Aaron Lee Tasjan Interview


Roots singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan is steadily becoming the male face representing the burgeoning music scene in East Nashville. At the recent Americana Music Association Festival in Nashville Tasjan seemed to appear everywhere, from co-hosting a killer nights music at The Basement East to appearing at JP Harris’s Sunday Morning Coming Down event at The Fond Object and fitting in slots with Margo Price, Cale Tyson and others in between.

Heralded by B.P.Fallon as one of the premier songwriters currently talking the talk, the iconic Irish writer, DJ and musician recently wrote "The cat’s song writing is treble mega in a lineage that embraces The Fabs to Willie and the driest wryness since John Lennon." 

His latest album Silver Tears, recorded on the New West label is due for release in November and follows his self-released and well received debut album In The Blazes (2015).   

Razor sharp wit, stylish and a wizard song writer and guitarist, Lonesome Highway had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the modest, gregarious and affable young man at The American Legion in East Nashville.

Your surname would not suggest any Irish ancestry but I believe you do have some Irish blood flowing through your veins?

 My family does in fact have Irish blood. On my Dad's side ... his grandmother was Irish. However, my grandfather was adopted and that's how I ended up with the last name I have today.

 Tell us about your relationship with BP?

The first time I hung out with BP Fallon he was introducing my band at one his NYC Death Disco gigs. His introduction started, "When I came across them, I didn't know if they'd be crap or brilliant." I loved him immediately. Through the years we've worked together in many capacities, but my favourite capacity to work with BP, and one of my favourite things in the world really, is to sit at the kitchen table, spliff in hand, face to face with Beep, writing riffs on which he can hang his wonderful words. But in the end, for two chaps whose dancing was once described as "freedom" by Bono, I'd say we're hanging in there ok.

How did your involvement with New York Dolls come about?

My involvement with the NY Dolls really came through BP Fallon and Steve Conte. You see, Steve had seen me playing guitar around town in NYC thanks to BP who'd brought Steve around to check me out. When Steve needed some time off to be with his new son and his wife, I was very honoured to step in for him. That band informed so much of what I do. You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory is as brilliant a country song as it is Rock'n'Roll. Hank Williams could have sung it no problem. So it all connects, you see? Like The Dolls singing Pills by Bo Diddley. The blues is not punk rock but it is when they sing it. The Dolls are a Rock'n'Roll band of the highest order. They aren't a punk band but their influence on punk and the many twists and turns Rock'n'Roll has taken since The Dolls inception is undeniable.

Fill us in on your musical influences as a teenager growing up in Ohio?

Though I lived in California and Delaware for brief periods of my childhood, New Albany OH is where I feel like I'm from. It's where I went to high school and came of age. I fell very hard for a girl I met my first year of high school. She was my main influence for songs. They were almost all about her. Musically, I was listening to everything. I probably loved the Beatles the most but John Prine, Arlo Guthrie and of course Dylan were right there too. In middle school, I used Oasis songs to learn guitar. They were simple enough to learn on your own. I also played Freddy Green style guitar in The Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra and even learned to play banjo for the Gahanna Community Theatre production of Little Orphan Annie.

You are one of many acts under the Americana umbrella whose early music career began in an entirely different background. Take us through the journey from glam to where you are today?

My journey to making the music I make has been long and varied but the goal has always been the same: write pop songs that are performed scrappily by a tride and true Rock'n'Roll band. I want the lyrics to be my own language and I want the guitar playing to fuck with you and fuck you up and make you wanna fuck. I started on acoustic guitar. The first riff I knew was My Girl by The Temptations. Then I learned all the folk songs...Woody, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Tim Hardin etc...From there, I started learning the blues...first Hendrix then Buddy Guy then my favourite blues singer, Slim Harpo. My Dad also made me study Spanish classical and jazz guitar. My favourite jazz player was Grant Green. But my heart and soul are always swayed the most by rock'n'roll. Give me John Lennon and Keith Richards lunacy and a tab or two and I'm yours. Shane MacGowen, for the love of God. Please. Keep being wild and free and poetic. Live forever, if you don't mind? rock'n'roll isn't just marketing term, kids. It's a real, living breathing thing and it's the best one of 'em all besides hip hop.

You appear to be adopting the mantle of the male face of East Nashville in recent years possibly borrowing the baton from Todd Snider. Tell about the music community there and the support they offer to each other?

I will tell you this ... there is one folk rock singer in East Nashville and his name is Todd Snider. Any credit I get in terms of repping the East Side would only be because of him. He is one of my absolute favourite writers and performers. Fearless. He has a new song where the first line is "This song is even better than it sounds." That's championship level stuff. He is also my friend and we hang out all the time at his lake house. Lots of celebrity sightings there. Rorey Carroll, Elizabeth Cook, Kevin Gordon, Allen Thompson. A who's who of East Nashville grifty, shifty raconteurs and instigators. 

Margo Price, practically unknown outside East Nashville last year, has deservedly made a major breakthrough both locally and internationally this year. Do you expect any other East Nashville artists to follow in her footsteps in the near future?

I love Margo Price. One of our best and brightest. I anticipate in the next year, East Nashville will become a National Monument and protected under the Jed Hilly Bill of Rights which will guarantee showcases to anyone who can out-dress Nikki Lane. The town will be closed off to all visitors except for certain sections where you're be able to view songwriters in their natural habitats: like Cale Tyson at a hot chicken restaurant writing hit songs on pickle slices or me sitting on my front porch being very, very nervous.

Your new album Silver Tears was recorded in Southern California. Was there a particular sound you were looking for that brought you to California for the recording?

There are these guys that live in California: Elijah Thomson, Dan Bailey, Frank Lenz and David Vandervelde. They are the best guys at recording I've ever met. I don't really want to have a sound. I want to make music in the moment. My sound is always going to be whatever I come up with on the fly. I don't work off of concepts. I work off momentary insanity, manic depression and lapses in judgment.

Like many other artists you are now classified under the Americana umbrella.  Are you comfortable with that and do you consider that the title Americana has given many artists a categorisation that they otherwise may not have had?

People can call what I do whatever they want. I don't need to be defined by a genre and feel people who listen to music based on genre are musically ignorant. The function of art is not categorization. Now, I say this as someone who is making music for art, not money. If you want to make money at this you will have to hold everyone's hand the whole way through it all and tell them exactly who you are and what you do and how you tied it all together on your wonderful new album whether you actually know the answers to those questions or not. I'm too lazy for all that. I know what I am and who I am and I really don't feel obligated to fake an explanation that will make people feel like they can figure me out. That's not what I signed up for and what I did sign up for can be done without a bunch of tiresome salesmanship.

Are we going to have the pleasure of seeing you perform in Ireland in the near future?

Boy, I sure hope so. I love it there. I got to sit in with Dan Baird at Whelan's last year and Lenny Kaye and I backed up BP Fallon at Electric Picnic a few years back too. Kilkenny Roots always seems like a blast. I'd love to play that. I'd consider bagging my entire career if Lisa Hannigan would let me be her roadie though.

Interview by Declan Culliton