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INTERVIEW: LEE AARON – JUNE 2021

 

According to a recent press release: “Multi-platinum, award-winning Canadian vocalist Lee Aaron is back with a collection of 12 brand-new originals that invite you to tune into the heartbeat of your personal radio dial and hear the best of what this rock ‘n’ roll legend has to offer. Like the FM stations that once ruled the airwaves, Radio On! is full of classic, melodic rock hooks, nasty guitar riffs, big harmonies, and inspired songwriting. Themes explored on the album include: mortality (“Radio On,” “Twenty One”), materialism (“Devil’s Gold”), empowerment (“Vampin'”), addiction (“Wasted”), love (“Cmon,” “Had Me At Hello”), and society (“Soul Breaker,” “Russian Doll”). Lee Aaron delivers these messages with memorable, soaring melodies and her extraordinary, versatile voice that has remained powerful and consistent throughout her career. Like your favorite radio DJ coming over the airwaves on a hot summer night, Lee Aaron invites you to set your dial for a genuine rock ‘n’ roll listening experience… 12 tracks of melodic rock at its BEST!” We get Lee to discuss new music, touring, and much more…

Toddstar: Lee, thank you so much for taking time out for us once again. I really appreciate it.

Lee: Oh no, I’m so happy to.

Toddstar: Well, let’s get into it. I’ve been fortunate; you’re a three-peat for me, now; I was able to interview you right around the time of Fire And Gasoline, and then again when you were dropping your live album, so I’m excited to talk about the new album Radio On! What can you tell us about this album that your fans might or might not grab the first couple of times they listen to this one?

Lee: Well, that’s an interesting question; “what might they not grab.” I don’t know. For me, I think the main thing is I feel like my fan base has grown up with me, as we’ve grown up and gone through many trials and basic life tribulations together. Some people have gotten married, they’ve gotten divorced and separated, they’ve had children, they’ve lost a parent, or whatever. For me, all of that stuff, I think, that goes on in life, just gives me a broader lens with which to create new material. A couple of people have asked me in interviews recently, “Now that you’re married and you’ve got your kids and a domestic life, do you find that you’ve lost your rock edge? Do you not have as much to write about?” And it’s like, “Are you kidding me?” I have way more to write about now, because my children are growing up in this weird world with all this political turmoil and existential threats to humanity like nuclear weapons, and artificial intelligence, and the environment about to go off the edge of a cliff. I feel like I have so many more things to be incensed about that I’m interested in writing songs about. Of course, if it’s Lee Aaron, you’re going to get that wrapped up into the context of melodic hard rock songs, but yeah, I feel like I have a lot of things that I still want to write about and want to say.

Toddstar: That’s what we’ve always turned to you for, whether it goes back to The Lee Aaron Project EP and Metal Queen, which are your first couple of releases, up through where you kind of broke the mold into the 2preciious stuff and back to Lee Aaron. With that said, how different is the process for you now? Not necessarily sitting down and writing, but getting it off the paper, out of your head, and then making it sound the way you want it to sound. Incorporating that original sound and those other sounds that you kind of grew through in the ’90s and 2000s, and then making it Lee Aaron of 2021. How different is that process for you?

Lee: I was more self-conscious when I was younger. I think that when grunge happened, I was like, “Ooh, I love this music. I want to incorporate this sound into my sound.” And it was a little more of a conscious effort. And when I was, obviously, quite a bit younger and I was doing albums under the umbrella of a large record label that was financing things and they were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, they had very strong opinions about who should produce, what the material should sound like. Every time there was a new rock hit on the radio, we were kind of getting bulldozed a bit by the label who was keeping us on a publishing retainer to, “Hey! This Bon Jovi song is a big hit; can you write stuff to sounds a little more like this?” Because their whole angle was commerce. It was, “We want to make money off this in the end.” That is, unfortunately, why corporate rock got so crappy in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was that it becomes so formulaic because the record labels were just trying to pump out more of these hair bands that sounded like the last hair band. Whereas myself, who started in the early ’80s, had developed more of a unique sound that was my own, right? So I was a lot more, I think, conscious and/or self-conscious about what I was creating back then, because there were so many other variables influencing the product. Now I just go, “I’m just going to write what I want to write.” I still love to pick up a guitar and rock. I always say to my husband and my kids, I go, “The day that Mom starts looking like a cartoon of herself, picking up a guitar and rocking out, you’ll let me know, right?” Because that’s the day maybe I’ll consider realigning again, here. I just still have so much energy and so much fun picking up a guitar and walking out on stage and writing songs. But now I think when I’m writing with the band and with Sean, if an idea comes to the table, when we’re working in some writing sessions… lots of ideas get floated in this band, but only the ones that resonate with me are the ones that stick. Something about it has to grab me. And then from that inception, that spark of an idea, we move forward from there. I have a book that I carry around with me constantly, where I’m constantly writing down song ideas and lyric ideas. Sometimes it’s conceptual. Sometimes it’s actual work. I get a phrase stuck in my head and then all of a sudden I’ll get a flood of all these rhyming words and phrases that go with it, and I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, but it’s going to become something,” and I’m writing that down. I have a piano literally in the next room, next door to my kitchen. I know this sounds silly, but as a wife and a mother, I’m doing all the things that other wives are up to, like cooking for my kids. They get home from school like, “Mom, we’re starving. Can we have a snack?” I’m like, “Yeah,” and I’m making them something, but then an idea pops in my head. Or I’m listening to Spotify and I get an idea. So I run right into the next room where I have a piano, and I’ll put on my iPhone memo feature, and I’m like, “Hold on. Your snack is coming, but Mama has an idea she has to put down right now.” Because if I don’t put it down right away… Honestly, it’s the two minute window. If I don’t put it down right away, it disappears into the cosmos; the ether of quantum physics out there somewhere.

Toddstar: Well, that being said, you’ve got artists – I’ll throw Gene Simmons name out there because he dropped a huge box set that was exactly that. A box of all those ideas. Does that mean somewhere out there, there are just unfinished tracks waiting for that last bit. Or do you have stuff where you could do releases of stuff maybe more… I don’t want to say timely, but do you have stuff that’s just been sitting around waiting to just be dropped on the fans? Kind of give them a capsule of where Lee Aaron has been and where she’s going.

Lee: It’s interesting, because I get asked that question a fair amount. I do have one complete album of jazz material that is sitting in storage in the lower level of my home that I recorded with a West Coast pianist here named Cameron Chu in… ’92, maybe? And I’ve never released it. And I do have a few other things kicking around; ideas that got recorded, but didn’t make it onto a record. My mindset, unlike a lot of other artists… I don’t consider myself a Bob Dylan, where if I mine my old ideas, I would be able to produce a brilliant album. I think Bob Dylan is the only kind of person that could do that. Anything, for me, that didn’t make it on a record, I thought was substandard. It wasn’t up to my standards. Again, this jazz album… I just made a shift in my direction, so I decided not to release any more jazz. I might put that out someday. But in terms of all the other stuff that’s partially recorded or unfinished that’s kicking around out there, I’m much more of the mindset that I wouldn’t. I always feel that I’m doing my best work right now, and I always want to move forward. So for me to dredge up a bunch of that stuff from the past… I’m just not really interested in doing it. I know some artists, it’s a way to kind of release a stop gap in between studio albums. But yeah, I’m not really that interested in doing something like that. For me, my stop gap between my last studio album and this one was to put out a live one so people could hear what the band sounded like live because I had so few live recordings out there.

Toddstar: Absolutely. That said, let’s bring it full circle. The first single, “C’mon!” What about this song kind of screamed lead single to you? And I ask this only because you mentioned you don’t have that big label telling you what to do anymore. You’re not on Attic [Aaron’s first major label]; you’re doing your own thing and you’re doing what you need to do for you. So from your position as not only the performer and artist, but also as the driver behind the label and the release, what screamed single about this track to you?

Lee: Well, a couple of things. It probably ventures a little more into pop hard rock territory than some of my previous stuff. But hey, I love Fleetwood Mac. I love Cheap Trick. I loved all that stuff. So just so you understand, from a business template, how it works, I have my own boutique label called Big Sister Records, and what I do is I finance, produce, and create all of my artistic work, including the finished album cover. And then what I do is I go shop for a licensing deal where I license the label, my finished creative work, for a duration of time so that I can have a proper distribution channel throughout the globe. So that’s how it works. So yeah, in terms of having full creative control, you’re right. But I do admit that sometimes my objectivity, by the time I get an album done…. I’m attached to everything. Sometimes it’s nice to have fresh ears on things. What I can tell you is that when we were mixing this album in the studio, I brought Mike Fraser on board. You are probably quite familiar with his work with so many huge bands out there. The way Mike likes to work is he likes to get the track to a place… He does one track a day. He likes to get it to a place where he’s ready for you to have a listen before you come in and tell him what you like and don’t like, and, as a surgeon, you guys pick it apart and put it back together till the artist is happy. So when I came into the studio, the day that C’mon! was happening, he was dancing. Literally dancing and jumping around the control room. And he’s like, “I love this song. This song is a hit. This is a hit if I ever heard one. This song sounds like a hit to me. I can’t stop dancing to it.” And I’m like, “Okay, that’s really cool.” And then we signed with Metalville, out of Germany. And let me tell you the reason we went with Metalville: They might not be as big as some of the other… I had offers from other labels, but they were the label that was the most excited about the music. And they’re huge music fans, and I went, “That is who I want to be with. People that love the record.” And when we gave it to them, we said, “Have a listen, tell us what you think the singles are.” And they came back and they said, ‘We love “C’mon!”‘ And so those were two very respected opinions, and I went, “Okay, I can live with that. I like the song, too.” And that’s basically how we landed on that song as the first single.

Toddstar: Going back through your discography, I still constantly spin Some Girls Do. To me, there’s just something about that album. Every song just says something to me. I don’t know if it was a point in time. I know you’ve talked about how you kind of move on and think you’re doing your best work right now, but is there ever a time when you grab one of your older albums and you put it on and it talks to you the way it did back then? Or have you and the music matured to where you look at it all differently now?

Lee: Yes. Well, yes and no. I don’t really regularly sit down and listen to Lee Aaron albums, but recently, one of the things that I had been considering was either rerecording, or… Let me rephrase that. Some artists go back and they rerecord all their hits so that they can get their licensing rights back. My first six albums are owned in perpetuity by a label in Canada called Unidisc that bought… How to explain it? My masters went through several ownership changes. They were bought and sold multiple times. And now they’re sitting with this company. And I don’t really have any interest in going like a Taylor Swift, and going back and rerecording my first few albums. To do that. But one of the things that I’m constantly being reminded of by fans is a lot of my deep cuts that they feel are great songs that were never singles. Because when I play live, I play 60% new material, but I do play my hits, because my fans want to hear them. I feel I owe that to them. They want to hear “Metal Queen.” They want to hear “Whatcha Do To My Body.” They want to hear “Hands On.” I was going back through some of my old albums because the idea had come to light that maybe we should rerecord some of the best Lee Aaron tracks that you never heard. The ones that weren’t singles. Like some stuff off Emotional Rain – “Raggedy Jane” and “Cry.” And yeah, when I went back and listened to those, I was like, “Whoa! Those were good tracks. Those were some really cool…” I feel that some of that stuff was my best songwriting, but was never released as a single, so if you’re just a surface Lee Aaron fan, you’ve never really heard those songs. There’s a song from Beautiful Things album called “Private Billie Holiday.” I think it’s probably one of the best ballads I ever wrote in my whole life, but most people don’t know it. Even on Bodyrock… “How Deep,” a song like that. I’m just trying to think: Some Girls Do… one of the comments I consistently get about that album is that it was quite a feminist record in terms of a lot of the messages on that album, but a lot of people didn’t really understand or view it that way because of the culture and the timeframe in which it was released; in the early 90’s. Things were just starting to take a turn for women, I think, in rock, where it was becoming somewhat less sexist. Where women could actually pick up guitars and write songs and have angry things to say and be taken seriously as artists. Whereas in the 80’s, when I was doing that, we were still treated, to some degree, like marketing commodities that were pretty faces that sang. Let’s display as much cleavage as possible.

Toddstar: To me, it’s hard… I’m an accountant. To call myself a journalist is a stretch. But what I do… to listen to music and everything else, I have such a hard time writing anything about female-led band. You’re just a rock band who happens to be a female in my mind. And I don’t know where that comes from, but I’ve always kind of felt that way to listen to you or to Doro. It wasn’t, “I want to see a beautiful woman singing.” I just dig the music because she can sing her ass off.

Lee: Well thank you. That’s part of why I ended up in Europe in the early part of my career, too, to a large degree: Because I felt it was just less sexist over there. I was treated as though this was bad-ass Canadian music. Just happens to be a female singer. Whereas in Canada and North America in general, I felt like, “Look at this cute girl that sings hard rock.” I felt like a novelty here. I was on my sixth album, Some Girls Do, before… I remember being in my manager’s office and someone had phoned him. They managed a young girl singer and they were looking for material. And they’re like, “Who wrote the hit for Lee?” And he’s like, “Well, she wrote it.” I’m like, “Ah, are you kidding me? I’m on my sixth album and people still don’t know that I had written…” I had won a songwriter’s award in Canada for “Whatcha Do To My Body,” a CMPA Songwriter’s Award, and people were still wondering, “Who wrote her hit songs?” So yeah; believe it or not. It’s kind of a funny bone of contention with my present day husband, John. My drummer, John Cody and myself, we’ve been together 20 years now. He gets angry sometimes. He’ll read an article and go, “Oh man, they said John Webster produced all your stuff.” And he said, “How come they don’t?” “Because the bio that was put out glossed over the fact that I was a producer and they focused on the fact that Webster was the engineer, and look at his accolades.” And he said, “People still don’t know that you produce your own records!” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And I’m not sitting here going, “Oh, poor me.” But it’s still a little bit of a stigma in the industry where I don’t think that people realize that female artists do as much as they do. I’ve got my own studio here. The whole Almost Christmas CD was put together at my house with me doing the edits.

Toddstar: Well, you brought up something, and I know we’re getting to the end of the time, so I just want to bring up a couple of things… you’ve talked about how, when you play live, you play new material. And obviously touring came to a screaming halt last March for everybody. Even between the US and Canada, but then to try and get over to Europe is just insane right now. I mean, what do you see as the future for you from a tour standpoint? Is it still something you want to do? Or are you content just putting new music out there and doing the occasional festival? What’s your take on that at this point, Lee?

Lee: Well, truthfully I think I had sort of struck a happy balance between the grind of touring and only occasionally playing. Because I’m having a young family still, I mean, I got kids that are young teens and I need to be available to give them some semblance of a normalized life, so what we had tried to do was to push the majority of our touring into summer mode. So a couple of summers ago, I was over in Europe for a few weeks and did a string of dates. But throughout the year, what I try to do is push a lot of my shows into… We call it Weekend Warrior Mode, where you’re going out and doing casinos and festivals and concert runs on weekends. And believe it or not, you can actually cover quite a bit of territory that way. I was surprised. And so that has been working really well for me. And I think that, too, when you get a bit older… I have no interest in going and slogging it out in little clubs anymore. I’m more of a, “Play less, but have a greater impact.” So I’m going to go back to Germany and I can play Wacken to a 50,000 person audience. I’d rather do that than go and play two weeks in thousand seat night clubs. Well, certainly if you have some other revenue streams, which me and the band do, we’ve managed to create that for ourselves. Leave that to the 20-year-olds. It’s becoming not fun, right? And not to say that I don’t… There’s occasional times where we’ll have a festival and they’ll go, “Hey, would you like to hit this city, this city, and this city?” and they are smaller venues. And I’m like, “Yeah, we’re there, let’s do it!” because I do miss the intimacy of playing in front of a smaller crowd. So if there’s an opportunity to do that, don’t get me wrong, I will do it. But usually there’s an anchor date that gets us there.

Toddstar: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I was kind of bummed a couple of years ago, there was… I won’t go on the record as saying whether or not the whole festival was going to be a sham, but I was so excited because there was supposed to be one out on a big farm, I think, in Toronto, a couple of years back that you were…

Lee: I know exactly the festival you’re talking about.

Toddstar: I think you and I discussed this last time we talked and it was a bummer because all of those great bands that do come out of Canada… I was going to get my chance to finally see Lee Aaron live, because you don’t come to Detroit very often. To have that festival date was so important and to see it just fall apart was just crazy.

Lee: It was Canada’s Fyre Festival. [laughs] Honestly they just bit off more than they could chew, which was crazy, but yeah.

Toddstar: Everything I’ve ever heard or read about it, you nailed it. But I’d like to close with something that’s a little more personal. I know we talked about this back when you were releasing Fire And Gasoline; we talked about your daughter being in a video. How has that enhanced her view of what you do, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, where you’re going? And has it given her the bug at all to maybe jump into that same artistic venue that you’ve jumped into, music.

Lee: Oh, she’s totally immersed in musical theater. She loves it. She’s in a production of Newsies right now, although they’re going to be filming virtually and sending videos to the parents because of COVID, which is unfortunate. But she’s a very good little singer. She had the lead role in Beauty And The Beast with a local production company a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t have been more proud. She’s funny because she’s very rebellious. Well, I don’t mean rebellious like getting into trouble rebellious. She’s a straight-A student; she’s very focused. But her thing is “No, mom.” When I say rebellious, it’s like, “I don’t need your help. I don’t need you to help me to learn to sing.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So she’s pretty much self-taught and… She’s turning 17, actually, this coming week. And she has resisted any kind of assistance or guidance from me, and has gone from 15 to… Well, about six months ago, went through a phase of like, “My mom’s not cool. Mom, can you just be careful about your posts on Instagram? Because now my friends are following you. Don’t embarrass me.” And I’m like, “All right. No leopard bikinis for me. Thanks.” But I got the most beautiful Mother’s Day card from her this last month. And she just said, “You’ve been such an inspiring mother to me in terms of sticking by me and trying to guide me to be the best person I can be, but also your artistry,” is what she said to me. And I thought, “Wow.” Even though they go through that phase where they think you’re so uncool, I know on some level that she does admire the fact that here I am, a middle-aged lady who’s a parent, but I still have the energy of a 25 year old and I’m still a fan of music and I’m still so inspired by music and I’m still making music. And I’ve showed her how to use Pro Tools and GarageBand downstairs and showed her how to record herself. I think those are the greatest gifts that I can pass along to her, is show her, “You can create music till the cows come home, but here’s how you actually put it down so people can hear it.”

Toddstar: Well, listen, as a long-time fan who’s in his fifties himself and still digs listening to Lee Aaron, whether it’s the new album Radio On! and the single “C’mon,” which everyone should check out, listen to, and do the pre-buy… You’re still cool. You still have it. You still have the chops, Lee, and it’s always a pleasure speaking to you.

Lee: Well, thank you so much. It was awesome talking to you, and I hope we get to talk again on the next album.

Toddstar: We certainly will, and hopefully we’ll even get maybe a real festival in Canada, or Michigan, or the US somewhere, and I can finally cross Lee Aaron off my live show bucket list.

Lee: Sounds great. You take care, my friend.

LEE AARON LINKS:

OFFICIAL SITE

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Category: Featured Articles, Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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