Aaron West is an unassuming guy. Until he steps behind a guitar. He grew up on a farm in Tamworth before moving to the Gold Coast where he studied at Robina High. He spent a year at the Conservatorium, but got offered a teaching position elsewhere.
“I felt like I was learning more outside the university than in,” he said, before adding that he’s glad for the year he had there. “I was playing with really good players.”
Since the Con, he’s been gigging ever since. One of that rare breed who can proudly claim to be full-time. He’s made a living from music ever since high school.
I asked Aaron how he’d describe his own genre. He calls it African-American soul / blues. While he doesn’t necessarily like to pigeon hole his sound, “it helps the public,” he said. “I find the terms useful when I’m looking for other people’s music, I guess other people do too.”
I guess the bluesy African-American soul genre is to be expected. He grew up listening to old blues music.
“Dad used to have a lot of blues and old-school reggae stuff when I was a kid.”
“But I have played so many other styles too. When you do it for a living you get forced to play all sorts of stuff. But my passion has always been that old African-American music,” he said.
That genre and the influence of Aaron’s musical roots come through loud and clear when you listen to his new album 504 Soul. Recorded in New Orleans with some of the most incredible musicians you’ll ever meet, the record is already making waves in the city it was recorded in, getting rave reviews in street press off Beat, “which is kind of a big deal,” Aaron said.
“It’s the bible for music there,” he explained. “Off Beat reviewed it and said some really good things about it”
“It was finally finished in December and now just waiting to sort out some video stuff,” he said of the exact launch date for the album. He’s also waiting for a new website.
“There’s this thing in Australia called the Australian Blues and Roots Charts. I’ve sent it to them. The band that plays in it (the album) is kind of well known in soul and blues circles.”
The Absolute Monster Gentlemen are the backing band for Jon Cleary who is a pianist and singer in NOLA. Now, they’re also the backing band for Aaron West.
“I’ll send it to those charts, so hopefully the album will do well and make it up the charts. Then the plan is to use that as leverage to get on festival circuits around here,” he said.
Some of Aaron’s backing band are also local – Will Sargisson and Jeff Reid to name two – which starts us down the path of talking Gold Coast music.
“Mostly I’m into musicians,” he explained. “I grew up here and was really inspired by a guy called Max Stowers – he’s a bass player here on the Coast.”
“A guy called Aaron Saxon is a good friend of mine. He had a band called Voodoo Groove that used to play at Purple Haze on Chevron Island. They used to have a really cool music scene there. Todd Burns – a drummer – was my neighbor for a while and he was connected with a guy calld Frank Corneola who runs Drum Tech.”
“There are a lot of world-class players here. They don’t get a whole lot of credit,” he said.
It’s clear Aaron’s musical connection to the Gold Coast runs deep but this new album sees Aaron step out of his comfort zone somewhat.
“I’ve been a professional musician ever since high school and have made a living from it – but I’m only just now starting out as a band leader – it’s a whole new road for me. I know it’s not going to be easy but if I want to be successful, then I have to do it.”
The record is named after the area code for New Orleans – 504. “I didn’t want to call it The Big Easy this or the Crescent City that,” he said, noting that anyone from the area would get the reference. But while the album was recorded in New Orleans, Aaron only visits the USA “once in a blue moon.”
“Whenever I can afford to,” he said. “Hopefully next year I’ll go and do some more recording over there – get the tentacles out.”
504 Soul isn’t Aaron West’s first album, but it’s the first he’s putting energy into promoting.
“It’s the first one I’ll ever try marketing. I’ve done original albums in the past but by the time I’ve finished, I’m bored with the songs.”
It’s hard to imagine Aaron getting bored. He’s regularly called upon to play with local bands – including Hanlon Brothers. He’s done stints at Jazz on Broadbeach as well. In fact if you google Aaron, you get a string of musical projects, gigs and festival inclusions.
So what’s next for Aaron West?
“I’m still going to do side band stuff for people,” he said. “But long-term, I want to be able to play music with my band – both here in Australia and overseas.”
I already told you, Aaron West is an unassuming guy, but if there’s one thing you take from this story, let it be this. Aaron West’s music deserves to be heard. And his album 504 Soul deserves pride of place in your playlist.
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You can buy 504 Soul via CDbaby and itunes and you can get hard copies at Just Funkin’ Music (Ballina) or off Aaron at his gigs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lamp Photography