I hate to even call them songs. They’re more like friends who’ve helped me at different times in life. They’re also just good company if you’re alone, or throwing a dinner party, painting, driving, whatevering.
Below is an email thread between me and a fan who was upset after hearing the f-word in my song “Hello, Lou”off the album Passages. He graciously said I could post our email exchange as I thought it might be helpful for others who had the same concerns.
On Sep 10, 2017, at 10:30 AM, C______wrote:
Hi Aaron, as someone who first met you years ago in D _____, have all your albums, and seriously considered flying you back up here to play at our wedding, I need to let you know how disappointed I was to hear profanity in this album. Can’t listen to you with my kids anymore.
On Sep 11, 2017, at 1:53 PM, Aaron Espe:
Thanks for your honest reply. I realized in putting “Hello, Lou” on the album there would be risk of a response like yours. As a parent of three, I appreciate and respect your decision not to listen with your kids (or even listen to me anymore out of principle, if that’s what you meant).
But since you’ve been a supporter of mine for so long, I feel the need to explain a little. Using profanity wasn’t premeditated. It came out while I was singing the demo and got emotional. In the studio I tried to do a clean version, but I couldn’t replicate the same authenticity — not because I wasn’t swearing; just because a song like “Hello, Lou” is really difficult to sing more than once. (Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever perform it again.) The version you heard is the first version, the demo, in which I unfortunately dropped an uneditable f-bomb.
The question became whether or not to include the song on the album. Even though I knew it would disappoint some people, the decision was easy for me. “Hello, Lou” is personally one of the most important songs I’ve written. It’s a tribute to a childhood friend who died before the internet era, and the song’s very essence is about it being published to help his memory live on.
Also, I know “Lou” wouldn’t mind, as he occasionally used the word himself.
…said she loves my music, so how do you expect me to keep that to myself?
Because seriously, talk about a strange day.
I wake up, check a few emails and one is from the head of my label, forwarding me this playlist Taylor Swift put together on Spotify called “Songs Taylor Loves.”
I don’t really understand. But then I keep scrolling and there I am “Aaron Espe – Making All Things New.”
At first I think, no this can’t be right. But then I think, well who knows? At the very least I will tweet her a thank-you.
A little while later all of her fans start posting and liking and retweeting my thank-you tweet.
Wow, I should tweet about Taylor Swift more often, that’s the trick to tweeting. I’ve cracked the code!
I didn’t crack the code. The trick I found out was that Taylor Swift had “liked” my tweet which meant that the tweet became viral because that’s how much power Tay’ (if I can be so bold now) exudes in one tap.
Now, I bet you’re wondering how my life has changed since that day, aren’t you?
You probably think I’m currently lying sideways on a velvet covered pillow made of European goose down, typing with one hand and sipping a cocktail in the other while people stand outside in a line waiting for my autograph.
Perhaps you think I’ve now won the attention of every music executive in Nashville and they’ve made multiple competing offers on the worst song I’ve ever written (about a dog running over my shoulder and my refrigerator—I was 6, ok?).
I bet you maybe even think that my kids don’t cry or whine any more and they brush my teeth and tuck me into bed.
What is true is that I impressed a few people for a few days. Even got a couple “OMG!!s” from people I haven’t heard from in years.
And honestly, as a creative person, that stuff feels so good. Taylor Swift putting me on her playlist really means a lot and I truly am thankful. I feel like I’ve been validated by one of the most successful people in my field.
But do you want to know what’s interesting to me about this whole thing?
It wasn’t enough.
The feeling went away.
And I was reminded that the only thing that doesn’t go away is the work.
I don’t know what I’d do if that wasn’t my favorite part about music. Writing, creating, collaborating, figuring out how to get something so abstract that pulls on your heart onto a piece of paper, four chords and melody.
And I’m making a sort of pact right now…
…if I ever don’t love the work anymore, that’s when I’m done. That’s when I fill out a Home Depot application.
The day it isn’t about a song anymore will be a sad day for me, but I take comfort knowing almost absolutely that day will never come.
So God bless you, Taylor Swift, but it’s time for me to get back to work.
We got it from Frank’s TV and Repair. It looked like the kind science teachers would wheel into classrooms on days when they showed videos about corral reefs.
I don’t really remember watching the Olympics so much as I remember having a TV. Because honestly, it was kind of unbelievable. We were a family known for not having a TV. In a small town, that kind of thing is attached to your identity. Kids would make fun or ask questions like, Have you ever seen a movie?
Looking back, I wonder what sort of sales gymnastics my dad had to perform in order to persuade my mom to let a TV in the house. I’m pretty sure she was anti-TV because she was anti-worldly influence. With the Olympics, she let every country right into her own living room.
Actually, technically speaking, the TV was in the dining room, propped up on a wooden chair facing the living room. My guess is that my mom didn’t want to rearrange the furniture. Didn’t want to let that TV get too comfy. Didn’t want us thinking there was a chance we’d transition from a TV-renting family to a TV-owning one.
All this reminds me that the Olympics isn’t just about athletes achieving seemingly impossible feats. To me it’s also about regular folks like my dad doing some pretty impressive stunts themselves. I mean, the odds were pretty much zero that the 1980 US ice hockey team would beat the Soviet Union.
But they did.
And to get a TV past my mom and into her own living room (slash dining room), the odds for my dad were pretty much the same.
He never used it. In fact nobody really used the basement. It was like a dungeon. Musty and dark. The laundry was down there. So was the deep freeze. That’s about it.
So as it were, the basement was the perfect place for a 15-year-old boy to practice guitar and singing without the threat of someone listening.
I didn’t want anyone listing because for the first time I was becoming really passionate about something: music. Playing guitar and singing just felt right. Like I was somewhere I belonged and doing something I might even be good at. And if anybody heard me and had something bad to say, I might just be entirely destroyed.
So I kept it safe and hidden in that office down in the dungeon.
One time I could hear somebody coming down the creaky staircase. I paused playing and singing, which is what I normally did when the occasional “intruder” came down. Usually it was mom changing over the laundry. I was surprised when I heard a knock and saw my dad’s head peek in.
Something you should know about my dad is that he doesn’t say much about what he’s feeling. He’s also a man other men look up to in that sort of “Marlboro Man” sense. Later in life he apologized for never complimenting me on my music. He said he didn’t want to give me a big head. What’s funny, though, is when he told me that, I realized he didn’t remember his dungeon visit. It was one of the most pivotal moments in my life.
I had been working on the chords to John Denver’s “Country Roads” and trying to sing and play at the same time (which if that’s you — just keep working at it!) when my dad poked his head in. We just sat there in silence for a bit. He saw the guitar tab book open and asked if I would play what I was working on.
He might as well have been John Denver back from the grave because that’s about how nervous I was. I remember playing and singing for the first time in the sense that I was letting someone in on something that meant so much to me.
When I finished there was some silence but then he said,
“You have a nice voice, Aaron.”
That’s all I remember. (I mean, he probably also said it was time for dinner or something, but…).
Maybe it doesn’t seem like much but it changed my life.
It didn’t matter that he never complimented me after that. It was enough for me to get to the next song, and the next song. Then begin writing my own songs and playing them for others. Record my first album and tour around the country overseas. Move to Nashville; sign a publishing contract and record deal. All in search of recreating that connection you have with someone because of music.
I’m not talking about compliments so much as I’m talking about what is underneath a compliment, where the music moves somebody enough to respond.
Even though for my dad it was just telling me I had a nice voice, I know that something must have happened in that moment, while I played and sang “Country Roads” that allowed him to open up in a seemingly small way.
That’s what music is about. That’s why I do it. To connect with others and myself on some level that seems only possible through a song.
And that’s why I want to thank you for being a part of this little community. I started it to remind myself that you, like my dad, had some sort of connection with my music that caused you to respond, and now we’re linked in a way that goes far beyond logic.
But I honestly believe that it means you belong here.
P.S. Always feel free to reach out to me as a friend, music industry resource, or just a fellow human being. Seriously, for any reason — you can contact me directly here.