Aerosmith - Bad Boy Brad Whitford

The Bad Boys from Boston. Most of the time we get only the viewpoint of the two sometimes referred to as The Toxic Twins, guitarist Joe Perry and Aerosmiths ever-hard-to-ignore frontman Steven Tyler. But this band, rocking our world since bell-bottoms were in style the first time, is actually a complete band. recently spent time with Aerosmiths other guitarist, the much underrated and pleasingly loquacious Mr. Brad Whitford. In this enlightening interview Whitford explains the musical interplay between himself and Mr. Perry, dissects the bands recording methods, gives a nod to de-tuned modern rockers (as well as Vai, Satriani, and Eric Johnson), and hints at his own future projects. When you're on the road re-creating the tunes that you've recorded, especially with Just Push Play, how do you decide what to play live? I'm sure in the studio you lay down a bunch of tracks and then you need to combine them, in some fashion, on stage.

Whitford: The mix kind of ends up determining which guitar parts are the most prominent. So it's kind of a compromise. Maybe you put together a couple of different parts. That's precisely what happens, and sometimes the mix determines which guitar parts are the most prominent and which one you should be playing. There's lots of guitar parts on that album. Yeah. You guys recorded and produced yourselves this time. How did that change the way things were done? I'm sure you liked it more.

Whitford: It was a lot more relaxed. We've had so much trouble in the past, you know, battling with the producers and the record company. This process was a lot more relaxed. It wasn't quite as much of that sort of us-and-them sort of vibe, which it seems to always end up like. We're working with Marty Fredrickson and Mark Hudson, or just really contemporaries. It doesn't seem like outsiders. How long did you actually spend working on this album?

Whitford: I'd say probably about a year, all said and done. Was it constant work for a year or was it just kind of letting the songs breathe a little bit in between, allowing you to think them through for a while?

Whitford: It wasn't for me. I basically showed up and just got sort of an idea of a guitar part and do a lot of improvising, which was fun: to just kind of mess around. We had a lot of freedom. Would they already have laid down drum and bass tracks when you showed up to do your parts?

Whitford: Oh, yeah. So the forms of the songs, the arrangement was already decided.

Whitford: Most of it, yeah. And you would have the ability to more or less come in and improvise your part over the top.

Whitford: Pretty much, yeah. Have you done it that way in the past?

Whitford: It wasn't as free as this. You know it really kind of encouraged me to come up with my own ideas and stuff. Did you get to include some things you hadn't used for awhile or wished you could throw in somehow some influences that you've never had a chance to use before?

Whitford: Oh, I don't know. Probably not. An Aerosmith album is too narrow-scoped for me to you know. But there's a lot of other things I'd like to do on the guitar maybe, but don't quite get a chance to do it all within the context of Aerosmith. What kind of things might those be?

Whitford: I don't know, maybe more sort of blues-jazz type things that I enjoy listening to. I like a lot of that solo guitar stuff that people do. I've always enjoyed Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and to just make a nice melody and sounds with your guitar. Let's get back to your tracking. When you were working out your tracks, how do you work out your interaction with Joes parts these days?

Whitford: Pretty much the same. It's usually just a very organic process like weve done from the beginning. I just kind of work around him. He sets a framework and then I build something around it. Do you try to stay away from the same voicings or the same part of the neck or anything like that?

Whitford: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes we want to be in the opposite part of the neck or sometimes it's just a straight unison thing. But other times I try to work out something that will complement what he's doing. Do you consider yourself a heavier player than Joe? Some of the things that you've had a hand in writing were a little heavier.

Whitford: Yeah. It always tends to go towards that real heavy sound. I don't know, it's just always something I've liked. It doesn't seem to be a bit dated either, you know. It's like some of these younger guys are getting just about as heavy as they possibly can, so I always knew there was something about that. You know: Let's see how big we can make this guitar, how fat we can get it. But yeah, I always kind of leaned that way. When you listen to modern rock, are you tempted to tune the guitars down the way all the younger bands are doing?

Whitford: Well, we certainly have more drop-D stuff on this record than we've ever had. I mean that's about as much as I've done with Aerosmith. But some of these guys are really dropping down. Yeah, they're tuning the whole guitar to C-sharp or something and then dropping the sixth string, none of that with you guys yet?

Whitford: Not yet. That's pretty-you never know, though. Well, that Fender Sub-Sonic is leading you in that direction isn't it?
Whitford: Yeah. That's a great guitar. I think there's a Telecaster version of it, too, isn't there? I think there is, yeah. Do you check out a lot of gear?

Whitford: I would say, no, not really. Did Fender just approach you with the Sub-Sonic?

Whitford: Yeah. I heard about it and they were always willing to send stuff out. You know just about anybody will let me try anything, which is nice. You make a phone call and they send it out. Is that how you hooked up with the Line 6 stuff as well? 

Whitford: Yep. Did you seek them out, though? Did you see something and decide you wanted to give that stuff a try?

Whitford: Well, no. I bought a Pod and I just fell in love with it, so then I kept trying all their stuff. Obviously if you like the Pod you don't have a problem with the digital versus analog situation.

Whitford: Well, you know it depends. Sometimes one works better than the other. Sometimes on the album we would use both. In Joe's studio in his house do you set up big cabinets and let them roar?

Whitford: Yeah. We would do both. We would set up 4x12's, and sometimes wed use Line 6s Amp Farm, or a Pod or both. How many tracks would you tend to record on a given tune either yourself or between the two of you?

Whitford: Well, it would depend on the song. Sometimes there would be quite a few. Maybe on one section there'd be an acoustic or we'd do a lot of little pieces for different parts of the songs just to create tonal variations. What do you play when you're not working on Aerosmith-type stuff?

Whitford: See I'm just trying to learn like old standards and stuff like that. Jazz standards? Blues standards?

Whitford: Yeah, so I can get a better understanding of song construction, and melody, and some of the old great classics. Just whatever. I just pick up the big fake books and kind of mess around with stuff like that just for the hell of it. Just solo guitar?

Whitford: Yeah, just trying to slowly teach myself to read music again and kind of study. I love the chords, you know? I really like that. I've always understood that you were somewhat schooled in music, but I don't know to what degree. Did you study music in school?

Whitford: I went to Berklee [College of Music] for a few semesters, studying theory, and composition, the history of jazz, and all that stuff. So I was reading music, but back when I went to that school it was strictly a jazz school. Rock 'n roll was looked down upon at that point. It's a different story at that school today. But that's really about the extent of it But certainly it helped you to be able to look at what was going on in Aerosmith and from a theory standpoint say "You know if I did this, this would probably work pretty cool"?

Whitford: Yes, definitely. Does that still play a part in what you do?

Whitford: I think sometimes it does, yeah. And when you say you're trying to teach yourself to read again, were you a pretty good reader at one point?

Whitford: I wouldn't say I was. I was never a great sight-reader, but certainly I'd like to be better than I am right now. I think it just opens up your mind. So give me one or two standards that you've been really working with lately.

Whitford: Oh, just dumb stuff, you know, like stuff you'd go in and play with Les Paul, Monday night, in New York. Simple things like "All of Me" or stuff like that. And "Fly Me to the Moon" or something like that.

Whitford: Exactly. Yeah, but it's kind of interesting to see how this stuff is put together and I like learning the melodies I think it teaches you a lot about phrasing and structure. And also from a soloing standpoint where jazz players would often play the melody of the song in their solo, whereas rock players don't seem to think that way quite as much.

Whitford: Right. How do you approach soloing with Aerosmith?

Whitford: Pretty much, it's usually off the cuff. I try and just do something that feels right. Usually, the first things that you play are the ones that work. The more you start to think about it, sometimes it doesn't quite work out. Do you find yourself stretching into any kind of jazzy stuff at any point?

Whitford: No, not really. Not too much, certainly not in the context of Aerosmith. You keep them pretty separate.

Whitford: Yeah. I still have a lot to learn. What are some of the tunes you're playing out on the tour right now that you really enjoy soloing over most?

Whitford: Well, it depends how the set goes. Some nights I have more songs to play solos and we keep pretty strict to how they were recorded, so it depends. Some nights I might do a song like "Last Child", and then there's some songs where I have to re-create some of Joe's guitar parts cause he's doing a different part, so it's usually always different, but I always liked playing "Last Child" and sort of funk kind of stuff. How have you seen both your and Joe's playing evolve over the years? I know you tend to stick to the album tracks or the style of playing certain songs, but certainly you must've seen growth through all these years, too. Is there a way you could describe that?

Whitford: I think we've learned to sort of cop each others feels a little bit better. I know people that have known us for a long time and we've started to fool them. Theyd say, "Oh, that's Joe playing that" and it'll be me. And then they'll say, "That's Brad playing that" and it'll be Joe. So I think that's something that we got from each other, cause our styles are pretty different, but seem to meld.

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