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Interview: Singer-Songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan

Aaron Lee Tasjan
20 October 2021

Singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan’s work is difficult to define: while it falls broadly into the indie folk rock genre, he has also incorporated a dizzying array of other styles on his ten solo albums. His most recent release, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan, came out earlier this year, and his adventurous approach on it earned him widespread critical acclaim, as well as praise from Elton John. This fall, fans across the U.S. can witness a more intimate take on his work when he embarks on a solo acoustic tour from November 3 through December 11. Calling from his Nashville home, Tasjan explains his motivation behind doing such diverse work, how he’s constantly learning who he is as an artist, and how positivity helps him connect with listeners.

You touch on so many different genres, yet you make them all distinctively your own. How do you do that?

AARON LEE TASJAN: I think it’s an admiration, first of all, for artists who’ve done that before. Like The Traveling Wilburys made music that was this very unique combination of American music and British music, and I love how those two things have influenced each other historically. How you’ll have a song like “Far Away Eyes” by The Rolling Stones where Mick Jagger is literally speaking in a Southern accent for most of the song. And then on the other side of that, you have these incredible American artists like Harry Nilsson, who was taking that English influence and reinterpreting it in his own way. But as far as my own music is concerned, it’s really drawing on that place where rock and roll and country music and blues music and folk music all intersect. There’s a wide variety of stylistic things that you can achieve within that realm. The best way I can think of to describe my music is, I think my music is like power pop country.

What can people expect from this solo acoustic tour you’re doing this fall?

AARON LEE TASJAN: I’ll probably have a few more instruments on stage, so I’ll have some other places to go besides just the acoustic guitar and the piano. And I’m going to be touring with a really, really fantastic [opening act] named Tristan. I’m dying to sing a Pretenders song with them or something like that. I’m hoping that there will be some collaborative performances in there, as well. I’m going to do the kind of things that will just happen organically.

In addition to playing your songs, you also tell lots of interesting stories in your shows. What made you start taking that approach?

AARON LEE TASJAN: That storytelling thing is something that I’ve developed. When I first started doing this, it was kind of like starting over. I had become a successful side musician, to the point where I was making a living at it, and playing with artists that I loved and admired. But when I went to do my own thing, none of that other world carried over. The story thing became a way to entertain people on another level, because I was just by myself. I didn’t have a band to fall back on where I could play a song and then in the middle do a guitar solo. So the story thing became this vehicle to go somewhere else in a show.

How did you know you should do this for a living?

AARON LEE TASJAN: My take on the whole thing is, I think you do it if you need to. And I definitely needed to. It was just something that I had to do. I do think we need records from people who need to do this. The folks who feel called, who are showing up regardless. Because that’s the thing: a guy like me, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate. I’ve had opportunities, one after the next. every record I put out basically since Silver Tears [2016], but none has ever catapulted me into some sort of superstardom. But that has never deterred me from showing up time and time again, every day, to write another song, to get back in the studio and make a record, to want to go on tour. I think a lot of what drives that is just the desire to learn. To know it more deeply and connect with it more, myself. I feel like I’m learning who I am as an artist right along with the audience.

What do you think it is about your work that seems to connect so strongly with your listeners?

AARON LEE TASJAN: Even when I was a professional sideman. I was always writing songs, always surveying the landscape. I was always looking to see if there was anything that I could do that I didn’t feel like I was hearing. So maybe it has a little bit to do with the kinds of songs that I’m writing and the experiences that I’m trying to relate. A lot of these songs are these messages to myself of how I want to try to be, and how I want to try to live my life. And I’ve actually found that having a sense of humor and a positive outlook can oftentimes set you apart in the time that we’re living in now, where it’s just so easy to go the other way, so maybe it’s something about the positivity that connects.

Aaron Lee Tasjan tour dates:

Nov 3 – Atlanta, GA – Eddie’s Attic
Nov 4 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle
Nov 5 – Charlotte, NC – Evening Muse
Nov 6 – Washington D.C. – Jammin Java
Nov 7 – Baltimore, MD – Club 603
Nov 9 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live (WXPN Members only event)
Nov 10 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
Nov 12 – NYC – Rockwood Music Hall
Nov 13 – Pittsburgh, PA – Club Cafe
Nov 14 – Ferndale, MI – Otus Supply
Nov 16 – Chicago, IL – Schubas Tavern
Nov 17 – Columbus, OH – Rumba
Nov 18 – Lexington, KY – The Burl