It has been 35 years since Brad Whitford and Derek St Holmes last put out a record, so Reunion, the follow-up to their self-titled debut, is long overdue.
In the years since that first full-length, Whitford has sold millions of albums and toured the world dozens of times over with Aerosmith, while St Holmes has put out his own solo records and worked on and off -to great acclaim - with Ted Nugent.
So, when we speak with the pair the first question on our mind is, why now?
“We’ve been friends for years and years,” Whitford explains. “But we’ve always lived in different parts of the country. Eventually, we ended up living in the same town in Tennessee, so we started playing together again. The writing just came naturally to us.
It got to the point where we felt we had to do something with this
“It got to the point where we felt we had to do something with this. We started putting a band together and that’s how it all happened. We had always stayed in touch. We have a real affinity for the same kind of music - it all came pretty easy for us to make this happen.
“It just so happened that now that we’re practically neighbours and we both had a period of time where we could devote ourselves to it and concentrate on this music without any distractions from Aerosmith or Ted Nugent, and we just went at it.”
When MusicRadar speaks to the duo, they are hard at work at Brad’s rehearsal space limbering up for a batch of summer dates with Whitesnake, and still clearly basking in the creative glow provided by the Reunion project.
We cut straight to the chase and got the inside word on the album, the guitar duo’s tone and how working together differed from tracking with A-list bandmates past and present.
"I want to work, I want to play."
What are your memories of working together first time around in 1981?
Derek: “We toured together in '78 a lot. We would watch each other play every night. I always thought [Brad] had such a cool groove, and I loved what he was playing. I knew it would be fun to work with him. We became friends and we would hang out backstage, and we liked the same music. That’s how it all started.
"When he decided to leave Aerosmith, I had already left Nugent at the end of '78. I tried a couple of different solo albums, and Brad called saying he was leaving Aerosmith. I said, ‘Wow, really?!’ He said, creatively, he’d had enough and it was driving him crazy.
"We had the same management at that point and they suggested we got together and put some music together and they could get us a deal on Columbia. From there, we went full force jamming together.”
Everything always takes forever with Aerosmith. I want to work, I want to play.
Brad: “The first record was done in a similar way to this one. We had that one done in about four weeks. It was a very similar approach: a live recording and very minimal in the overdubs. It didn’t have a lot of production; we just wanted to capture the moment.”
How did Reunion pan out once you got into the studio?
Brad: “We tend to work very quickly. I have worked in several different situations a lot with Aerosmith, and that was always really hard for me, because everything always takes forever with Aerosmith. I want to work, I want to play. Derek is very much the same way. We work at a whole different pace so we get a lot of work done.
"We love this music so much. We’ve got this record and we had it finished in 14 days. That’s the way I like to do a record - it’s pretty much a live recording. All of the basics were recorded live: bass, drums and two guitars. We wanted to capture that immediacy of a live performance.”
"...we can communicate almost unspoken."
What is it about your individual playing styles that work well together?
Derek: “With this band, we have two really strong, melodic rhythm guitar players working together. That is the essence of the power for us. When Brad had a chance to have somebody like me play back-up behind him, it almost freed him to be able to play effortlessly anything that he wanted and vice-versa. When he backs me up, it is so easy to create and come up with ideas.
"We have a mutual respect of each other’s playing and prowess. Brad is also excited, I think, because I can sing, so that’s a plus! He’s so tuned in to working with a singer that it was never a thought; he knew that was covered.
"For me, I was always working with a guitar player that was hard to tip-toe around, and I always had to try to sneak in ideas that we knew were going to help, but you have to make it sound like it was Ted Nugent’s idea to get it on the album. Now, working as freely as Brad and I do together is much more fun.”
We have a mutual respect of each other’s playing and prowess
Brad, from a guitarist’s perspective, how does working with Derek differ from Joe Perry?
Brad: “It’s different, but it’s similar in a way that we can communicate almost unspoken - we both have that approach to the guitar where the guitar comes pretty easy.
"When Joe has an idea, I can always find a way to complement it and expand on it. The same is true with Derek and I; we have a real communication with the guitar. I would say it is very generous, we really encourage each other and we love each other’s styles.”
And Derek, how does working with Brad differ from recording with Ted?
Derek: “Brad is very giving, he’s very open, he’s 50/50. Brad listens to everything: he’s a sharer, Ted is not so much. Ted has a specific idea of where he wants his music to go.
"I also think a lot of the time in Aerosmith, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have such an idea of where they want the music to go that they are the driving forces, and you either fall in line with that and find your best position or they roll over you. I don’t think that is something conscious from Joe Perry - Joe is a phenomenal guitarist and I love the way he plays.
"I don’t think there is anything on this album we have done that all three of those guys wouldn’t have loved to have played on knowing that their asses are not on the line.”
"We're not listening to a label telling us we should sound more like Maroon 5"
The record has a fantastic rock guitar tone; what gear were you using in the studio?
Brad: “Probably 90 per cent of the album’s guitar sound came from a 3 Monkeys amp. It was just an 18-watt amp, pretty similar to a Marshall 20-watt amp. We had a great sound from that. We did most of the record with those and then a Vox AC15 and a Friedman 50-watt, but it was mostly the 3 Monkeys. I was using a Les Paul, a Strat and a Telecaster - the real basic tools.”
Derek: “It was the 3 Monkeys Sock Monkey, this 18-watt tube head through a 1x12 with a Celestion in it. It’s got that Marshall, British sound which is what we’re akin to.
"We grew up on The Who, Free, Jeff Beck and all that, so we wanted to go for those sounds and bring our personality through those tones, so we stuck to the amps that gave us those sounds. We didn’t bring in a bunch of Marshall heads and cabinets - we kept it to the 3 and the Vox.”
Why did you decide to produce the album yourselves?
We funded this record ourselves, we wrote it and we produced it ourselves. We didn’t have to listen to anybody’s opinions
Brad: “We funded this record ourselves, we wrote it and we produced it ourselves. We didn’t have to listen to anybody’s opinions; it is all our own ideas. We are very pleased with how it came out.”
Derek: “Brad and I are the bosses, and we own the whole deal. We’re not listening to a record label telling us maybe we should write something a little bit more like Maroon 5. All we do is play what we want to play.
"I think that’s the way Humble Pie did it - I don’t think Steve Marriott used to sit around wondering what the record label wanted to hear; he told them all to fuck off and sang and played what he wanted, and that band tore it up. That’s what people want to hear: that’s honesty, and Brad and I were very honest on this album.”
It sounds like the process was a liberating experience.
We all played straight from the heart and I think that is why it’s as good as it is
Brad: “It absolutely was a very liberating experience. We had a lot of fun - we laughed as hard as we worked. We were in the studio for two weeks straight doing 14-16-hour days. We just got it done, but we had so much fun doing it. I think you can hear that on the record.”
Derek: “When [drummer] Troy [Luccketta] from Tesla came in and set up his drums in the studio, he didn’t even know half of the material. But when he heard it, he said the music made him want to play like he did when he was 16.
"It was so liberating and so much fun. We all played straight from the heart and I think that is why it’s as good as it is. Nobody’s ass was on the line with this record. If you like it, I’m glad you like it. If you don’t like it, there’s plenty of other stuff for you to go listen to.”
"I've been listening to this record like crazy."
Brad, jumping to Aerosmith quickly, will there be any activity in that camp this year?
Brad: “I’m not sure if we’re going to be working on any new Aerosmith material, but we are touring later this year in South America, and we’re starting to plan some touring for next year. But right now, I have plenty of time to devote to Whitford/St Holmes, and I am very happy about that.
"Usually, I will make a record and then I don’t listen to it for a long time. I’ve been listening to this record like crazy, and I’ve been really enjoying it. That’s a different experience for me.”
Realistically, given the many other commitments you guys have, what are the touring plans for Whitford/St Holmes?
This is the greatest band I’ve ever been in, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had
Brad: “We hope to make it over to Europe. We have a tour for Whitesnake, and then we’re looking for whatever we can get after that.”
Derek: “As soon as we finished the recording, we went out for two-and-a-half weeks with the band and it was awesome. This is the greatest band I’ve ever been in, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. We can’t wait to play for people. I can’t wait to tour with Whitesnake and hear David Coverdale sing every night.
"We want to get to England as well. The English crowds are not fickle - they stick with you. In America, people have too much choice; they bounce all over the place. Whenever I’ve had a chance to tour England, it has been fantastic, so we are looking forward to being able to get over there with this band. It’s all going so great - we’re like 22-year-old kids again.”
Reunion is out on 3 June via Mailboat Records.