Thankfully, Aaron Lee Tasjan Brings Glam to Fusty Americana

Aaron Lee Tasjan plays Globe Hall on Friday, September 29.
Aaron Lee Tasjan plays Globe Hall on Friday, September 29. Curtis Wayne Millard
Aaron Lee Tasjan is not your typical Americana singer. He doesn’t wear flannel shirts or wail about loneliness in a deep baritone. Nope. Tasjan croons whimsically on topics that range from smoking dope to the bars in Los Angeles to more meta musings on the images through which we experience the world.

On the album cover of his newest record, Silver Tears, he wears a shimmering suit adorned with polka-dot glitter. He and his friend made the suit themselves after Tasjan decided that he didn’t actually dig the all-green suit he’d gotten at the thrift store. Tasjan has always owned this distinctly flamboyant style.

“You have to do what makes you feel natural,” says Tasjan. “I’ve been doing this fucking shit since I was like seven, when I got obsessed with Phantom of the Opera. I got a costume for Halloween, and I kept it. I would just put it on and go knock on peoples’ doors and just fucking perform for them in my Phantom of the Opera outfit.”

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Silver Tears is Tasjan's latest record.
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Before getting into his current style, he was the guitarist for the androgynous glam-rock group Semi Precious Weapons and even did a short stint with the New York Dolls.

“One of the things that was great about Semi Precious Weapons was that there was an element of danger in there,” explains Tasjan. “Not necessarily with the subject matter, but also with the performance style. The idea of having the audacity to walk on stage like that was really kind of a cool thing.”

Tasjan has brought that audacity with him into a decidedly less flashy genre.

“Rock and roll has taken some heavy turns in terms of the earnestness of it and with the kind of emotional landscapes that have been presented in the Americana world by artists like Jason Isbell,” laments Tasjan. “But there is that fun David Bowie, Marc Bolan...I guess the more British take on it. Very cool, very interesting. That’s the kind of music that I listened to as a kid. It just feels more fun and genuine. I don’t have to fake it.”

Tasjan isn’t knocking other, more traditional musicians: “Everybody has to do what they have to do.” Still, he thinks that his outsider perspective is important.

“It’s cool when some of the more fringe, late-night parking-lot hang-arounders or the watching-TV-at-5-in-the-morning people get a fair shake at it,” says Tasjan, referring to those like himself. “These people have a lot to say.”

Another factor that helped Tasjan channel his unique perspective in Silver Tears came from a borderline psychedelic experience. One day, he microdosed on LSD, planning to have a good time, and ended up writing four songs in under two hours.

“I was in a state of suspension between sober and tripping. So it was a slight perspective-altering, which is great for writing songs, because I’m always trying to find a new way to look at or describe something that’s not just a simple list of its characteristics and the actions that are taking or not taking place at any given moment,” says Tasjan. “I just remember feeling easy enough with myself to bang those songs out real quick and not think too much about them.”

Silver Tears is chock-full of psychedelic jams that are grounded by the steady strum of Tasjan’s guitar. Just because these songs are more lighthearted than your typical Americana fare, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t profound. Tasjan still manages to incorporate a subversive message against homophobia and other forms of hatred. He believes that Americana holds a unique possibility for this type of subversion because of its intellectual audience, though Tasjan doesn’t claim to be a smart songwriter himself (he is).

In “Hard Life,” Tasjan accesses this type of subversion through the retelling of a lived experience. In the song, he pokes fun at a “red neck bummer in an H2 Hummer” who “sure does hate the queers.”

“My friend and I were pulling into this Taco Bell like six years ago. These kids pulled up behind us, and I could tell they were probably dudes on the football team or something,” recounts Tasjan. “One of the kids shouted, ‘Dicks not on the menu, faggot!’ at me, which I actually thought was funny for some reason. That little moment always stuck with me. It’s like, man, some dude’s just mad at a Taco Bell somewhere because the cat in front of him is wearing a ladies’ hat.”

Aaron Lee Tasjan with Last of the Easy Riders, Friday, September 29, $10-$12, Globe Hall, 4483 Logan Street, 303-296-1003.
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Sage Marshall is a freelance writer and editor covering outdoor recreation, environmental issues, Denver's music scene, the arts, and other Colorado stories. You can check out more of his work and connect with him here.
Contact: Sage Marshall