“I had the greatest thing in the world that could ever happen to me happen. Elton John somehow came across my new record and called me up and asked if he could play piano on my next record,” Aaron Lee Tasjan tells me, laughing, after asking him if he’s had any favorite reactions to his latest album, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! And this wasn’t the only run in with rock royalty the singer/songwriter told me about during a recent 45-minute phone chat. Perhaps his favorite characterization of his work came from Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen: “We were on tour with Cheap Trick and Rick Nielson, who is the king of the weirdo guitar players, was like, ‘I really like you guys and your songs. You guys are pretty weird… sometimes you’re a little too weird.’ That’s when I realized we must be really out there.” And, most notably, “I went to Ireland one time to play this little festival, Electric Picnic, and I ended up on mushrooms with Bono, watching Sigur Ros.” He goes on to tell me the whole story, which is only slightly less weird than you’re probably imagining: “I was with a friend and we were on mushrooms and we’d just seen Patti Smith, so we were dancing our asses off, and we saw this guy walking toward us – I thought it was security – and he comes up to us and says, ‘I saw yous guys dancing over in the field and all I could think of was freedom,’ and it was Bono, sounding like the Braveheart speech or something.”
In addition to these super-duper-mega names, Tasjan’s fans include a plethora of our favorite people in music (Erika Wennerstrom, Caroline Rose, The Ballroom Thieves, Watchouse, Lydia Loveless, Carsie Blanton, Dawn Landes, Little Barrie, Sallie Ford, Maggie Rose, Jenny O, Marissa Nadler, Elizabeth & the Catapult, Nicole Atkins, Rosi Golan…) The Nashville-based singer/songwriter was actually a co-founder of neo glam rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons and worked as a guitarist for hire before starting to make his own music in 2013. His aesthetic can be described as a sort of glam take on Americana rock… Think Tom Petty with more glitter and less heteronormativity… Earlier this week Tasjan kicked off an acoustic tour with our (and his) good friend Tristen doing support duties. These dates include a special stop this coming Tuesday, November 9th, at The Lounge at World Café Live, where Tasjan and Tristen will be performing a concert exclusively for WXPN members. I ask him what can be expected of the live performance and he tells me that it really changes every night: “I bring all my instruments… and I just have these things spread out all over the stage and I just do what moves me… I’m a room reader. Sometimes I don’t even get to the setlist because people just tell me the songs that they want to hear and that just becomes the show.”
Although there’s no guarantee of what (or how much) he will play off of it, Aaron Lee Tasjan is touring behind Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, which dropped this February and has been getting beyond-lovely reviews (NPR characterized it as, “The pop-kissed soul of old-time rock and roll,” while American Songwriter called it a, “Kaleidoscopic pastel-dripping dreamscape.”) And while the album just seems to expand upon the sonic territory of his previous releases, he does tell me that, content-wise, the songs on this one feel like something new: “Lyrically, it was much more personal than I’ve been before. In the past I was writing from the point of the observer, but for this one I turned that microscope on myself.” Tasjan has been touring the songs since this summer, including a number of stops at outdoor festivals, which he tells me were mostly great experiences: “The ones where it didn’t rain it was amazing.” He did, however, already have a profound experience in Allegheny, PA.
“We played this outdoor amphitheater in Allegany, PA at some like fair thing and I figured these people probably don’t know me, but I stepped out onstage and these motherfuckers knew our songs. And I mean songs from the new album. It was like they’d grown up with this shit. And this was the first time in my career that that has happened. And the magic at looking at a park, or a lawn, full of people, and this is like cis families, screaming, ‘I’ve got a feminine walk.’ It felt like Willie Nelson bringing together the cowboys and the hippies in the ‘60s. We’re bringing people together to be who they are. Every time I go out there I try to create a little moment like that.”