I’ll never forget how I discovered AWOLNATION’s first album, Megalithic Symphony. One day, I was aimlessly scrolling through a list of Vines on YouTube, when I virtually stumbled upon a clip with a cat jumping from an open window to a ledge of some sort. If you’re an Internet enthusiast/oddball like yours truly, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Any who, in that five-second timespan, my tunefully equipped ears caught onto an edgy, almost electronic melody playing in the background, which ended up being the chorus to AWOLNATION’s top-charted hit, “Sail.” After having a good laugh at the clip’s hilarity, I immediately Spotify-ed the band behind the song to uncover their little gem of an album. Lo and behold, I was nowhere near disappointed; for I uncovered a musical goldmine.
Living up to their name, AWOLNATION has returned in full-force, and as happy as any coincidence could be, their second album, Run, has been a go-to favorite of mine since its release in March 2015. Although Megalithic Symphony will always have a place in my heart (and of course, my music library), Run gives off the same level of feels, if not more so. With the band’s vivid eccentricity, you really never know what you’re going to get from each track they throw together. One minute, you’re in an acoustic daydream; the next, you’re jamming out to the latest electronic rock anthem starring in your own imaginary music video. No matter what the sensational tune twist is, I have no doubt that you will be struck by a whirlwind of explosive sound varieties, and yes, you will be astounded.
According to AWOLNATION’s frontman, Aaron Bruno, music is not meant to be taken too seriously; rather, it is supposed to be a celebration amongst music lovers. Talented, humble, and charismatic as a songsmith can be, Aaron had plenty to say about touring with Fall Out Boy, what it was like working on Run solo, and his aspirations to be a positive force in the music industry. Check out the rest of my interview with Aaron below!
You guys are making your way to Jersey pretty soon for the Wintour with Fall Out Boy. Is there anything you’re looking forward to the most in visiting closer to the East Coast, other than the freezing cold weather?
Well, you know, California has been very hot for the last couple of weeks, so it’s been interesting that we had a lot of rain this winter, thank God, but not as much as we need. You know, I like seasons, and so aside from anything can hold you back with weather and inconvenience, I really enjoy cold weather, snow, and actual weather I’m not used to. It gives me a chance to wear some of my winter coats that I never wear at all.
Well, that’s good news! Most recently, you guys performed with Fall Out Boy for the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas shows. Are you guys excited to be going on an entire tour with them?
It’s a huge favor and labor of love to ask another band to open up for you. I know what it’s like to pick and choose the opening bands and sometimes you choose ones that are great and sometimes they seem great on paper, but aren’t as awesome once the tour starts. [Fall Out Boy] can pick any band they want probably, and they’re playing these massive arenas, so it’s flattering and very sweet of them to want to share some of their success with us and allow us to entertain their fans, and try to gain some of their listeners into our world. It’s just a great opportunity.
Oh, for sure! Now, I have to ask this; AWOLNATION, I imagine the name is related to going AWOL (laughs). Would you mind giving me some background on how that name came about?
It was just a bit of a nickname that I kind of messed around with a lot in high school, in no serious way at all. After the last couple of bands I was in, when they broke up, it was time for me to go my own way on my own path, and a lot of my buddies would call me AWOL. I know there have been many AWOLs before me; I believe there was a DJ and other people who were called AWOL, as well. I’m sure I’m not the first to go with that nickname, but I had my fascination with it, because in my mind, there was sort of a fantasy, like maybe I could create music that would reach the masses of the nation (laughs). It’s really as simple as that. There are no politics behind it, or anything like that. It’s a metaphor for people to be able to listen to our music, regardless of where you’re from and not having to explain why that is, you know?
Music is supposed to be lighthearted, it’s supposed to be release and a celebration of life, so I try not to take it all too seriously. Growing up, I remember watching some pop artists such as Madonna, or whoever, and saying, “as an artist I feel” this way or that way, and that’s just a really serious way to take yourself, you know what I mean? We’re trying to create fun here. So anyway, the name is just a lighthearted design for people to come join the music we do.
Well, in terms of fun, I think you guys are doing a pretty terrific job.
Plus, you released your newest album, Run, almost a year ago. Have you received a lot of feedback from your fans?
Oh yeah, of course. At first, it’s always terrifying to release a new record, especially one that’s been anticipated after the success of the first record. I never had that kind of success in the past before, so I’ve never written something with anticipation and demand, so it was pretty scary, but we survived the first year of it. Everything’s going really good. I can’t believe I get to make these songs from inside my heart and soul and put them out in the world for people to actually listen to and care about. It’s a trippy experience, for sure. I still wake up every day and convince myself that it’s all real.
That’s pretty awesome to hear. Actually, I saw in an interview you did not too long ago—you said that you really didn’t expect any commercial success with Run. Could you explain a little bit about what you did expect?
Well, with the first record I had finally changed my mentality when I wrote a lot of those songs, because I’d been in a couple of other signed bands before, and everybody thought we were going to be successful, and when I say everybody, I mean the team around us, friends and family, the label, the team that we put together, and I felt that kind of dwindle, and fall very short of true success and more importantly, true exposure for these songs that you work so hard on and care about. And you want people to hear them so that they have a chance. And like I said, fell short of that.
So, when I went to write Megalithic Symphony, I stopped thinking or fantasizing about selling a certain amount of records, or having a certain kind of fame, I had no care in the world for anything like that, being recognizable or any sort of celebrity status. I just wanted to make the music that I thought was great, music that I would buy if I heard and I felt like at the time, there was a huge void in music, and so I guess I just try to fill it with what I wanted to hear. So for Run, I carried the same mentality, and the success of the first record didn’t really change the way I was going to write this kind of record, it was just 2.0 of AWOLNATION for me, you know? I just really love the record a lot.
I felt like the first record was a great listen front to back and tells a bit of a story, and took you on the next journey like all the records I liked growing up, from like the timeless albums to some of the punk rock records that I loved from front to back and hip-hop albums from the ’80s. This record, I guess it took a lot of liberty, and just making it as enormous and ridiculous as I wanted. The end result is similar to the first record just in a different way. When you put out a first record, you’re the shiny new toy, dime, or nickel, and then the second time around, it’s a bit of a different experience. It’s hard to burst open a door to a room, which is what we did on the first record, but what’s even harder is staying in that room you get into, and trust me, there’s not a lot of people that were necessarily hoping that Run was as successful as Megalithic Symphony, for sure. But I never experienced anything like that before, so it was a brand new thing, and we’re like this weird fungus—we just keep growing and growing. We’re a year in and we’re on our third single that’s just starting to take off, thankfully. You never know with team AWOLNATION, you just never know what the hell’s going to go down!
I love that comparison. Very interesting (laughs).
So is it true you wrote the album almost entirely by yourself?
Megalithic Symphony was about 85% me, with the help of some other producer friends, and then Run was 100% me.
Wow. Would you say that whole process was more nerve-wracking or laid-back for you, considering it was entirely your work? I know it could probably go either way, really.
It’s pretty laid back, you know? I mean, I get a little stressed out and put pressure on myself, because I want to achieve greatness, and what I mean by greatness I mean greatness that I’m capable of. By no means am I fooling myself into thinking I’ll be the next Beatles, Michael Jackson, Nirvana or Radiohead, I just want to find my own little niche, and that I care about music because it’s a labor of love for me, and I care about the whole genre of music improving. So, if I could be any part of that and help influence music or pop culture in some sort of positive way, push the boundaries of production, sound, and songwriting, then I’d feel really accomplished. But that’s the main goal—it’s always to do better.
Speaking of pushing the boundaries, do you feel like that type of artistic trait is what sets you apart from the other bands that are around at the moment?
It’s tough to say…I think with the first record, definitely. There was nothing like that out there since the massive success of “Sail,” which no one could’ve ever guessed would happen or anticipated. If you turn on the radio, I definitely hear a lot of stuff that sounds like our song. About several different songs that are all successful, so I’d like to think that I helped in some way. I can look at it in a way like, “Oh wow, those guys [or girls] are ripping me off,” but instead, I sleep better at night knowing it’s just all part of music. If you do something great that reaches a lot of people, chances are something else is going to come out similar.
Right. That’s a great way to look at it, too. Are there any songs in particular that you love performing the most during a show?
No, not necessarily. You know, it all depends really on the night and the mood of the crowd. But I would say, generally speaking, I enjoy playing the new songs more because they’re new—it’s just like anything else. You’ve got a closet full of timeless pieces maybe, and you’re excited about the newest thing you’ve got, and that could be a vintage piece, as well. But either way, you’re always more excited to put on those new shoes, that new sweater, or whatever that you’ve been holding onto; rather than something that may be great and looks good on you, but everyone’s seen you wear it before, so it’s not as exciting as the new pair of shoes.
Very true. I actually recently listened to an acoustic version of “Not Your Fault,” from Megalithic Symphony, and I have to say, I loved it. Love that album.
Cool! Thank you, thank you.
Now, I’ve heard that you’re a pretty big fan of acoustics, so I wanted to see if you would you ever consider putting out another album with unplugged sessions being your main focus?
Yeah! Yeah, definitely. Finally, the lineup in the band—everybody sings really well, so we’re able to do that. Especially after “Sail” crossed over to the…‘top world,’ we were asked to do a lot more stripped-down performances and, rather than just showing up at every radio station and just doing that for them, I would like to control sort of concentrating on putting together a live record of some sort that’s all acoustic-based. I think with a lot of heavy, heavier tones and powerful sort of recordings, once in a while the core value of the song, the lyrics, the melody, the chord progression, the general feeling, can get diluted and lost a bit with all of this fancy production and the shiny packaging of the song. So I think it would be a good, fun thing to go back to the roots of it all.
Oh, absolutely. That’d be awesome! Since your vocals are a pretty crucial component in your music, do you have a special care regimen you do for your voice off-stage, either before or after a show?
No I don’t. And I think that that’s what may be unique about [the music] is that I’ve been blessed. I don’t want to talk about it and jinx it, but I think I just put my voice through the ringer. As a kid, I would sing a lot in my falsetto because there was a lot of ’80s pop music around, so I would sing along to Prince, Michael Jackson, female artists like Madonna or Cindy Lauper, and when I fell in love with the left side of music, like punk rock and alternative music, metal, and all that kind of stuff, I started to try to sing more—by the way, when I said I was singing, I was singing to myself in the car or somewhere alone, terrified that anyone could hear me (laughs)—but, I learned how to attempt to sing and more screaming, in a sort of emotional way, I guess. And then, I don’t know, I think I put my voice through every single possibility that it’s capable of to go full-circle when AWOLNATION was formed. I felt like my voice is finally beyond itself.
I don’t want to say I’ve mastered my own voice, because you always want to get better, but it definitely feels like I graduated from all of the different [vocal] experiments. I tried a lot of different things in different bands for different sounds. So, I was able to sort of destroy my voice, but it’s like a muscle, you know? Like anything, you have to tear your muscle for it to become stronger. Back in the day, I was losing my voice quite a bit, and lucky for me, it hasn’t happened since. A couple of times, I could barely talk, but I did the show anyway. I don’t know how anyone enjoyed it (laughs).
It was more like air throat, and so I just let the band rock a little harder. That’s the most horrifying thing about being a singer. For example, we have this thing coming up on Monday, where we’re going to be playing on TV. If you lose your voice, it’s over. There’s nothing you can do. If you’re a drummer and you get the flu, and your voice is scratchy, you could take a night off singing and just concentrate on the drums. You may feel nauseous, but at least you can get through a show, so it’s pretty scary.
Well, at least there’d be no question about the performance being live and real.
So, are there any recent news updates for AWOLNATION? Can fans expect another album in the works anytime soon?
Yeah, of course. We’re still sort of at a half-time spot of Run, if you will. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way that’s going. I’m constantly thinking about what’s going to be on record number three, obviously, but for now, I can put my producer cap on and start really concentrating on this record that I’m making with this band, Iron Tom, and they’re incredible—the guitarist is in my band, too, so it’s like an extension of the AWOLNATION family. Now, I’m just trying to complete this record—we’re six songs deep and every label seems to be really excited about it. All kinds of fun stuff. So, I’m giving back to these kids that other producers along the way have mentored me and helped give me opportunities, so I’m really passionate about that. There is another artist I’m working with as well who we’re very close to having a record with. So, that’s the next phase for me is releasing stuff as a producer, in addition to the AWOLNATION songs, of course.
AWOLNATION will be performing alongside Fall Out Boy on March 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York City and June 11 at BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey. Their new album, Run, is available now. For more information, visit their official website at awolnationmusic.com.