not [just] the fans. It’s all of us. What happened? I don’t know. We’ll have to try again with another record.
FBPO: I think you said they didn’t give it enough time to grow on them.
TH: I was kidding! I said they should listen to it more so they could find something they like about it! But it was totally tongue in cheek.
FBPO: Things sure look different in print than they sound when you say them, don’t they?
TH: [Laughs] Yeah. You gotta be careful!
FBPO: What kind of equipment are you using, Tom?
TH: I’m using Gallien-Krueger amps. For basses, I’m using mostly G&L and I also use a Sadowsky five-string for a few songs and a bass by a company called F-Bass, from Hamilton, Ontario. Strings are D’Addarios.
FBPO: How about effects?
TH: I don’t use effects a lot, except for distortion, and I don’t use that very much. I want to hear the bass being more percussive. I definitely have parts during the set where I use some overdrive, but not a lot. In recent years, I’ve become a believer in the bass being more of a percussive instrument than an instrument where you want to try to find the right note that no one else has discovered!
FBPO: Do you do any slapping?
TH: No slapping, but I have a way of muting that I learned, where I mute with the fingers of my left hand. I’ll hold a note down completely with my forefinger and then lay my other three fingers on the string. You get various amounts of muting that way. It actually gives you a wicked thump! If you want to play with sort of a James Jamerson funky, clunky sound, it’s perfect for that.
FBPO: What’s next for Tom Hamilton? I remember you making a promise to your mom during one of your acceptance speeches that you were going to go to college as soon as you got all this music stuff out of your system!
TH: [Laughs] Yeah, right! That’s not gonna happen. Poor Mom has passed on to the next dimension, so hopefully she’s looking down and feeling good about what I’m doing.
FBPO: What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
TH: I think more songwriting. I have a song I wrote that’s not really suitable as an Aerosmith song. I thought it might sound good with a girl singing it, so we got this girl to come in and sing vocal on it and it sounds awesome, so I’m trying to find someone who might have a use for it. It’s a really catchy kind of rock/pop song that would be great for something. My management is helping me try to find a home for it. I have a bunch of other stuff that’s finished. It just needs to be properly recorded. We’ll have to see what happens with that. I’ll probably do a lot of work on that when we finish with this tour.
FBPO: What would you be if you were not a bass player?
TH: I think it would be something that had to do with performing. I like that interaction between performer and the audience. Something with performing or writing, possibly.
FBPO: What kind of writing?
TH: Well, I obviously could write a memoir. People ask me about that a lot, if I’m ready to do that. I’m surprised when I hear the question because there are so many Aerosmith books out. Joey put a book out, Steven did. There’s a book that the whole band put out years ago. It makes me think, “Who needs another Aerosmith book?” But a lot of people seem to think, “Well, it would be neat hearing it from your perspective.”
FBPO: It would be fun to compare.
TH: Yeah. So, maybe I’ll just try to build up some momentum when I get off the road, pile up a bunch of interesting stories I could string together.