When AWOLNATION dropped “Sail” back in 2011 it was an instant hit; a deep, unapologetic banger that appealed to both the alternative rock fans and the Billboard charts. The raw, emotional lyricism coupled with bombastic beats, made AWOL’s debut album, Megalithic Symphony, one of the best albums of that year.
AWOL started as an experimental project for singer Aaron Bruno, the former singer of Home Town Hero and Under the Influence of Giants. He was approached by Red Bull Records and asked if he wanted to use their recording space to record some new material. That’s where Bruno developed the sound that would eventually be the genre-blending, alternative rock band AWOLNATION.
Their sophomore effort, Run, was released earlier this year to positive reviews and featured some of the bands most experimental tracks to date. Abandoning the hard hitting beats for more of an atmospheric sound, Run was a different, but welcomed transition for AWOLNATION. With only two albums in their discography, it’s exciting to see how this band will evolve over the next few years.
We recently spoke with Aaron about the new album, the inspiration for his music, the Run Tour, and much more. Read the full review below and find out when and where you can see AWOLNATION live.
How did you first get involved with music?
So you want to go way back.
Really back, really far.
It’s just like everybody else, you know? Just kind of a victim/acceptor of the music that was being played in my parents car and my older brother I got going to and from school or little league baseball practice or soccer or all the activities I did growing up and that was in the ’80s so I feel very lucky that I got to hear pop music. Basically the ’80s is when popular music became seemingly the only genre in pop music. I promise not to say that word again. There was a sound. It was Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and the list goes on and on and on. I guess I was lucky to be hit over the head with, what to me appears to be the last time that pop music was kind of cool, at least to me, and maybe it is for kids growing up these days, maybe they feel the same way I did back then but I feel really lucky to be around the Michael Jacksons and the Princes of our time.
That was a better time I think but I think we just say that because we’re not in that time anymore. Now you were in a few bands of different styles and genres before starting AWOLNATION. How did you develop AWOL’s sound?
Natural process. I was just in all these other bands before, each of which had some sort of limitation or somewhat of kind of walls or opinions of other members of bands that kept me from truly exploring my voice to its full capacity in a lot of ways or lyrically or sonically, production wise, or all of the above so for me, being on my own kind of took off a lot of the rules so I was able to make the music I wanted to make with zero expectations other than just to enjoy myself and impress my own ears and at that point I was equally into all different genres of music. There wasn’t one thing that was leading the way, it was just music is music to me and so that was the first time I truly was free as a song writer and so I guess that’s what makes this sound so all over the place and so open.
I can definitely hear that listening to you. You can’t say oh AWOL is this kind of genre because or it sounds like this because AWOL doesn’t really sound like anything else. That’s the great thing about you and your band.
You’re so unique that you’re undefined at this point.
Well thank you.
Now this album, the new album Run saw a big tempo change from the last one. It features a lot more slowed down tracks like “Fat Face” and “I Am” and “Drinking Lightening.” Was this change something that you kind of set out to do or was it like a natural process when writing?
It was a very natural process and I think this record has a lot more heavy parts maybe than the first record and a lot more tense emotionally so I found that maybe more of the stripped down moments were a necessary palate cleanser for the listener and it’s just what I came up with at the time. I try not to over think anything too much. These songs are what came to my mind when I was writing but I think that it ended up serving a nice purpose for such a brutally intense anthemic record so having songs like “I Am” and “KOOKSEVERYWHERE!!!” or “Holy Roller” “Dreamers.”
It allowed for more stripped down moments for sure and that’s a side of music that I love so much from the Beach Boys and the Beatles. I am a sucker for a really intimate moment in music and I feel like also in today’s technology, production and recording has become so user friendly that a lot of people are catching up to some of the stuff that I did on the first record or trying to imitate it in a certain way so I also felt like it was a good kind of an opportunity to flip it on everybody and do something a little bit more raw and stripped down and keep it back to what really matters most at the end of the day and that’s just songwriting, melody and lyrics. You could have the best production in the world and the best sounding record in the world but if the songs aren’t good, it doesn’t matter so I also wanted to showcase that I’m not afraid to just sit on a piano or acoustic guitar and play a song and leave it that way as well.
I didn’t think I was going to like the album as much as your first album. Your first album was something that was on repeat in my car driving down to the beach or whatever. That was my get psyched mix. Then I listened to the second album and was like this is really good. I’m a fan, but when I open with “Run” live, I was like alright, I’m going to need to listen to this fucking album again. This thing is sick.
That’s cool because that’s how I feel about music too. Those have always been the coolest records to me, the ones that kind of make you think a little bit more. The first record was sort of an experiment for me which was kind of like okay I’ll just do all this stuff I like and I’ll call it AWOLNATION because there’s definitely a more ambitious sound and that was sort of the nickname I had from before so it sounds like almost a world you could live in with true artistic freedom then I saw what worked best for people both lyrically and emotionally and I kind of extended on that on the second record and knew there was actually going to be an audience so I knew I had people’s attention so I was able to make a bit more of an experimental record with Run. Having said that I think there is just very normal songs as well on there.
They’re kind of weird but I think that a lot of people get confused and terrified of the unknown and I do too sometimes. When something takes you out of your comfort zone, it’s wait what’s going on here but I think that’s a good thing in music, if you could challenge the listener a little bit.
Going off that, were there any specific themes that you had that you wanted to explore on this album, on Run?
No, not necessarily. It appears to be a bit more vulnerable of a record and more intimate at times. The landscape of alternative music, especially on alternative radio and really I was lucky to be on the first wave of the set that came in that was basically pop music kind of crossing over into the alternative world where I felt that the first record was truly an alternative record. I don’t know what to call it but it was alternative to other genres of or with that title and with “Sail” it crossed over into the pop world completely accidentally and unintentionally and then I think that a lot of industry folks saw that that happened and there were a couple of other bands that had a similar phase at the same time as us and so we kind of flipped and so there are a lot of pop bands that are being put into the alternative genre and so I kind of saw all that happening and, to me, it gave me this freedom and excitement to make an even dirtier and heavier sounding record in a lot of ways because whatever is happening right this second is going to be usually outdated a year from now or two or three or four years from now so I always want to be on the next tip of something rather than being the second of something else.
That’s smart because a lot of bands have that sophomore slump because they try to have that lightening in a bottle again.
The sophomore slump thing was also fun for me because I’m like okay, what we’re doing, writing the record, I just assumed people were going to want to hate on it because the first record did so well and I never had that experience. I had always been the underdog, I had always put out records that were sort of were debuts for me in various bands so with Hometown Hero, like everybody check out my new band and then the next band was Under the Influence of Giants, okay, everybody check out my new band! Where with this, we came out, people actually liked it, it took off, so this next record was hey check out the next record for the first time. I had people’s attention and it was really exciting.
I suppose a bit of inspiration and motivation came from me imagining the scrutiny that I was going to be under because of the success of the first record so I was able to kind of harness the energy of haters even though I hadn’t even met them yet that were inevitably going to come out of the woodwork to try to thrash down the sophomore follow up and, quite honestly, try to tear down the success of the first record because so many people missed the boat completely and there are some journalists that have come out and wanted to take stabs at the success of the first record which was hilarious because it came out four years ago and they’re still talking about it now so I guess I was aware that that was going to happen so I used that as a lot of motivation and a bit of a chip on my shoulder in writing the new record.
Well it definitely worked out. You made a very, I keep saying these words over and over again, now I feel like I’m repeating myself, but it’s so unique. The album is just cool. I feel cooler when I’m listening to it.
That’s really cool.
So what’s the story about the voicemail recordings? I know there’s more than one but the one I’m thinking of is from “Drinking Lightening.” What’s the story on those?
Well it’s kind of just a very human moment that I think we can all relate to. We all know what it’s like to be that kind of pessimistic, pessimistically optimistic spirit and that’s kind of what this voicemail represents to me and they both came at a time where I didn’t really know how to tie together some of these songs and these voicemails helped me do exactly that and it’s just basically, imagine everybody’s got their Eeyore character in their life, the one that is kind of always, no matter how good life is, always seems a little bit down and out and that’s exactly who Ryan is to me and reminder of innocence in a lot of ways. We all have friends like that. We all have people that leave us the voicemails that are endearing or special to us only so I thought that I would kind of showcase that human element of my personal relationships with some of my friends.
That’s awesome. I was almost ready for you to say well it sounded cool so I threw it in there. But that’s an actual answer.
Yeah it doesn’t even sound that cool. It’s hilarious too because he is an actual person and I didn’t tell him that was going to happen so when he heard it he was blown away.
That’s great. You didn’t even tell him?
I didn’t tell him. Now when he leaves me a voicemail he’s scared. He’ll be like hey man it’s Ryan. Oh shit you may be using this and I don’t really know what to say. Great.
Please don’t put this in the third album!
Yeah. No, I think he kind of enjoys the attention subtly.
Now I’m going to throw you a compliment at you. I’ve already been giving you a lot but I’m going to throw one, it might be weird, just be ready.
So the one, not so weird, when I listen to the album, I almost felt like your range, like between you’re talking, singing and screaming – you have the kind of range of like Roger Waters from Pink Floyd.
Thank you. Thank you.
I don’t know if you’re a Floyd fan, but if you have ears I’m guessing you are probably somewhat of a Pink Floyd fan.
Of course! Yeah, everybody went through their phase. I went through that. I appreciate that man.
Now your tour schedule is pretty intense. You’re going non-stop from May until the beginning of August. How do you keep that stamina up for such a long run? How do you get amped for each show?
I don’t know yet. But on the first record I think I was really excited about having an audience at all, having fans so I definitely celebrated it and partied a lot throughout it and partied a lot with our fans and that’s an every night, that’s a three year party every night pretty much and this time it’s a little bit different of a feeling within the band and the professionalism is stepped up to another level so I think just basically treating ourselves well, allowing yourself to let loose once in a while but we’d be dead if we kept doing things like we were on the first record so there is a different kind of health conscious focus that we have moving forward. Of course we’ll have the occasional drink here or there and stuff but it’s really important to us that we survive this next record and, most importantly, sound the very best that we could sound to give people their hard earned money’s worth.
You released two music videos already for the new album, you had “Hollow Moon” and a lyric video for “Windows.” They have more of a serious, artistic approach to them. Are there any plans for future music videos off the album that we’re going to see more of that fun outrageous kind of spirit that we saw on the first album with those videos like “Kill Your Heroes,” and “Not Your Fault?”
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I think I’m more pissed off than I was before on the first record. We’re just more focused so I don’t know. I’m actually figuring out exactly what to do for the “I Am” video that I am making here in the next three weeks. To me it’s all hilarious. Even “Hollow Moon,” as dark as that video is, it is still funny to me that I’m even doing that. But I guess no one else would understand that besides me. That’s a good question. I don’t know I mean I love comedy very much and really raised and studied the Wes Andersons and even more recently, What We Do In the Shadows is a game changing comedy if you haven’t seen it. It just came out on iTunes and it’s a mock of TMZ.
Basically, right now and as we’re sitting here I’d put Spinal Tap as one, I would have to, this movie, What We Do in the Shadows is number two as far as mocking series go. I recommend everybody check that out. All the Spike Jones videos, unless you have that perfect idea, it’s really hard to find that fine line of sarcastic and slapstick and I just haven’t found that for the visual yet and I just think this record is more intense and a little serious so maybe that’s why but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Yeah definitely and like you said, it’s a way more intense album. I don’t know if it calls for comedy unless it would just, maybe it would be kind of cool to have comedy with such a serious song. I guess it depends on like you said finding the right inspiration or the right tone for it.
I think not for the next video but for possibly the third video we could do that for the third single.
AWOLNATION performs this weekend at Irving Plaza.
Al Mannarino is the managing editor for Pop-Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino