Interview: Lee Aaron Dives Into Covers On Tattoo Me

When I spoke with Lee Aaron in 2021, we spent so long talking about the ’80s that we almost didn’t have time to talk about Radio On. This time, we get straight into the new album, Tattoo Me. Out on 26 April 2024, it has eleven songs that are all covers of other artists.

It seemed the obvious first question. Why a covers album? “Well, it’s a great question, and it’s an interesting question,” Lee Aaron says. “I’ve done so many original albums. I think that Elevate was my 15th studio album.

“Mind you, I’ve got a couple of ‘best of’ thrown in there, and a live album and a Christmas album. So, this is my 19th album. I had never done a covers record, and I’m working with a wonderful collaborative group of artists in my band, Dave Reimer on bass, Sean Kelly on guitar, and John Cody on drums.

“We’re just always brainstorming ideas. We’re trying to keep it inspiring, refreshing and fun for ourselves. When we were on the Monsters of Rock Cruise last year, we were having dinner together. One night, over a glass of wine, we said, what are we going to do for our next venture?

“Someone floated the idea of a covers record, and I thought, that’s a cool idea. I’ve never done one. There is an art to being an interpreter of other people’s material. So, we took it song by song, and some of the songs lent themselves more to changes and being bent in one direction than others.

“There’s the final song on our album, Teenage Kicks [The Undertones]. There’s not a lot you can do to make that song better. It’s a brilliant track, so we didn’t try to change it too much because we could have wrecked it.

“What could we do? Well, we could put a female voice on this. That gives it a little bit of a twist, which is me. And besides that gritty, raw guitar track, what could it use? Well, maybe some feedback and that’s about it.

“But then there were other tunes that we changed further, like the title track Tattoo. It’s funny. People have said to me it almost sounds like it could be a Lee Aaron original. If that’s what you’re thinking, then we’ve done what we wanted to do with it, which was to embrace it fully as ourselves, as a band and add our own signature guitar stuff on it and make it sound like a Lee Aaron song.

“Something like Even It Up by Heart. We didn’t take it so far away from the original that it’s unrecognisable, but we did slow it down. We did give it a T Rex groove. It’s heavier and grittier than the original, and I think that we did what we wanted to. Embrace it, and make it sound for us.”

Lee Aaron - Tattoo Me (Metalville) - Release Date: 26 April 2024
Lee Aaron – Tattoo Me (Metalville) – Release Date: 26 April 2024

When you hear the album, you will possibly be surprised by some of the selections. I ask Lee Aaron about the choices, pinpointing the bravery in covering a less obvious Led Zeppelin classic in What Is And Whatever Should Never Be.

How does she approach a song like that and how do they deal with it whilst retaining respect for the original?

“That’s a great question,” says Lee kindly. “That’s another one where we felt as though if we bent it too far away from the original, we could potentially make some fans pretty angry.

“So there again, this is the art of covering people’s music and making it your own, but not destroying it, right? So, we didn’t change any of the arrangement or any of the basic guitar tracks. I grew up singing a lot of Robert Plant. He was one of my vocal teachers when I was a teenager. I just sang over and repeatedly to Led Zeppelin to develop those chops.

“By virtue of the fact that it’s just my voice, singing is authentically as natural as possible, makes it a little bit different. When it came to approaching the solo, my guitar player, Sean, he was like man, it’s kind of a signature solo. So, do I want to go wailing and doing something completely different?

“But he brought in the idea of putting a harmony track on there, which I thought was brilliant. I heard Ann Wilson, who is another huge influence on me, talking in an interview. She was talking about the fact that to really understand Zeppelin, you must be able to embrace their acoustic stuff, right?

“They’re not just a ’70s blues hard rock band. They did a tonne of very, very nuanced acoustic material. I could have just done Rock And Roll or Whole Lotta Love or something obvious and predictable. But that’s not what I love about Led Zeppelin.

“I love that balance of acoustic and heavy, and that’s what I thought What Is And What Should Never Be demonstrated very well. It felt like a perfect Zeppelin track to illustrate what I love about Zeppelin, which is that beautiful, acoustic, nuanced stuff.

“Then launching into those heavy riffs, it even has a vamp out. It’s probably not a choice that Dolly Parton would have made if she did a Zeppelin song. You know what I mean?”

Sean Kelly, Lee Aaron, John Cody and Dave Reimer
Sean Kelly, Lee Aaron, John Cody and Dave Reimer

With four musicians working in tandem, all with their favourites, Lee Aaron explains how they agreed which songs to choose. “The guys in my band had lots of ideas. We looked at songs that really lit a fire in our hearts when we were young.

“As we went along, we realised we still love music. We’re always being inspired. So, it ended up spanning from the ’60s right into the 2000s because it’s not like we stopped being fans at 20 years old. I loved a ton of ’90s music. I was still recording in the nineties.

“I loved stuff going into the 2000s. But the bottom line is ultimately I had to sing it. As a singer, I had to bring it to life vocally. So, I just said, throw ideas at me. I have certain ideas of my own. Obviously, there were certain artists I wanted to cover.

“I wanted to do a Heart song. I wanted to do a Fleetwood Mac song. I wanted to do a Nina Simone song because that was influential to me very much. I have a soft spot in my heart for Alice Cooper. I worked with Bob Ezrin on my third album, but there’s a special place in my heart for that old, raw, visceral, really super early Alice Cooper.

“I said, let’s go look at those albums, and Sean toured with Alice Cooper with his band Crush Kelly at one point in time. So, we were all on the Alice Cooper bandwagon. My husband suggested Is It My Body?

“He said there’s a there’s certain humour and irony with doing something that means something completely different to a woman coming out of the sexist ’80s and the fact that What You Do To My Body was one of my biggest hits.”

Lee Aaron, who releases her new album Elevate
Lee Aaron – Elevate is another rich seam of radio-friendly rockers. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

Lee Aaron then tells me about the need for a final song on the record. “Sean Kelly and I were on a phone call,” she says. “We had everything recorded for the album. I felt like we needed one more banger and an eleventh track on this album. He said, what about Teenage Kicks by The Undertones? I said dude, I just got chills.

“He said, I just got chills too. I said we’re doing it. It was a spontaneous thing. We literally recorded it the next day. We said let’s not overthink this. Let’s just do it. Let’s just do it our own way.”

Another track that is spinetingling on Tattoo Me is the version of Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight, which Lee Aaron says she has always wanted to record. “It is such a popular tune, but not a song that’s ever been overdone.

“I really wanted to avoid doing tracks that have been done to death. It would have been a real obvious choice to do Barracuda by Heart, but you can go on YouTube and see a thousand girls covering that song. I wanted to make a different choice. Someone Saved My Life Tonight, I had it in my heart that I always wanted to do that song. Approach it like you were sitting around a campfire with acoustic guitars, right?

“So, we did the acoustic guitar version of that tune. Although we got into it, and I was like, oh, man, this really falls flat without all the background vocals. So, I had to make a vocal map and map out all those vocals. It was a little more complicated than I thought it was going to be. But I think we pulled it off.

“I love that tune. To me, it’s funny. I was talking to somebody about this yesterday. I know what that song meant to Elton. But it can mean so many layered things to so many people. Elton didn’t write that song on a high note in his life. It was on a very low note, and that’s what most ballads are about.

“They’re at that point where you’re at your lowest point, and you write the sad song. But we all have had something in our life, whether it was a relationship, a death, an oppressive situation, a bad job, something we needed to be rescued out of. I think that song represents that for so many people. So it was totally on the table that I always want to do that song.”

Lee Aaron
Lee Aaron: “I wanted to do Prince’s Little Red Corvette.”

Whilst Lee and the band have done a fine job on the songs they have included, was there anything that Lee wanted to do that they couldn’t quite get to work?

Lee is honest about it. “Yes. I wanted to do Prince’s Little Red Corvette,” she says. “That’s the truth. I wanted to make it my own, and we just tried it a few different ways. I guess I learned a lesson: if you can’t do it and make it at least as good or better, don’t bother.

“That song just has this unique programme drum loop on the original, but it makes it funky. We tried it a few different ways. We tried it with real drums, and then I tried putting a loop on it and then putting real drums on top. It just wasn’t connecting.

“At a certain point, I said, this isn’t coming together easily. So maybe it’s time to put it on the shelf. If we must force this too hard, it’s going to sound forced. I’m not a believer in doing that. I still have the tracks, so it might resurface somewhere, but not right now. It’s on a hard drive in my studio somewhere.”

With time against us, I ask Lee if she was planning shows to support Tattoo Me. “Oh yeah, we gear up in April,” she says. “We head out to Eastern Canada, and dates are still coming in. This year’s been a little bit weird. All my dates haven’t solidified by February. I still have dates coming in. So we are heading out, mostly doing quite a few Canadian dates.”

Lee is pleased that she has a date in Switzerland in November. We chat about this and the challenges of playing Europe for her. “I would love to come back to the UK,” she says. “A lot of fans don’t understand. It’s not as easy as just getting on a plane and hopping over. The boutique festivals are my favourite to play.

“Wacken is great, and Sweden rock is great. I was there last year. But I love playing festivals that have 8000 or less. But unfortunately, they don’t have as big a budget. When you’re getting on a plane, and you’re bringing a band from Vancouver, I need a minimum price to be able to make it workable.

“A lot of the times, the festivals just don’t have those budgets, and that’s been a bit of a hindrance, especially post-COVID, because everything has gone up for touring. I’m sure I’m not the first artist to tell you that.”

It’s something we are coming to accept across the world, I guess, but it would be great to see Lee here for the first time since 2017.

Will Lee Aaron be squeezing any songs from Tattoo Me into the setlist? “The problem is the more albums you make,” she says, “the more material you have and then it gets harder and harder. It’s not like I can just go out and tour Tattoo Me.

“It would be like going to see Neil Young and having Neil play all his new record and never do his old hits. People get upset. So, I have a limited amount of room.

“So you might see one or two tunes from Tattoo Me for sure.”

Sleeve Notes

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