"The part I have to work out with my psychiatrist is that I am emotionally identifying with a state," Aaron Lee Tasjan tells Rolling Stone Country about his new single, "Florida Man." Streaming exclusively below, it's a chugging, steel guitar and piano-laced folk song about the Sunshine State and its amorphous, often ridiculous villains that seem to appear daily on the crime docket — but also the diamonds hidden in the rough.
"You know how you always read that stuff in the newspaper that says, 'Husband Stabbed in Chest by Wife With Squirrel?' and before that, it says, 'Florida Man'?" the Nashville-based Tasjan explains about the track from his forthcoming debut LP, In the Blazes, out October 6th. "The stuff that happens in Florida is insane, and I started to think, 'Yeah, it's pretty wild, but a lot of awesome stuff came from Florida too.' So I started to make a laundry list."
The Allman Brothers, Elizabeth Cook and Lynyrd Skynyrd — from Jacksonville, Florida, not "Sweet Home" Alabama like many assume — are some of the name-checks that make their way into the song. There's also a little love for that "Florida Man" who sometimes has to work a little harder than the rest to earn the benefit of the doubt. Tasjan can relate. "It's not to laugh at anyone's misfortune," he says. "Because I certainly like to laugh at my own misfortune."
Tasjan himself, however, is no Florida man. Originally from Ohio, he got his musical footing in Brooklyn first as a member of glam-rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons, also spending time on the road playing guitar for Georgia's southern rock arbiters Drivin' N Cryin' and the New York Dolls before moving to East Nashville in 2013, with the goal of focusing more on his solo songwriting career. And to chase a legend or two.
"I initially wanted to come here because I knew that people like Guy Clark lived here," he says of one of his songwriting idols, "and maybe there was an off-chance I'll run into that dude at the grocery store. Not that I'd even know what to say. Then I moved here and started to get to know people like Joe Fletcher, Margo Price, Brian Wright. The most inspiring people I know live in our neighborhood, and I'm in a place where I pretty much just want to be the worst guy in the room — the dude with the most to learn."
It's a modest comment from someone who has logged more miles on the road than many of his comrades, appeared on MTV and has been waiting patiently to release his debut LP, not flooding the landscape with a million rushed-to-acetate records. But it's also pretty indicative of the relaxed, sometimes self-effacing breed of folksong that Aaron Lee Tasjan writes, balancing humor with clever composition like another one of his heroes, John Prine. There's often room for laughter, but it's never at the expense of a good melody or smart turn-of-phrase.
Tasjan eventually met Clark — but not at the grocery store. One day, Todd Snider, his friend and mentor, summoned him unexpectedly to Nashville's Blackbird Studios, where he was recording with his super group Hard Working Americans.
"They were recording one of [Clark's] songs for their new album, and he came in to guest on it," Tasjan says. "So not only did I get to shake the man's hand, but I got to watch him record, which was amazing. My favorite part was watching how Guy doesn't like frivolous compliments. So anytime somebody from the control room would say, 'Guy, that was a great take,' he would look in there and go, 'Where's the guy we used to have?' He just wanted to play the song and smoke a million cigarettes and go home."
Looking for moments of dark humor amongst the genius — that's Tasjan at his core.