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Aaron Lee Tasjan Interview

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One singer songwriter who should be on your radar is Aaron Lee Tasjan from somewhere in middle Ohio. If he isn't, you're not just missing out on some of the best talent that has caught the collaboration of The New York Dolls, Jack White, BP Fallon, and a number of other rock luminaries, you're denying yourself some of the best guilt-free listening pleasure on the planet.

While his name be complicated to remember, his music isn't. One listen and you're instantly drawn into his world. Which, depending on the day, could be with BP Fallon, and his band, BP Fallon & The Bandits, which Tasjan is a member and co-producer, The Madison Square Gardeners, or his solo world. He's got different strokes for different folks. But some folks who have worked with include Tony Visconti, (David Bowie; T. Rex), Adam Lasus, (Clap Your Hands And SayYeah), and well, you already know Jack White.

Yes, Tasjan has the magic. That je ne sais quoi that makes you want to hear what's coming next from him. Even the big whigs want to hear more from him, inviting him to play the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC this coming March.

It's impressive, and though Tasjan is young, he's had a decent amount of years to perfect his craft. By sixteen he'd played with Peter Yarrow and made his virgin trip to the Big Apple, which ended in him being the recipient of the Outstanding Guitarist Award by the Essentially Ellington Competition at Lincoln Center. Berklee College of Music in Boston was so impressed with him they offered him a full ride after high-school graduation. He politely refused, and set about etching his name into the concrete sidewalk of rock and roll - a choice that would set in motion a maelstrom of events, eventually leading to recording with some of rocks greatest legends.

antiMusic caught up with the very busy, socially genuine, musical extraordinaire for a chat.

antiMusic: Talk a bit about your coming up? What led you down the path of music?

ALT: My Grandmother, Seville was an opera singer...she had a contralto voice and could throw down some serious science with it. I probably got some stuff from her..my old man played Jazz trombone with big bands like Les Elgart and stuff...but I was mainly inspired by the music itself. My Dad would play me Count Basie or Wes Montgomery type stuff..then my Mom played me Dylan and the Stones and the Beatles. I loved the sound and quite hubstrically, decided I should make one of my own. That and it's probably hard to party balls if you're an accountant or some sh*t.

antiMusic: Where were you mentally when you turned down the offer from Berklee and decided to pursue your own brand of music? Did you have a particular lifelong vision you were bent on realizing?

ALT: I was a loud mouthed little twerp..I thought I should be working...that music isn't something you can teach and all this other crap. I was way off base with that but doing it in my own way gave me certain advantages. I don't do anything (non-musical endeavors included) in the "right" way, but it gives me a sound and an identity. People can tell its me when I play and that's all I ever really wanted. That and a Spiderman halloween costume that actually shot webs...

antiMusic: Talk about your creative process--is it like a flash flood when songwriting or do you have to hole up in a dark place by yourself to get the lyrics to bleed from you?

ALT: Whatever the song is about, I usually make it up after something happens to me. I've been wrongly arrested twice...wrote the first one already, the second will happen when it's ready. Could be any time now...wait...nope, false alarm...but be aware...it could happen ANY TIME.

antiMusic: You've toured with, played with, and collaborated with a wide range of people over the years-- from BP Fallon to Jack White, to The New York Dolls and seemingly everyone, and every genre in-between How did these opportunities come to you?

ALT: They came to me very naturally..I never thought I'd work with about 90% of the folks I've been fortunate to work with. I think, so far as I can tell, it was more or less like, I'd play some gig and one of those guys would hear me and think, "I could work with that guy. He's so handsome and I bet he's in great shape." Really I was just friendly with a lot of those folks. I admired the hell out of em and made sure to tell them about it. It's bullsh*t when musicians don't want to talk about how good someone else is. Everyone's great. And then there's Kevn Kinney. But he must be made of angel wings or something.

antiMusic: How would you define yourself? Your music-- not in the genre way, but what do you see your music as accomplishing in the hearts and minds of your fans?

ALT: I try to be real...I try to be true to myself. I try to let people know I'm not pulling anything over on them. Yes I love Tom Petty and Todd Snider and Tim Easton and try to copy those guys sometimes but I'm just a fan, man. A huge, huge music fan who's also a lucky son of a bitch in that I get to play music too. My message is simple: "Nobody's got the time but everyone has an opinion. My opinion is that Damn The Torpedos is the sh*t and marijuana is safer than handguns."

antiMusic: You've played in and are currently part of a number of projects- Autumn Under Echoes, The Semi Precious Weapons, BP Fallon and The Bandits, The Madison Square Gardeners, your solo stuff-- how do you keep them straight? How do you evolve, contribute, and keep things fresh as you go along?

ALT: The way I keep things fresh is by working on all these various projects. I love Neil Young or Kurt Vile or Jack White's work ethic. Always working on great, new, interesting things. That's how I aim to be. This stuff is way too much fun to take a vacation from..and I haven't owned a Hawaiian shirt since I played with Vaughn Weister's Famous Jazz Orchestra!

antiMusic: What has been your greatest accomplishment to date? Either personal or professional or both?

ALT: That younger kids/bands will write to me and say, "hey, will you produce my record?" Or "can we write a song together?" Makes me feel great to help inspire someone who will one day blow everything I've ever done out of the water.

antiMusic: You travel and tour incessantly. Where do you draw your inspiration from? Obviously stories from the road, but what kinds of stories are the ones that give you the most fodder?

ALT: One time I was with BP Fallon at this Festival on an Indian reservation...we'd played the day before, but stuck around to hang with Lenny Kaye and watch Patti Smith play..if you haven't seen her, you're blowing it...she's still one of the very best there is...Lenny too..but basically we got kicked out and BP was taken down to the police station...we were both higher than a Jordan dunk on mushrooms...BP called me and told me to come pick him up...I had to drive a 15 passenger van through an Indian reservation onto a highway and into a police station and then drive another 25 miles back to our hotel. The sound track should have been "In A Gada Da Vida." Fast forward 2 years later we're on mushrooms again, this time in Ireland at Electric Picnic festival. Patti is on stage and we're dancing away in a field, tripping balls. After the show we go back to say "hello" to Lenny, but then Bono comes over and hugs us and says, "I saw you dancing in the field..there's a word for it..I think they call it...freedom." But yeah, sh*t like that.

antiMusic: What drives you?

ALT: Trying to be as good at this as I possibly can. Great rock'n'roll is made by people who are operating at the very top of their own capacity to play each note...every note matters at that point. That's how I like to do it.

antiMusic: Talk about working with BP Fallon and Jack White on your song, "I Believe In Elvis Presley." Were you intimidated at all? What was the production and collaboration process like?

ALT: There wasn't any time to be intimidated. It happened so fast and the next thing you know I'm staring at a record with my name on it next to BP and Jack's. It was unreal. Jack is very from the gut so far as I can tell. He just makes the music he wants to when he wants to. BP is the same way, though he is extremely thoughtful in his approach. I was thrilled to be a part of the record they made together.

antiMusic: The Madison Square Gardeners have received high marks from the critics, so much so the Village Voice has called them, "The Best New York Has to Offer." Do you think that's true? What about you is it that you think stands out against the crowd?

ALT: I never buy into the stuff people write about me. We all get good and bad reviews often times for reasons that have little to do with our level of performance or artistic merit. I know I have. BUT that's not to say I'm anti-music journalist...quite the opposite. But how many music critics can write like Arthur M. Abel? How many have ever even heard of the guy? I think what makes us stand out is our attitude about what we do. We don't care what people think of us. We don't wear "outfits" or try to sound "hip" or "cool." We do what we love and it radiates out of every guy in that band each time we step on stage. People like us because we're a good time and a cheap date.

antiMusic: You just started recording another record after a relatively short hiatus with the Madison Square Gardeners as well as another solo album. Tell us a little more about what we can expect from each?

ALT: the new Gardeners is that band in it's element. 6 dudes, 3 chords. hell that might be the album title. But we recorded it all live to tape. No fixes or anything like that. Our friends at Rockwood Music Hall in New York are putting it out. Every young band should play that venue. Best in the city.

antiMusic: You say your solo follow-up to "Filth" is even further and crazier than the first--how so?

ALT: My new solo record is going to be a more realized version of "Filth." Lot's of guitar...psychedelic...a bit more drums but still primarily me and a guitar and my voice. But a bit more hifi. Adam Lasus and Joe Rogers are producing. Two of the most talented engineer/producers I've ever heard. Adam did my record Desolation Dream and we got a song from it called Apathy Junkie in the new Steve Carell movie "The Way, Way Back."

antiMusic: What risks have you taken with this record?

ALT: I'm saying all the sh*t that's on my mind. Stuff like, "of all the white people problems in the world son, white people might be the biggest one." Hopefully people will find the humor in that.

antiMusic: How are you stretching yourself?

ALT: I'm trying to make some sounds on the guitar where you're not sure if it's a guitar or not...I like that kind of challenge. How do I make this thing sound like AM radio static? Maybe if I use this whisk and fuzz pedal...maybe if I wear this Ultimate Warrior facepaint while I'm playing?

antiMusic: How do you find time to do both recording, and well? Do you ever feel pulled or like your cheating?

ALT: I just work on them until they're done. No one is sitting around right now saying, "man if aaron lee doesn't put out a new record soon, I'm gonna I'm going to make him get a tattoo on the face." So I take advantage of that by taking my time.

antiMusic: How do you keep the identities separate?

ALT: The identity is the same...it's still me, just me exploring all the different kinds of music I dig and like to play. But the lyrics are me...I have my own little weird way of saying things. But I like it and nobody else seems to complain about it too much.

antiMusic: Which current bands are you impressed by?

ALT: Joe Pug, Frightened Rabbit, The Happen Ins, Mother Feather, Alberta Cross, Taurus, Tame Impala and The Rich Hinman band.

antiMusic: What's your biggest fear?

ALT: Reaching my full potential. Potential = attention. Attention = expectations. Expectations = less sitting around time...you see where I'm going with this?

antiMusic: Aside from the SXSW schedule, what's next? Where do you see yourself in the next few months?

ALT: Gonna head back down to Texas after SXSW and play some shows down there. Finish up the new records, take a shower, teach children to a good impression of Paul Lynde, promote my music career using the internet, send a thoughtful gift to an old friend, spend a few dollars on landscape architecture, become involved with fantasy baseball and not feel guilty that it doesn't involve any physical activity, keep my hands to myself or someone else..but only one person should have them and lastly, challenge myself to always challenge myself but also something to do with team spirit.

Aaron Lee Tasjan Interview


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