Interviews & Features

Whitford/St Holmes Interview: Train Keeps A-Rollin’

After three and a half decades, “Reunion” comes to record, stage

By Gary Graff
June 3, 2016

Back in 1980, when Brad Whitford left Aerosmith and Derek St. Holmes found himself out of Ted Nugent’s band, the two arena rockers — whose paths had crossed at many a concert and festival — decided to join forces, giving birth to Whitford/St. Holmes.

That lasted for all of one album in August of 1981, after which Aerosmith and Whitford came to their senses while, later, Nugent rightly brought St. Holmes back into the fold. Fast forward some 35 years, and both men found themselves living near each other near Nashville, and nobody’s arm had to be twisted to put them in a room making music again together.

The result is the aptly titled and just-released Reunion, a nine-song set of crunching power rock that sounds like Whitford and St. Holmes have never stopped working together — vintage but still contemporary, i.e., timeless. It’s brought the pair back on the road together, too; after a short swing last November, they’ll be on the road opening for Whitesnake this month and have plans to keep rockin’ together whenever their other concerns allow.

FGPO: It had been not a small amount of time since you guys last worked together. Was it like getting back on the proverbial bike?

Whitford: It was, yeah. Derek and I ended up practically being neighbors in Tennessee, so we just started doing what we do, just playing and we started writing a lot of songs, and it was just very organic and a lot of fun. Derek and I have just a real good musical connection, so it’s very easy for us to work and play together. The songs just came and it was like, “Well, we gotta do something with this!”

FGPO: Was the intent to make a record from the get-go, or was that something that it evolved into?

Whitford: We just started playing together, which is just what we do, and we got to point where we started to have a number of songs, a whole bunch of ideas. And we brought our bass player into the party, and it just started feeling very natural. The good thing is that we’re having a lot of fun with it. We come from bands where the fun factor is low (laughs), and we’re bound and determined to just have a good time with it, and we leave the bullshit at the door.

FGPO: What’s different now than 30 years ago for you?

Whitford: There’s been a nice evolution, I think, in the songwriting. And our bass player and drummer are very instrumental in the creative process. They bring an awful lot to the table. So, any given day, we could literally go in the studio and come out with music, go in with nothing and come out with something. So that feels good. It’s a very creative place we’re at, and we have a lot of laughs.

St. Holmes: It was absolutely nobody sitting around thinking, “Gosh, what’s cool these days?” There was none of that. The mistakes guys make coming from big bands is when they try to follow the trends, and we ourselves even made some of those mistakes the first time, just wondering about everybody else. We just thought, “Let’s just make this thing and play it for ourselves. Let’s make it the way WE want to.

Whitford: We recorded it very quickly. We did our basic tracks in, like, two days and actually wrote a couple songs in the process of all that and had it all recorded 12 days later. We just like to work like that. We get in there and go at it. Again, it’s very organic.

FGPO: Did you have a particular sound you were aiming for?

St. Holmes: I think we just wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll, the stuff that we wanted to do when we played with Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. That’s kind of where we started, and it kinda just started to formulate. We just started to do what we enjoy and “Let’s roll with it.” There aren’t a lot of people who are doing that real rock ‘n’ roll thing anymore, y’know?

Whitford: We were very pleasantly surprised with the results. We went in with zero expectations and just had this music and didn’t know how it was gonna come out. It was just a really nice surprise. It came together beautifully.

FGPO: Talk about the songwriting process the two of you developed this time?

St. Holmes: Our frame of mind was: “Let’s write rock ‘n’ roll the way we know how to do it.” Sometimes Brad comes in with 100 percent of it or 50 or 75 percent  of it, and I listen and add what I can. Or I’ll get to a spot where I’ll have 17 lines, and I only need one more and Brad goes: “Well, what about this?” Or I’ll have two lines, and Brad grabs a pad of paper and sits down and writes a story.

Whitford: I wrote a lot of lyrics, which I’ve never really done. And, y’know, we write about stuff that’s meaningful to us, or stuff we’re going through or whatever. It was really interesting, writing for Derek to sing. It just came very easy for us. And I had a lot to write about, a lot going on in my other world — especially in Aerosmith, which was lots of frustration. [laughs]. So it was nice to be able to vent some of these things in the form of lyrics and get it into a song, and it was kind of therapeutic in a way.

St. Holmes: We write a lot about what we’ve experienced in the last week or the last month or the last year. He was in a perfect place to write and things really came together.

FGPO: How about as guitar players? How do you approach being a guitar tandem?

Whitford: I have more fun playing with Derek than, I think, anybody I’ve ever played with. We both have the same sensibility when it comes to that, and it’s very straightforward. Basically the whole album is Derek’s guitar on the left and mine on the right. We don’t like to double track guitar, don’t like that layered approach. I guess it hearkens back to, like, Bad Company and that type of approach — real simple, straight ahead rock.

St. Holmes: I’m a very good listener, especially after all the years with Nugent, playing with another guitar player. And Brad is really the same way after playing all the stuff with Joe Perry. We just know how to accommodate each other, and we know how to not get in each other’s way. We don’t play the same stuff; he’ll come up with something, and I’ll come up with something counter to that.

Whitford: We’ve always been such big fans of each other’s playing, too. We always have a lot of fun playing together, and we’re very generous with each other. We give each other a lot of rope and encourage each other. When it’s like that you play better. You dig deeper and we encourage each other to go for it and it brings out, I guess, the best of each of us.

FGPO: Can you differentiate between each of your playing in any way?

Whitford: I don’t know. We both have very similar styles. We love the same kind of music. We’re so similar in our love for hard rock and blues, and we’re fans of so many different genres and things, but we feel like we kinda know what this band is, and everything we seem to write ends up sounding like us. It’s just the way we are together. It’s a very similar approach.

St. Holmes: I love the way Brad plays, so for me, it’s playing with a guitar player where I go, “Oh, I don’t think I would’ve played that part. I would’ve done this…” But Brad always knows what it needs. He says I do as well; I think that’s how we work together. I totally listen to everything he’s saying, everything he’s playing, and everything he does has merit.

Whitford: Typically we use the same kind of guitar, the same kind of amplifiers — sometimes the exact same amplifiers. It’s still kind of riff-rock, but we really want to have a song, something to sing about and hopefully something that’s interesting and catchy.

FGPO: You guys will be touring this month with Whitesnake. What do you anticipate for that?

Whitford: It’s gonna be a fun slot for us, ’cause we don’t have to do a whole show. We can go out and kind of really focus on this new record, and we think the Whitesnake crowd is definitely our crowd — a bunch of real hard rock fans, so I really think they’ll enjoy it. And it’s a really great opportunity for us. We only did a really short run last November and played anywhere and everywhere they would have us and had a great time.

St. Holmes: I’m excited about that. We did that two-and-a-half week run last year, and it was off the chain for me. It was awesome. I haven’t been touring like Brad has for the last 15 years, every year, so maybe it saved my voice. Maybe it put me in a different frame of mind. But I have my voice, so I know I can be really good when we go out.

FGPO: So does Whitford/St. Holmes seem like a going concern from here on out, regardless of what happens with your other bands?

St. Holmes: It’s all about the music, man, none of the other bullshit. That’s the attitude Brad’s taken, that everyone in the band’s taken. We’re going to hit all the markets we can hit, beat the bushes just like we did when we were 25 years old. We’re all totally sober now; we spend our money in Whole Foods, not the party store. Our any kind of extracurricular buzz is getting up there and hearing these songs come together and playing with the guys.

Whitford: Like I say, we keep the fun factor right at the forefront. As Joe Perry says, we let the music do the talking.

FGPO: And speaking of that, what’s up with Aerosmith these days?

Whitford: Aerosmith is touring this fall in South America, and that’s the only thing we’re doing all year. And then we’re starting to look at next year. We keep talking about doing what we may call a farewell tour, but based on the KISS approach that could go on for three to five years. We are seriously looking at that, just based on our age and some of the markets that we’re gonna be playing. Will we ever get back there? We’re looking at doing a European tour and going to Asia and South America and some of the cities in the United States. So we’re talking about it.

FGPO: Would bringing Aerosmith to an end be sad or a relief?

Whitford: Good question — probably both. (laughs) It’s hard to know how we’re gonna close that out. It’ll probably be a relief, one way or another. It’s a struggle to get things done with that band. It can take the wind out of your sails sometimes, yeah. There’s so much time wasted. For me, it’s about the music, and we seem to have lost quite a bit of that energy in the Aerosmith camp. Everything turns out to be about something else, and it has nothing to do with the music. It gets old.

FGPO: So what brings you guys back?

Whitford: When we do it, certainly when we get on stage, the old spirit still is there. We play together really well. We have a lot of fun doing it. It’s getting there that can be really frustrating because Steven (Tyler) has left our management, so we have two different managements and trying to work around that can be very frustrating. But when it’s just us, and we’re on stage playing, it’s as good as it ever was — maybe even better.