Interview with Lee Aaron 2021

LEE AARON - 'Radio On!' (Metalville Records 23/07/2021)

LEE AARON  on ‘Radio On !’

Canadian songstress Lee Aaron is a versatile singer. She started her international career in 1982 with The Lee Aaron Project and soon became a so-called metal queen. The next ten years she delivered some great hard rock albums that were always stuffed with good songs. Between 1995 and 2005 she walked different paths, from alternative rock and pop to blues and jazz. Then she stepped out of the spotlight for many years but returned on the rock scene in 2016 with comeback album ‘Fire And Gasoline’ which was followed by a blues-rock album ‘Diamond Baby Blues’ (2018), a live album ‘’Power, Soul, Rock N’ Roll’ (2019) and a self-released Christmas album ‘Almost Christmas’ (2020). On July 23 2021 her new album ‘Radio On!’ will be released on Metalville Records. It’s an album that reminds of her rock glory days in the eighties, but with a richer maturity. As we will learn from the in depth interview below, Lee is really in the driver seat when it comes to making records nowadays. We had a very nice chat last May about her newest creation.

Interview: Geert Ryssen

Geert: ‘Hello, last time we talked was about the ‘Diamond Baby Blues’ album (2018). I thought that this new one ‘Radio On!’ was the follow-up, but I found out that it isn’t so. You made a Christmas album in 2020 that was only available on your website. How come?’

Lee Aaron: ‘Well, it is coming out globally. Okay. Last year, of course, COVID happened and you know, all the artists and their careers got sidelined. We couldn't or we could do anything. And we were in the middle of a week in March of 2020 when COVID was kind of exploding around the world. The news was reporting on it, not daily but hourly. Everything was changing. People were freaking out buying all the toilet paper. You remember this week? Yes, yes. Well, we were in the studio trying to cut our backing tracks. We had four days in the studio to cut the basic tracks for ‘Radio On!’ which got cut short. We ended up with two days. We got it all done. Because we like to record live off the floor, right? Sean, my guitar player is saying: my wife is freaking out. I don't even know if I can get on an airoplane. My son is sick. My father is sick, I have to go home. And then the studio shut down. So we got our basic tracks done. But then we spent the next few months over the summer, just recording, we just took our time. I recorded the vocals, finished up the vocals, did the background tracks, recorded some keyboards. So the album really was finished at the end of the summer, but it wasn't mixed yet. Right. And I was interviewing mixers for the album because I wasn't sure who I wanted to mix it. I wanted it to have a little bit of a different sound than ‘Diamond Baby Blues’. And then in September, we were sort of sitting around, we were starting to write some new material and Sean Kelly (guitar player – GR) called me and he says, I know this is a crazy idea because it's September already, but why don't we make a Christmas record? And I was like: Hell Yeah, that'd be fun. You know, it was just a spontaneous last minute idea. But by the time we had it finished, which was Octobe, mid to late October, we realized that record companies need a minimum of three months to set up a release. We just couldn't do it globally. So we thought, you know what, just for fun, we're just going to do it on our own website and do it independently. So the people that get that first edition have something really special. When I put a social media message out there that we were going to do a Christmas record, many people were uplifted by it. And really that was our motivation. We wanted to make ourselves happy and we wanted to give our fans a gift that would just lift their spirits during this crappy time. So that was the motivation behind the whole record. Now our record company expressed interest in the idea of picking it up for global release. And we're like: sure, that'd be great!’

Geert: ‘It’s really something, writing a whole record in one weekend and recording the basis tracks along the way!’

Lee Aaron: ‘We did the writing in one week. Yeah. So the writing sessions happened like we are a bi-coastal band. So my guitar player, Sean is in Toronto. And so for us to get together in a room and actually jam and write, we need to fly him here. Sending files back and forth is kind of a modern way of writing, right? But to me, something gets lost in the translation when you do it that way, in terms of the energy and the spirit of the band. And I know that I love my players in this band. They're all talented songwriters and arrangers. And there's always this magic that happens when we get in a room together. So I said to Sean, I'm going to fly you in, I want you to bring your best three or four song ideas. To my husband, who is a great arranger and has great ideas, I said: put on your best arrangement hat. And I brought my best ideas. And I had a book full of lyrics that I'd written on vacation. I'm always writing words down. I said, let's bring that into the songwriting sessions for a weekend. And we didn't really know what we were going to come up with. But we ended up writing like a whole album. By the time that weekend was finished, I had iPhone memo recordings of every single song. I had solid choruses with solid melodies, and solid chorus lines. So basically, after that weekend I refined all the lyrics, with just better content and changed some of the lines to reflect more what I wanted to say. But the basics of that album was written in a weekend and then the basic tracks were recorded in two days as well. But then we finished it, we were forced to finish in our home studios because of COVID.’

Geert: ‘When I'm comparing this album with the other things you've done before, it sounds like where an album like ‘Some Girls Do' (1991) left off. It has the same flow. I mean, the sound, the songs, the songwriting, the freshness. Do you agree?’

Lee Aaron: ‘I never really thought about it. I don't really ever go back and listen to my old records and go: Oh, I want to make a record like that one. I'm always just moving forward, right. So I knew that I wanted the sound to be a little bit different. I wanted us to have a more organic sound in the mixing process, which is why we brought in Mike Fraser who is amazing. I think that in terms of the melodic content and the strong choruses, perhaps you're right. I didn't think about that at the time. You know, obviously, we're all getting older and more mature, and your worldview changes when you become a parent. And I think that the lyric content on the album is certainly more beyond ‘Some Girls Do’ in terms of maturity. I mean, yes, ‘Some Girls Do’ was a rather feminist record, there were a lot of themes of female empowerment, getting your groove, you know, tough girls don't cry. That vibe! That's a theme that sort of continues through all my albums from ‘Metal Queen to ‘Some Girls Do to ‘Diamond Baby Blues’ to a song called ‘Vampin’’, which is the opening track on 'Radio On!' about rising like a phoenix from a bad situation and getting your groove back, rising out of your depression and getting your self-empowerment back. So those are themes that are consistent on pretty much all my records. But, you know, I'd like to think that I've taken some of the lyric content one step beyond into, hopefully a realm of more maturity, right? Yeah, even with these male artists, you know, if you're over 50, and you're still writing songs about picking up chicks and party. So it's kind of a little bit lame.’

Geert: ‘One of the themes in your lyrics is also about mortality. I think there are two songs about that theme. Why does that slip into your writing?’

 Lee Aaron: ‘Well, you remember, four or five years ago, we lost Prince and we lost David Bowie and we lost Lemmy. And we've lost Tom Petty, I mean, you know, a few years before that, it was Michael Jackson. It just feels like a sort of side effect of the fact that we're all growing up, we're all getting older. And as you get older, people die. But it felt like there was an obituary for a rock star that you admired in your youth, like, every single month, a few years back, if you recall, when a couple of losses were really hard. Like Bowie and Prince, were super hard for me because I love both those artists and I was influenced by both of them. Just like Guns And Roses they were part of my youth. At the same time my mother passed away, I lost a very good friend to cancer, then my sister's husband, I only have one sister. My brother in law passed away suddenly on a business trip. I felt like I was being hit over the head with mortality over and over again. And then you start going like: Am I next? I still have young teen children and I just started thinking about that. But it's also about the fact that, you know, even though human beings pass away, the legacy of their music continues forever, it lives on. So my song ‘Radio On’ is about that. When you're gone, the music lives on. People die, but music is immortal. That's become more and more important to me as I've gotten older, and I have children now. I think, you know, I want them to leave them a legacy, like "my mom made 20 albums and she was cool". And you know, maybe I wasn't Madonna. But how do I explain it? You're better, you're a better singer. More of a sort of a cult favorite. Do you know what I mean? Like: "she was like this great. A Canadian treasured secret that only a few of us really knew was so great." You know, I'd rather be that person and I realized that's a legacy. I want to leave my kids right. So there you go. I'm showing my daughter how to use Pro Tools and Logic right now so she can record too because not many girls do that.’

Geert: ‘So you are the songwriter, the lyric writer and the singer. But also the producer, what's your role as producer?’

Lee Aaron: ‘Well, producer for me is number one, I'm financing the project and managing the budget. I'm choosing the musicians that I want to play on the album, I'm deciding on the final song arrangements and the song selections are up to me. You know, with that refinement process going on in pre-production, I booked the studio, I hired the engineer that I think is the best engineer for my project. And we sit in the studio together and sometimes I record vocals right in the control room. And I'm the person that decides on which take is the magic one. So, I'm very involved in all processes of production. Then we had to take this into our home recording studios. I'm not in in Toronto when Sean is recording his lead track, but he records a video of the track while he's recording it and he sends it to me, I listen, and I go: I love it. Or I go: I want something a little more Lindsey Buckingham in this song, can you do something more with that flavor? I basically just give direction, I see the vision of the album. And then when it comes to the mixing process, I think there are people that are better mixers than me out there, who have tricks of the trade up their sleeve. And so that's why I hired Mike Fraser. So Mike Fraser and I got together in the studio, I was there every single day during the mix process. And he would come in and he'd go, you know, he'd have it go in a place that I love. But then I'm not hearing the bass in a certain section section. Can we bring the bass up a bit, or can I hear the background vocals louder over here? A couple times he said: I just don't know where to put that or where to put that keyboard thing you did. We've tucked it up into the far left up into the corner there and really fit it out, make it sound really thin. And then it's working, you know. So I hire the team of people to do the best job. That's what a producer does. It's very exciting to me just to have control of my creative process and where the art is going. Because back in the 80s when I was a younger girl I wasn't paying for my own records, record companies were investing half a million dollars in these projects. Believe me, they had a lot to say about the creative direction and how things were going because they were spending so much money. So nowadays, I have a completely finished mastered product. And then I shop it. I had quite a few offers on ‘Radio On!’. I did choose to go with Metalville because I love those guys. They've done a great job for me in the past. Maybe they're not the biggest label, but they're such music fans. To me, that speaks volumes. It's not just a financial acquisition to them. They love the product and the music and they're going to work it right. And they get the vision so that's really important to me.’

Geert: ‘Can you tell something about the song ‘Mama Don’t Remember’?

Lee Aaron: ‘ In the 90s, I played a show with Joan Jett and Jerry Lee Lewis. And after the show was over, we got into this limo back to the hotel. And this limo driver really, really wanted to be our friend. So we put down the glass and he wanted to party and talk with us. And we were in this sort of remote field where this big festival is happening outside Winnipeg. Well, the guy got us lost. On the way back to the hotel, we realized he was drinking. We thought he was drunk. And then at one point, I just started to freak out and the guys in the band were all partying and I was kind of the only responsible one in the limo and I'm going: Okay, dude, we've been trying for an hour and a half, we are lost. Where are we? We're in the middle of the Canadian Outback somewhere. So I reached under my seat. I was looking for a map, because we didn't have GPS back then. Of course, there's no map, the guy has like a whole bunch of porno magazines, and they fall out of this drawer and I'm going: Okay, we are driving around with this insane guy. He starts telling us a story about how he used to be a DJ at a local radio station in Winnipeg, but that he's recently been fired because of hate slander. I'm wondering if I’m the only person that thinks this scenario is crazy: I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not drinking right now. And I just want to get back to the hotel. We finally got back to the hotel, it was really kind of scary, we were lost for about two and a half hours in the middle of a Canadian wilderness. And this guy didn't know his way back to the hotel, and I'm wondering if this guy will take us out in the woods and axe-murder all of us, I don't know. The next day I got up and I was on the cover of the entertainment section of the Winnipeg newspaper. I had these silver pants that I was wearing on stage. And basically the picture was almost like a close up of my behind. I was just so depressed. I was like, Oh my gosh, my 18 years in the music industry have brought me to this being driven around by a drunk limo driver and getting on the cover of the entertainment section. But they're totally treating me like I'm a sex object, not an artist. I was really pissed off. And so the motivation for that song was that whole story that happened to me. On that particular circumstance I was just feeling that rock and roll wasn't worth it. You know, I just wanted to go home to my mom. And that was kind of the motivation behind that song. So, everything I write is comes from some kind of personal experience.'

 Geert: ‘Lots of artists are complaining about the state the music business in these days. What’s your opinion?

Lee Aaron: ‘I'm really fortunate, because I'm what they call a heritage artist, because I've been around longer than 30 years, right? Even though I'm not as old as some people think, because I started as a teenager. So, I still feel like I'm doing some of the best work of my career right now. But I'm what is called a heritage Art Assignment. I'm from the era of, you know, everybody reaching across the missing mixing console to pull up or pull down a fader or twiddle a knob, right? You know, the days when people sold a lot of physical product. So my fans still care about vinyl, they still care about CD, they still care, they want it, like I can see you have this illustrious collection behind you. Yeah, my husband has a massive music library as well. You know, I see that my fans still care about physical product, and they will buy physical products. So I'm very lucky. But a lot of these modern artists, it's so hard for them to make money because it's all download based. My fans care about a body of work called an album and LP. A lot of the new artists out there, they just they throw out singles and see what sticks. And there's so much saturation, so much competition out there. I'm really very lucky that I have like a group of dedicated fans that care about my music and still want to hear what I do and will buy my record.’

Geert: ‘You have made a very good rock record again. But you have had a phase of where you did more jazz things. Are you still doing that?

Lee Aaron: ‘It's funny because I got questions from fans the other day, they were begging me to do more jazz. I actually have a whole jazz album sitting on DAT tape that I've never released. And I might, you know, I might do something like that in the future. And just to clarify something for fans: a lot of people think that when I did jazz and blues, people thought that I was being a traitor to rock and roll. But I mean, come on guys, early Led Zeppelin, early Who or early Hendrix, these guys, they all took their cues from artists like BB King, Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf. You know, these are the roots of rock and roll. So for me when I did that kind of music, grunge had annihilated everybody's careers in the early 90s. I just thought, what the hell, I'm just going to do something. I'm going to explore the roots of rock and roll because I can and so I went back and I did some of that music. And I think I may be a better singer, songwriter, a better arranger. I learned a lot about the history of rock music, rock and roll music, and I loved it. I would go back to do that in a heartbeat. To me it was a challenge vocally to do that. To go back and do it because I kind of grew up listening to a lot of that when I did theater, Tin Pan Alley writers and stuff like that when I was young, so it wasn't a complete diversion for me, but I mean, I think it was something that kept me interested in my career and it is certainly an interesting talking point now. You know, I can sing that style of music but it doesn't mean I don't love rock music, it just means that I'm capable of more, right? Yeah, I think I can I bring some of those flavors and colors into my own music. But this this one (the one still unreleased – GR) is a pure jazz album I think. Well, some of the material. If you ask the purists, just guys, they would tell you it's not pure because I do some really unconventional material on that album. They're not all standards. They're kind of quirky substandards. For my previous jazz album I choose some unconventional standards and I played them in an unconventional way with an unconnected conventional band. So a lot of jazz snobs didn't like that record, but a lot of fans did. And for a lot of my fans, they've never really listened to jazz and when they heard that album, it was like a gateway record into jazz for them. And now, you know, for me to have a fan say, “man, now I'm listening to Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches In Spain'”, that is so cool.’

Geert: ‘Can you tell something about the artwork?’

Lee Aaron: ‘I'm telling you this little secret. It's COVID. We all just shot our own photos with our iPhones. We were in lockdown, we couldn't even get together. So that picture on the front cover is me sitting on a cabinet by a brick wall in my entranceway, with my iPhone, and a selfie remote on an iPhone. I knew the photo that I wanted. I knew what I wanted to wear. I knew I wanted to wear my leopard boots. And that's an old boombox that I had. You know that old fashioned one and so I had a vision for the cover, but I shot the photo myself. And then I have the same artwork guy Eric Bourdon out of Montreal. He has done my last three covers. And I just think he's brilliant. He did ‘Diamond Baby’, he did ‘Power, Soul, Rock N’ Roll – Live In Germany’ and he did this one. He's such a talented guy, and I basically sent him the vision. This is what I pictured I wanted us to be clean and white. If you've noticed, I tend to do things that aren't necessarily the fire and brimstone rock and roll look; I like stuff that's a little more clean and artistic.’

Geert: ‘Are you going to tour Europe with this album?’

Lee Aaron: ‘I sure hope so. You know, COVID, unfortunately, is dictating everything for everyone right now. I wish I was Australian because I can at least tour over there, most of the Australian bands are starting to tour. We have some European festivals and they've all been pushed back to 2022. Yeah, I'm supposed to be at Sweden rock. I have a festival in Hamburg, a festival in France. I would love to get to Belgium again. Yes, I really, really hope that we're back over there by the summer of 2022. But it all comes down to people and their behavior, choosing to get vaccinated, choosing to stay safe. I mean, look at India, India probably opened up too soon. And look what's going on there, that's incredibly frightening. The fact that this virus could just take a turn. The virus could get one of us right now in any country. And that could happen next year, too. So I'm hoping and praying that people get vaccinated, staying safe and not being stupid. I sure miss my family and just hugging my friends. Yeah, it's hard. Yeah, it's a terrible situation. And it's been too long already. I have had my first vaccination last week, but we have to be vaccinated two times. It's with a Pfizer vaccine and it's this one month in between, I have to wait until July to get the second. So my guitar player is in Toronto, it was on a different timeline than Ontario. So he just got his first vaccines. So we're waiting for him to get vaccinated. We're thinking of going into the studio and recording another album this summer because we've got a bunch of material written, but it really all depends. And Mike Fraser, who's going to engineer a mix for us, I think he's had his vaccines already, which is great. So yeah, we're hoping to all have our vaccines so we can start recording in a real studio’.

Geert: ‘Is there's anything we didn't talk about that you still want to say?’

Lee Aaron: ‘No, I mean, thank you. You asked some great questions. I love it when people ask questions about specific songs and motivations. It was awesome, awesome questions’.

Geert: ‘Thank you very much for the interview. And I wish you success with the new album and hope to see you soon on stage.

Lee Aaron: ‘Thank you. It was an awesome interview. Take care. Good day. Bye bye.’