Interview by Tony Cannella
Lee Aaron is a metal icon. She first came on to the scene in the early 80s in an era that did not see a prominence of females in metal. In the following years, she has seen her career evolve and veer off into different territories like hard rock, jazz and blues; she has really had a great career. Now she returns with her first album of new material in over a decade called “Fire & Gasoline”. I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Lee, we talked about the past, present, and what’s in store for the future for this Canadian rock legend.
Your new album “Fire & Gasoline” is out. What can fans expect when they hear it?
I just think it’s a straight-ahead – I would say probably more than metal, it’s a classic rock album. It’s a straight-ahead, strong, melodic, rocking album. That’s the only way I can really describe it. To say that it harkens back to the “Metal Queen” days or something like that would be probably inaccurate.
“Fire & Gasoline”, definitely has an up-tempo, fun energy to it. Was that the intent?
Yes, actually. You know, there are a lot of acts in the metal scene that do that dark, brooding, fire and brimstone thing far better than me, so I think I should leave it to the professionals. This album is certainly more of an accurate reflection where I am at personally and professionally and what I am interested in writing about.
What were you inspired by when you were writing the songs for “Fire & Gasoline”?
I’m at a different place in my life, obviously, then I was twenty years ago, like everybody. In the last few years of my life, I’ve lived through quite a few trials and tribulations, successes and failures. My life has been touched by death and loss. I think the inspiration on “Fire & Gasoline” has come from a combination of all of those things. For instance, “Bitter Sweet” is sort of a memory, it’s like a reflection back on living through a break-up where it didn’t work out, but it’s a happy break-up song, it’s sort of like, “that was then, I was shattered then, but I’m happy now, so screw you!” (laughs) You know what I mean? It sort of a screw you break-up song. A lot of them are reflections and things that interest me. The song “Popular” is a commentary on the evils and the shallowness of social media. I’m a parent, I became a parent about a decade ago, I have a little ten year old boy and an eleven year old girl. The song “Tom Boy” was written for my daughter. What I love about ten year old girls is that they have this carefree energy about them where they are not self-conscious yet, they haven’t hit the teenage years and they are not concerned yet with fitting in with fashion or being influenced by some photo shopped type of beauty culture that is being sold to young women. They’re very carefree and they’re very comfortable in their own skin. I think that when you mature enough in your life you get back to that place as a woman. In some ways, my daughter and I are kind of in the same place. That song is a reflection on that. Songs often, what I find, is they evolve. Often I am not even a hundred percent clear on what a song is about until it’s finished. It became apparent through the process of working on “Tom Boy” it turned into an empowerment song for anybody who feels misunderstood, anyone who has had to conform to a stereotype of a societal, cultural or religious stereotype that they’re not comfortable with. It’s about having the freedom to express and be exactly who you are.
Speaking of “Tom Boy”, you filmed a video for the song. What can you tell me about that?
Well, half of my band is from Toronto and half of my band is from Vancouver, so logistically to get us all in one place just to film a video would have been a little bit costly, so I started looking at alternate ways that we can make this video. One of the things that just occurred to me one afternoon was, “gee, what about the idea of having a band of ten year old tom boys?” I’m a big fan of vintage film, video and I was just goofing around on YouTube one day, I stumbled across Elvis‘ “Jailhouse Rock” video, and I went, “man, Elvis was bad ass”. So that’s kind of where we took some inspiration from. We thought we’ll dress the girls in the striped all uniform look. We handed them instruments, I coached them for one afternoon and they totally rose to the occasion, played air guitar and drums. I thought they did a fantastic job.
Who are some of the people that you worked with on “Fire & Gasoline”?
The people who plays on the record is my live band. My live band consists of John Cody on drums, my bass player is a guy named Dave Reimer and Dave is also one of background voices, it’s me and him doing all the background vocals, he’s a great singer, so I feel very blessed to have him in my band. My guitar player is a guy named Sean Kelly, he’s from Toronto and used to be Nelly Furtado‘s guitar player and he played all the guitar tracks on the album, as well. The keyboards were put on by a gentleman named John Webster. He doesn’t play in my live band because he doesn’t really play live anymore. He did some engineering on the record for me and put down a lot of the keyboard tracks. If you google John Webster Canadian keyboard player, the list of people he has played with is endless. He’s played on all of those Aerosmith and Bon Jovi records, he’s fantastic.
“Fire & Gasoline” is your first record in over a decade. What have you been doing in the meantime?
For about the last five years, I’ve gone out every summer and I do play a handful of live shows, during festival season and the odd weekend here-and-there throughout the year. Mostly, I had a huge life interruption a decade ago and that was called parenthood. I became a mum. I don’t think I’m the first mum who has taken time off, I know Kate Bush took quite a bit of time off – I think she took off almost fifteen years – and Chrissy Hynde took off I think 8 or 9 years when her kids were born. It takes a tremendous amount of creative energy, trust me (laughs). So, the nice thing is in the last couple of years they’ve become a bit more independent. Space has opened up and I always knew that I was going to make another rock record and it seemed like the timing was right.
You have also veered off into Jazz and Blues. Why did you decide to explore that style of music?
I’ll repeat what I said before, I always knew that I would make another rock record. I veered off and I did some Jazz in the 90’s for a couple of reasons: one, the advent of Grunge killed just about everybody’s career who had any kind of success with commercial or corporate rock in the 80s, so it was getting kind of difficult to continue to do what I was doing at that time. I also, to be honest with you, got a little bit tired of really being completely pigeonholed as the “metal queen”. It’s not that I have a problem with people referring to me as that but there was this sort of expectation that I was only ever allowed to go down a very, very narrow path of making records that sounded all the same. I wasn’t finding that completely rewarding as an artist, so I did something completely different. I grew up with a lot of Jazz and Blues because I was involved in a lot of theater when I was young and I went back to revisit that kind of music. A lot of people forget that bands who were hugely influential for me in my early career – a band like Led Zeppelin – they stole left and right from acts like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and old blues artists – they were kind of the roots of rock and roll in the first place. When I did that diversion and I went back and sang Jazz and Blues, to me, I didn’t really feel like it was moving really far away from rock, I felt like I was exploring the history of where this music came from. I really enjoyed that period of my career. When you go play rock shows, people want to hear you play the songs exactly the same way that they are on the record every single night and with Jazz it’s much more freeform. You can improvise, you can change the length of a solo and you can alter a melody slightly. It’s definitely an art form in itself in terms of learning how to navigate your way through that type of music. I found it really rewarding artistically, and I think in the end, it’s made me a far better singer and a better songwriter.
I really loved your Jazz era records. Do you feel like you’ve crossed over to a new fan base on those records?
I would say yes and no. Definitely, I gained some new fans. You know, we’re all growing, we’re all getting older, we’re all having life changes like marriage, parenthood and breakups and I felt as though my fans were evolving with me so a lot of them just went for the ride and really enjoyed what I was doing at that point-in-time.
Do you have any touring plans coming up?
We don’t have an etched in stone plan right now, but that is next on the agenda. I do have a few summer tour dates put together right now, mostly in Canada. There is always demand for me to do some festivals here in the summer, so you’re definitely going to be seeing me across Canada doing some festivals this summer. The album is just being released in a variety of different territories. It’s coming out in Germany, the UK, Japan, Argentina and Brazil. Because these release dates are kind of staggered, I think we’re going to see how the album performs in different territories. Usually what happens is it just follows suit, people go, “the album is doing really well you need to come over here and do some shows”, we get an agent on board and we put it together. There is definitely a willingness to tour on my part. We’re starting with Canada because that’s the first territory the album is coming out in.
When you play live, do you perform a cross section of all your material including you’re older stuff like “Metal Queen”?
Yeah, pretty much. You know it’s hard because I have twelve albums, so there are always going be some fans that are disappointed because they haven’t heard their favorite song, but when you’ve got an hour or 90-minutes up there you’ve got to be selective. Basically, it’s a set that includes some of my bigger hits. Usually we throw a jazz or blues number in there and it’s amazing how seamless it seems to work at a rock show, because some of those old jazz or blues tunes are pretty edgy, let me tell you. Then we would put a cross section of some of “Fire & Gasoline” material in the set as well. We’ve already started to do that.
Looking back at your career. What is your opinion of your early albums like the first one, “Metal Queen” and “Call of the Wild”? How do you feel about them today?
Well, that’s an interesting question because “Metal Queen” was released 32-years ago now – wow, I can’t even believe it (laughs) – I was a kid when I wrote some of those things. Is the subject matter relatable for me today? Not really. I look at my body of work as sort of like snapshots. It’s a chronicle of where I was at that time in my life and what I was doing. I kind of embrace the nostalgia of that as well. When I see fans and their reactions – when we start the intro to “Metal Queen” and they hear that gothic keyboard intro – people go crazy. Whatever I did back then, it really resonates with people it just makes me so excited and makes me happy that I am bringing joy into their lives in some way through that. Again, like I said, I look at it like snapshots of where I was at that point-in-time, that’s what my show is like, it’s sort of like a collage of snapshots of different material.
We have come to the final question, Lee. Thank you for taking the time to talk to Femme Metal and it was a huge honor and absolute pleasure for me talk to you. In closing, is there anything you would like say to your fans to wrap this up?
One of the things traditionally that I’ve always done when I’ve toured is I’ve always come out after shows and tried to meet some of my fans. Someone was asking me earlier today, “what do you think when people post all of these pictures of you with them?” and I love it, because one of my favorite parts of being an artist and doing this job is actually being able to meet in person some of the people that enjoy my music, so that’s a great honor for me.
Photos by Theresa Mitchell, courtesy Big Sister Records