Gary James' Interview With Neill Byrnes Of
Aerosmith Tribute

Draw The Line

Draw The Line is the only officially endorsed Aerosmith Tribute Band in the world! Based out of Boston, Massachusetts, the group has taken their act all over the world. Draw The Line's Neill Byrnes talked with us about the group and what it's like to look so much like Steven Tyler.

Q - Neill, it must be fun these days to be Steven Tyler because of his high visibility on American Idol. Do people mistake you for Steven Tyler when you're offstage?

A - You know, I've been doing this for twenty years and I cannot go a day without somebody thinking that I'm him or mistaking me for him, even if I have my hair under a hat or I haven't shaved and dressed in grubby clothes, it always seems to happen on a daily basis.

Q - You mean when you're walking down the street, going into a restaurant or going into a grocery store?

A - I can be pumping gas. I'll do it with a baseball cap on and sweat pants and people would still do a double take. They they'll get up close, "Are you related to him?" It's been going on for a long time. Then when I tell people I'm not him, I'm not related to him, they go, 'You look just like him" and I go "really? I don't see it." I try to make a joke of it at this point because you can't be upset by it. Some people would be, I want to say aggravated with it after awhile, but it's what I do and I might as well have some fun with it.

Q - When the fun really begins is when you step into a bar.

A - (laughs) I think sometimes it makes people nervous. If I walk into a club and see the bands onstage, I'm going to check out a friend's band or just going to see some band I haven't seen before. I walk in and I'm close enough where they can get a glimpse of me and they get nervous. They think it's him that's there.

Q - When did lightning strike and you said I'm going to get an Aerosmith tribute band together?

A - When I was in high school I used to get teased a lot that I looked like him. I really didn't see it that much. I never thought of myself as looking like him. I wasn't a huge Aerosmith fan back in high school. They were local to the area. I was local to the area. You could not grow up around here not liking Aerosmith. I wasn't a huge fan. There was a band that already existed in the area called Mass Production. They weren't a full tribute band. They were like a Classic Rock cover band playing Aerosmith, Guns 'n' Roses, Rolling Stones, Black Crowes. Bluesy Rock. Their singer was leaving. Someone got a hold of me and said "you should come down and audition for this band" because I was a musician and I wasn't in a band at the time. I said "Well, you know what? I'll come down and check it out and see what happens." So I come down and went for the audition and they said "Oh my God! You look just like the guy! We could make this a full-blown tribute if you wanted to come in. We could just focus on Aerosmith." So, we got to talking about it and we all seemed like we wanted to head in the same direction. So, they hired me into the band and like a month later we hooked up with an agency based out of Connecticut and then we just changed the name at that point to Draw The Line and went full-blown with the Aerosmith tribute.

Q - Did the agency specialize in the booking of tribute acts?

A - Yeah. It was strictly tributes. They were handling some big acts of the day back in the early '90s like The Machine and this Led Zeppelin band Physical Graffiti. Those guys were kind of like the pioneers of the whole tribute thing around this area. They were doing some big show. Some of those bands were grossing half a million dollars a year back then.

Q - Wow!

A - Yeah. It was crazy. So, to be taken in by that agency and going from just a local cover band to all of a sudden being put on the road doing shows up and down the East Coast, I just turned twenty-one years old and it was pretty insane. It was like being in a national act, like immediately. Just going from playing in someone's basement to being a national act.

Q - What year were some of these bands grossing half a million dollars?

A - It was the early '90s. It was like 1993, 1992, 1991, maybe the late '80s. The Machine, which was a Pink Floyd (tribute), they're still around. They still play and command up to $25,000 a show. It's crazy. You can't see Pink Floyd anymore. You can't see Led Zeppelin anymore. It's a little different for those guys than it is for us. Now with the layoff of Aerosmith the last, I want to say yeah, I mean they did play last summer, but they haven't been very active on the tour circuit this past, say nine months. The demand for us goes right up.

Q - I've heard they're doing shows in November and December. (2011)

A - I don't think they're doing any United States shows. I think they're playing like Brazil, South Africa, maybe Australia. Some other international market. But the album release is next Spring I think they're shooting for. Then they're gonna tour next Summer if they're healthy enough to do it.

Q - Have you read Steven Tyler's autobiography?

A - I've read parts of it. I've read like maybe half of it.

Q - Would reading that book in some way help your stage act in any way?

A - Oh, sure. Any time you can learn more about the character that you're emulating, it's only gonna help your performance. You know, it's a constant character study. It's more like a theatrical kind of position than say just a strictly musical position in like a creative, songwriting position. You're trying to be somebody. You're trying to be an actor, but you also need the musical talent in order to do this position. So, it's almost twice as hard. But anytime you can learn more about your character, any information I can get to learn more about my character is completely beneficial.

Q - So, what was it like the first time you stepped onstage in Draw The Line?

A - The first show that I did, I was in the transition. The guy that was leaving the band, who was a great help to me, they were doing the show for a benefit. The drummer's brother had just come home from Iraq, the Gulf War, the first one. They were having a big, sort of benefit party for him and the band was playing. There were a ton of people there. It was during the transition and the guy who was singing wanted me to come up and sing a couple of songs. Being the first time I was to come up on stage, I just remember at the time I was so nervous. So nervous to get up in front of all these people and do it. To go out and sing in front of somebody being so young and never doing that before, it was really nerve wracking. I remember being very relieved when it was over.

Q - On the website, you had your picture taken with Steven Tyler, so we know he knows you.

A - Yup.

Q - But, has Steven Tyler or anybody in Areosmith ever come to see Draw The Line perform?

A - Oh, yeah. Steven has seen the band at a local place around here in Massachusetts. He didn't get up onstage. Joey Kramer has also come out and seen the band. We used to do a bunch of gigs with the original guitar player from Areosmith, Ray Tabano. He was Steven Tyler's childhood friend and was in the band originally before they hired Brad Whitford. Now, around the time of the mid '90s, Ray had his own band, Crazy Raymond And The Watchdogs. He was looking to really start pushing his band. He thought it would be a great idea if he did some shows with us to kind of capture the Areosmith crowd and he could work that angle. So, we ended up doing a bunch of shows. He would have like Steven Tyler come down. He would have Joey Kramer come down. So, those guys would all come out to the shows. Just as recently as two weeks ago, Brad Whitford was at a show. We did an event for NASCAR up in New Hampshire. We opened up the race. Brad's got ownership in one of the cars up there. He came out and watched the show from the sound board and hung out, so that was very cool. He's giving us a quote that we can use for further promotion of the band.

Q - Would it be too far fetched to think that Aerosmith would one day use Draw The Line as an opening act?

A - I don't think it would work. I mean, it would be very flattering if that ever happened. I would never turn something like that down, but I don't think they have a need for having us open for them, so I can't really see that happening. We'll do a lot of fan fairs for them. We'll do a lot of events for their fan club, that type of thing. But as far as opening up a show, I can't see that happening, unless they were doing a different version of the show, you know what I mean? If they were to go out acoustic or maybe with an orchestra that was different than their 'live' show, then it would be a possible, but other than that, I don't see it happening.

Q - So, what kind of places are you performing today?

A - We play amphitheatres, casinos, smaller theatres like say 1,500, to 2,000 seat theatres, that type of thing. Fairs, festivals, that type of stuff. We've kind of slowed down in doing the nightclubs, but we'll still throw in a few. We'll play House Of Blues and some of the bigger nightclubs. And, we do a lot of corporate work. We've done a lot of work for I.B.M. and Phillip Morris.

Q - Why have you slowed down with the nightclubs? They don't pay enough money? They can't accommodate your stage show?

A - Well, I think the market has changed over the last few years. Not as many people are going out to clubs anymore. So, a lot of these club owners don't want to take the risks of paying for better bands. They'd rather get a $400 or $500 band into the place and try to work it with that so their risk is low. In my opinion, a lot of club owners don't know how to promote shows. They're not promoters. They come from another line of work and they think getting into the bar business is just gonna be a bunch of fun. I can hang out with my buddies. I can drink. I can have some band. It's like they're throwing a big house party all the time. But as far as being a musical business person, I don't think a lot of these people are. It's just my opinion, but a lot of these places don't know how to promote. They don't know how to do grass roots promotion. They don't know how to work deals with the liquor companies to get them to sponsor the groups and work different angles to get money, to really make their place a successful place. Hiring consistent good entertainment. They're all over the map, hiring a lousy band this night, a really good band this night. Then they have Hip-Hop this night and the schedules aren't the same. So, there's a lot of variables. I think with the club industry, that makes it difficult to play consistently in that market.

Q - How many dates are you playing a year?

A - It ranges from about sixty to a hundred dates a year. This year (2011) we're looking about seventy-five to eighty dates and we're already booked quite a significant chunk out of next year. We're expecting at least a hundred dates next year, if not more.

Q - Next year looks better than this year.

A - Yeah. It's really picked up quite a bit.

Q - What do you attribute that to?

A - I think the renewed interest in Steven Tyler with American Idol. It's made him a household name again. It's portrayed him in a different light. It's portrayed him in a more positive light, a more real personal kind of thing. Also with Guitar Hero coming out too and all these kids know all those old songs now. It's really amazing. You go to these shows and these little kids are singing songs like "Lick And A Promise". They know all the words to them, or "Back In The Saddle". How does that kid know that? Oh, Guitar Hero. Right. I think Aerosmith is back in people's minds again. It's back, becoming a common place in people's households. So, I think that's got a lot to do with it.

Q - Have you drawn a line in the sand and said "there's going to come a time when I'm not going to do this anymore"?

A - Well, it's not easy hitting the road all the time. It does get a little more difficult as you get older. But I've got to tell you, it just seems like the band is more popular now than it's ever been. So, I mean as long as we're still able to do it physically and we're not making a mockery out of ourselves or Areosmith, then we'll continue on 'cause we're having a great time doing it. You get to meet people all over the country, different countries. Those experiences are priceless.

Q - Speaking of different countries, besides the U.S., where else have you toured?

A - We've toured a lot in the Caribbean. We've done a lot in Central America. We've played Canada before. Did a few shows over in England. That pretty much covers it. More so like Northern hemisphere sort of stuff.

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