Aaron Lee Tasjan Talks Rock ‘n Roll and Rhinestones
Tasjan is reported to have his own distinct version of "indie folk grit." And warning, he likes to cuss too.
Aaron Lee Tasjan doesn’t give a sh*t if his album Silver Tears makes the Top 40. Frankly, he doesn’t give a sh*t if you buy a Nickelback album instead of Silver Tears. Aaron Lee just wants to make the music he wants to make and with just one listen through his record, that should be fine by us. Aaron called into the offices here at The 11th Hour and The Creek for a quick chat before his show at The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom on December 16th. Listen up.
You just released your new Silver Tears in October, tell us about some of the stories and themes that make up this album. You know man, here’s the thing. It’s like, I could probably make something up and tell you that the songs are about me dealing with my childhood or some bullshit like that but the truth is I took a bunch of drugs and made songs in my bedroom because that’s what I do. There’s no fucking method to it, or I’m not trying to deliver some sort of message or something like that. I’m just trying to be really good at writing songs and that’s always the goal: every time I do it I want to make something better than the last time I made it. I just try to do, kind of what’s moving me. That’s the one key, I have to feel invested in it otherwise I can’t really sing it.
How autobiographical is “12 Bar Blues”?
That’s all true, pretty much. 11th Street Bar was my main bar in New York City. I was there every night when I wasn’t on the road for about ten years. I probably left that place more at like six in the morning then I ever did at a reasonable hour [laughing]. Philip Levine came to speak when I went to Idyllwild Arts Academy when I was in the 8th grade to study Spanish guitar and there was a big thing at our school about censorship and so they had Philip Levine come and do a talk and I bought all of his poetry books that day and read all of them. I was already pretty into poetry because my mom used to be an English teacher so she had a lot of poetry books around the house like E. E. Cummings and older stuff like William Wordsworth and stuff like that so I was already reading a lot of that kind of stuff but then Philip Levine was just such a captivating character when he talked and read his poems to us and stuff and I really liked what he had to say about censorship so he kind of worked his way into that song as did a lot of other things [laughing]. I was unabashedly, I was a fan of Hootie & The Blowfish when they came out man, Cracked Rear View, I got that tape when I was like nine or ten I think, and I had been listening to a bunch of Boyz 2 Men and other vocal groups, like All-4-One and stuff like that when I was that age, and I got into Hootie & The Blowfish because I think the songs were like, so simple and easy to wrap your brain around. I don’t like hearing people rag on musicians for no reason, I feel like at this point making fun of Nickelback is just like making fun of yourself, because it’s such a well made point [laughing], no one’s sitting around thinking like “Jeez, maybe like Hootie & The Blowfish is like Beethoven or something!” Everybody knows it’s not some unbelievably amazing thing, it’s just Charleston, South Carolina bar-rock music, but it’s great though. And I think that dude is a cool dude, Darius Rucker.
You’ve had a really interesting journey so far in your career, working with all sorts of different artists, what are some of the collaborations you’ve enjoyed most to this point?
I was really proud to get to play in Drivin’ N Cryin’, that was a really big one for me. You’re kind of talking to a dude who’s been told he’s getting a “big break” like a million times and its always just exactly the same, everybody is just like, “Man, this is it, you guys are gonna be huge!” And then that never happens. But what’s interesting about that is that seems more like a thing that they want to say to me than I feel like I want or am wanting or needing to happen, you know what I mean? I get asked a lot of questions by journalists like “When will you feel like you’ve made it,” or whatever and I kinda feel like I made it ten years ago when I didn’t have to have any other jobs other than playing music. It’s kind of an interesting thing to think about, but I’ve done so many different things, Semi-Precious Weapons got signed to Razor & Tie when I was still living in New York and I was twenty-one or twenty-two years old, that was like the first time anything really happened. Then, playing with The [New York] Dolls from there, and then joining Alberta Cross and playing in Everest and all those bands; we were doing all kinds of fun gigs in those groups and Drivin’ N Cryin’ was like the last real band that I joined and played in. It was a different thing for me only because those guys were much, much older than I am and have lived this crazy life. You’ll be in the van with Kevin Kinney and he’ll be telling you about the time that he went on tour with The Who and Sonic Youth and Neil Young, and you’re just sitting there like, “Yeah, I gotta mow my lawn when I get home.” I needed to stop and do something for myself, to kinda define something in my life because I sorta just meandered through all of these different situations. I mean I’m kind of meandering through this to be honest with you. It’s different because there’s really something at stake this time around and because I have to answer through all of it. I try to make it all have some sort of purpose and like, I would just love to have some positive dent on the whole thing, whatever it is.
Is it more of an attitude of just like, “Ef it, I don’t really care if there’s a big break, I would rather just make the music I want to make”?
Yeah, I think it’s about focusing, making the focus on the music and the show and the art, and letting the ‘Top 50 Album of the Year’ lists thing just roll off your back because you’re in trouble if you start to believe any of that stuff, I think. I’ve seen young artists buy into the press and the stuff that’s being written about them and I think that’s dangerous. I try to just not be aware of any of it, and just try to be really good at playing music instead.
You played Macon’s music festival Bragg Jam this past summer, what was that experience like for you?
Bragg Jam is cool, man. I had a great time, I had a better time seeing bands than I did playing because I was playing in like a really weird thing but I loved it. The festival was really cool. I hung out mostly at The Hummingbird, I was watching Susto play and I really enjoyed their band a lot, and then I ran into a bunch of Nashville friends there so we were just standing out on the back deck being degenerates which was awesome [laughing].
Can we expect to see some sparkly suits and big cowboy hats when you come back to Macon Dec. 16th at The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom?
[Laughing] Man, I’ve really expanded my wardrobe. You know, I used to dress up a lot like when I was with The [New York] Dolls and Semi-Precious Weapons and stuff and then I kinda stopped playing in bands that like, cared about how they looked so, I had to adapt that, but I’ve found since I’ve been doing my own thing, I think the visual aspect of music is often underappreciated especially by people who do the kind of music that I do, which I guess is called Americana music, though I would term it Rock N’ Roll. I feel like the Americana thing sometimes confuses people into thinking that I’m trying to be some kind of country singer or something, which I’m not at all, and while my music may have some of those kind of leanings sometimes, so did like, Leon Russell’s or any other number of Rock N’ Roll singers. We’ll be dressed up, because that’s what we do. We like to look un-f***-with-able.