Aaron Lee Tasjan Redefines ‘Karma for Cheap’ With New ‘Reincarnated’ Version
In late August, Aaron Lee Tasjan released Karma for Cheap: Reincarnated, a stripped-down, re-recorded version of his 2018 record of the same name. Putting out the new project was more than an experiment in restructuring music, the singer explains; it put him more closely in touch with the meanings behind the songs themselves.
"One of the things about being a songwriter that I think is kind of interesting is that a lot of times, as a writer, you don't really figure out what you were talking about until later on -- even if you think you know, a lot of times," Tasjan muses to The Boot. "All the sudden, it just hits you one day, what the song was really about."
In fact, the more he sat with them after the record's release, the more the meaning of most of the songs on Karma for Cheap changed for Tasjan. "I thought, at the time I was making Karma for Cheap, that I was making a record that I was hoping would be -- at least, lyrically -- kind of uplifting for people," he explains.
"[The album] tried really hard to address the issues that we all face, that anybody who watches the news or is living in the world and encountering the climate in America right now, that the songs could be kind of a soothing thing for anybody that's paying attention to all that stuff," Tasjan goes on to say. However, upon reflection, he realized he had an ulterior motive for writing such a calming batch of songs.
"I was in a lot of personal turmoil when I was writing these songs, and all of the sudden, it just dawned on me, after singing them for a year, how much better I felt having done that then before they were an album," Tasjan reflects. "I was like, 'Wow, these are really messages I was sending to myself.'"
Like a lot of people, Tasjan sometimes has trouble getting clarity on his emotions while he's in the thick of them. "I was trying to find some light in the darkness for myself, and a lot of times I don't think that's always as apparent when you're out there living your life. It can be a challenge to find enough quiet within to really be aware of how you feel," he says.
When he went to re-record Karma for Cheap, Tasjan wanted to showcase its songs in a different light, and give them a closer connection to the way he felt about them after some time had passed. "The acoustic thing almost made more sense for the record for me. On the Karma for Cheap record, a song like "Set You Free" has this very bombastic, this kind of anthemic quality to the production. When I re-recorded it, it was like, 'Man, this is like a meditation,'" he notes.
In fact, one song on the Reincarnated record was an outtake that never made it onto Karma for Cheap's initial release. That track, "My Whole Life Is Over (All Over Again)," never quite fit into the project's original style, no matter how many times Tasjan cut it.
"We recorded it three different ways, I think, for the Karma for Cheap record, and none of them ended up being the right thing," the singer recalls, adding that the more stripped-down Reincarnated setting was what ultimately lent the track the right framework. "When [we] made it just piano and vocal, it was like, 'Okay, what I'm really trying to say is all here. I don't need a bunch of embellishments.' If anything, that might distract somebody from the lyric and the melody.
"At the end of the day, in every song I've ever truly loved, the lyric and the melody were the things that stayed inside me forever," Tasjan adds.
Tasjan doesn't regret releasing Karma for Cheap the way he did originally, though -- not by a long shot. Rather, Reincarnated chronicles the continuing evolution of the music.
"I think one of the dangerous things you can do as an artist sometimes is feel like you have it all figured out, or that you know what kind of album you're gonna make, or what song you're gonna cut, or whatever," he muses. "I feel like I'm at my best when I'm not trying to put it into any kind of box, whatever that is."
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