Interview with Lee Aaron.
When I find a mail in my inbox asking if I would like to do an interview with an artist I did an album review for I’m usually not that eager to confirm. But when it’s a female singer whose album covers used to hang up the wall in my room when I was 16-17 years old, it becomes a whole different ballgame! So, I quickly responded that I would be happy to ask Lee Aaron some questions. I got some timeframes where the skype-interview could take place. Lee asked later on if it would be possible to start a half hour earlier. No problem for me considering it was 2.30 pm over here. I thought it was 8.30am over there in Canada. But little did I know (Canada has a 4,5 hour time difference on its whole territory) that it was as early as 5.30am for my interview partner at that time. But Lee seemed to be a real pleasant chatterbox from the moment she’s awake.
Oh that’s early indeed! I got a mail after my review for “Fire and Gasoline” was online, with the question if I wanted to do an interview with you. I immediately agreed because you are one of my big four women in rock (metal).
“Hahaha… That’s awesome!”
Those four being DORO – Joan Jett – Lita Ford & you, Lee! There was a big fuss back then that women didn’t belong in rock and/or metal! How did you experience that?
“Certainly, I think when I started writing songs and performing hard rock music it was definitely at that point of time more of an anomaly. Like you didn’t see women doing that nearly that much. So, it was kinda a double edged sword in a way because it was easy to get media and it was easy to get noticed. Because the people were talking: “Wow a girl doing hard rock! That’s so different, let’s go check it out!”. But there was an overwriting sexism about the whole thing as well. Quite often, if you weren’t cute or good-looking you’d be judged: “Well she’s ok, but she doesn’t look that great!”.
But if you were attractive like Lita or Joan or Doro (Rik: ‘or yourself’ and Lee laughs shortly between her words). You know, there was also that other side to it! They were overcritical. Because they were thinking perhaps you’re sailing through here on your good looks. And the reality in the eighties as well was that the whole record industry was quite different. There was a lot of money being invested in these things by the record labels. If you were attractive the record company would capitalize on the fact that you were attractive and use that as a tool for marketing. So a lot of us were turned into poster girls, right! And then there was this sort of perception that is she really talented or is she riding on her good looks?. So I think with the end of the day acts like Doro, Lita, Joan and myself, the fact that we’re actually still around, we’re still writing music and still performing this many years later, there definitely had to be more behind it. Right?”
I would certainly think so! So we move on to the Lee Aaron Project album from 1982. It was recorded with the ‘who is who’ from the rockworld in Canada. How did that came about?
“Well, I was a very young girl at that time. I met my first manager when I was 17 years old. He was the man with all the connections and I was his new artist that he was managing. But with that said, I have to tell you that he had to convince Santers, Moxy, Rick Emmett and Frank Soda and all of the people that were involved in that album that I was an artist worth supporting. And the fact that we were all living localy in Toronto made it all easier. But that was pretty wild for me being an 18 year old girl and to work with these super famous Canadian artists. It was very exciting and I got to write and co-write with them. Yeah, that’s how that album came about.”
I’ve read on the internet that you used to play the saxophone! (Lee couldn’t hide her laugh) Do you still play that instrument?
“Well actually I played in a jazz band when I was in school, so I’ve taken several years of saxophone lessons. But I haven’t taken one up honestly for like over 20 years. But I guess it’s like riding a bike probably. If I picked it up I will be able to get more than a few squawks out of it. Hopefully!”
But I think it’s an instrument that goes well with rock. If you listen to some Bruce Springsteen songs where Clarence Clemence is doing his thing. That’s just awesome! It’s a very underrated instrument when it comes to rock!
“I absolutely agree. That’s very cool, that you think that!”
It has a totally different sound than the other instruments, therefore it pops out for me!
Well, it sounds like you have good taste.”
Oh, it depends on who you’ll ask I think (hahaha).
“I think it fits stylistically too, you know! Historically, my albums have been leaning more in the direction of pure rock ‘n’ roll in which case you could add the addition of the saxophone. In fact, in the song ‘Tom Boy’ there is a horn line in the final chorus going out!”
Damn, that escaped my attention! I’ll have to listen to it again! Your second album ‘Metal Queen’ had a sound shift. What was the main reason for that? Was it working with John Albani or was it a natural progress?
“It’s definitely more hard rock edge! I co-wrote most of those songs with my very, very first guitar player from high school, named George Bernhardt. We wrote one song called ‘Metal Queen’ and at that time bands like Def Leppard had their first huge, huge record. I know that we were in the studio producing that album, the producer Paul Gross was very concerned on trying to emulate that sound. Because it was very popular at the time. So in terms of production value “Metal Queen” has a lot of those early Def Leppard production values and I’m sure that’s why it sounds more like that. But you know, personally I think “Metal Queen” still has a lot of commercial and melodic elements. I think I wrote one song with John Albani (‘Head Above Water’ – Rik) and that was the beginning of my writing and co-writing relationship with John as well. And then of course the song ‘Metal Queen’. The record label thought “we have this huge marketing opportunity here with this song. Let’s dress her up like a female warrior princess”, and there you go….”
Between those two albums you were on the bill of Reading Rock festival in 1983! What are your memories from that festival?
“I was on early on the day, because I was a rather unknown act. I remember I was really nervous, because there were 60.000 people and I never played before such a big crowd. But I remember getting out there and seeing the reaction of the fans was overwhelmingly positive. It was amazing! But the other thing I remember about Reading was that they would sell beer to the crowd in these giants two liter plastic bottles. If they’d love you they threw beer at you on stage. And if they hated you they would throw more beer. You’re trying to dodge beer while you’re performing and you’re thinking: “Beer is arriving on stage here! Do they like me, or do they not like me?”. But it ended being all good, the reviews were really, really positive for that show, so….”
Now that we are talking about shows. The first and only time I saw you perform was at the Heavy Sound festival in Belgium in 1985…
“At Poperinge, yeah… interrupts an excited Lee.”
I believe you were on the verge of releasing your third album “Call Of The Wild”. How did you end up on the bill of a Belgian festival?
“I remember that timeframe and there was a promotor from Germany and he really took a shine to my act and my band and he took us under his wing. He at that time booked several tours for us in Europe and I can only assume that it was a festival that he was able to get us and it was part of a whole European tour at that time. It was pretty incredible! I have such amazing memories of that period of my carrier in the mid-eighties coming over to Europe and doing a bunch of shows. I distinctly remember Poperinge and that thus being an amazing festival. At that time I was on a small record label called Roadrunner and they were based around that area I believe (‘yeah, from The Netherlands’ – Rik) . We had a smashing success with that record, we had sold 100.000 albums in a few weeks on a small independent label over there. There was a lot of support to play that festival as well from the label.”
But what I personally also liked about that festival was the variation in genres on the bill. I don’t know if you still remember this, but later on the day Slayer was on stage!
“Yes! Responded Lee quickly.
Nowadays the festivals are going back to that format of mixing different genres!
I think that are the best festivals to be on! I remember doing festivals with funk acts in the eighties! To me there are only two genres, there is good music and there is bad music, right? Besides I love doing festivals like that!”
We move to your self-titled album from 1987. To me that’s the best thing you ever did. It’s in fact a pure AOR album! How did you made such a melodic sounding album!?
“John and I wrote the songs and we were writing the best songs that we felt that we could produce at that time. I think a lot has to deal with the producer we were working with at the time. On that album we were working with Peter Coleman, who had produced Pat Benatar. You could bring in another producer with the same material and you could end up with a more metal sounding record, simply because of his production approach. Peter had done quite a few melodic rock albums with Pat and his approach was different. He was very big on the idea of having keyboards on the album. I remember he drove me crazy! Because he made me punch in some lines, over and over again. Which is not the way I prefer to record.
But he was very stickler for me on pitch and on timing. I actually learned a lot about making good records from Peter Coleman. Because he was very picky on the way things were done, but in the end I thought that self-titled album was a great album. Unfortunately it was less well received by the European fans, because they wanted me to do a sort of a repeat of the “Metal Queen”. But that album was actually my first where I had a charting single in Canada as well (track ‘Only Human’ – Rik). So I could say it had a lot to do with the producer Peter I was working with, who was excellent by the way!”
On your new album there is a track ‘Heartfix’ that could easily be placed on that album, I think! Do you agree?
“Well, you’re the first person that said that to me! I could see that it could go on that self-titled album easily, for sure. I never thought about that before. Certainly when I was writing the song I wasn’t thinking on which album it would fit on. With this new album I was simply thinking of writing the best songs possible and with the same band that was my live band to give it a cohesive sound the whole album. But yeah, it’s interesting that you see that. But you know what, I talked to a lot of different reviewers and journalists lately and everyone has a different opinion about the songs. One says: “Oh Lee, that’s my favorite song and I crank it up in the car” and I talk to another and he loved, loved, loved the album but the only song he didn’t like is ‘Wanna Be’. So I say then something like: “Okay!”. Everyone has a different take on it, right?”
“Bodyrock” was your most successful album and the video from ‘Watcha Do To My Body’ could regular be seen on TV. Was the video meant as a statement against the way the media presented the women at that time?
“Well, a couple of things happened on “Bodyrock”. I have worked with the world’s biggest producers and the record company thought I still didn’t had the success that I should have had. We met with a bunch of different producers for “Bodyrock”. One of them being Pat Glasser who produced Night Ranger. We were all sitting in a room and I remember Pat saying: “You know what, Lee Aaron is great, she has a great voice. But I don’t really hear these songs”. The record company wanted to work with Pat, but I said to them: “Guys, he doesn’t like any of the songs! Hasn’t it occured to you he’s maybe not the right guy! He is a great producer, but I’m not gonna work with him. We need someone who is into the material”.
We ended up producing that album by ourselves. John Albani, myself and Brian Allen, who was the A&R guy from our label. So the label said: “Too bad, so sad! You cannot have 250.000 dollars, you can have 60.000 dollars”. They cut our budget to about 1/5. But we ended up making “Bodyrock” ourselves and having a greater success than we had with any other album. I think that’s because there was more of a purity about “Bodyrock”. It was just more straight up Lee Aaron. This is who I am and that album was certainly in Canada very successful. And as far as the video goes. There were so many artists that are sexualizing women in the late eighties. So I said to the director that I wanted to do a twist on that. I think we should objectify men! But in a fun way, not in an offensive way. And for some reason that really, really resonated with both women and men. It seemed to work quit well.”
Time is running out so I’m going to head on to the new album now! What was the main reason that you released a rock album after 20 years?
“A lot of people have asked me that question. I always knew that I would make another rock record, I just didn’t know when. I was touring, believe it or not. I had an album out called “Beautiful Things” in 2004 and I was touring across Canada when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. I remember the day I had to fly from New Foundland to Vancouver. And by the time I get off the airplane I couldn’t get my shoes back on, because my fleet were so swollen. But my daughter was born in 2004 and my son in 2006. When you have children they are the most precious things in the world and I spent the last decade raising my kids. To make an album takes an incredible amount of focused time and energy. So during the time my children were small I did some shows in the summer and selected tour dates. I released a live DVD and a compilation of rarities. I put out a best of Lee Aaron two or three years ago to mark the 30th anniversary.
But I always knew I’d make a rock record and my kids have become more independent. Plus my kids were listening to a lot of music. I remember they were listening to Bruno Mars again and I said to them listen to this Fleetwood Mac album. Listen to this lady Stevie Nicks, how cool she sings. Another day they were listening to Britney Spears, which I’m trying to veto in my house, but… (Lee couldn’t hide her laughter). I told them listen to this Heart album “Dreamboot Annie”. I started to play a lot of that stuff for my kids and I just got inspired again and I thought: “I wanna make a record that reflects all of the influences that I had over the years”. I started to write new material and a few years ago I met my guitar player Sean Kelly. We collaborated a little bit on his book ‘Metal on Ice’ through an interview that I did. Him and I get along really, really well and we co-wrote five songs for the album and I wrote the other six myself. The next thing you know I had an album. So it was time to record an album and see were that goes. When I wrote the material for this album I was just thinking of writing an album that was reflecting were I am right now.”
Personally I think the album sounds fresh and young! The song ‘Wanna Be’ has a punky vibe, the video for ‘Tom Boy’ shows a lot of energy and the most hard edged song of the album ‘Bad Boyfriend’ reminds me of early Joan Jett. It’s very diverse!
“Stylistically you can hear many influences for me. One of the first albums I had as an teenager was a Runaways album. I was definitely influenced by that as a young girl. But I hear a little bit of Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac and my jazz and blues influences are on it as well. Certainly the blues aspect! But at the same time it was my band recording it off the floor. So I think the cohesive element that pulls the whole album together is my voice and my band. When I was growing up I remember my favorite albums to listen too were albums that sort of took you on a musical journey. They didn’t just stay in one particular place and have a metal song repeating itself throughout the album. I enjoyed albums where there were songs that projected certain moods. That’s the kind of album that I was trying to make when I wrote “Fire and Gasoline”. “
I think you accomplished your mission!
“Well, thank you!”
I will conclude with asking if there are plans in the future to come to Europe for concerts in the future?
“Well, I so miss Europe and I so wanna get over there! So at this point we are trying to gauge what the response to the new album is. We shipped a bunch to Europe and they called us that they wanted a thousand more right away. Physical records don’t sell the way they used too obviously, but we had to do a deal to remanufacture for Europe. So the response to the new album is quite healthy and the next thing is to get an agent interested. So what I would love to do is to be able to book a couple of key anchor dates over there like a couple of festival dates. And then to be able to play some dates around those dates. That would really make it worthwhile. We have an agent in the UK who is interested right now, but it’s a little premature for me to say ‘yes I’m coming to Salzburg or wherever’, I don’t know yet. But I got to tell you on my end the willingness is there to step on a plane and come to Europe. I miss Europe so much and I miss the fans there and yeah to get back to Belgium and play there again!
What’s a good festival for me to get on? “
Well, every summer there is the Alcatraz festival..
And this year there is Lita Ford on the bill, so maybe…
“Maybe 2017 it will be me!!”
Who knows and the festival has also evolved to a multi-genre festival!
“Cool Alcatraz, I will keep that in mind! For sure, when I get off my skype interview with you. That’s awesome!”
Hopefully I’ll see you in the near future Lee and thanks for your time. Bye Lee!
“Hi Rik, it was great talking to you and hopefully I’ll get over to Belgium. Take care, bye!”
Tekst: Rik Bauters