As part of our on-going series celebrating AmericanaFest '17, Epiphone.com spoke with Ohio native and East Nashville troubadour extraordinaire Aaron Lee Tasjan who stopped by the Epiphone & Gibson showroom in Nashville to pick up a new Epiphone Masterbilt Century De Luxe and talk about the making of his critically acclaimed album Silver Tears (2016), writing while the band is sleeping in the back of the van, and Nashville’s ongoing metamorphosis as it absorbs dozens of new artists from around the country seeking fame, fortune, and perhaps a lesson or two.
Aaron is the same warm and open person that he is on stage so his showcase at the Basement East this Friday, September 15 will likely be standing room only. Once his new album comes out, you might not see him in venues that size much longer. Visit Aaron’s website and the AmericanaFest website for show details.
Thanks for stopping by. I know you have a busy week. I’ve mostly seen you with flat top guitars but the De Luxe sounds great in your hands.
Most of my guitars that I play live are flat tops—a ’69 J-40. But this is wonderful.
It seems like you’ve been on the road steady since Silver Tears was released.
It’s been of those ones (albums) where it’s had a long life—I mean thank God! It still feels new in a lot of ways and it’s still gratifying to hear that people are still getting into it. We spent a long time on the road this year.
You must be at a point now where you’ve re-invented the songs enough and you’re ready to write new ones.
I am. I’ve been touring pretty solid for the last three years so this is the second album that I’ve written while touring.
How do you find the time to do that?
I just do it everywhere. I’ll make them up just driving the van. A lot of times the guys in the band will be asleep. So rather than play the radio I just hum quietly to myself while we’re going down the road.
New guitar, new songs?
Yeah, when it comes to new guitars, I always believe that there are guitars with songs in them. I was kind of looking at these and it felt like there are probably some songs in there. My other Epiphone is a jumbo EJ-200 Tobacco Sunburst—Todd Snider’s favorite.
How long have you been in Nashville?
I’ve been in East Nashville four years—still kind of new but I’m really digging it.
The city has changed a lot in even in that short amount of time.
I think there’s always a certain level of people who have been in the scene and around for a longtime are gonna be slightly irked when everybody decides that the place where they’ve been living for the last 20 years is suddenly “cool” and needs to move to town to get their street cred or whatever. It can feel a little disingenuous.
But in a lot of ways, it’s always kind of a cool thing especially for a scene that’s as cool and eclectic as the East Nashville scene. Because, I really count that as its own thing. You just have these people like Todd Snider or Chuck Mead or Elizabeth Cook who have just been around making this great music before Americana was even really a brand name thing--And sort of paving the way for all of us. Now you have people coming into town who revere that thing as well. To me those are the kind of people in town I’m stoked to hang out with (laughs)!
When will you begin working on a new record?
I’m gonna start in December and hopefully have it out by April or May. There were kind of two sides to the coin of the last record. There was the sort of the continuation of what I had done on my first record—a kind of troubadour influence. Definitely 70s era—Jerry Jeff Walker—those kinds of songs. I came to those through Todd Snider and that generation. But ultimately I got back farther. Arlo Guthrie was a big one for me. And then the other side of it was the music I got into when I was a teenager which was British Rock ‘n’ Roll, George Harrison solo albums, Jeff Lynn, all of that fridge English rock. I kind of really got into that a little more on the new songs I’ve been writing. There’s a little less reverence for the revivalist 70s sounding stuff…
There’s a glut of that right now.
Yes! So I’ve decided to take it the other way.
That probably gives you a push to strike new ground.
I think that’s the idea at least for me. I always think about that one Neil Young interview when they asked him how did he feel about the follow-up to Harvest
not doing as well as Harvest
. And he said: To me it’s a success because I didn’t make Harvest again
. That’s how I look at it, too. You don’t have control over how people perceive it. If you know that and you’re willing to let go of trying to control it, that attitude offers you a certain freedom.
Where were you living before you came to Nashville?
I lived in New York for about ten years.
How would you compare the two as far as being a musician?
For me, New York was all about the musicianship. They wrote songs but they were more impressed me as instrumentalists. And then when I got to Nashville there seemed to be a lot of people in the neighborhood who really knew how to put songs together. For me I got something out of each scenario. In New York, I thought: ‘Oh man. If I’m going to call myself a guitar player, I really have some work to do.
’ And coming here, I felt the same way as a songwriter.
The Nashville music scene sometimes has a hard time absorbing an artist who is also the songwriter, arranger, and producer.
I think that for some reason that’s always a challenging pill for people to swallow with musicians because we started basing the authenticity of something of how singular it is. You see that in the way that people make records and talk about records. Something that is just an exercise in a genre can seem more legitimate off the bat to people than something that’s more like a Beatles record which offers you all theses sides of what an artist can do.
I think it’s always a challenge to open people’s minds to all of the different angles you can take as a musician. For me, it’s more of a like a personality disorder. I need to be engaged and feel stimulated all the time (laughs). So being able to do all those different things really helped me think that I’m doing something that’s vital and in the moment. It always ends up helping one of the other sides of the equation. Put the guitar down and produce something for awhile. When I come back to the guitar I have a different idea about where to go with it. And that’s ultimately what you’re looking for—or what I’m looking for. Another way to get down the rabbit hole.