Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb : a music legend’s journey of genre, creativity, friendship and inspiration — A chat with director Casey Tebo
I caught up with film-maker Casey Tebo of Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb to chat a bit about the concert film (even though Out on a Limb is so much more), influences, music and cinema, Steven Tyler’s career, intense personal passion for life which is very much reflected in his music, and his influences, Tebo’s personal friendship with the rock legend, and much more.
Out on a Limb is a fun, dynamic, and illuminating look at the incredible man and musician who rocked the foundations of multiple genres throughout his career, including country, in his new project with the Loving Mary Band (the album “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” and the tour). Yet, it is much more than that too — Tebo reflects throughout the film in his own style as film-maker and friend of Steven Tyler, just the high-caliber friend Tyler has been to him. These points are further reflected through interviews with the likes of Slash, Robert Deleo, Jaren Johnston, and others.
Indeed, it’s refreshing to watch Out on a Limb not just for Steven Tyler’s incredible country work with the Loving Mary Band — a natural progression, considering his stylistic roots — but also to get this glimpse into the legendary musicians psychology, and learn more about the level-headed, passionate soul that he is.
Musical icons often can seem remote to their fans — untouchable almost, in the images and archetypes we as an audience develop around them. Not so with Out on a Limb. It’s not just an incredible musical journey, it’s also a must-see portrait of an incredible man and the friendships that shaped him and that he in turn shaped.
Catch Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb On Demand and Digital HD now, and enjoy the interview below.
Hello Casey and welcome to The 405! I wanted to start by asking if we could get a taste of the dynamic between Steven Tyler and Aerosmith that you observed in your years with the band, and how that compares and contrasts with the dynamic between Steven and the Loving Mary Band.
I think that any group of people who have been together for over thirty, thirty-five, forty years, that are forced to share finances and fame and managers and lawyers — I’m sure it’s the same with the Stones or any of these other legacy bands — I’m sure it puts a strain on their relationship.
I’m not really comfortable talking any specifics…
Understandable. I think it’s instructive just to get an idea of the dynamic you’re illustrating.
…but I can just imagine that it’s a difficult situation at times, but it’s also extremely reward and fulfilling as well.
Absolutely. Your film shows just how important those dynamics were and are to Steven as a man and a performer. I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit on the happiness you saw in Steven that you say was a catalyst for your own inspiration to make Out on a Limb.
Yeah, that’s the main reason I wanted to make this film. I had known Steven for so long, and I had never really seen him in this light where he was stress-free, and free of the pressures of being in a huge band like Aerosmith and dealing with the personalities, and the managers, and the wives, etc.
As his friend, sort of being happy for him and to see him free of a lot of the outside influences and able to just have fun with something.
What were some of the other factors that inspired you to make the film?
The fact that Steven is pushing seventy, he actually just turned seventy recently, and he still is inspired to go outside of what he is comfortable with — what he could just do in his sleep — and to actually have the drive to continue to be creative and do something like this that late in life.
Most definitely. What he did is impressive at any age, especially seventy.
For calling yourself “Casey Trebo, Egomaniac” I thought you did an incredible job of being a fly-on-the-wall for Out on a Limb while simultaneously making us the audience laugh and think with your stories. What was your creative decision-making process like on the project?
Well, you know I wanted to just show people what it was like to actually know him the way that I know him. That’s why I interviewed the people that I did and told the stories the way I did.
The earliest incarnation of the movie did not have a voice-over from me, but I realized it was missing something, which was the story I wanted to tell. That’s why I put the voice-over in and told the story the way that I did, it obviously has a lot to do with my relationship with him and what he’s done for me, for my career. And the type of friend that he’s been to me, just to sort of make people feel that, “hey, if I knew this guy, this is how great he’d be to me as well.”
That was a huge takeaway for me from the film too: the high caliber individual that Steven is. What were some of the challenges like on the project?
Some of the challenges were trying to reach other people to interview like James Hetfield, Lenny Kravitz, and you’re dealing with their managers and not them in person. I’m lucky enough to have a personal relationship with Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots and have a personal relationship with Slash’s manager Jeff Varner who I called and said, “I’m doing this cool thing about Steven.”
I had reached out to James Hetfield and I think that his management thought that I was just making a documentary about his solo record which wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, things get lost in translation sometimes and that’s a little frustrating.
Can definitely understand that. You called it a “documentary” there and that’s one thing I was wrestling with a bit as I was coming up with these questions was definition: “Is it just a concert film? Is it more than that?” Et cetera. What makes a good concert film? It’s not a genre I tackle that often.
Well, I fell like if I made a film about Steven Tyler and there wasn’t any music in it, you’re missing a big piece of who he is…
[Laughs] Indeed you would be.
Especially when he’s talking about his influences and why he wanted to make this record. You want to hear him perform those specific songs.
So, I don’t know. You’re never gonna make anybody happy, there’s gonna be people online complaining that there’s not enough concert footage. There’s gonna be people online complaining that there’s not enough documentary footage.
So, I feel like if you meet in the middle, it’s a happy medium.
I agree. It was a well-balanced film, which really helps, I think, to shine a light on the music’s evolution and on the psychology of the performer. Two things I found compelling.
One other question I like to ask, what films and directors do you consider most influential on you as an artist and story-teller?
Personally I’m gonna say Rob Reiner, because to make Spinal Tap and Stand by Me, and Misery and A Few Good Men, that shows that guy’s not gonna have anybody tell him what types of movies he has to make. There are people that are told, “oh you’re just a horror film maker” or “oh you’re just an action film maker” or you make concert films, and there are other guys like Jonathan Demme and Steven Soderbergh who really don’t care what anybody says and just make the movies that they want to make.
To me, those are the most inspirational film-makers: the guys that don’t continue to go to the same well all the time.
That sort of versatility is the mark of great art too I think.
One thing I struggled to wrap my head around with the true story behind the film is why some people panned Steven’s “country work” with the Loving Mary Band on the album. The dynamic, like we touched on above, is so lively and intimate. But moreover Aerosmith to me (and even Steven’s solo work) has always been kinda unabashed in its old school (“real”) country influence. I’m thinking of songs like “Mama Kin”, “Walk This Way”, “Sweet Emotion”, even “Janie’s Got a Gun”…
…those being just a few which I think tend to be somewhat “country” (or maybe “honky tonk” is a better adjective) in song structure. Maybe my observation isn’t accurate there but if it is, I think it would suggest there wasn’t really a huge stretch for him to do what he’s doing now in Nashville. At any rate, he really nails it with his incredible talent, sheer passion and musical acumen, and at 70 years-old. Wow.
I was just wondering, what do you say to people who pan that work?
I think that people have a lot of pent-up anger from whatever their personal life situation is and they direct it at certain people and it’s completely unwarranted.
Steven’s a huge icon, he can sort of do whatever he wants. He wrote a lot of music in the late eighties that was heavy country influence. When I first met him, probably 75% of his Ipod was old country, things like Alison Krauss, so he’s not just trying to hitch on to a wagon.
Absolutely. Like I said, to me it seemed like such a natural progression for him.
I agree. Yeah.
My last question for you Casey: what’s next for you?
I did an indie film in 2016 called Happy Birthday, Steven actually had a small role as a crazy drug dealer, which he actually got pretty good reviews around the board, people were a little nervous about him stopping the movie — but he elevated it for sure.
I’m getting ready to do another narrative action movie in the Fall of 2018…
Wess A. Haubrich is the contributing editor of the film section of The Nu Romantics and London’s award-winning culture website The 405. He is also a “top writer in movies” on Medium.com. He can be reached on Twitter or via email: email@example.com as he is always looking for cutting edge cinema especially and innovative forms of all kinds of art to bring to his readers by probing the minds of their creators.