Interview: Aaron Lewis of Staind
Tue, 22 Dec 2009 09:23:45
Aaron Lewis is hard rock's Johnny Cash.
He doesn't need to don all black though. Lewis has got a sensitive and honest perspective on darkness that catapulted Staind into the hearts of rock fans across the globe. Like Cash, he can be blunt, but he also knows the power of a tender melody. That's why songs like "Intro," "Tangled Up In You" and "Believe" stay stuck in your head.
He's spoken to a disenchanted generation and allowed them to scream along in arenas everywhere with his three brothers in Staind. However, Lewis lets people get really close at his solo acoustic shows. Every year, he hits the road with a mic, an acoustic guitar and a stool playing various spots off the beaten path and giving crowds Staind hits, B-sides, covers and solo tunes. Commanding the stage like the man in black, he's as quick at the draw with a joke as he is with a lyric.
Aaron sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about his upcoming solo tour, songwriting, what makes someone "country," taking a cue from Jeff Tweedy and so much more in this exclusive interview.
Welcome back to our annual conversation about the solo acoustic tour.
[Laughs] I guess, I can't really complain about that can I, Rick?
It's great catching up! How has the acoustic tour changed over the years?
One thing that's definitely changed is that the venues have figured me out and they tend to give me a time-limit on how long I can play for now [Laughs]. I was keeping people in the venues for too long, and I wasn't allowing them to get into the casinos quickly enough [Laughs]. The three-hour shows are no longer! They're now limited to an hour-and-a-half. The other thing is, I'm shying away from playing the amount of covers that I was playing before. With new material getting put in the set all of the time, me learning B-side songs that weren't necessarily songs that Staind would play in a live and all of the songs I have to play, that pretty much fills up the hour-and-a-half. I would have to take Staind songs or my songs out in order to put covers in. I don't want to be known for being the human jukebox. I'd rather be known for playing my music than playing other people's.
Are there any new solo songs that you're debuting on this upcoming run?
One song accidentally got dropped via YouTube. Last week, I did a show in memory of the soldiers that fell on Fort Hood about a month ago. I played the song, and it ended up on YouTube. That's a new song, and it's my first attempt at a country-styled song. I don't really know what makes it country, but it is country. It seems like everybody that works with me who has heard it wants to make it the single we're going to put out next. We'll see what happens.
You have the soul of a country performer. True country lies in the delivery, and you've got that.
You should definitely check out the song. It's called "Country Boy." That's all I am really—and all I'll ever be.
Have you been listening to a lot of country?
I tend to go from Radio Disney to 20on20 to the country station. If my kids are in the car, I'm stuck listening to the Disney Channel or 20on20 [Laughs]. If I'm driving around by myself, it's either a good conservative talk radio show or country music.
What do you think makes someone "country?"
It's where you're from! If you grew up in the sticks, you're country. If you grew up in the city, you're not country. If you grew up in the suburbs, you might listen to country music, but you aren't country. You've got to grow up out in the sticks!
You allow people to get so close to you and the music at the acoustic shows.
There are so many different things about the solo shows, but the one key thing is, you definitely get to see me in between songs, where I'll talk to the crowd and I'll actually talk to someone in the crowd. With Staind, I just never really felt like chatting in between songs or trying to be funny was appropriate. This is so loose, and there's so much of a lack of a plan that it's impossible for those thoughts to come into play as far as what's appropriate or inappropriate. I'm up here fucking around, I have no idea what I'm going to do next and I don't know if I'm going to make it through the song that I'm playing. It's pretty hard for it to not be a lot more unfiltered.
Fans can sit back and truly experience each moment at the acoustic shows.
There are some moments, I'll tell ya [Laughs]. I'll crash and burn just as quickly as I'll make it through a song. I make all sorts of mistakes. I forget words. I think that makes the whole thing endearing.
It was rather amazing when you did "Intro" alone, a cappella and acoustic at Club Nokia in Los Angeles last May.
Thank you! That particular room is probably the worst room in the country for me to have attempted to do something like that because it's so acoustically dead that it just eats sound [Laughs]. The two opposite ends of the spectrum are the Nokia Theater at one end and then the Ryman Auditorium, which used to be the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville would be the other end. I could talk in my regular talking voice at Ryman and hear it anywhere.
L.A. crowds can be really jaded, but everyone in that room connected with that moment.
I saw the documentary on Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. During the film—I don't know if it was at the end of the night or what it was—he came out and did that. I thought, "That is so frickin' cool." In my mind, I was thinking, "My voice is ten times as loud as his is. This could be really, really cool." Honestly, I stole it from him, but it still has the same effect, if not more of an effect because my voice is so loud.
Was there a certain story behind "Intro?" Does that have a specific meaning to you?
It was my first open "thank you" letter to anybody that I needed to say, "thank you" to. It was also a "fuck you" letter to anybody that I felt like I needed to say, "fuck you" to as well. It was for all the times that I didn't say, "thank you" and for all the times I didn't say, "fuck you." I finish it off with a good old "thank you" again and call it a day. That was really the first open letter to the fans and to the haters and to anybody that stuck with me. It was a "thank you" to my wife, to my family—it was a "thank you" to everybody. Then there's a song called "Reply" that was totally to the fans.
Are there any similarities between hunting and songwriting?
I don't think so. Hunting is like golf for me and so many other people. A lot of businessmen think about getting onto the golf course all day long so they don't have to think about business anymore. It's my escape. It's my peace and tranquility for sure. Music and hunting exist on parallel universes, they never really cross. "Country Boy" is the first time it's crossed ever. There's a line in the bridge that says, "My idea of heaven's chasing white-tailed bucks." That's the first time that line has been blurred [Laughs].
Your story personifies both the American dream and the dream of any artist to connect with people through honest, real art. Do you feel like that dream has ever changed for you or are you still pursuing the same thing? Where are you at on this journey?
The only way that my dream is changing, as far as the American dream goes, is happening because of other people—people that we were foolish enough to put in the positions that they're in. I'm a conservative capitalist, and I truly believe that capitalism is what makes this country the amazing place that it is. I can't even believe that the government thinks it's okay to take as much money as they do from one individual on a yearly basis. We're creating a country that facilitates laziness and entitlement. It's all not part of the plan. The way this system works is when everyone puts in the hard work to get the benefits. I grew up in a trailer park. Really, I grew up in an old deer camp, but we lived in a trailer park. Our upgrade from living in a trailer park was moving onto this old dirt road in this town you wouldn't know. I refer to the town in the first lines of my new song. My dad bought a hunting camp that was two miles up this dirt road on the side of a mountain. It was the only dwelling on the whole mountain. That's where I grew up. We have the power to do anything we want in this country. It's our country. I hope if people listen to anything, they hear that.
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…