The Metal Queen herself, Lee Aaron, is re-entering the rock world with the release of her latest effort Fire And Gasoline on March 25th and we were lucky enough to grab some of her time to discuss the new disc, how life has affected her song writing, and so much more...
Lee: Well, thank you. It's a pleasure to talk to you, too.
Toddstar: There is some fabulous news going on in the world of Lee Aaron. You have a new album coming out.
Lee: I know. I'm very excited about it.
Toddstar: What can you tell us about this project? Why now, Lee?
Lee: Everyone's asking me that. Why now is because I have come off a decade of being a parent. In 2004 and 2006, I had my daughter and then my son, and I had this crazy idea at the time, that I would just have my baby, and then that would slide neatly into my rock n' roll life, and I would travel around and take a child with me. It just didn't really work out that way. Having children, I just had to make a whole lot of adjustments for a while. They're great. They're the best thing that's ever happened to me and I've embraced it fully, but some time and space in the last couple of years has opened up, and I always knew that I would make another rock record. I started developing some material a couple years ago, and then I met a gentleman from Toronto named Sean Kelly, who is now my full-time guitarist in my band. Sean used to play with Nelly Furtado, and he's also an author of a Canadian music history book called Metal on Ice. That's how we ended up meeting, actually, through conversations around that book. He and I collaborated on some of the material on the album as well. We wrote about five songs together. When I decided now is the right time, now I'm going to do another rock record, it's amazing how quickly the material came together, in about six or seven months. I went, "Wow, okay, I've got an album. Let's go."
Toddstar: That's great. You mentioned the shift back into a rock record, where your last few weren't necessarily as rock-driven. You had some jazz, some blues. How difficult is it for you to shift those gears, to be able to go back into that rock groove, especially when you did the jazz-blues hybrids so well?
Lee: Well, not difficult at all. A lot of people are surprised by that. You need to understand music history. Rock n' roll music came from jazz and blues. I cut my teeth, as a teenager, singing Led Zeppelin covers. Zeppelin... that's what they did - they stole from all the blues masters out there. When I went back and started signing some old jazz and blues again, I didn't feel that it was a huge departure from some of the rock music that I grew up with. If anything, I feel that taking that diversion in my career, and going back and doing some of that style of music for a while... I think it's made me a better singer and a more well-rounded songwriter.
Toddstar: I'd agree with that, especially hearing the songs off of Fire And Gasoline. Another twist that some people may not know is you at one times were part of a program with the Modern Baroque Opera Company.
Lee: Yeah, that was an interesting experience. I was singing some jazz and blues locally and I was approached by, I think it was Peter Hinton, one of the producers for this opera company that was going to be putting on a production here in Vancouver. He asked me to audition for his opera. I thought, "Wow. That's kind of out of left field." Opera is not something that I'd ever done. I'm one that's always up for an interesting creative challenge. That's just sort of the nature of who I am, is I enjoy pushing myself out of my comfort zone sometimes, because I think that it helps you grow as a person, so I said, "Okay, I'll audition." I didn't know if I would even get a role. It turned out that I didn't get the role that they had originally thought I would be suited for. They gave me some different roles, because they were picturing a lady that was actually older than me for that particular role. It was interesting. It was a cast of twelve of us playing sixty-five different roles, so each of us had multiple roles throughout the opera, and yeah, it was modern Baroque. When the score arrived at my house, I almost panicked because it was about the size of a Bible. It was huge. I don't have classical training, so I wasn't able to sit down and sight-read all of my parts and all of my harmony parts. A lot of the Baroque opera was four or five part harmony. I basically sat down with a keyboard, tuned down a half step, which is Baroque tuning, and went step-by-step through all of my parts, and learned my parts that way, by playing them out on a keyboard first. It was a great experience, though. I had a lot of fun doing it.
Toddstar: That's cool. Fast-forward a decade and you're releasing Fire And Gasoline on March 25th. How does it feel to know that you're getting back out there and doing what you really wanted to do all those years?
Lee: Good. Mostly, I feel excited about this body of work that I've created again. I think through the whole process what I realized is it takes a tremendous amount of creative energy to raise children, but I've missed that part of myself. When I started writing again, I went, "Oh my gosh, this is what I'm born to do. I forgot. It feels so good." I really missed that creative part of myself. I really loved the songwriting process and the production. I produced this record myself. Taking it from these little seedlings of little fragments of song ideas to actually creating a completed, finished product was the most exciting part of it for me. Now I have this body of work. The next step, we've started to play a little bit of this material live, we've done some shows already, but fine-tuning it, and getting out there, and showcasing it in various places on a stage. I love performing, as well, so yeah; I'm really stoked about it.
Lee: That's not something that I even do. I didn't move forward and write this album listening to my old material and thinking, "How can I make this like something that I've done previously?" In fact, to be honest, I wasn't thinking about that at all. The only thing I did feel was that when I sat down to write and work on material for this album, I wouldn't put any parameters around myself. I wouldn't say, "It has to be rock," or, "it has to be..." or fit into a certain mold. Whereas, to be honest with you, in the past, when I was writing those albums like Bodyrock or Some Girls Do, I was under the umbrella of a label, and I would often have meetings with the label, and there would be a popular song on the radio, and they'd ask, "Can you write something that sounds more like Bon Jovi, or more like this, or more like that?" We had a lot of outside input into the direction they thought that the music should be taking. When I sat down to write this album, I just thought, "You know what? I'm not going to put any filters on myself. I'm just going to write authentically what comes out." All I care about is that they are good songs, that it is strong material, that the content is something that I want to talk about right now, that it's something that's close to my heart. Obviously, I guess, the writing is going to be more mature, because we are all more mature. A lot of us have become parents, and have been in and out of relationships, and had failures and successes in our lives, and so those songs, obviously, are going to be a reflection of that. In the end, what I've also felt, is that once I get the material together, when I go into the studio, if I take my live band - which I have hand-picked these players, I love them, they're fabulous - and we turn those guitars up, it's going to have the Lee Aaron sound. The continuity of sound is going to be performing live off the floor, and capturing those sounds, and recording them with the huge guitar parts and stuff.
Toddstar: What a great insight. Thank you so much. There are eleven songs on the disc, and some of the songs really strike me. Lee, which songs of these were the easiest to get out? Which ones just rolled from the minute you started them?
Lee: That's interesting that you ask that. I always think that the best songs kind of write themselves, and I know that when it comes to the whole process of songwriting, some of them are a little tougher. The song "Popular" and "If You Don't Love Me Anymore." Those songs were a little harder for me, because my guitar player, Sean, sent me those tracks, and they were fully-formed musical tracks. He wanted me to write melody and lyrics on top. That was tougher for me, because I was feeling like I had to fit into his box that he'd already created. Whereas a song like "Find the Love," I think I wrote that song in a half an hour sitting by the lake. The lyrics weren't all fully done, but the basic structure of the song was completed. "Tomboy" was like that for me, as well. Quite often, what happens to me is an idea just sort of parks itself in my head and doesn't leave, and I go, "Oh. That's my song." It's almost fully-formed in my head before I have a chance to actually get it out and demo it. That happens to me fairly frequently. "Find the Love." "Tomboy." "50 Miles from Memphis" was like that and "Wanna Be" was like that.
Toddstar: So a lot of the album really flowed for you?
Lee: Yeah. It did. Maybe I had a decade of ideas trying to burst out.
Toddstar: Kind of like writing that first album, you have a whole lifetime to write that first album.
Lee: Well, that's what they say, right?
Toddstar: Right. You mentioned "Tomboy" a couple times. I love the video for "Tomboy." How cool was that for you to be able to take that time and make that video with your daughter and her friends?
Lee: It seemed really natural, to be honest with you, at the time. My daughter goes to a fine arts school, so most of her little girlfriends are inherently musical and/or arty in the first place. When I was looking at doing a video for "Tomboy," half of my band is from Toronto and the other half is from Vancouver, so logistically it was a little more expensive. I was going to actually fly my band out for a band shoot. I was thinking, "How can I do this video in a way that's authentic to the song?" It just sort of popped into my head. I went, "Oh, man. What a cool idea. What if my band is actually tomboys? What if it's Angela and her friends?" I have a very good relationship with all the mothers in our neighborhood, because I do a lot of things, volunteer-wise, with the school and things. I went to them said, "I'm doing this video, would your daughters like to be involved?" They were all very, very receptive to the ideas. The girls were amazing. They had never, ever even picked up instruments before. I worked with them for an afternoon, showed them how to fake playing air guitar and drums... "You just press that kick-drum petal in time, and you just tap your sticks in time and hit the snare drums on time." I couldn't believe how amazing they were, how they rose to the occasion. I'd given them all the song in advance, and so when they came to the rehearsal, they all knew the song inside and out. The song sort of lends itself, it's got a very catchy chorus. It resonated with them right away. Is it a cool thing to have your own kid in your video? Yeah. Maybe some people would think it was uncool, but for me, it just seems like a very natural thing.
Lee: We're already playing a couple live. "Bad Boyfriend" has been in our set for quite some time. That was a song that I actually had kicking around for about five years. It had been an encore song in my set, and had always gone over extremely well, so I thought I might as well pull it forward and record it. "Fire And Gasoline" we perform live and, again, it goes over very, very well. "Wanna Be" also goes over really well. A couple songs that I really would love to do live which we haven't incorporated into the set yet are "Popular" - what I love about that song is the wild, Keith Moon-like drumming that my husband did. My husband is the drummer, by the way. That song's got such an incredible energy about it - and "Bitter Sweet."
Toddstar: You picked some of my favorites off the album, that's for sure. That said, when you're thinking about a set list, Lee, what are the one or two tracks from your catalog that will always be part of a Lee Aaron live show?
Lee: "Whatcha Do To My Body" and "Metal Queen."
Toddstar: Now are those because that's what the fans want, or are those really some of your favorites to do live?
Lee: I would say both. The fans love them. When we start the intro to "Metal Queen" with that Gothic keyboard thing, people go crazy, it's unbelievable. They know it's coming. It's the tension, the build-up. "Whatcha Do To My Body," it's the ultimate sing-along, dance-along song. Are they the favorites of my all-time catalog? Probably not, but what happens between a performer and their audience is just this incredible connection, and this incredible energy. When I play those songs, it ignites something in people. It either takes them back to a favorite memory of something that happened to them. It's part of the framework of their youth, or whatever. It just brings me incredible joy, to be up there and be making them feel as great and as happy as I'm making them feel at that time. It's sort of like a win-win, if that makes sense.
Toddstar: It sure does. Now the real question - I'm sitting just north of Detroit. When do we get to see Lee Aaron? I'll even take you in Sarnia or Windsor. When do we get to see you back up onstage near Detroit?
Lee: I already have a couple of summer shows booked. The festivals are just starting to come in. I'm always out there performing. It's been a while, actually, since I've been to the Windsor/Sarnia area. That's a hard question for me to answer, because it's kind of dictated by the market and by the shows that my agent brings on board for me. I'm hoping that with renewed interest in the new album, that what ends up happening is one thing leads to another and the next thing you know, the phone calls are coming in and, "You need to go to Windsor because they want you there." That's usually how that happens.
Toddstar: Awesome. Well listen, Lee, I know you're busy, so I've got one more for you, if you don't mind, before we have to go. When it comes to this new material, after your fans can finally get their hands on this when it comes out later this month, what do you want them to take from this music, from this album of songs that you've put together?
Lee: That's an interesting question. It's a very huge question. What I'd like them to take away is... we've all grown up now. For some of us, we've been through, again, successes and failures and trials, and many of our lives have been touched by death, and many of our lives have been touched by great joy and parenthood. We've all grown up, but we don't have to lose our fire. We can still have that great passion for music. I guess that's how I feel about myself and my own life, as well. That magical part of our twenty-five-year-old hearts that still feel that passion and still love music doesn't have to die.
Toddstar: Very true. Lee, we wish you the best with the release of Fire And Gasoline on March 25th. We wish you well with your live dates, you've got one in Timmins and another in Kelowna during the summer, and hopefully we'll get some more on the calendar.
Lee: That's just the beginning. Those are a couple of anchor dates. Believe me, my summer calendar is going to fill up.
Toddstar: Awesome. Well, we can't wait to see that fill up. We can't wait to see you out rocking the stage once again.
Lee: Well, thank you. It was great talking to you, Todd.
Toddstar: Great speaking with you, Lee, and hopefully we'll do it again soon.
Lee: Absolutely. Take care.
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