Singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, band leader, activist, and Grammy nominee, Aaron Lee Tasjan has been and continues to be all of these things.
Over his past decade plus of writing, recording, producing, Tasjan has released four excellent and critically acclaimed solo albums, toured the world over on his own and as the guitarist in the New York Dolls. He co-founded and co-wrote all of the material for the band Semi Precious Weapons. In 2021 he was nominated for a Grammy for his writing on Yola’s “Diamond Studded Shoes” and most recently, Tasjan produced Mya Byrne’s album Rhinestone Tomboy (Kill Rock Stars Nashville) which helped to establish her as one of the first openly trans artists in Americana Music.
He’s cultivated a brilliant and outstanding career to date already. But his forthcoming album Stellar Evolution (Blue Élan Records) is just what the title says. Tasjan’s new album is truly the sum of all of the parts of his diverse accomplishments to date while clearly heading in a brand-new direction. You can’t put any labels on Stellar Evolution except for it being a career defining work and a major leap forward for someone who’s never been afraid to push the boundaries of any and all expectations.
Two of the album’s most striking songs lie back-to-back near its center. “I Love America Better Than You” is a scathing protest song which took Tasjan eight years to write — and ended up more relevant now than it had been when he started. “I love America better than you / Her dirty water and her hot dogs too,” goes the winking chorus; “First Black president, insurrectionists / I love America better than you.” Then there’s “Nightmare,” a deeply poignant track, which subverts its clubby beat in exploring the ever-present fear of becoming victim to a hate crime. “I want all my friends to know I love ‘em, just in case I should disappear,” Tasjan heartbreakingly sings on the bridge. It’s a document of exhaustion and terror which will ring true to most queer listeners; and it’s a song like this that makes the celebrations elsewhere on the record feel all the more vital.
There’s not a wasted word on Stellar Evolution, and that’s deliberate. After everything he’s been through and everything he’s learned, Aaron Lee Tasjan is a more intentional artist than ever before. “When you’re a touring artist, songs are like mantras; you have to say them every night. And so I really wanted those words to be affirming, and for the energy that’s gonna come out of them to create more of what I hope to foster,” he says. It’s another grasp towards the community and connection that matters most to Tasjan. “The role I feel like I can occupy is to say, okay, I’m gonna be in these rooms where people are gonna be paying attention, and somebody’s gonna get lifted up; who’s it gonna be?” That’s an attitude that harkens right back to the 11-year-old Aaron Lee in Orange County, a throughline that Tasjan never loses sight of for a minute across this album. With Stellar Evolution, he honors that kid and every other version of himself — past, present and future.