Reveling in his love for the Beatles, Tom Petty, and Thunderclap Newman, among others, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan goes in some psychedelic directions on his transporting new album, Karma for Cheap (out now). With songs ranging from the Harrisonian, jaunty-but-searching “If Not Now When” to the achingly tender falsetto croon of “Dream Dreamer,” Tasjan lets it all hang out. He recently spoke with EW about traversing the musical map, crafting his own cannabis strain, getting an assist from Sheryl Crow, and the desire to spread good vibes through music.
On revving it up on Karma for Cheap
“I don’t think I consciously said, ‘Aw, man I want to make a psychedelic record,’ but it came out that way — just through the way that I’ve been playing the shows live. And when you’re in a studio, there’s that opportunity to really go all the way with it. I like that concept in music: doing something to the point where it’s almost cartoonish, like Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges — totally over the top, flamboyant, but also really interesting because it came at a time when there weren’t a lot of records that sounded like that. I guess subconsciously I was thinking maybe now’s the time to get a little dirty and weird, because I wasn’t hearing a ton of that within the Nashville community.”
On doing it all (playing bluegrass and Americana festivals, and opening for punk rockers and pop stars alike)
“If you wrote that down on a piece of paper, it looks all over the place. But when you’re trying to create the music I’m trying to create, that’s the spot that you’re trying to get to. It’s something that is unique enough that it’s going to stand out, but also something that people are going to gravitate to in a way so that it has relevance all over the map. The albums that I’m hearing newer artists do feel more like a playlist almost than an actual record. People are really interested in something that has a sense of adventure to it.”
On his musical inspirations
“A huge one since I was a kid was definitely Jeff Tweedy. He always seemed to be doing something that maybe people were not all going to understand right away. David Bowie would be another one. I feel like his art was represented from the music he made to the socks that he put on in the morning.”
On his love of the Beatles (and George Harrison)
“I learned about the Beatles when the Anthology thing was happening. It was perfect for me. I just started playing the guitar and my mom was like, ‘Yeah the Beatles were a really important band to me when I was a kid,’ and started playing me all their albums. I would say John was my favorite for a long time. And then, like a lot of people probably, George became my favorite.”
On collaborating with Sheryl Crow
“She sings the harmonies on ‘Crawling at Your Feet.’ She was at a Starbucks and heard ‘Little Movies’ from my Silver Tears album and Shazamed it, and told her manager to find me and invited me to open some shows for her last year. It was really amazing.”
On crafting his own strain of cannabis
“I’m doing it with a dispensary based in Colorado. They started [in order] to help a member of their family get through cancer treatment. It’s all organically grown in soil. And the stuff that we’re working on is really meant to be for medicinal purposes. It’s not necessarily a fun, get-blasted-on-the-weekend [thing]. But I guess you could do that with it too if you really wanted to. But our strain has anti-inflammatory properties, it has anti-anxiety properties, it helps with pain management. It’s named after the record, Karma for Cheap.”
On political interpretations of his very personal song “The Truth Is So Hard To Believe”
“People want to do the political thing because of everything going on in the world right now. To me, it feels good that these songs could lend some comfort. A lot of these songs are really messages to myself of encouragement to remember that the most important thing that we can tell somebody in this day and age is that we love them and they’re a good person. You’re going to go out in the world, and you’re going to be confronted with all of your shortcomings constantly. It’s really important to remember in those moments that those things do not define you. And the true freedom — the sense of freedom that comes from knowing that and believing in it — is something that I really wanted to share with people on this record.”
Listen to Karma for Cheap below.