A highlight of last year’s Americana Music Festival was when my friends and I happened on a set at The High Watt while mulling about in the huge Cannery space in Nashville. The smaller, newer space was packed with onlookers, arm-to-arm, whose collective attention to the stage made us curious and whose collective body heat warmed the outside night chill out of us.
On the stage was a solo performer, spectacles covering most of his boyish face. A nautical-themed cap casting a shadow on the scruffy folk-singer with a side-slant smile. He picked at an old banged-up Guild acoustic, told stories about seeing Ted Nugent live and beautifully performed songs clever as they were reflective.
The crowd was transfixed by Aaron Lee Tasjan.
Tasjan had moved on from his glam rock days shredding guitar with New York City’s Semi Precious Weapons to and was making his way to his current incarnation as one of East Nashville’s most sought-after axemen and solo troubadours. Damn well transition too. On the surface his songs, Roger Miller and Frank Zappa, sprinkled with wry humor might divert you from the beauty of the songs and the care in the music. That would be a lazy mistake.
Case in point is Tasjan’S new song “The Trouble with Drinkin’” A Leon Russell-style folk-funk stroll through a place where heaven’s open bar keeps that amber current flowin’ through his mind. (Apologies to Willie Nelson) The musicianship and tight. the song structure if casual but deft, and those just here for the groove might overlook it. And that’s cool. But try a little harder and reap greater reward of deft song craft that would compel Shel Silverstein and John Prine to take him out for a few rounds.
Of “The Trouble with Drinkin’ ” origin Tasjan recalls:
“I came up with this song on my way out of Rock Island, IL. I was on tour last fall opening for The Legendary Shack Shakers. This was no small feat to accomplish because they are without a doubt one of the most exciting and entertaining bands I’ve ever heard, and I had to get up there with nothing but an acoustic guitar before they’d come on and decimate the place every night. We were playing a gig at a place that was also a brewery, and I had checked into a hotel that was right across the street from the venue, which can be dangerous. Touring all on your own has a great way of keeping your post-show good times in check because you have to be responsible for everything. You don’t have to be as responsible when there’s nothing to do after a show but stumble across the street to your hotel room while on the phone to Domino’s. Playing a gig at a brewery is always gonna be a tough one, too, if you like beer because they’re going to give you a shit ton of it, and you’re probably going to drink it either because you want to or because you were raised to be polite and take what you’re offered.
I woke up the next morning feeling pretty alright, save for the late-night pizza and all those free beers, so I went to a coffee shop to get some breakfast. Afterward, as I went to pay, I realized—or more accurately, thought that I realized—I left almost all the money from the gig in the hotel room I’d just vacated. When I went back to the room, though, the cash wasn’t there so I decided to retrace my steps in my mind to figure out the last place I had it. And that’s when the suddenly vivid memory of my pizza delivery man profusely thanking me multiple times upon receiving payment for the pizza came back to me. At the time, I’d drunkenly thought, “What’s the big deal? Anyone can pay for a pizza. It’s not a particularly impressive thing to do.” But it probably was pretty impressive to the delivery guy that I’d handed him all my gig money, effectively paying him around $200 for a $10 pizza.
At first I was mad he kept it, but then I thought, “Man. Maybe this guy could really use it. Maybe he came up $100 short on his kickstarter and now he can make an album and get out of this pizza gig or something.” Either way, I made peace with it and started driving down the road thinking about how I probably shouldn’t get hotel rooms close enough to the gig that I could George Jones myself out of two C notes. It had all been too easy. That was the trouble with it—there wasn’t any trouble with it. And I do like things that don’t require too much effort.”
Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “The Trouble With Drinkin’” is from his debut solo LP ‘In the Blazes,’ out Oct. 6th
UPCOMING TOUR DATES
8/1: Newport, KY – Southgate House Revival w/Lilly Hiatt
8/20: Charlotte, NC – The Evening Muse w/Lilly Hiatt
8/29: Tulsa, OK – The Colony w/Wink Burcham
9/3: Memphis, TN – 1884 Lounge w/Ray Wylie Hubbard