Aaron Lee Tasjan kicked off the songwriting cycle for last year’s Silver Tears during a day-long acid trip, finishing four tunes before the buzz wore off. Built on Traveling Wilbury twang and Harry Nilsson nuance, the album whips up its own version of altered Americana, with Tasjan roping country ballads, folk rockers and pop songs into the same path.
As the newest guest on Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast, Tasjan talks about his strange trip of a career. The New York Dolls, Tony Visconti and Lucinda Williams all play roles in the story, whose main highlights – including a how-to guide for creating your own mirrorball suit – are listed below. As always, listen to the episode’s premiere after the jump, and tune in every Monday for new installments of Walking the Floor.
Tasjan once played guitar in the New York Dolls.
A lifelong glam-rock fan, Tasjan first attracted attention as the guitarist for Semi Precious Weapons, an androgynous rock band built on what Tasjan calls “a very New York Dolls kind of concept.” The group began attracting attention from David Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti, who brought several of his clients – including Dolls members Sylvain Sylvain and Steve Conte – to watch Semi Precious Weapons perform in New York City. “Those guys and I struck up a mutual guitar friendship,” Tasjan remembers, and when the birth of Conte’s first child left him temporarily unavailable for a New York Dolls tour, Tasjan was given the gig instead.
The spangled, sparkling suit from the cover of Silver Tears is homemade.
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“I’ve always enjoyed the visual aspect of rock and roll as much as the music,” says Tasjan, who remembers watching a video clip of Tom Waits performing in a hat bedazzled with small pieces of mirror glass. “He was singing ‘Old 55,’ I think,” he continues, “and it was in this dark theater, and for the last chorus, they put this spotlight down over top of him, and it hit the mirror and reflected out and lit up the whole theater, with just this beam of spotlight and a hat.” Tasjan decided he wanted to do something similar for his album cover, so he hit Nashville’s thrift store circuit with a buddy, emerging with a $7 suit purchased from St Vincent de Paul. “Then we went to Michael’s Craft store and bought every mirrored sequin we could find, and literally glued them on there one at a time, which took about two days,” he explains.
Tasjan’s original musical goal? To be a sideman.
As a young guitarist, Tasjan looked to rockers like Noel Gallagher for cues. Gallagher seemed to have the perfect gig: a prime spot onstage, not exactly outside of the spotlight but not in the middle of it, either. That flexibility was enticing to Tasjan, who says he originally wanted to be “the dude who helps with the songwriting but isn’t necessarily the lead singer, but plays some guitar and sings harmony and just gets to vibe out on stage.” He could never find the right band to support that dynamic, though, eventually assuming the frontman role himself.
Acid trips can be very productive.
Minutes after opening up for the Legendary Shackshakers in Omaha, Tasjan was given a “balled-up paper napkin” from “this sort of crusty, old dude” in the audience. It was weeks later, after returning home to Nashville, that Tasjan reached into his jacket pocketed and stumbled across the napkin again. “I was expecting some weird note from him,” he remembers, “and I opened it up, and it was three hits of acid.” Tasjan spent an entire day taking small hits on acid in his makeshift home studio, staying in a suspended state of offbeat inspiration. “I ended up writing ‘Ready To Die,’ ‘Where the Road Begins and Ends,’ ‘Dime’ and ‘Little Movies’, all in one day,” he says. Those songs became the building blocks for Silver Tears, the rest of which took shape soon after.
Why play one record release show when you can play a dozen?
The day Silver Tears hit stores, Tasjan rented a Nashville-area party bus, stocked it with beer, opened up its seats to any interested passengers and made his way across the Tennessee capital, playing songs in 12 different bars. The inspiration behind the day-long release party was his song “12 Bar Blues.” At the end of the night, Tasjan’s bus pulled into the parking lot of Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley listening room, where he finished things off with a full-length concert. “I think I got drunk three or four different times that day,” he remembers.