One of the most intriguing things about Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties is how primary songwriter and mastermind Dan Campbell weaves real life into its narrative fiction. Every gig and every person in every room has an effect on where the story could go next, so when the pandemic brought touring to a standstill in the spring of 2020, it wasn't just Campbell's other band, The Wonder Years, that was affected.
Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties will release the third chapter in their saga, a new album called "In Lieu Of Flowers", on April 12. Today they share a new song in "Paying Bills at the End of the World", a bleak, blue-collar ballad about living paycheck-to-paycheck. The song is set on Long Island where Aaron retreats to when he and his band can no longer tour to make a living.
"I've been having that dream where I'm dying again /
The one where I get sick and we can't afford it /
I've been walking around here with no health insurance /
We can barely keep the lights on as it is"
Aaron West is both a band and a story, and "In Lieu Of Flowers" is both an album and a concept opera. It's an ode to the underdog, à la the Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas or the Weakerthans’ Reunion Tour.
"What makes the storytelling come alive is the buy-in", Dan explains, comparing the project to pro-wrestling. "There's this arena full of people and they know that person in the ring isn't an undead zombie mortician. It's a guy, his name is Mark, but they buy into it because that mass suspension of disbelief is where the magic is."
To understand the story of "In Lieu Of Flowers" is to know where Aaron's path has taken him so far. It all begins with the worst year of his life, marked by profound loss––grief, divorce and miscarriage––detailed on his 2014 debut, "We Don't Have Each Other", and 2016's "Bittersweet" (EP).
2019's "Routine Maintenance" begins a new chapter for Aaron, albeit short-lived. After a bar fight lands him in jail and he has no one to call, Aaron heads to Los Angeles for a fresh start where he occupies his time between crappy jobs and open mic nights. On the road playing gigs, he forms a band and they start to gain some traction before another blow hits his family––the loss of his brother-in-law. He finds a new purpose in the aftermath; "I'm going to be someone you can count on for a change," he sings on the album's closing title track.
The new album picks up where "Routine Maintenance" left off, starting from the solo tours that Dan went on shortly after its release––on stage, he talked about leaving the band to care for his grieving sister Catherine and nephew Colin, but that solo touring felt like shit. The band soon got back together––as documented on their "Live From Asbury Park" album recorded over the course of two December 2019 shows.
In the interceding years, Aaron is forced to finally tend to the wounds he’s ignored for over a decade, and that brings us to "In Lieu of Flowers". It's a triumphant kind of melancholy that colors this entire record message is driven home thanks to the 16-piece band that helped bring it to life with guitar, accordion, keys, banjo, pedal steel, trumpets, trombone, saxophone, cello, and violin.