Aaron Lee Tasjan oozes cool with his unique fashion sense and lyrical and guitar playing style. He dons 60s style psychedelic -looking round sunglasses and wide brimmed hats. He rules the stage as a bespoke gentleman wildly wielding his red, custom don Fender. He sings with brash intensity on his album Karma for Cheap which released early this year. A slight departure from his earlier music, this is probably his finest to date. Each song stands on its own in a way where Aaron’s voice changes it up for each melodic interlude. Case in point on the effortlessly brilliant “Honey If Your Slows Down” he has a Petty edge, while on “Dream Dreamer” he conjures up an Everly Brothers vibe. Yet on “Strange Shadows” he could be a relative of Roy Orbison. He mixes up his unique vocals with lyrics like “ So don’t you disbelieve it. we all live in this world alone, on doctors’ drugs just starin’ at your Jesus phone” on “Honey If Your Heart Slows Down”. After our conversation, I realized Aaron writes like he talks. In the provocative track “The Rest is Yet to Come” the bridge states “We are livin’ in a dirty world, Nobody’s comin’ clean, Good-hearted people do terrible things, When the end justifies the means”.
I heard an interview with him where he stated he is unafraid to write his truth as opposed to “trying to win fans and influence uncles.”
Karma for Cheap definitely exudes a timeless quality. He claimed on his interview on the Word Café that “it’s something that you can come and go from.” His music is as unique and intense as it is sardonic and moving. He is into songs that have a sense of humor ala Nilson and Petty. He even mentions TP in the liner notes.
He says the title of Karma for Cheap initially was a lyric that was just something “funny” but then he went on to explain, “people always want something for free but you really can’t get everything for free”.
He comes right out with a swirling guitar riff that pulls you right into the opening track “If not now When”. He rips into you.
You sound like a radio station
You’re lookin’ for standin’ ovation
You look like you could use a vacation
You tried to pin a tail on the wind
But you didn’t know where to begin
And the room is starting to spin”
The best thing about Aaron is his seemingly effortless ability to spin tracks that have a moral compass even if it’s in a roundabout manner. He and his bandmates are playing raucous runs on this tune that has a 70s feel. They are definitely delivering some of the best axe work out there. The combination of riffs and groove and the sheer vigor of the playing sure kicks up dust. This song made my top 10 list of the year. I heard it once and was hooked.
On the second track he sings the as if he’s scratchin his head as he is singing.
And when you see yourself as somebody else
It’s more than the mind can conceive
but the truth is so hard, the truth is so hard to believe
It’s a relatable mind fuck of a song that will appeal to anyone who contemplates their life instead of running from it. Again the smoldering guitar work by ALT and is bandmates harkens to a another time. This track deserves a few listens in order to sink in.
“The Devil’s got my number and my phone won’t stop ringing” goes the song “Crawling at My Feet”. The smoking guitars whirl as he tells of “The hustlers and thieves are coming to cut you at your knees”. Again the musical accompaniment ricochets as her pulls the lyrical trigger.
Aaron answered a few questions for me which was very kind because he is a busy dude.
Thank you again. Just a few observations and inquiries.
You are most stylish. Where do you get your fierce fashion sense with the kick ass shoes scarves and suits. Especially that thrift store find with the sequined mirrors? Any plans for another snazzy one like that?
The Thrift Store suit is made by Curtis Wayne Millard and designed by the two of us My style is highly influenced by my sister who is a fashion editor at Garage Magazine in NYC
I’m always developing what I wear. The suits thing will probably fade out to make room for something else on the next album.
(If you want to check out the suit watch the stirring video for If you get a can check out the video for “Little Movies”. Donning the fitted suit bespeckled with pieces of sequin mirrors he roams a small town checking out the characters’ that make up the place. Regular people doing regular things. “I have seen the ending. Still I can’t look away./ All of this pretending its Just a little movie that we play…. “Angel born in hell to sing our praises just like this broken song deserves”)
Your guitar playing is stellar. You and your current band sizzle. You all vibe well together. You sound is evolving I felt a serious 70s jangle rock vibe when I saw he Paste quick gig and that electric PBS underground bluegrass session.
I am good friends with my bandmates and have known them for awhile which helps.
That certainly shines through when you see them play live.
What are your favorite guitars to play?
I like Fenders and Gibsons mostly. I customize most of my guitars thought. Very few are just stock.
Your lyrical style is brilliant. How do you come up with your material?
My lyrics are just things I think of usually while out doing something other than writing a song like driving around or doing my laundry at the coin op mat. I like to write lyrics that sound like I talk.
You are a natural raconteur. Your writing and story telling reminds me of John Prine. Have you met him? Love to see the two of you on stage. Hope to cac a lie show of yours. You are dynamic.
I’ve never formally met Prine. I heard he really likes our version of Lake Marie though and honestly, what more could you want to her than that an artist you admire lies something you did?
Lastly, I heard you mention Blaze Foley in “Lucinda’s Room” Have you see n the move with Ben Dickey?
I have not seen the Blaze movie. I want to though.
And what female artists do you listen to and what is in your earbuds lately? A comment on a Youtube video said “you are a big deal” Yes you are. Thank you for being kind and so talented. Wishing you much success ALT.
I don’t really think of artists in terms of their gender. That said, for one reason or another I find myself drawn particularly to more feminine artists (male or female or trans or however they identify) who play Rock n Roll music. More recently, Erica Binn, Lilly Hiatt, The Minks, Era Furman, Gyasi, Liz Cooper Little Bandit and Brandy Zdan have been knocking my socks off.
From the provocative mouth of Aaron Lee Tasjan to your not so virgin ears.
He will be heading to Sweden in January but will back Stateside on March 29 at the Fillmore in New Orleans.