There was a time when Aaron Lee Tasjan felt he was in the wilderness as a songwriter.
As topics for tunes circulated around him from the outside world, the Nashville-by-way-of-Brooklyn-by-way-of-New Albany, Ohio artist would wait for something outrageous to occur to ignite a composition. Then his music turned inward with a more fanciful Americana glow.
Now, on his new “Karma for Cheap” album, it has royally rocked out.
“For a long time, I was kind of like a hunter,” said Tasjan, who returns to Lexington for a Wednesday performance at The Burl. “I would put myself in places where I felt like I was probably going to hear somebody say something pretty wild eventually and then figure how that might be a good idea for a song. But on the last few records, it’s been a pretty real picture of what’s been going though my mind. It’s maybe a little bit more about trying to tap into parts of your subconscious where you kind of become the way that you are without knowing it. So I guess I’m trying to figure out why I am the way that I am.”
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What that translates into on “Karma for Cheap” is a set of pop-fortified works that might initially catch fans accustomed to the more elemental slants of albums like 2015’s “In the Blazes” and 2016’s “Silver Tears.” But the new record isn’t so much a change of stylistic course for Tasjan as it is an extension of the musical settings that illuminate the bright, hopeful narratives that have always been at the heart of his finest songs.
“My goal as an artist is always to be doing something that just feels fresh to me, that feels where I’m getting to some places that I haven’t been before, even if I’m using sounds that may or may not be familiar,” Tasjan said. “It was kind of about how you put the recipe of all those things together and where you take it. But in doing that, I simultaneously or subconsciously revisited a lot of the things that made me fall in love with playing the guitar in the first place.
“This is really a song and guitar driven record. My first two records were more about just the songs and presenting them in a really simple way. This record does that, too, but it pulls from some different places than the first two.”
The years leading to “Karma to Burn” covered considerable stylistic turf. Tasjan took top honors as a guitarist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Competition, but he also served time in the later touring tenures of such venerable rock troupes as Drivin’ N Cryin’ and the New York Dolls.
A series of EP recordings eventually led to a move to Nashville, where Tasjan honed his songwriting skills while becoming a favored member of the city’s extended indie pop family. With that came a sense of community involvement. Along with country renegade Margo Price, he recently helped spearhead protests over the redevelopment of a street corner that was home to a cherished East Nashville record store. He also hosts an annual benefit for the Ben Eyestone Fund at the Music Health Alliance called Tasjam which aids the medical needs of fellow Nashville artists.
“I think community is really important, especially in times like these,” Tasjan said. “It’s a funny time because in some ways we’ve never been more connected, yet in a lot of ways, it’s almost like we’re not very connected at all. So anything you can do to rally behind your friends and create opportunities for somebody else to shine… I mean, that’s always going to be a part of my desires as an artist.
“I’m a pretty empathetic person. I feel a lot for people. Everybody is going through a lot right now just because of what’s going on in the world. Everything is so crazy every day. So I really try to connect with all of the things that people are thinking. I can’t really get too political because I’m not a very political person. But I do have a real soft place in my heart for people. That’s where the impetus for wanting to play music and write songs really comes from. I want to connect with people in some way. If there is anything I can do to help make it easier just to be alive, that’s really the whole thing for me.”
IF YOU GO
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Opening: Brandy Zdan
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 14
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Road
Tickets: $12, $15