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Music Journeys: Aaron Lee Tasjan

Nov 14, 2018

With three full-length releases to his credit, Aaron Lee Tasjan has earned quite the following from music fans. 

He brings his tour to Columbus Thursday night along with a performance at WCBE that afternoon. In the latest installment of Music Journeys, Tasjan tells Mike Foley how his time living in the Columbus-area shaped his sound. 

Set You Free plays...

In many ways, Aaron Lee Tasjan's time in central Ohio provided the building blocks that set him free and gave him the belief that there's a place for him in music. But his first inspiration came from his mom.

"When I was about 7 years old living in Delaware, my mom began taking guitar lessons again," Tasjan recalled. "I didn't know she played before. She had an old gut string guitar and took a few lessons. She came upstairs one day playing a song. My mom does consulting for executive women. She wrote a little song about it, and I was totally blown away by her being able to play the guitar. Pretty quickly after that, I just became obsessed with the guitar. Everything started becoming a guitar - my tennis racket, my baseball bat, anything I could turn into a guitar I would."  

Dream Dreamer plays...

Though he was born in Wilmington, Delaware and spent much of his youth there and some in southern California, Tasjan credits his high school years in New Albany, Ohio for his musical outlook. It all started at a band camp his freshman year. Midway through the week, his dad drove to the camp with Tasjan's guitar.  

"So I took it out and played a couple songs in the cabin," Tasjan recalled. "I always sing with my eyes closed, always have since I was a kid. So I'm playing a couple songs in the cabin, and all the sudden I open my eyes and the entire marching band almost was in our freshman cabin. I was playing Dave Matthews songs and stuff I knew they would know. They were pretty stoked about it. My time at New Albany High School was as responsible for me continuing to play music and trying to make a career out of it as anything just because the kids there were so sweet to me and so supportive. I had come from a school in southern California that was the exact opposite of that. I was almost made fun of for playing music and kids bullied and picked on me a lot. All the sudden, I'm in this school where my classmates thought that it was cool that I did that. By the time I had graduated from high school and was going out to New York, I had four years of campus bar gigs under my belt, and that was a real framework to jump off of into trying to make a life in music."

Tasjan 2015 debut full-length release In The Blazes has been described as having a 1970's country feel, while his Silver Tears follow-up a year later has been termed more sophisticated and introspective. Tasjan's latest release Karma For Cheap finds him... 

"Trying to figure out why I am the way I am," Tasjan added.

If Not Now When plays...

"For me, that's a lyrical sensibility that looks at the weight of life with a sense of humor at the same time not ignoring how potent it can be. Matched with that is a sensibility on the guitar that to me rings true to the heart of rock and roll, which is something that's a little bit defiant and mysterious and ultimately celebratory of being alive. Being alive is a great burden in a lot of ways. You're not dealing with the joyous moments of life, you're figuring out how to get through the tough ones. My lyrics and my guitar playing are for me a direct translation of that thing. This is how I'm getting through. All of this is about giving back what it's given to me which is a chance to be alive and to be happy about it."

The Truth Is So Hard To Believe plays...

"It's kind of funny, a lot of people have picked up on that song as some sort of political thing given all that's going on in America right now," Tasjan said. "That's not really where that song comes from for me. If that's what they find in that song and helps them deal with whatever they are going through, I love that. I'm certainly not saying it's not that for them. But to me, it's about dealing with those truths and untruths that we tell ourselves - that little voice that's in your head that's telling you things. I figured out one day that voice is either saying things that are probably more complimentary then I deserve or probably a lot meaner than I deserve, and do I really want to choose to believe it."

Strange Shadows plays...

"A lot of these songs on Karma for Cheap are just kind of about me trying to keep myself between the ditches mentally and physically," Tasjan reflected. "If there's any message on the Karma For Cheap record, it's just one of empathy for myself and for anybody who's wondering how much is too much of anything. I've had my own health issues the past year or so that I've been to a bunch of doctors for, and they're still trying to figure out exactly what's going on. I'm hopeful we'll get to a place where I really start feeling better and healthier. I work everyday to implement those changes myself. I love music, and I love life. I want to be around doing it and making it for as long as I can."

Heart Slows Down plays...

"The thing that music has given me, it was a conduit to realizing there's more to life than me," Tasjan finished with a laugh. "That realization caused me to have some real empathy for humanity. Fred Rogers really said it right when he said there's two things in the world that you can't hear enough and that's 'I love you and you're a good person.' Whether Tom Petty was singing 'even the losers get lucky sometimes' or Liam Gallagher was singing Noel's words 'no one's ever gonna feel the way I do about you now,' what I heard was I love you and you're a good person. It made me feel tremendously better about myself and the world around me. I knew that I wanted the opportunity to do that for somebody else. I've been incredibly fortunate that in some small way, I've been provided an opportunity to do that.  We spend a lot of time focused on how much we have or don't have. But just to have something at all in this day and age feels like a huge victory and opportunity to me, and that's what I want to spend my life telling people." 

Songbird plays...

Aaron Lee Tasjan performs Thursday night at the Rumba Cafe, and earlier that afternoon Live From Studio A during the Global Village.