Joe Perry, Keeping Busy: Scoring the Film ‘City of Lies,’ Working on New Album and Participating in a Vatican Health Conference (Q&A)

Rock Cellar Magazine

Aerosmith has seemingly been on hiatus over the past year, like so many other bands forced to hit the ‘pause’ button due to the pandemic. But guitarist Joe Perry has been riding a whirlwind of new projects already in 2021: He composed five songs with Alberto Bof and others for the film City of Lies, which was completed in 2018 but received wide release in June. Perry has also begun working on an album that’s due for release later this year. 

He also participated in a May conference held by the Vatican discussing COVID-19 and other global health concerns, where he was interviewed by noted neuroscientist Dr. Rudy Tanzi on the topic of brain health and rock stars. 

And, oh yeah, Aerosmith’s 50th anniversary tour is on tap for 2022 after being rescheduled. 

Rock Cellar: You recently co-wrote songs for the film City of Lies.  What attracted you to the film?  

Joe Perry:  I first heard about it from Johnny Depp, who acted in the film. We talked about the film’s story.  It was generating some controversy regarding the unsolved murders of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. The big question in the film was “who murdered them”?  A police detective (Russell Poole) had tried to solve the murders for a long time.

The film was fascinating. I was working on my solo album then at a studio right near the film set, and the producers asked me if I could add something to the music score. It was natural to become involved with the music.

City of Lies is available on Blu-ray from our Rock Cellar Store

Rock Cellar: What was it like working with Alberto Bof on the songs, and how are those songs different in style from your usual style?

Joe Perry: Well, I met with Alberto, and we started playing together and jamming. I had never played with a classically trained pianist before. When he plays, the room just fills up with his sound. He could sit in an orchestra and take over. In any case, the producers would tell us they needed a certain kind of musical vibe and sometimes show us some clips. That would inspire us to compose music in a certain way.

Other times, we’d just go straight ahead and compose music. Working with Alberto was amazing. I’d try something and he’d answer me back. We locked in a vibe easily, and worked on the music together for 2-3 weeks. I was fascinated by how much of the music we put down was used. Some bits and pieces of the music ran for 15-30 seconds at a time. I’ve done soundtracks before, and you never know how much of it will be used or even if it will be used. I composed the theme song for the Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which lasted 29 ½ seconds, and it was then used throughout the show.

Alberto Bof and Joe Perry

Alberto Bof and Joe Perry

Rock Cellar: I understand your new solo album will be out later this year.

Joe Perry: Well, actually the record is like the second half of the Sweetzerland Manifesto record I released in 2018, which was meant to be an instrumental record. I already had 15-20 songs that I could take to the next level. Since I was recording in California, I was able to have many of my musician friends come down and play on the record. 

Jack [Douglas] suggested I use a few singers on the new record, and I thought why not? So I had people like David Johansen and Terry Reid come down and sing. The songs were already 90% done.  I finished 3 or 4 songs that were left over from Sweetzerland Manifesto. I wrote some songs with my sons Tony and Roman in London.

One version of the new record will be on vinyl, which will include 3 or 4 songs from the Sweetzerland Manifesto album. When you’re putting together a vinyl record, you have to keep in mind that you only have 22 minutes per side, so you have to think about what songs people would first want to hear. Putting together a vinyl record is like assembling two mini-sets.

We’ll be including on that record pictures from the recording. We’ll also release with the CD bits of the performance we did at the Roxy (in LA) with Chris Robinson and Gary Cherone of Extreme.

I’d describe the album as very riff-oriented, melodic, and energetic. It includes some ballads, and isn’t a rehash of my previous albums. It’s a different batch of songs. The record has some guitar solos, but I held back on that stuff. I listened to my sons regarding their reactions to the songs, and learned from them. For example, Roman would ask, “Why put a solo in one song when the song’s riff does the job?” Essentially, less is more.

Rock Cellar:  You were interviewed by Dr. Rudy Tanzi on brain health and rock stars at a conference in May on COVID and other health issues at the Vatican. What was that experience like?

Joe Perry:  Well, this evolved through my involvement with the Geoffrey Beene Foundation, which does cancer research. I first got involved with that foundation through my wife, Billie. The foundation wanted to do a promotion to highlight the work of scientists, and presented them as “Geoffrey Beene’s Rock Stars of Science.” Some of them are the same age as me. They took pictures of me with well known scientists, such as Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Rudy Tanzi, and put up posters with these pictures on buses and in subways. 

The campaign was designed to make people more aware of the work these scientists do, and encourage people to contribute to the foundation. I actually met Rudy, who’s a Harvard professor, many years ago, and last year he asked if I would like an invitation to the Cura Foundation’s 5th International Vatican Conference, which covered COVID and other health issues.

I said OK, I’ll put my foot forward, and he did a short Skype interview with me on rock stars and brain health. Many other top scientists, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deepak Chopra, participated in the event.

Rock Cellar:  Dr. Tanzi plays keyboards on your new album, and played on the Aerosmith album Music From Another Dimension.  How would you describe his playing?

Joe Perry:  I’ve never seen anyone play the Hammond B3 organ like him. He makes the thing rock. In fact, I bought a Hammond B3 organ for my studio just so he could play it. When he first starts warming up, he typically plays “Voodoo Child,” and then he plays songs of people like Jimmie Smith.  He’s incredible.  He’s a creative genius.

Rock Cellar:  Aerosmith’s 50th Anniversary Tour has been pushed back to 2022. Is the tour still set to take place?

Joe Perry:  Everybody’s testing the waters with concerts now, and seeing how it feels.  We want to make sure it’s safe for fans and others before we go out there on stage.  But we’re booked!

Here are a couple of other features we’ve had with Joe Perry that you might enjoy!

Steve Rosen recalls various encounters with Joe Perry and Aerosmith at disparate points in the band’s career — first as a fledgling guitar god, and then an actual guitar god

and a detailed cover interview with Joe Perry about his autobiography: Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith

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