INTERVIEW WITH LEE AARON
Date: May 6, 2021
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
“Did that beach thing even happen? I didn’t even sign on for that. I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to happen. I have been very careful because I have a family. My shows have been getting pushed to 2022 and I am just fine with that. I don’t want my fans to get sick either. All of us could be in a scenario like what is happening in India tomorrow. I don’t think I want to be on a float petri dish? All it takes is one infected person,” says a cautious Lee Aaron, when asked about her absence on the now canceled Monsters On The Beach, which was due to take place in May of 2021. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Lee Aaron on May 6th as she was doing the rounds to plug her upcoming album ‘Radio On!’ to be issued on July 23rd, 2021 on Metalville worldwide. Being that it was close to Mother’s Day in the United States we included a parent related question just for this occasion. Enjoy the interview.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you really take the name Lee Aaron from a band you were a part of, after they disbanded? Who suggested that?
Lee Aaron: Well, it was my band. I joined a band when I was 15 years old. It’s a silly story, but we were looking for a name like Jethro Tull or Max Webster. It was just a name. We put some ‘pop-culture’ references from the ’70s in a hat. ‘Lee’ referenced ‘Lee’ jeans. How stupid is that, right? Then we pulled ‘Aaron’ and tried Aaron Lee then Lee Aaron and that one stuck. Then when I was 18 years old, we met our manager. He took us on the road. I was behind the keyboards. He pulled me out from behind the keyboards. I was only singing about half of the material and the rest was being sung by my guitarist at the time George Bernhard. He was also a singer and he sang half of the material. My first manager was like, “No, you should be fronting the band. We should be capitalizing on that. You should be singing all of the songs. You have the better voice.”
Once I was fronting the band, people thought that I was Lee Aaron. Then people started calling me Lee Aaron. There came a time when our drummer thought he was Keith Moon started destroying hotel rooms and the rest of the guys in the band were acting immaturely on the road. The manager felt we needed to fire the band. We let the first band go. He surrounded me by a bunch of mature, seasoned players. The Lee Aaron name continued from there. David Bowie, Tina Turner, Alice Cooper — none of those are their ‘real’ names. It’s a lot easier in my personal life to have a professional pseudonym. It just works. I can separate the personal me from the professional persona. It gives me a little anonymity.
Sleaze Roxx: You created a buzz early on in the U.K. and were invited to perform in festivals. We know how the word gets out about music in 2021. How did the word spread about Lee Aaron across the pond back then?
Lee Aaron: I have to give credit to my first manager. I will say this and I don’t want to go into too much detail. There were good things about him and there were bad things about him. The bad things about him… I was growing up in a very ‘sexist’ era. Women were marketed like they were pin-up girls. I was doing photo sessions where I had make-up artists literally taping my breasts together with gaffer take to make them look bigger [laughs]! It was insane! I was like, “Okay. I guess this is just what we do!” I certainly have some marketing photographs from early in my career that I’d like to live down. Canada was not ready for a ‘hard rock’ female. The good thing is that he saw that there was a market in Europe and that was probably a viable place. So he worked at getting us a deal in Europe.
He felt that if he could get me on Kerrang! Magazine, that would help open things up. That was his first goal, to get me in Kerrang! I took the photos and he sent them to a guy by the name of Paul Sueter who was a contributor at the time. Paul was enamoured with the photos and the music. I had recorded my first album by that point in time. Paul wrote a feature and a centerfold in Kerrang! The appearance in the magazine led to me being asked to come to the U.K. and do a showcase at The Marquee Club. We had no money, I could not afford to fly my band over. So Paul found a band from Manchester, England called Sam Thunder who he felt was a musically competent band. He put me together with them and they learned my entire first album. We had one day of rehearsal and I went to The Marquee Club to play with a pick-up band, which was great because it didn’t cost us five extra flights to bring the rest of the band over. That showcase — because I was able to pull it off, I could sing and the material was strong — that led to the invitation to play at Reading Festival.
Lee Aaron‘s “American High” video (from Diamond Baby Blues album):
Sleaze Roxx: You have a new album ‘Radio On!’ which was initially slated for a June release, but was pushed back to July 23rd. ‘Radio On!’ is another consistently good rock record. What led to the album’s delay?
Lee Aaron: I can tell you about that. The pandemic has affected the ability to get vinyl pressed. We could easily have the album released on CD in June but my label [representatives] are huge music fans and they really wanted to go for chart numbers in Europe. To be able to do that, they’d have to release CD and vinyl simultaneously. So, that is why the album was pushed back.
Sleaze Roxx: There’s plenty of highlights on the album like “Vampin,’” “Radio On,” “Twenty One,” “Had Me At Hello” and “Mama Don’t Remember.” I assume all of the tunes on this album were written during the pandemic?
Lee Aaron: Thank you. There’s definitely a magic that happens when my band and I play in a room together. We really haven’t had that luxury. We’re a bi-coastal band. My guitar player Sean Kelly lives in Toronto and the rest of us live on the west coast, but in the same city. So, getting together to write is a luxury for us. The last two albums were mostly written by sending files back and forth. So for this one, I insisted that we need to get in a room together to write. So we got together for a weekend and I asked that they each bring their best three songs or ideas. We pooled our ideas and ‘Radio On!’ is the result of that.
Sleaze Roxx: What songs off ‘Radio On!’ do you look forward to performing live?
Lee Aaron: Right now, I’m thinking “Come On,” “Soulbreaker,” and “Vampin’.” We just finished a video for “Vampin’.” I am really excited about that. I get the feeling like we could have a great piano moment on stage for a song like “Twenty One.” It was written on piano so that really makes sense.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you a fan of live streams at all? I know you have done some clips, but not a full-on show.
Lee Aaron: The jury is out on that for me. I did a little Facebook live thing in June . There’s a city right outside of Toronto [Ontario, Canada]. I received a star on the artists’ [Brampton Arts] Walk of Fame there [in 2016]. Their local theater hired me to do a live stream on Facebook, but it was challenging. All the flights were shut down, so I wasn’t even able to bring in my guitar player along with me for that. I had to use a ‘sub’ guitar player, who is a lovely guy. The guys were great. It’s out there now online, but it’s not my actual band. I think if we were to do that, it would have to be safe for Sean [Kelly] to fly out west or for us to fly out to Toronto. I don’t want to do anything like that without my actual band. One thing that comes to mind, is the idea of doing an ‘unplugged’ streaming thing, just to showcase the new album. I think there is something lost in the translation of doing a full-on rock ‘n’ roll, live production with no audience. You can never replicate the energy of a live show, unless you are really there. I’m just not really interested in playing for ‘nobody.’
Sleaze Roxx: You released ‘Power, Soul, Rock ‘N’ Roll – Live In Germany’ — a killer live CD and DVD set. What a wonderful representation of the band’s performance. It was released in the fall of 2019. That was completely live with no ‘sweetening,’ on that right?
Lee Aaron: [Laughs] That’s right [laughs]! There’s a couple places where that is a little ‘raw’ but overall it is great. That recording is an overview of our live show from 2017. We were touring Europe, knew we were playing [the] Bang Your Head Festival and I had already been in contact with a videographer and mobile recording team. They offered to record our performance at the festival. We came to a financial agreement and we went forward. When I was approached, I thought that would be really cool. I did ‘Live In London’ but that was released in the ’80s. I hadn’t done a live recording since. I feel that right now I have the best band I’ve ever had. What I like about the set we play these days is that it encapsulates our treatment of 50% of the old material… My audience is one of the few audiences that want to hear the new material. So the show is half old material and half new material. When we went to play the Bang Your Head Festival, we did this intimate show in Nürnberg [Germany] at the Hirsch Club. We were doing a soundcheck and this crew showed up. They were local guys. They approached us and let us know that they recorded a lot of the bands that came to town. They said the only thing they asked is, if we liked the footage, that we bought from them. So when we got back home, we came back to complete audio and video recordings. The live in Germany DVD is a mish-mash of both of those shows. We chose the best performances from both of them and put together the DVD.
Lee Aaron‘s “Metal Queen” live video (from Power, Soul, Rock ‘N’ Roll – Live In Germany CD/DVD):
Sleaze Roxx: There’s some character to a show with grit. Would you like to take another shot at another live concert at some point?
Lee Aaron: I would. I mean, it’s certainly not out of the question. When you know you’re doing a live recording, it can be nerve racking. I might not be moving around as much, because I want to be able to catch my breath. I want to make sure I’m as ‘pitch perfect’ as I could possibly be. The most exciting thing about the idea of another live record is that we keep making new records, so we’re constantly adding new material to the set.
Sleaze Roxx: Good for you for putting new stuff in the set. I remember going to see bands and they would put four-five new songs in the set. These days, you’d be hard pressed to have more than one song in the set.
Lee Aaron: Yeah, then you have the bands that aren’t even making records and they’re playing all stuff from their past. They’re ‘legacy’ acts. I’m fortunate that fans want to hear new music from me. I’m very fortunate, because I keep getting offered record deals because people keep buying my records! This is a beautiful problem to have!
Sleaze Roxx: You took a hiatus from rock music and worked on some jazz music. Was it good to take a break? What did you take away from that move?
Lee Aaron: Well, I took the hiatus because I was in the throws of motherhood. I don’t think I would be as creative today, if I had not taken a break. One of the reasons that I delved into jazz wasn’t motherhood. That was before motherhood. In the 1990s, anyone that was attached to classic rock or corporate rock, the industry had zero interest in interviewing you or promoting your music. It was almost like we had all fallen off the edge of a cliff and we never existed [laughs]! I’m sure anyone else that you have talked to over the years have told you a similar story. So that was a very challenging time. In 1996, I had to declare bankruptcy. My manager and lawyer had convinced me to start my own label. I was a double platinum album artist in Canada when my latest record didn’t sell as well as anticipated because of the new wave of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I was left holding the bag, because it was my label. I had to lick my wounds, which took some time. I wasn’t happy, because I wasn’t singing, but at the same time I wasn’t ready to get back on the pop-culture bandwagon again. I took a lot of comfort in listening to my old jazz and blues records.
I will always be a fan of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Myles Davis and Nina Simone albums. I think a lot of rock fans are misinformed, in that they feel jazz and blues is a ‘departure’ from rock, when it is in fact the ‘roots’ of rock. There would be no [Jimi] Hendrix if there was no Chuck Berry or Howlin’ Wolf and Little Richard. It’s the music that Jimmy Page and Pete Townsend grew up listening to. This is the music that they played before they plugged in their guitars and turned it to 11! I felt like it was a gigantic diversion into my music history when I made a jazz and blues album in 2000. I was out in and about Canada playing quite a bit of that material. People would say, “You really need to record this! You’re really good at this!” Then in 2004, I made more of a ‘jazz hybrid’ album in 2004. It was a great experience for me. It made me a better singer, better songwriter and a better performer. I was also invited to be in an opera in 2002. We had a six-week run at the Vancouver Cultural Center. The opera won [the] Performing Arts Award. I’m really proud of being a part of that. I’ve done some pretty bizarre things, but I think all of those things have made me a well-rounded performer. I think if you listen to some of my records you can hear those influences in there. The Who was a bigger influence on me than let’s say a band like Poison or W.A.S.P. — that’s just the truth.
When I came back in 2016 with ‘Fire And Gasoline’, I had all of this creative energy that I just wanted to explode. I feel that I’m still in that super creative phase, artistically… I don’t think I would be content being a ‘legacy’ act. Who doesn’t like going out and spinning the hits? But I need to perform some new material alongside some fan favorites. The classics have a lot of nostalgia attached to them for the fans. They tell me about all of these great memories they’ve got attached to the songs or the albums. I love watching people march to the merch table to buy the new album. That’s a great thing! I intend on making new music.
Sleaze Roxx: The first Lee Aaron album I picked up was ‘Bodyrock.’ Much Music really got behind that album. Where does that album slot in your discography in your opinion?
Lee Aaron: [Pause] It means different things to different people. In Europe for example, the album that the audience wants to hear is ‘Call of The Wild,’ which was an album two albums previous to ‘Body Rock.’ The reason ‘Call of The Wild’ is a fan favorite there is because that was the album that broke us there. We opened for Bon Jovi in 1985. That’s an album that resonates with that part of the world. ‘Body Rock’ was huge in Canada. The album almost reached triple platinum there. It came at just the ‘right time.’ I think that John Albani and I had really hit our groove as songwriters. I play “Whatcha Do To My Body” and I play “Hands On” in my live show, these were the singles from the album and people want to hear them.
Lee Aaron‘s “Watcha Do To My Body” video (from Body Rock album):
‘Body Rock’ was a bit of a seminal record for us, in that the record label wanted us to work with a different producer. The producer at the time was a big name from America. I don’t want to say names. He didn’t really like any of the material that we had written for ‘Body Rock.’ He said he had connections to a publisher and he had some songs, so the label was super excited, because this guy was a big producer and he wanted to work with us. John and I were like, “He doesn’t like any of our songs! This is the wrong guy [laughs]!” We went to the label and let them know that we didn’t want to work with him. So they in turn said, “Well, if you don’t want to work with him, then we’re not giving you $250K to make the record. Here’s 60K go make YOUR record!” In 1989, $60K was a small budget. We ended up working with our A&R guy at that label who was also a producer. He loved our songs and got our vision. We didn’t have the money to hire a drummer or bass player, so John and I worked with a programmer. We programmed all the drums and all of the bass that you hear on ‘Body Rock.’ That record was basically a John Albani and Lee Aaron project. We had no outside influences. It was just us. I think in terms of my catalog, ‘Body Rock’ is… I hesitate to call it a masterpiece, but I do think it’s one of our ‘premier albums’ of the catalog. We really hit our stride with our pop rock/hard rock song writing.
Lee Aaron‘s “Hands On” video (from Body Rock album):
Sleaze Roxx: If you could back in time to the ’80s would you? Why or why not?
Lee Aaron: [Laughs] [then long-pause] Ummmm. Can this be a yes and no answer?
Sleaze Roxx: It’s your response. It can be whatever you want.
Lee Aaron: I would say a little bit yes and I will tell you why. That time in your life when everything is new. Like going to Europe and seeing the architecture, having a pint of beer at an English pub for the first time in your life, seeing the Swiss Alps, performing a concert on top of the Swiss Alps, which I had the extreme pleasure of being able to do. Having people falling in love with your music, people going crazy because they love your music and your sound. All of that was so exciting. Those times inside your heart… It’s so hard to ever recapture that.
We recently had a friend who’s very close to the band recently passed away from Covid… It’s weird because I couldn’t stop crying. It was like a piece of my youth got stolen. The song “Twenty-One” on the new album, it’s a ballad, but it is about nostalgia. It’s about having those pictures in your head of yesterday and the feeling in your heart and in your spirit. It’s that 21 year old in all of us that remembers that stuff so vividly. Would I like to go back there? Yeah. On another level or a bigger level, I would say no. I’ll tell you why. I have a beautiful life. I have a great husband and I have great kids. I would NEVER trade that for anything. Becoming a parent has shifted my priorities and my world view. It’s certainly not all about me. I care a lot more about the political climate and the environment, because my kids are growing up in the world and this is the world that I’m going to leave them. I wish I had not been such a dumbass about that when I was in my 20s [laughs]! All I cared about then was ‘rock ‘n’ roll.’ I think I’m also healthier now than when I was in my 20s. I have realized that I need to put good things in my body and I need exercise and get enough sleep. I’m not pulling any all nighters these days [laughs].
I’m also enjoying a very creative time in my life again. I have creative control over my product. Back in the ’80s, labels were spending a lot of money on our records and they had a say in just about everything from producers, marketing of you and the album, what you’re going to wear, who would direct the video, because they were your investor. They were sinking all of this money into you and they wanted to guarantee their return on their investment. The ‘suits’ didn’t understand the art, so I felt that back then I used to have to make a lot of compromises when it came to music and marketing. Today, I pay for my producers… Let me rephrase that. I AM THE PRODUCER. I pay for my mixer, my engineer and studio time. I book the studio. I bring in the people that are going to make my project great. I hire a mastering engineer. I pick the song selection. When I go to get a deal with a label, my product is 100% finished, including the artwork and I’m happy with it. I’m so happy to be in charge of everything that I do today. I don’t have to make any compromises.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the most ‘uncool’ parent moment that you’ve ever experienced?
Lee Aaron: [Bursts into laughter] It happens to me all the time! My kids say stuff like, “Mom, stop singing [laughs]!” I’ll be singing along to something in the car and they could care less [laughs]! A funny moment that stands out, which was a few years ago. My son was addicted to Lego. We went to the Lego store which was about a half an hour from home. I took him there to buy some Lego. The manager was this gigantic kid in his 40s with a ponytail. The moment I walked up to pay, he had recognized me. He began to ‘fanboy’ over me [laughs]! My son wanted to die [laughs]! He was so embarrassed [laughs]! That was a time when someone thinks you’re cool and your kid just wants to crawl under a rock [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: Who was the first musical idol that you met? What was that like? What did you take away from that meeting?
Lee Aaron: Wow. That’s a hard question. I can give you a couple of answers. In the early 80s we opened for Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee who has a reputation for being this ‘wild and crazy’ guy… He kind of frightened me at first. He ended up just being the nicest guy. He brought us up on the bus. He showed us around. We didn’t know what that was like. We were driving around in a van. We had crap gear. We had no money… He saw that my drummer had some of the worst drum heads on his kit. Again, this was a budget [tour for Lee Aaron]. Tommywas sponsored by a drum gear company. He opened up this huge road case and he said to my drummer, “Hey dude, pick out what you need.” I thought what an incredibly nice, generous thing to do. I was always really impressed with that gesture. I know he’s gone through his trials personally, but that’s always stuck with me and I want to be that generous person with my opening acts. They treated me with a lot of respect and I really made an impact on me. It wasn’t what I expected.
Another one is when I met Ann Wilson. I’m a huge Heart fan and a fan of the Wilson sisters. I think you could say that I was obsessed with the ‘Little Queen’ and ‘Dream Boat Annie’ albums as a teen and they made me want to become a girl rocker. There would be no ‘Metal Queen’ if it wouldn’t have been for “Barracuda.” I met Ann Wilson. I met her at Copps Coliseum, in Hamilton, Ontario [Canada] with a group of people, in what felt like a ‘receiving line.’ She wasn’t able to give me much time, but when it was my turn, I was able to let her know how much of an influence and important her work had been in my life. The girl behind her recognized me and said, “Oh my God! You’re Lee Aaron!” She started flipping out and I had to explain to Ann that I was a singer too, I mentioned that I had released my sixth album ‘Some Girls Do.’ She shook my hand and said, “Oh, well if you have six albums out, then you must be pretty good!” I met her again years later backstage. We had played a festival together and I was telling her how much I loved her voice. She looked at me and said, “My dear, I just saw your set. You can sing anything you want.” I was touched. What a compliment. So I guess, to answer your question…just be kind.
Lee Aaron‘s “I’m A Woman” video (from Diamond Baby Blues album):