Lee Aaron talks about her new album ELEVATE
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Stephan Burmeister at Flying Dolphin Entertainment UG for setting up the interview
Thanks to Metalville Records for providing the promo pictures of Lee Aaron and the band
Promo pictures of Lee Aaron and the band taken by: Theresa Mitchell
Canadian metal queen Lee Aaron is back with a brand new studio album titled ELEVATE, which is a follow up to 2021’s RADIO ON! This gave me the opportunity to once again interview the legendary singer. Our focus was mainly on the new album, along with many other topics, including working with producer Mike Fraser. ELEVATE is in my opinion a brilliant well played melodic hard rock/AOR album that makes you happy to listen to.
Hi Lee, it’s nice to talk with you again are you ready for another round of questions from metal-rules.com?
Yes I am. Nice to talk with you again!
What did the media and fans think of your previous studio album, RADIO ON!?
They loved it! We got glowing reviews for the most part – but I certainly don’t judge my albums by the reviews; not everyone will understand or appreciate it. We made an album that was authentic and fun for us and that translated to our fans, which matters the most. It sold quite well.
When we last spoke, you said that you wrote RADIO ON! on a weekend but that due to the pandemic the recording session had to be a bit different. What lessons have you learned when it comes to record an album during a pandemic?
I’ve gotten very good at home recording software and being my own engineer and producer…LOL! I LOVE recording my overdubs at home because there is no pressure of watching the studio clock tick! Parts of RADIO ON! were recorded in my pajamas, ha, ha!
Last year you re-released your Christmas album, ALMOST CHRISTMAS. Are you happy with the response the album received and do you have any thoughts of releasing anything Christmas-related material this year too?
The nice thing about a Christmas album is that it is “evergreen’, meaning that it can be appreciated year after year. One Christmas album is enough for me for now. To be honest, not everyone likes Christmas music, so some of our reviews were mixed. Conversely, some media expected a full-on metal Christmas offering from Lee Aaron. To me, metal music isn’t Christmas, so I had no intention of doing that. The band and I were just trying to create a fun, rock ‘n’ roll Christmas album that made people feel good and had some cheeky-ness and fun to it.
You did two live performances last year in Canada; tell us about the shows, how was it to meet the fans again?
We did a show in Newfoundland, and also one in Winnipeg before getting shut down again. The fans were so happy and grateful that we were there. We missed playing music and they missed hearing it, it was that simple.
During the restrictions caused by COVID-19 did you miss performing live and all that comes with that?
Of course we did. The whole point of making the music is to be able to perform it and connect with the fans. To prevent us all going crazy, I tried to create projects for us like finishing RADIO ON!, making ALMOST CHRISTMAS (which was recorded 100% at home), and writing the songs for ELEVATE. It kept us focused on something positive and also kept the band connected which was important.
In June this year, you performed at Sweden Rock Festival. How was that, what are your impressions of Sweden and your Swedish fans?
We LOVE Sweden! The fans are amazing but they are not all Swedish! People fly in from all over the world for that festival. I met Lee Aaron fans from Italy, Brazil, Spain, Greece, and the USA. It was wild. The festival is run in such a professional manner and the staff and crews make every band feel like they’re the most important act on the festival. It’s very equal and respectful treatment.
In the previous interview, you said it was expensive for you to tour in Europe and I guess it’s gotten even more expensive now with the high gas and electrical costs. Are there any plans on heading over to Europe next year to tour despite the costs?
We definitely hope so! Our booking agent is working on it. We are lucky in that we can usually make it work with a decent paying anchor date – like a festival – that pays for the flights there, then you can add more dates. We also decided to NOT fly with any guitars or any of our gear overseas because the costs for extra/oversize bags and freight is now outrageous. 50% of the time the gear does not arrive on time for the show anyway if you have flight connections. We backline our guitars and amps and drum kit, locally. Plus, we’re a true rock-band, we don’t need fancy equipment or computers – we never use any backing tracks or click or any of that stuff – we just play.
At the beginning of September you did a few festival shows in Germany and France. How was that? What do you prefer, performing at festivals or doing single shows at smaller clubs?
I think my favorite shows are what I call ‘boutique festivals’. Festivals with 2,000 – 5,000 people or less. There is something really cool about that size of audience. You get a festival ‘feeling’ but it still feels intimate. Bigger festivals are fun but 30,000 people can be overwhelming, and small clubs are not really what I do anymore.
Would you like to do a proper headline tour through Europe in the future?
If that was financially possible, yes. With rising costs everywhere it’s been very hard for the touring industry. Again, we really hope to get back to Europe for more festivals, at least to start with.
Why do you mostly tour and perform in Canada?
Well, I was born here, have spent years touring here, have had many hit records here, and established myself. I’m actually able to make money in Canada from live shows, unlike in Europe where we just break even. I still want to come back to Europe though! I adore the people and the culture there.
Please tell us about the Fxxk Cancer Benefit concert at the Hard Rock Casino in Canada where you, Loverboy, Headpins and Steelheart performed amongst others. Do you think it’s important to support charities and raise money?
Yes, 100%! I support a few other philanthropic efforts here in Canada too. I work with an organization called “Guitars for Vets” which gives free music lessons and free guitars to veterans who are suffering from PTSD – music is like therapy for them. I also have a LEE AARON BodyRock Coffee blend where 100% of my proceeds go to another Cancer Foundation that supports families and individuals living with Cancer.
The new album ELEVATE
When did you start writing material for the new album?
We started to write ELEVATE in March of 2021 and were recording the bed tracks by August of the same year.
Which song was the first one you wrote for ELEVATE?
The first song I worked on and finished was “Heaven’s Where We Are”.
According to the info sheet, you wrote the album during the lockdown. How was it to create material during a pandemic? Where did you find inspiration and what are the songs about?
I think the overall idea was to write music that was uplifting, but the world was acting like crazy-town – the insurrection on the US capital, BLM protests, school shootings, political cyber warfare, and people in general just attacking each other on social media. Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get weirder, Russia invaded Ukraine. Observing it all, it was impossible not to have some of those themes creep into the writing. Of course, there are also themes of love and betrayal and conquering ones own self-demons.
Who wrote the music to your lyrics?
Sean, Dave and myself all write music. They send me riffs on guitar or bass and if I like them, I work on them. I like to write on piano but occasionally I write on guitar. Then I write the lyrics.
Is it correct you booked the studio before you even had any songs ready and written? That was kind of a bold move!
Ha, ha! We had a couple of songs written but definitely not the whole album. I was listening to an interview with Jack White and he said he always booked the studio time first and then forced himself to pull the songs together. I thought that was an interesting idea and wondered what we’d come up with if we booked the studio time and gave ourselves a deadline. It was actually exciting and fun and we wrote more songs than we needed in the end.
Were there any songs that didn’t made it on to the final edition of the album?
Yes. I haven’t decided what I’m doing with them yet but they will appear on something in the future.
What are the longest songs “Freak Show” (4.47), “Heaven’s Where We Are” (4.31) and “Spitfire Woman” (6.10) about?
“Heaven’s Where We Are” is all about being fully present and appreciating the life your living right now rather than dwelling on past hurt or worrying about a future you can’t control. “Freak Show” is about how we’re all different but all the same. How human beings from all different aspects of life all basically want the same things – love and acceptance. “Spitfire Woman” is a true story about a Nashville woman who accidentally murdered her husband with a frying pan when she discovered he was cheating on her.
All of the songs are up-tempo besides the ballad “Red Dress”. Why is there only one slower song featured this time around?
Ummm…”Spitfire Woman” is a bit slower tempo, no? On a 10 song album I think there’s really only room for one ballad.
Why did you name the album ELEVATE? Is there a story behind the title?
Well, ELEVATE was the last song we wrote – we wrote it in the studio actually – and it has such a positive message about lifting each other up, rather than tearing each other down. It seemed like the perfect album title for these times.
Who did the cover artwork this time and are you happy with it?
Yes. I think it’s brilliant. I have a wonderful artwork guy named Eric Bourdon from Montreal that I like to work with. He always ‘gets’ my vision. I wanted something bold and modern-psychedelic. I think he nailed it.
Do you think long-time fans will enjoy ELEVATE?
I think if they have been following my career over the years and they liked RADIO ON!, they will love ELEVATE. If they only know the METAL QUEEN album and they skip to ELEVATE, they may not understand it. ELEVATE is my 18th release, so the music and the writing has evolved over time.
The bio sheet also states that you think it’s a shame how social media divides good people. What is your opinion on how people act on social media and how social media makes people act?
I think it has the capability to bring out the best and the worst in people. It enables you to reach many people at once with a message – hopefully a positive one – and that’s a wonderful thing, but, you can also use words to really hurt someone, or attack someone verbally online, spread lies and misinformation and never have to deal with anyone face to face which gives a license to all the assholes out there. It also creates an environment where it’s hard to discern what is truth and what is not.
When I first put on ELEVATE, it made me happy. The album includes some really well executed songs, some amazing musicianship and some really great lead vocals. Are you happy with the outcome of ELEVATE?
Yes I am. I think it’s an album that has a real grow-on-you quality.
Do you have any personal favorite song on the album, which one?
I like the songs “Elevate”, “Troublemaker”, “The Devil You Know”, and “Red Dress”….umm I like them all.
Many bands/artists consider their latest work to be their best one yet, is it so with you and ELEVATE?
Yes and no. I think we explored some territory on ELEVATE that we didn’t on RADIO ON!, but I really like a lot of the tunes from RADIO ON! and many I’ve written since returning to the scene in 2016.
The video to “Rock Bottom Revolution” which came out at the end of October, has about 24,000 hits on YouYube. What can you tell us about the video shoot?
We are working with a wonderful video director – Frank Gryner – who is a genius with digital technology. We all shot our parts in a green screen studio and he put together the graphics. He’s brilliant and has done videos for Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Trent Severn, Jam & Lewis & Mariah Carey, Air Supply and more. He and I worked on the concepts together.
Rock Bottom Revolution official video
At the beginning of November the video to “Trouble Maker” followed. How was it to shoot the video?
I guess I have to give you the same answer as above! We changed our outfits though…LOL
Trouble Maker official video
Studio and production
Why did you chose to record the album in Amoury Studio, where you recorded the previous album?
The Armoury is a fantastic studio and they’ve got a beautiful old SSL console there that Mike Fraser LOVES to engineer on. What I like about the Armoury is that it’s only has one studio so you have complete privacy and anonymity when recording there. Plus it’s an amazing sounding space for drums.
Are there any other well-known acts that record their albums in that studio beside you?
Yes. INXS, Aerosmith, The Cranberries, Scorpions, AC/DC and more…
Did you do any producing work this time around?
Yes. I’ve produced all my albums since 2000.
What are your strengths when it comes to producing?
I think a good producer brings out the very best in each of the musicians they work with. I’m already working with my favorite players (they’re in my band!) and I already love what they do so, as a producer, I encourage the ideas that come to the table that fit my vision of what the album should be. That way it is going to be totally authentic. I also curate the final song selection, arrangements and running order. I work closely with the engineer – in this case Mike Fraser – as to achieve the sounds I’m hearing, in the initial recording phase and also during mixes. Mostly, the job of a good producer is to have a vision, then hire the right people to make that come to reality. Everyone I work with is already someone I respect and admire for what they already do.
What do your bandmates think of having you as a producer?
I’m a planner and an organizer – that’s another part of a producer’s job, making the schedule and budget etc. – so they’re cool with that. I’m like the engine that drives things forward. Plus, I treat everyone like an equal. My bandmates bring great ideas to the table so why wouldn’t I consider those ideas. I wear the producer hat, but the creative process is a democracy.
Would you like to maybe produce other bands or artists besides yourself in the future?
Perhaps. Maybe when I’m tired of writing and making records for myself, ha, ha!
What makes recording and mix engineer Mike Fraser so special to work with that you have chosen to work with him again?
What’s not to LOVE about Mike Fraser? He’s the easiest guy in the world to get along with and, in my opinion, he get’s the best rock guitar sounds on the planet.
Was it easier to record an album this time around compared to how it was during the lockdown?
Lockdown was easy because we did everything from home. Organizing schedules and flying my guitarist Sean from the other side of Canada is more complicated but so worth it. Getting to record in the same room, at the same time, live off the floor…nothing is better than that. I would always make a choice to record as a ‘live’ band in the studio rather than sending files. Many albums these days are made, and the musicians are never even in the same room together. It’s easier yes, but that’s not rock ‘n’ roll.
How long did it take to record the album overall?
The whole album was done over several months but not all at once. We did 4 days of live bed tracks, then I spent several weeks in my home studio doing keyboards, extra vocals and a couple solos Sean had missed when I had the time. Then when it was all done, we went back into the Armoury and mixed over 2 weeks.
Are you happy with the work Metalville Records have put into you and the album?
Melville are very passionate music people and I love that. They care about all their projects and work their hardest. They do an amazing job with promotions. There are bigger labels, but it’s easy NOT be a priority there.
Does MR release your albums worldwide or only in Europe?
Metalville has worldwide distribution partners, so ELEVATE will come out everywhere.
Tell us about your own label Big Sister Records. When was the label born and how did you come up with the idea to form a label of your own?
Big Sister Records is my 3rd label. I started HipChic Music, after I left Attic Records in 1993 and later Spastic Plastic in the late ’90s. I’ve basically was an indie artist before indie was popular…LOL! I felt that being a direct signing with any label, where they were paying for the production and artwork expenses, I had to give away too much artistic control and wasn’t always marketed in a way I was happy with. Creating an indie label for myself and financing everything myself gave me back that control and I was much happier. Then all I had to do was shop for good distribution for my music.
Does MR release your albums through license?
ELEVATE is released on both CD as on vinyl. Is it black vinyl or do are you going to release it on any colored versions?
There will be traditional black vinyl, marbled black vinyl and red transparent!
On your website it’s possible to purchase your old albums but many of them are sold out, are they coming back in stock soon?
My ‘Official’ Webstore through Rock Paper Merch offers some old albums but he has to purchase the re-issues from another label who controls my old catalogue – Unidisc Canada – so when it sells out, he needs to re-order. They should come back into stock soon but he may be waiting for enough orders.
Are there many fans that buy stuff on the website?
Past present and future
Once the pandemic slowed down, Russia invaded Ukraine – what are your thoughts on the ongoing war?
It’s horrendous. There’s a saying “All wars are civil wars because all men are brothers,” and I truly believe that. I’m never going to condone the killing of innocent people. So much senseless death on both sides. How this can happen in 2022, means humanity hasn’t evolved much in the last 100 years which is so sad, as well a frightening. What have we learned?
Metalville Records released a compilation album earlier this year titled MOST WANTED PEACE where you participate with the song “Soul Breaker”, was it important for you to be a part of that compilation?
Yes. The proceeds were to aid children impacted by this war. I was all over that.
What’s the current status regarding COVID in Canada?
We’re all getting our 4th vaccines and COVID is still here, but every household has test kits now so it’s business as usual.
I know that you already have some shows booked for 2023 in Monsters Of Rock Cruise as well as a few shows in Canada. Are you looking forward to the Cruise?
Yes! It will be my first!
If you could describe a live show with Lee Aaron in three words which words would you use?
Power, Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll….I guess that’s four, ha, ha!
And what advice do you have for young women and girls who want to start singing harder music and rock n roll?
I would tell them to find some artist’s they admire and start there. Learn everything you can from listening to their music and studying their songwriting. I still do that. I’m still falling in love with new artists like Courtney Barnett, Royal Blood, and Star Crawler, for example. I’m still learning how to be better. Be influenced but don’t imitate. Be authentic. Don’t be a be afraid to take risks. People who never take risks accomplish nothing.
You have an amazing voice. How do you manage to keep it in such a good shape?
Wow. Thank you. I try to live a healthy lifestyle and treat my body – and especially my vocal chords – with respect, the way an athlete preparing for a game or competition would treat themselves. I sing and rehearse regularly to prepare for upcoming shows and recording sessions. I don’t party like it’s 1999, ha, ha! Not anymore anyway.
Christmas is soon coming and what do you wish for the most in 2023?
That the war would end, and that I get to come back to Europe!
Could you give the readers and fans three reasons why they should buy ELEVATE?
It’s kick-ass, it’s empowering, it’s quality.
It’s been a true honor to speak with you again, you sure is a living legend within your genre and I think many young girls and guys are looking up to you when it comes to write music. I wish you all the best in the future and an early merry Christmas and a happy new year. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?
Be kind, work hard and when life get’s tough…keep going!