Nashville Musician Aaron Lee Tasjan Speaks About The Making of His New Album and His Life
Rising Nashville singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan is a mystical, musical time traveler. On his new album, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, he has carefully woven songs from a broadcloth of various genres, eras, and sounds for a colorful new dreamcoat. One can hear songs with parts that are somewhat reminiscent of classic sounds like The Beatles’ White Album ballads and Tom Petty’s pop rockers, while others feature melodic, sonic sounds. Some songs artfully contain both classic and modern elements. Whatever eras, genres, and bands Tasjan is influenced by, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! is high quality music with intelligent and insightful lyrics.
Tasjan has honed his skills to a fine edge in the bands Semi Precious Weapons, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, and The Madison Square Gardeners; he even had a brief stint in the New York Dolls. Tasjan is highly skilled on electric and acoustic guitar. He has been influenced by many great musicians and bands including the Traveling Wilburys, Oasis, and Jeff Lynne. He will be in concert at South Park Amphitheater as part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series on Friday, July 23.
Tasjan spoke by phone recently with Entertainment Central from his home in East Nashville, Tennessee. That morning his new album had been cited by No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music as one of the publication’s “Favorite Roots Music Albums of 2021 (So Far).”
A Kid Wonder in New Albany, Ohio
Tasjan was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and his family moved to San Juan Capistrano, California. In 1999 he moved once again with his family to New Albany, Ohio, near Columbus and The Ohio State University. Tasjan said about living there, “Columbus was about 25 minutes down the road. I could go to all kinds of gigs and stuff on campus, which I did. I sort of became friends with a bunch of older guys who were actually able to book gigs in those places. So I was playing the campus bars of Ohio State when I was like 15, 16 years old. I’d be down there on a Tuesday night playing at the Scarlet & Grey Cafe or something and falling asleep in math class the next morning. I was really focused; music was what I wanted to do and it was what I loved.”
He had started playing the guitar in San Juan Capistrano at the age of 11. “It was right when we moved to California. There wasn’t much to do because school hadn’t started yet. My mom and I were grocery shopping and there was a guitar store next to the grocery store and it was literally called Americana Music. And in the window of the store they had a sign that said ‘Guitar Lessons, First Lesson Free.’ That’s kind of how I talked my mom into it. ‘Look, it’s free, you don’t have to pay for it.’”
Tasjan’s first big break came when he was attending New Albany High School. His principal loved music, especially the blues, and would keep his eye out for education-related events he could send the musical prodigy to. After Tasjan wrote a catchy song for New Albany High’s Promote the Peace Week, his principal sent the song to Bob Cannon who was in charge of an educational conference in Cincinnati that had a related theme.
Cannon liked the song and asked if Tasjan would perform it before their headliner, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary), played. The answer was yes so Tasjan went to the conference and sang. Yarrow was so impressed with Tasjan’s performance that he had him perform a few songs with him including “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Tasjan said, “It was a really cool moment and a moment where I think I realized if I really work hard and try to keep coming up with good songs, I could probably do something with this.”
At 16 years old he won the Outstanding Guitarist Award in the Essentially Ellington Competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy in New York City. After high school Tasjan had a full scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music, but chose instead to move to New York City to try and make it as a rock n roll musician.
Taking a Bite Out of The Big Apple
“It was an amazing scene at that time in New York,” Tasjan said. “Semi Precious Weapons was my first band really and it kind of hit it out of the park. We had a couple gigs, our first gigs ever in New York and they were totally sold out. This was mainly because Justin [Tranter], the singer, had already made some solo albums, and at the time the band came along they were primed for something new from him and our band filled that spot. So we got a record deal, we went to England and we played shows with Lady Gaga and partied with people like Kate Moss. We had a really cool manager named BP Fallon who had been in the music business forever. He had been T. Rex’s publicist and Led Zeppelin’s publicist.
“Lady Gaga, before she became a megastar, used to open for Semi Precious Weapons. She had a partner, they had a duo going on, with Lady Starlight. So it was Lady Gaga and Lady Starlight. Starlight was cool. She played the synthesizer and held down the beats and stuff and Gaga would do her thing. BP Fallon, our manager, found her; we were having trouble finding good people to open for us. As soon as we heard her, we said she’s really cool.”
Tasjan would move to Nashville to join a band, which soon thereafter imploded. Fortunately, he was quickly signed to New West Records and embarked on a solo career.
A Very Electric Electric Picnic Festival
I asked Tasjan about the time he did mushrooms and then met U2 lead singer Bono. He said, “So, this is another BP Fallon adventure. I was playing in a band called Alberta Cross and we were on a world tour at the time in England, playing at the Reading Festival or something like that. I had a couple weeks off before the next leg of the tour and BP had been asked to do some of his music at the Electric Picnic Festival in Dublin. ‘You’re already in England, why don’t you just come over and play with me?’ and I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ My family is 80 percent Irish, and I’ve always had a big connection to the culture there, and the people.
“So, I went and played our set. Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group sat in with us, which was really fun. So we wanted to go watch Patti’s set and we then thought a little psychedelic enhancement would be a good way to go. So we had a little bit of God’s bounty of the Earth. We’re walking around and it’s starting to kick in, so we thought it might not be good to be in a big crowd, so we went around to the side of the stage.
“We were having the time of our lives dancing and looking at the flowers and stuff. The show ended and we were going to give Lenny a big high-five and a hug and say ‘great show.’ So we’re walking around back there, talking to each other and I can see there’s somebody kind of coming towards us and I’m thinking it’s security, so I go and grab my artist pass out of my jacket to show him. The guy gets up close and it’s like BP and him immediately start having this connection and I’m like, these guys know each other. And I’m looking at this guy, I feel like I know him, I don’t know this guy, but I feel I might know this guy.
“At one point BP interrupts his conversation and says, ‘Bono this is my friend Aaron, Aaron this is my friend Bono.’ And he was shaking my hand and said (in his best Bono voice) ‘I saw you over there dancin’ and all I could think was—freedom!’ All of us then went over to see Sigur Rós and we shared a spliff with Bono.”
Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!
Tasjan’s latest album is very personal with songs and lyrics about being alone, sexuality, mental health, and the modern digital world. The songs are a hopeful boost to listeners and to Tasjan himself, full of irony and introspection. His label gave him feedback on how he could improve his craft and become more successful. He said he had doubts and lost his mojo for a bit, but quickly regained it. Tasjan took the label’s advice to heart and hid out from them while creating Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!. He recorded the album with co-producer Gregory Lattimer in secret at Make Sound Good studios and mixed it with John Congleton.
When asked if the title Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! was influenced by the “Seinfeld” TV episode that had a generational family of pseudo-strongmen who all tried to outlift Seinfeld and ended up in the hospital—”Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum!”—Tasjan laughed and said he hadn’t thought of that. He said, “I had envisioned the title as fans cheering for a quarterback at a football game. It’s a pretty personal record. A lot of places I’m singing about, the places I’m coming from, are really honest kinds of pictures [of myself].
“Because of how much of me is in the record, the name was kind of from that. Everybody kept saying it’s got to be a self-titled record, my management felt similarly. You know, I’m not just capable of doing anything in a regular, standard way. I always have to put my own little stamp on it, or whatever. Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! came out of that.”
There are some beautiful electric and acoustic guitar parts in various songs, and I asked Tasjan if he played both instruments on the album. “I think I played pretty much all the guitars on the record, except there were a couple rhythm parts where we sort of play a couple guitars at the same time, and I think my friend Tommy Scifres played with me on those portions of the record. Overall, yeah, I played all the guitar, I played bass, I played percussion, I played keyboards. I sang pretty much all the vocals, except for [a couple of parts].”
Some top tracks from Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! are “Up All Night,” “Computer of Love,” “Don’t Overthink It,” “Another Lonely Day,” and “Feminine Walk.” The first three songs are part of a short film, a trilogy of innovative videos, Tasjan made with filmmaker Curtis Wayne Millard.
“Up All Night” is a pop rocker with skillful, smooth electric and acoustic guitar parts, steady beats, harmonic vocals, and a driving keyboard piece in the middle. It also has the line, “Broke up with my boyfriend / To go out with my girlfriend.” This lyric parallels a line in Tasjan’s official bio, which states that he’s gay. So, I asked him if he was bisexual. He said that he doesn’t call himself that or get too hung up on labels, and has seen the pitfalls of defining things by labels, including in music, but he’s fine with other people calling him that. “I just love people. I’ve fallen in love with all kinds of people, even people who aren’t necessarily only gay people or only straight people. I’ve been attracted to all different kinds of people, trans people,” Tasjan said.
“Computer of Love” speaks about modern technology, saying, “Some advanced technology / Is eating through my brain,” and “Fake friends tweeting 2 cents / Just to mess with me.” Another good lyric that has a lot of relevance in this digital age is “My little avatar / I’ll never know who you really are.” The song is another interesting pop rocker with striking, melodic keyboard chords, skillful percussion, and yes, even a little whistling.
“‘Feminine Walk’ felt like a really honest expression of who I am up to now,” Tasjan said. “I tried not to edit it too much even though it’s brutally honest, which might turn some people off? But if they feel something from it, that’s cool.”
“Feminine Walk” is a great storytelling song that starts out at a slow pace with beautiful acoustic guitar, melodic vocals, and electric guitar accents. The song continues to build until a killer electric guitar run and great percussion bring it to a fantastic close. “I rolled out of New York City / Like metropolitan Conway Twitty / Got my smokers cough and a Brooklyn loft” is one of the intriguing lyrics from the song. “Another Lonely Day” is a truly beautiful ballad, with outstanding vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar.
On many of the album’s tracks, Tasjan explores new sonic sounds with his electric guitar through some outstanding playing. All of his guitars are made by Southside Custom Guitars in Birmingham, Alabama.
“The new album is selling very well,” Tasjan said. “Right up there with albums from other singer-songwriters from Nashville.” Tasjan continued, “I love live performances and I have so many ideas of what I would do if it were a bigger situation. That’s my goal really, to just get to a place where we’re playing big places every night so I can put all the wild stuff in my head onto the stage.”
Up next for Tasjan is a big tour as a special guest for his friend Todd Snider from August 7 to September 18. Meanwhile, with his July 23 show in Pittsburgh coming up, I asked Tasjan what else he would like to tell our audience and he said, “For anybody coming down to the show, it’s a good time. We like to have fun, we like to bring a lot of energy. We’re very honored to have Rob James of The Clarks open for us. They’re a huge band there in town. We’re big Clarks fans.” I asked if he had met The Clarks and he replied, “I’ve seen them a million times, but never met them before. We’re excited that Rob’s going to be part of the show.”
Aaron Lee Tasjan is a warm, talented, and insightful person. It might be good to go see him up close now, because if he keeps creating quality pop-rock music he will soon be playing the bigger venues. His upcoming concert with Rob James is free to the public. It’s Friday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m. at South Park Amphitheater, 100 Farmshow Dr., South Park Township.
Photos: Michael Weintrob
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.