Joe Perry Continues to Let the Music Do the Talking

It’s not hard to sniff out the cardboard spokespeople from the actual product users whenever I’m at CES, especially when it comes to the seemingly endless cavalcade of celebrity endorsers. I’m usually loath to speak with high-profile mouthpieces during my limited time spent at the big show in Las Vegas in January, but when the fine folks at Monster let me know Joe Perry was on the show floor and headed to their booth, I knew we had a legit gearhead in the house.

The fact is, the legendary Aerosmith guitarist has been a hands-on Monster gear user for decades, ever since he first plugged one of their patch cables into his live rig. And when Perry and I last talked about his unending passion for getting great sound a few years back, he observed, “There are certain things you can do with sound to create feelings and emotions in people. You can see it in their eyes — you can get them on their feet dancing, you can get them in a sexual frenzy, you can calm them down, you can make it so nobody, or everybody, hears a pin drop. You can do all that with sound.”

Perry was ready to talk tech from the moment he and I first shook hands upon entering the cordoned-off VIP glass-encased fishbowl inside the massive Monster booth in the Central Hall of the LVCC. His stone-faced rock-star visage immediately shifted to a wry grin as he said, “We’re actually going to talk about technology, the nuts and bolts — which is what really f---ing matters.” (I, of course, immediately seconded that sentiment.)

Joe and I quickly moved over to the white couch in the Monster fishbowl and got right down to it, discussing why he personally must use anything he puts his name on, why reproducing true bass content is critical, and how he insisted everyone who worked on his new solo album Sweetzerland Manifesto (Roman Records) utilized the same Elements headphones to establish a sonic baseline. Let the music do the talking, indeed. . .

Mike Mettler: Something I’ve always liked knowing about you is that you wrote “Powered by Monster” on a piece of gaffer tape that you stuck onto one of your road cases, even before you had any official affiliation with the company.

Joe Perry: Yeah, I did. And that was back before I met Noel [Lee, the Head Monster]. In Aerosmith, we were using the original Monster patch cables, and I could really tell the difference. It was really something that worked, and it was all driven by sound.

Mettler: And that’s critical, because tone has always been important to you as a player.

Perry: Especially tone. And, to be honest, durability. That’s the other thing — when it comes to gear like that, you want something that can handle whatever you throw at it.

And I don’t put my name on anything I don’t use, you know? I have stuff put in my lap all the time, like guitars — and a lot of guys would just take them, but I won’t. If I don’t like it, I’ll tell them, “Give it to someone who plays it. This just doesn’t work for me.”

But Noel and I have been friends and partners in sound all this time, for over 25 years, and Monster has always been there with great products. If I make a suggestion to them about something, they receive it, take it, and try it out.

Mettler: You’re using all kinds of gear out there on the road pretty much every day, so you know what works, and what doesn’t.

Perry: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And in the last couple of years, Noel had come to me to talk about how things had gone with Beats, and all the low-end stuff. If you listen to a lot of rock & roll, you can miss a lot of the bass, and I told Noel I wanted to develop some products that would address that. He sent me some headphones to check out, and we took it from there.

Mettler: How did you describe it when you two talked about it? Like, if you said, “Noel, I want it to sound like blank,” what filled in that blank?

Perry: The main thing was to not hype the bass. It’s really about making it more flat, like what you would hear while you were wearing a set of mastering headphones while mastering a record, without any exaggerated bass or exaggerated playback.

Those early Aerosmith records were recorded in a certain way, and you want to hear that sound. It all falls away from that. At that time, there were a lot of people who were recording what we’d call old-school, with just three or four tracks, though we did record some things with 16 tracks. And a lot of home recording was done on mobile cassettes.

There was a lot of change happening in recording in those days, but generally speaking, the bass was just underneath the main part of the song. When we went into disco and into rap, the bottom became the whole thing. That’s the way a lot of the equipment was designed. When I’m at home, I listen to speakers that are 40 years old, the ones that came out back when I recorded all that stuff.

Mettler: The ’70s were such a great time for speakers. What brand do you have?

Perry: I’ve got a pair of JBLs, and they’re full-range. I don’t even need a subwoofer to go with them, because I can hear all the sound I need.

Anyway, to jump to now, the Monster Elements [over-ear] headphones we all used, are like three-dimensional. I’ve been wearing them out on the road for a year or two. Some of the finish may have worn off of them because I use them so much (both laugh), but they sound fucking great.

I use that sound as a standard when I was mixing my new record [Sweetzerland Manifesto]. I made sure everybody involved with it had the same set of headphones. Even if my guys were mixing on the other coast, we still all had the same headphones so we could all hear what was going on.

Mettler: You all worked with the same sonic baseline.

Perry: Yeah, that’s true. And in these mixes, we could hear the bass exactly how it was supposed to sound — and the mids, and the highs; everything.

That’s the same idea we had for these Monster Blaster [JP100] boomboxes. The bottom is tight, and it’s right there — but it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the music. A lot of rap has the bass with the spoken word and rapped lyrics over it, so it has to work like that.

Mettler: I spoke with Darryl McDaniels — the DMC in RUN-DMC — in New York recently about “Walk This Way,” the song RUN-DMC and Aerosmith did together in 1986, and the impact it had then, and still has today. If the mix of that song didn’t sound just right, who knows if those two worlds of rap and rock would have crossed over as much as they did.

Perry: That’s right, and there is a place where both kinds of music like that can work together. And the one thing I did with these boxes is I sat down with the engineers at Monster, and we tuned the box together. We played a variety of different songs from the ’60s, right up to the latest stuff. We did Beatles, Byrds, Stones, some early Jeff Beck, and obviously Zeppelin — some of the best-produced stuff for that era.

Then we jumped ahead to the most recent classic rock stuff, and that’s why there’s a button on it for the modern setting. Sometimes, if we’d listen to a vintage Elvis [Presley] track, the modern setting actually worked better than the classic rock setting, which is kinda funny. Some people may like the classic rock setting for certain things, but this just gives you that one other option.

Mettler: As we’ve talked about before, you’ve always had a good ear for that kind of thing, because high resolution playback and high fidelity is something you’re still passionate about. That must have come through when you were listening to Jeff Beck.

Perry: Oh yeah! And I’m a big Jeff Beck fan; that’s pretty well-known. That last record he made, [2016’s] Loud Hailer, was a great combination of the up-to-the-minute style of electronic-generated sounds and the bottom end. The whole record is brilliant. But aside from that, the sound of it really represents what he does.

Mettler: Agreed. I met Jeff when his record company held a Loud Hailer listening session at Electric Lady Studios in New York [on April 7, 2016], which was probably one of the most optimal settings to hear exactly what you describe.

Perry: Oh, nice. Not long ago I was sitting in the back of a car with Jeff, talking about how good the curry we just had was. (both chuckle) We were there with this speaker, and I accidentally hit my iPad. Just by chance, it started playing “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” the song that’s at the beginning of the record. When that record came on, I went, “Oh, man, sorry!” (chuckles again)

But after it came on, you could hear everything. And I could tell by the way Jeff reacted to what he was hearing was that it was all there. I mean, I knew it was there because I could hear the bottom and the mids, but it’s amazing how much of it comes out of that little speaker. We listened to it together before moving on to the next thing, but the fact that you could hear everything out of it was really amazing.

Mettler: What song on Sweetzerland Manifesto fires on all cylinders because of how you deployed your signature Monster gear in the studio?

Perry: I would say it’s “Won’t Let Me Go,” which is the last song on the album. That one covers a whole range of sounds dynamically. It starts in such a way where you can hear acoustic instruments before it all builds up, but the bass is always represented, and the kick drum comes in the right place too. We definitely used that as a reference point when we were making the whole album.