Aaron Bruno started AWOLNATION in 2009. A year later their debut EP ‘Back From Earth’ was released. But it wasn’t until 2011 that one of the songs from that EP and from the band’s debut album ‘Monolithic Symphony’ became something of a phenomenon on alternative radio. The single ‘Sail’ eventually sold five and a half million digital copies and can still, nearly five years later, be heard, along with other ‘Monolithic’ hits ‘Not Your Fault’ and ‘Kill Your Heroes’ in regular rotation on your nearest modern rock radio dial.
With a first album like that, from a band that hasn’t been around long, anticipation for a follow up is understandably high. But Bruno seems to take it all in stride. He’s focused, excited and properly anxious for the world to hear AWOLNATION’s new record ‘Run’, which drops in mid March.And judging by the already excellent reception of ‘Run’s first single ‘Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)’ and the million plus hits its already snagged on YouTube, it looks as though the story of AWOLNATION is still just beginning. Interview by Dustin Griffin Photo Credit Kari Rowe From Marchs' 2015 Edition - Cover Story READ MORE ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS & MORE FREE
It’s been almost five years since the release of ‘Monolithic Symphony’. Were you writing/recording ‘Run’ that whole time or did the album come together more recently?
Aaron: Alot of ideas come to me in different walks of life, different scenarios, different situations and I’m never quite sure when these ideas are going to come. But there’s no shortage of them on my end. I’ve never had writers block and if anything I might enjoy it because then I could concentrate on these hundreds of ideas I haven’t gotten to yet.
So it’s really just a matter of time and getting to these ideas and which ideas are most important, exciting and relevant to the record I was making in ‘Run.’ So some of these songs started all the way back in the first weeks of ‘Megalithic Symphony’, all the way up to just the last couple weeks of ‘Run.’
Did the success of the last record and all that’s followed influence the songs on this one?
Aaron: I’m sure it did greatly. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get people to listen to these songs I’ve been writing and now with the acceptance of the last record, for the first time in my career, there’s actually an anticipation to hear a follow up. Which is terrifying on one hand, but also gives me a confidence that these songs are actually going to be heard by people. Which is exciting, but creates a pressure to not let the people who have become part of this AWOLNATION family down.
Mostly though I just wanted to create a really great album and hopefully look back ten years from now and see this as one of the greats of this period of time.
‘Megalithic Symphony’ was kind of an experiment. I didn’t know if anyone was going to hear it or if any of the songs were going to have any kind of commercial success. And when it did start to go that way, the fact that it was ‘Sail’ that exploded the way it did, which is the song that is most dear to my heart and soul, rather than one of the ballads or the more poppy tunes, it gave me the freedom and creative license to make the sophomore album I wanted to make.
I’ve never understood why (your previous bands) Home Town Hero and Under The Influence of Giants didn’t reach a wider audience than they did. And while AWOLNATION is definitely a progression of the some of the stuff you were doing in those bands, does it make sense to you that this band has received the success it has and those ones didn’t?
Aaron: Yeah it does, cause I’m in the centre of it. Everything happens for a reason, the old saying, and on a bigger level, I don’t think I was prepared at that time to handle any success like this. I was extremely immature and naive and ignorant to the way the world works. And I made a lot of mistakes in those bands. And I can take most of the responsibility for the first band not doing that, because I had a different headset about the way I wanted it to go versus what the label wanted. It wasn’t hard to get a record deal. I was in punk bands and hardcore bands and we worked really, really hard and worked on perfecting our live show. And I don’t think I was really writing any songs at that time that mattered. I hadn’t experienced enough true life and heartbreak to express myself in a way that people could universally identify with. AWOLNATION is heavier and deeper and darker than the stuff I had done before. So I would attribute some of those things to why this project was more successful than the others.
‘Run’ is an interesting album in that its softer moments are particularly soft and its harder moments are particularly hard. Was this juxtaposition of sweetness and anger a conscious decision for the direction of the album?
Aaron: What I want in music is passion. Maybe there’s a lack of it in the musical landscape right now. There’s some great music, some great songs, even on alternative radio. But I think I was subconsciously pushed to the edge and even past the edge of the direction I was trying to go. As a result, like you said, there are moments of extremes where there are times when there aren’t even any drums, to heaviness that could rival any metal or things that could rival any hip hop low end. It’s the kind of record that I would love I discovered and that’s really what I was going for.
How much of the music is performed solely by you in the studio?
Aaron: All of it.
And you mix it yourself as well?
Aaron: Yeah I mix it along with my engineer. The thing is, I’m mixing these songs as I’m writing them. With a lot of bands they write, do preproduction, then record, send it to someone else to get mixed and then to someone else to get mastered. I did all of those things at the same time, with the exception of mastering. As we were recording I wanted to leave the studio and be able to listen to my mixes. Learn about the song, what could be improved and the structure of it, the way I sang it, the lyrics, tones. I wanted to mix it as we went so that when the songs were done I didn’t have to spend a bunch of time mixing, which could take weeks or months even.
When you’re adapting these songs with a full band, is it difficult to replicate everything on the record for a live show?
Aaron: Yes. We’re basically a cover band. We’re covering this record and we’re doing it the best we can. Most of the bands you’ll see these days, in order to play their songs live will play them with backing tracks going along with it. So every sound on the record is coming through the P.A. system, but no one’s actually playing those sounds, which can sometimes be a necessary evil if you’re trying to get your points across. And that’s become the norm, but on this record we’re trying not to do anything like that. So maybe if on the song there’s a synth line or a string line, it doesn’t necessarily need to be there live. Maybe the guitarist interprets that string line in his own way and makes it his own and may even make it cooler live. So I kind of strategically pulled back the record and dissected it, so that maybe some of the sounds on it, you’re not going to hear.
If we wanted to replicate every sound, we’d need to be like Arcade Fire on stage, who are incredible, but we just don’t have that many members. So it’s going to be a little bit more of a raw version when you hear it live. A little heavier, a little dirtier.
One of the great things about AWOLNATION is it’s rawness though, so I don’t think you’ll hear too many complaints.
Aaron: I hope not, because if we do, then we didn’t do our job. You’d be surprised how many bands, when you see them live, have vocals coming out of the PA system. So when you see them and they’re all singing on stage, really it’s just their record coming out of the PA system. And that to me is dishonest and fraudulent and just should not be allowed. So what you see is what you get with us. There’s five of us and we’re all singing, all doing harmonies. I think it’s going to be incredible.
I want to ask about the video for ‘Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf).’ It’s really impressive from a technical standpoint. All one shot. I know from film school how much preparation these shots can take to nail. How complicated was the video to shoot?
Aaron: It was directed by Hayley Young and she was brilliant. She made a music video for a band called The Apache Relay for the song ‘Katie Queen of Tennessee.’ And I just happened to see it and I loved the video. It was also a one take video and it just blew my mind. So I found her and she hadn’t really worked with any bands that were bigger than that. And I’m always looking for the next great artist, rather than someone who is completely established. I think it’s cool to find the next hungry artist and I always want to work with passionate people. So we had a conversation on the phone and she wrote up a treatment based on our conversation. And to be honest, I couldn’t understand what the f*ck was going on when I read it. But I just showed up in kind of a leap of faith. I had never done anything like that where I had marks and places I needed to be at certain times in the song, so it was extremely complicated for me to take that all in and learn it. But the whole cast of the video were so good and already had their shit together by the time I started. So she’s pretty badass and I think she’ll go on to do great things and hopefully we’ll get to do more together. But I can take no credit for that video, it was all her vision.
Given that these albums are such singular pieces of your own vision, do you think in ten years you could look back on ‘Monolithic’ and then look back on ‘Run’ and say ‘this is a good representation of exactly who I was at that moment in time’?
Aaron: Yeah. That’s exactly what it is. Recordings are a time capsule of where you’re at at that point in your life. Still to this day, four years later, the songs I hear on the radio from ‘Monolithic Symphony’ still sound pretty great to me. And I’m still proud of them. I definitely like this new record more, because it’s new. That’s just the way it goes. But absolutely, it’s a perfect representation of me because there’s nothing to change that. When you’re in another band, there’s a pecking order and voting situation. So in past bands, maybe I wanted to go in one direction and another member of the band detoured me from going all the way there. Whereas here, there was no one to tell me what was or wasn’t good. I had to decide that on my own.
AWOLNATION’s addictive single ‘Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf) is playing all over the place and is off the upcoming album “Run” is no available. Fans can catch AWOLNATION live on tour across North America in support of the album starting May 28th. Full details and album at www.awolnationmusic.com and keep up on social media at www.facebook.com/AWOLNATION