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Labor of Love: Aaron Lee Tasjan
In our series, LABOR OF LOVE, we're talking about the LABOR OF LOVE that is music and is behind music and musical instrument making. Aaron Lee Tasjan has had a life-long love affair with guitar. We caught him in the midst of touring his super new record, Karma For Cheap. We chatted with Aaron about how he got started and keeps him moving.
How did making music become your life? How did you get your start?
I guess in a lot of ways, I've never formally considered making music a living. But when I really think about it, I always wanted to make my own records and perform them live for people and have that be the way I got by in the world. My main problem was that I wasn't a very good singer hahaha. So I worked on it for a really long time. I wrote all kinds of songs to see where it seemed like I might find a voice inside of me that felt real and honest. That search lasted for about 10 years. While I was on it, I was living in New York City and I had developed a certain set of skills as a guitarist. I could play to the song and I knew how to stay out of the way and let the song shine. So I got hired a lot to play guitar. For a while I thought I'd never become a good enough singer to do my own music but I kept at it and started to stumble on to my own voice when I moved to Nashville in 2013. From there I kept working on it and still do, every day. I keep writing songs and am recording constantly. It's the only "job security" I can offer myself. Hahaha
In these times it's an incredible challenge getting by making music, everyone at CME has found a happy home here to support our passion for music. How do you make it work? What are your hustles/gigs? How does it all come together?
These days, I simply say, "Yes." I used to be very concerned with how I might come across to people if I was with a band or if I was playing solo. That's ridiculous because you have no control over someone else's perceptions. Now if someone in England wants me to play a solo acoustic show at their venue, I say "yes" and go do it. If someone wants me to go to Scandanavia with my band I say "yes" to that, too. I am letting my records, songs and performances stand on their own and am working toward building a name for myself on the strength of those things in whichever format I am called to present them. People can call it whatever genre or subgenre they want to. That's none of my business, really. I'm just trying to be the best version of myself I can and take advantage of each opportunity, figuring another one is not going to come along so I better make the most of what I have been given.
Who were your major influences? What guides your playing style?
Initially, it was jazz. Freddy Green and Grant Green being the biggest influences. As time has gone on, I've turned to more unorthodox players. Jim Campilongo and Tony Scherr are huge inspirations. On the rock side of things, my favorite is Audley Freed. Elliott Smith would be my main ride these days. His acoustic and electric playing is something with which I deeply connect. Lastly, I would have to name Johnny Marr. All of These guys are pretty unique and that keeps me inspired and wanting to learn all I can from their music.
What's your rig? First guitar? Current? Pedals you can't live without?
I currently play a Fender Tweed Deluxe with a Fulltone Tape Echo machine that's almost always on. My pedal board is very simple: a Boss tuner, a Diamond J Drive, a Canyon Climber fuzz and a Boss DD6 on which I only use the reverse and modulation settings for various songs. My acoustic is a Gibson Hummingbird with a Fishman pickup under the saddle. For my electric 12 string, I play through a 90s Peavey Classic 30 on the clean channel. The 12 string is a Gorsuch custom made guitar built by Scott Gorsuch of Columbus OH. My other electric guitars are a Johnny Marr signature Jaguar, a Pro series Jazzmaster that I put 13 gauge strings on and tune down a full step, a Southside Custom Firebird with a telecaster bridge pickup and a bigsby, a '69 ES-335 with a bigsby and a 60s reissue SG that I took the humbuckers out of and replaced with lollar p90s. All that is a long way from my first guitar which was a green Hohner Stratocaster copy. :)
What does the band have coming up? Albums? Tours?
I am touring this year in the UK, the Netherlands and across the USA. Next year, I will return to the UK, play Scandanavia and likely add Australia to the mix. Of course I will also be playing tons of gigs here in America, too. My new album Karma For Cheap is out now on New West Records. I have new songs written and am already planning a new record. I never stop because I don't want to.