LEE AARON – In The Heart, Under The Skin

May 14, 2024, a month ago

By Carl Begai

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LEE AARON – In The Heart, Under The Skin

Cover albums are often seen as lack of creativity being given a voice, or an artist's way of fulfilling a contractual obligation, thereby escaping the clutches of a record company. News of Canadian rock icon Lee Aaron going the covers route for her latest release, Tattoo Me, was chalked up to either scenario, but a glance through the tracklist tells a very different story. Tattoo Me doesn't tread all over boring territory occupied by the vast majority of covers albums, making it a breath of fresh air. Rather than copy / pasting the done-to-death hits by Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Judas Priest, The Rolling Stones and Iron Maiden, Lee and her band chose to put their spin on lesser known and criminally underrated songs from the '70s and '80s, as well as a hanfdful of younger tunes that are equally unexpected. Bottom line: it's fair to assume many of Lee's fans will be unfamiliar with at least half the songs on the record.

"That's a great observation and I'm glad you said that," she says. "This many albums into my career, I've pretty much established that I can write a catchy song, so it's not for lack of creativity. In fact, I have a slew of new song ideas on my phone right now. When we were on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise last year, Elevate had come out in the winter (of 2022) and we were touring the album over the summer, so we talked about the next thing we were going to do once summer was over. I think it was Sean (Kelly / guitar) that floated the idea of doing a covers record, doing artists that people maybe wouldn't expect us to do and artists that we love. A lot of people don't realize it's an art form in itself being an interpreter of other people's material. Some people do it well, some people do it quite badly (laughs). So, while we were touring last summer, we started coming up with ideas for what we wanted to do."

"There were some obvious choices for me. I had to do something from the Wilson sisters, 100%, because Heart was hugely influential to me as a teenage girl. They played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, they were in a band, they were on equal footing with the boys. That's who I wanted to be when I was young. We were originally talking about doing 'Magic Man', and our idea was to break it down and kind of do it with an industrial drum loop and make it heavy, but then Dolly Parton said 'I'm doing a rock album, and I'm doing 'Magic Man'...' so that was off the table (laughs). I shifted gears and chose 'Even It Up', which I think is a great song, and I heard it as a mature adult rather than a girl, so it was through a different lens now, and it was a song about equality. That really resonated with me, so we decided to do it."

"My thing was not doing songs that have been done to death," Lee continues. "Nobody cares. I love 'Barracuda'; it was the defining heavy song for Heart. Listen to the opening riff of 'Metal Queen'... I was influenced by that, big time. You can go on YouTube and see 500 girls singing 'Barracuda' in their basement, so why would I do that?"

Tattoo Me serves as an education, putting the listener in touch with songs that are now deemed classics yet may have stayed under the respective radar. It offers valuable insight as to the influences of the woman that recorded the Metal Queen (1984) and Bodyrock (1989) albums, her two most popular works to date.

"I like a broad range of music and artists, but Tattoo Me is essentially a rock record," says Lee. "A couple journalists have asked me - which I think is kind of a weird question - why I didn't just do '80s rock for Tattoo Me. And I was like, 'I am '80s rock' (laughs). The Bodyrock album symbolizes the '80s. Far more adventurous for me is to do interesting material. Some people have asked why I didn't do 'School's Out' or 'Eighteen' or 'Poison' since I did an Alice Cooper song, and the answer is they're too obvious. There are some visceral, raw Alice Cooper songs that are super cool, and my husband (John Cody / drums) suggested doing 'Is It My Body'. He thought it would be ironic and funny being sung by a girl, and well as the fact one of my biggest hits is 'Watcha Do To My Body'. And he was right."

"I definitely wanted to do a Fleetwood Mac song ('Go Your Own Way'). Nina Simone was a huge influence on me ('The Pusher'), and I wanted to do a Zeppelin tune ('What Is And What Should Never Be'). I've wanted to cover 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' by Elton John since I was 20 years old. Those are a few of the really obvious ones for me, and it wasn't so much the song as 'I've gotta do something by this artist.' The Elton John cover, it was a popular song, but not one that had been covered a lot, if at all, because it's very complex. There's a lot of moving parts in that song. My idea was to use acoustic guitars, I did a scratch vocal, and I realized that without the background vocals the song really falls flat. I had to sit down and make a vocal map because there were all of these essential parts to the song. Sean sent me a ton of guitar parts and they were all fabulous, so I had to make these executive producer decisions of what would go where. That song was a challenge but it was fun."

Lee reveals she and her band compiled a huge list of possible songs for the album prior to getting down to work. As mentioned, it wasn't restricted to "oldies" or deep cuts.

"There were a lot of suggestions. My husband made a whole playlist and we picked a couple tunes from it. Sean had a bunch of suggestions, Dave as well... we could have done a hundred tunes. This all started out with the question, 'What influenced us as teenagers?' but we didn't stop being fans as teenagers; we're still discovering music today. They're not always new bands. My son has got me listening to Type O Negative, and I love them. I wasn't a fan when they were popular and Peter Steele was still alive. I discovered them later, and I love that. So we asked ourselves why we should restricts ourselves to the '60s or '70s. Dave (Reimer / bass) suggested the Jet tune ('Are You Gonna Be My Girl') and I love that song, but talk about a vocal that is almost inimitable (laughs). I waited until I'd sung a few other tunes and my voice was really thrashed before I tried to sing it. I also thought Courtney Love was almost as talented as Kurt Cobain, so I wanted to do a Hole song ('Malibu'). We ended up having a pretty broad spectrum of songs for the album."

At last count, including Tattoo Me, Lee has 16 recorded works under her belt, not including live or Best Of releases. Since re-entering the public eye with Fire And Gasoline in 2016, she has been consistent, and most certainly driven, in keeping her fans fed and herself on the road.

"I'm laughing under my breath here a little bit because I spend quite a bit more money-making records and videos than I ever see in return," she reveals. "And that isn't because they're not selling; it's because someone is always offering to distribute the albums because they know they're going to make money. My fans are older, they still like to buy physical product. Unfortunately, the sales for physical... if you sell 5,000 records these days it's a miracle. It used to be that you wanted to sell 100,000. The sales of physical product now isn't what it was, so nobody's making a lot of money with that, and streaming is a joke because it pays nothing. To compete with modern culture and in music culture you've got to be on streaming platforms because you can't fight technology. So no, I'm not doing it to make a living or make money. I'm doing it because I make enough money playing live every year. We go out, we do a bunch of shows and have fun, and I squirrel away a little extra money every year into The Next Record Fund (laughs). That's how the Lee Aaron machine runs."

"I'm just having fun," Lee adds. "It's not even about the outcome. It's not like I'm saying 'Oh, Tattoo Me is going to be a big hit and it's the best covers record ever...' We had a ton of fun making it, working with my band is wonderful. They're talented, creative guys, we get along really well, and we always like having a project to work on. It's about the creative process itself. That's fun for me. I think if you're loving the process, the final product is going to reflect that."

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