Why the AEROSMITH 2009 BRENDAN O’BRIEN sessions fail and were considered a nightmare

The pre-production/rehearsal sessions took place in February 2009 at Vindaloo Music Inc aka “Pandora’s Box” studio in Boston, MA. Different publications and interviews from the band give us insight into why they didn’t work.

The big news is that we had our first meeting and strategy session with our producer Brendan O’Brien. We’ve been wanting to work with him for a while. The meeting came on the heels of the band all working together for the first two weeks. Things are moving along and it’s now on the fast track. We had a day where we all got to listen to everyone’s songs and ideas. In the next few weeks we’ll be narrowing down what we’ve got. We can already see things coming into focus – even as new ideas are popping up right and left. Joe survived his knee operation and has obviously done lots of playing during his recuperation.

Tom Hamilton, AF1 diary update, Feb 2009

At the time the Aerosmith official fan club, AF1, was actively sharing content and prepared a video update from the studio with Joey Kramer narrating with B-Roll footage of the band working. The video was eventually left unpublished as they run out of time.

Rehearsals for the new record. We are working with Brendan O’Briedn, it’s going really good, and I’m here to report that we are going to have a new Aerosmith record really soon.

Joey Kramer, Feb 2009 – Unused AF1 video Update

The session had to be cut short in order to do a summer tour with ZZ Top. Steven Tyler shared his perspective and expectations for the rest of the sessions:

We’ll probably go back in the studio after this tour. There’s a couple of songs that I wrote that I wanted to give the time they deserve. We’ll pick up the recordings from where we left off, we started recording with Brendan O’Brian and we had a blast. I played him a couple of songs at the end and he said “holy shit, you’ve got a couple of hits here”, and I said, “from your lips to God’s ears”. We’ll see what happens, don’t want to jinx anything.

Steven Tyler, Bob & Tom Show, May 2009

From 2001’s “Just Push Play”, the band had entered the studio in Mauii to record “Girls of Summer” in 2002 and released “Honking on Bobo” in 2004 as a way to complete an album quickly and start another tour. In 2006 the band started re-recording old outtakes, 2 of which would be included in the “Devil’s New Disguise” compilation, and those sessions were interrupted once again as they had to re-record their first album (and other vocals) to be used in the Guitar Hero game that was launched in 2008.

We tried to make this record probably—well, legitimately—three times. We set up some phone calls with Rick Rubin and talked with him about possibly doing the record. After that, we got together with Jack Douglas with the intention of coming up with a new studio record but the vibe wasn’t right and people weren’t in the right headspace. There was a tour coming up and we had time to work in the studio with Jack, we just didn’t have time to play everything from scratch so we decided to do a blues record, the Honkin’ on Bobo record. Then we got together with Brendan O’ Brien and spent some time with him and that ended quickly. In between all of this the band was still touring. It wasn’t like the band was sitting on vacation and trying to decide if we were going to make a record. As the years kept going it was really frustrating to not have anything new to play. It was time.

Joe Perry, Nov 2012

A few years back, they attempted to record a new album with producer Brendan O’Brien – who has worked extensively with Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen. It didn’t go well. Tyler claims that both he and Perry were snorting pills during the sessions, and the Aerosmith frontman didn’t like O’Brien’s methods. “He [came] into our session and set up a piano,” Tyler told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Trying to come up with parts on songs I wrote.”

In 2009, Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford gave Rolling Stone his account of the sessions. “There’s a very sad moment we had,” he said. “The gentleman that we had was number one on our wish list and it was very exciting for us to be working with Brendan. I don’t think it lasted more than two, three weeks. And he bent over backwards to do whatever he could to make Steven comfortable. As I recall, he didn’t like working with Brendan. You couldn’t ask for a nicer person or a more talented musician and producer than Brendan.” The band’s former A&R rep John Kalodner heard similar things. “In the brief conversation I had with Brendan, he said it was a nightmare,” Kalodner told Rolling Stone “He couldn’t believe I worked with them for all those years.”

Andy Greene for Rolling Stone

We were touring and working through these last 10 years, and Brendan came up a few times. He has a way of working that’s good for some bands, but it just didn’t click with us. He was a big help to me when I recorded my last solo record. I borrowed one of his engineers, and I went down to Atlanta to check out his studio. But with the band and him, it just didn’t click. And I don’t think we were ready; we didn’t have the material. Not everybody was on the same page at that point. It was hard for him to get something to hold on to and help us with.

Joe Perry, Nov 2012

Joe Perry mentions the sessions in his book saying:

We brought in Brendan O’Brien to help kick-start our new album, but we never got very far. Steven wasn’t really willing to work. Five years had passed since Honkin’ on Bobo. Five years is a long time without a record.
Brendan started coming in every few weeks to help get the ball rolling. We began working up some of the rough riffs that would form the backbone of the new record. Steven either showed up late or not at all. He just wasn’t into it. That was surprising because, like me, he was a big fan of Brendan’s and loved how he had mixed Get a Grip. Despite everyone else’s enthusiasm, though, Steven was emotionally distant. He was getting higher and higher, while I was suffering with knee and painkiller problems. Nonetheless, we moved ahead. The material was getting strong. I felt like I had a tank of high-test gas in a sixties muscle car. I was ready to rock. Plans were made to record in New York. The studio was booked, a schedule blocked out. But a week before we were due to start, Steven withdrew. He said he had pneumonia, which would require three weeks of rest. Scratch New York. Nothing could be done until the following summer.
Well, I had all this creative energy inside me. I had to bust loose. It had been four years since my Joe Perry album. So I did what I’ve always done. Rather than drive myself crazy waiting on Steven, I started making new music.

Joe Perry 2014

“…the record came together with producer Jack Douglas following an aborted attempt with Brendan O’Brien, Perry explained that O’Brien “just didn’t fit us.” As he put it, “He’d say to me, ‘What have you got?’ I’d play a little bit and he’d ask, ‘What’s the title, what’s the chorus, where does it go?’ If I couldn’t answer then it would be killed. But Jack, who’s like a member of the band, he could say, ‘Hey, that bit is cool – it goes with that other part and it fits with this riff.’”

Joe Perry, December 2012

O’Brien commented on the topic with the RollingStone magazine, giving us a peek at his frustration over those sessions and the difficult working process with Steven and Joe:

I was talking to Joey Kramer from Aerosmith about three years ago and he was telling me about the record you started with them. He said it was a tragedy the thing never happened.

I guess sometimes things just don’t work out.
[Laughs] Um, yeah. You could say that. Joey seems to be an awesome guy. How about that? Let me just say that I really enjoyed hanging out with Tom [Hamilton,] Brad [Whitford] and Joey. They were great. They were awesome.

I just think you caught them at a particularly bad moment in time.
Maybe so, but that didn’t stop . . . Ah, well, never mind. I’m talking to a writer here. I gotta stop.

Brendan O’Brien interview, January 2013

The working relationship with O’Brien didn’t work because the band is used to producers helping them put together and shape the songs from the bits and pieces they have and Brendan’s expectation was for the band to have fully structured demos to start with. The sessions were considered cursed and the rest of the year proved the band members were not in the right state of mind to finish the production of a new album. Issues included:

  • Steven had relapsed in his drug consumption after dealing with hepatitis C – even sugesting his 2010 autobiography that he was using from 2005 to 2009.
  • Tom was still dealing with his cancer treatment and was replaced on tour by David Hull for the rest of the tour.
  • Brad had a head injury and was replaced by his guitar tech on a few tour dates.
  • Joe had a difficult knee replacement operation and was still recuperating.
  • Steven fell from the stage at Surgis, South Dakota, on August 06, 2009.
  • The tour got cancelled as a result of his injuries.
  • The band started looking for a new singer and didn’t communicate for a few months.
  • The band reunited for shows in Mauii and Abu Dhabi without talking to eachother.
  • Steven joined the encore of one of Joe Perry’s solo shows on Nov 11, 2009 announcing he was “not leaving Aerosmith”.
  • The band had an internal meeting and made their peace.
  • The sessions were further delayed by the launch of the 2010 tour “Cooked Locked and Ready to Rock” that started in South America.

The O’Brian sessions were cancelled and the material discarded. Jack Douglas and Marti Frederiksen eventually picked up the pieces during the 2011 sessions of what would become their 2012 album “Music from Another Dimension”.


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