Brad Whitford It can be confusing being an Aerosmith fan right now. Moreso, being in Aerosmith. There's Steven Tyler's forthcoming “country” solo project that's nixed any hope for a 'Smith tour this summer. There's Joe Perry's sojourn with Hollywood Vampires that's currently more about Johnny Depp than anything else. And Brad Whitford's joke – yes, it was a joke – that Aerosmith might even reconvene without Tyler and recruit Axl Rose in his place.

For fans of the actual music, there's relief and formidable strength in a new album from Whitford and Derek St Holmes, the just-released Reunion. It reunites the Aerosmith six-stringer and the Ted Nugent singer/guitarist a whole 35 years after their début. Last time, It happened because Aerosmith had fallen apart. This time? Well, let's just see.

What's without doubt is that Whitford/St Holmes' Reunion is a crowd-pleaser. The likes of “Shapes”, “Hot For You” and “Hell Is On Fire” rock like muthas, while “Catch My Fall” and “Tender Is The Night are radio-friendly country-rockers. There are plenty of songs here that would shine on an Aerosmith album.

As Whitford says from his home near Nashville, “It's a no-frills record. It's what we know how to do. We're rock guys. It's that simple. Everybody involved in the band just wants to be in a really cool rock band and here we have it. It's just nice to have a record out to talk about!”

You and Derek are now neighbours in Nashville: was it always the plan to make another album?

“It just kinda became an album. When Derek and I hang out, we're playing all the time – again, it's just what we do – and the music just started to come. One song, then two... three, four. Before we'd really thought about it, we asked ourselves: what are we going to do with all this?”

But it's fair to say the album's come out without much fanfare...

“Well, we certainly didn't want to go through the whole nonsense of finding a company, so we decided to pony up and make our own record. We paid for it all. Now we just have to see if we can sell it to somebody!”

How is the songwriting process between yourself and Derek? Does it differ a lot to Aerosmith?

“A lot of it is just sitting together. We still do 'homework' as it were, working on our own, but a lot of the magic comes from sitting down together with guitars. The ideas just flow. It certainly never felt like work.

“And being in Nashville is almost like being in music college every day. If you want to learn about playing guitar, the place to be is Nashville. I feel like there's a real renaissance right now. There's no barriers, and musicians are willing to try anything.”

You've said that Reunion was recorded in two weeks: that's quick by anyone's standards these days?

“Yeah, that's a rarity in any band but it's the entire opposite of... well, you know who. I find it easy. I think I know what I want to get from a recording by now, and it's really not too complicated, honestly. Derek and I both think the same way. We don't like a lot of production. This album is basically a live performance.”

That said, the guitar tracks sound really strong and worked out...

“Well, personally, I don't like double-tracking guitar. Sure, you can get a really big sound but it's never really worked for me, as the downside is you lose a lot of the intimacy of the performance. We write straight-up. Derek's guitar is in the left speaker, mine is in the right. For rhythm tracks, it's just one guitar each. That helps highlight your playing and the sound you're getting. I never liked covering stuff up with double-tracked parts. It's performance. Like a good vocal should be.

“Sounds-wise, over the years I've obviously been fortunate to get a lot of good guitars and I've also learned a lot about amps, positioning, recording. But basically it's always the same. Grab the guitar, position the mic right, and capture that performance.”

Whitford & St. Holmes

You and Derek both play guitar: it sounds like there's quite a fluid set-up in terms of who plays what?

“That's exactly it. In some cases for solos, we did do a number of takes and, on some tracks, cut them up. But we left it to the guy who recorded it, Beau Maxwell at [Nashville's Castle Recording Studios] to decide. Beau would test-mix some things we'd laid down and he'd pick what he thought was the best performance to fit the song. It wasn't a case of: 'oh, this is Brad's solo on this one' or 'this has got to have Derek's solo on this track.' He just used his ears, and – you'know what – we think Beau did an outstanding job. There are no egos involved in this at all.”

There's some great slide playing on the album: is that you?

“It's not, all the slide on the record is Derek. He's become a very proficient slide player. I do play slide, I'm spending more time now than before, but I don't focus on it much. It's intriguing to me. I mean, I listen to guys like Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes and, my God, these guys are just so damned good. I can't compete. But Derek [St Holmes] has worked a little harder than me, and he's getting really good at slide. I left it to him.”

What did you think about working with Gibson on the Collector's Choice #26 Les Paul “Whitford 'Burst”, the repro of your famous '59?

“Oh, man, I was so fortunate with that. You know what Gibson do. The first thing they do is build the prototype. So they took my '59, replicated it, and gave me back a prototype where I'm supposed to say 'yay' or 'nay' to the various aspects. Thing is, the first prototype Gibson Custom gave me, they absolutely nailed it. I had nothing to say, nothing! The prototype #1 is now actually my main Les Paul. And that's so great, because I'm too nervous to take the original out now.

Collector's Choice #26

“I'd hate to see anything bad happen to my original. As you know, these are such rare pieces, in any particular year there's only a couple of hundred out there, so I'm reluctant to tour with it. But the prototype is just unbelievable. And the production series went really well, too. I think they've all sold out. So that Collector's Choice Les Paul is pretty much exactly what my favorite guitar is right now.”

So your original '59 is now retired?

“I still play it on occasion. If I get invited to guest at a show, I'll bring it out, but those times it usually doesn't leave my hands, right? For touring, no. It's odd with old guitars; I'm like a lot of players in that, to me, they have a certain sound and feel that you just can't replicate... but I can't say exactly what it is.”

Do you personally have any favorite tracks on Reunion you'd like fans to take note of?

“That's hard. I'm genuinely pleased with all of it. But the very last track we did is kind of a favorite. It was written in the studio, just came out of nowhere, and is 'Flood of Lies'. A lot of people think it sounds the most Aerosmith-y... well, that's 'cos I was in Aerosmith. Sorry, am still in Aerosmith! But it kinda came out of the blue on the first day of recording.

“I wrote all the music myself really, and then wrote all the lyrics... and that's one of the first songs ever I'm really responsible for the whole thing. Well, I can't lay claim to the melody of the vocal, that's Derek, but all the music and lyrics is a first for me. So I'm pleased with that.”

Being called “Flood Of Lies” and with some of the lyrics, people are going to read a lot into that song, I think?

“Well, I would think so! I'm writing about my life in the last couple of years, my relationships, my experiences in Aerosmith. It was like therapy. But it's good to put that much into a song, it's good to get that stuff off my chest.”

Steven's been in Nashville too, working on his solo country album. Have you been wary of bumping into him?

“Oh, noooooo [laughs]. I see him on occasion. I was in the studio the other day when he was doing a session for his album with T-Bone Burnett on guitar. And that was cool. So no, Steven and I don't have any problems...”

Photo: David Bean