Posted by: brad – Jun 16, 2015
Has anyone accurately described AWOLNATION's sound?
Sure, there are tons of bands that defy genres like The 1975, but those bands still have a distinct sound despite all the different influences they carry. AWOLNATION though - how do you really describe a band's sound when they go from electronic industrial on "Sail" to pure indie rock on "Not Your Fault" to electro-pop on "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)?"
Despite the inability to identify the band's sound, clearly AWOLNATION is doing well for themselves. Their 2011 debut Megalithic Symphony was a bigger success than anyone could have predicted and their latest album Run seems to expand on the musical diversity of the first record in a way that can be a bit exhausting, but is overall much more rewarding. With a stronger critical reception and a much more established presence in the musical world, AWOLNATION seems primed to take things to the next level while still merging every genre the band listened to growing up whether it be post-hardcore, soul, or dance music.
AWOLNATION returns to Richmond tonight at The National and before the show, we got to talk to the creative genius behind the band, Aaron Bruno. He opened up about the genesis of their new record, but also shined a lot on his song-writing and general musical influences that really exposed the way his musical mind operates. His answers all painted a perfect picture of the man behind such a musically diverse band and gave a lot of clarity to AWOLNATION's loveable, scattered sound.
After the gradual success of your first album, do you think patience has become one of the best virutes you could have?
Yeah, definitely. The whole experience of the first record ended up being a life lesson for me, but I didn't have to learn patience because I already had it since it had taken me so long to get to the position I was at. Also, I didn't really anticipate the success that it ended up taken so I wasn't in a rush at all. For this record, one thing I've learned is our music seems to connect with right away and you're in or you're interested enough to listen again. Those have always been the best albums to me. My favorite records growing up where ones I listened to once and said, "That was pretty cool. I can't wait to listen to that again." It just grew and grew with time. I find that the more time the better for me because I think my music takes a little bit of education because of all the different twists and turns. It's like watching Inception for the first time. "Do I really understand if they were in a dream or not? I have to watch it again!" My music carries a similar vibe I think.
Is the approach to your music where the hodgepodge of genres and styles comes from?
I'd love to be real sly and tell you that it's intentional, but it's not. It's just what I do. I like so many kinds of songs and artists that I feel a wide variety makes it way into my sound. At the end of the day, we're just recycling different influences that we've learned in our lives from all the music we've listened to or all the art we've seen. Everybody writes songs for different reasons. When it comes down to the kind of songwriters I respect and who have made real careers for themselves, they all seem to share that commonality of being aware that the influences are coming from all the stuff we simply grew up on. Even now, I'm finding new influence from music, hopefully on a daily basis. I'm constantly looking for new music for me, even if it's old music that I haven't heard. That's often more exciting for me usually because it opens up this world I wasn't aware of previously. There are new records that come out each year that I really tip my hat off though.
What new stuff is really resonating with you right now?
I'm almost off this, but the new Blur record I really love very much. There's a couple of songs there in particular, ones called "Ghost Ship" and the other is "My Terracotta Heart." Those two songs - I'm really jamming on them right now. Just great songs. As far as old, there’s a song by the artist named Donnie and Joe Emerson that's called "Baby." It's a very unique and original name of course, but that song and that record is really cool. It came out in the 70s and was overlooked until someone discovered it. It became this hip thing a couple years back, but I'm still enjoying it right now. Very similar to the [Sixto] Rodriguez story. Everybody knows about the Rodriguez documentary [Searching For Sugar Man] and what that did for his career. I was lucky enough to discover him right before the documentary came out cause a friend asked me what I thought of him and I hadn't heard him. I thought it was going to be this more Enrique Iglesias thing when he asked me what I thought of someone named Rodriguez. That's just what I thought of. I was pleasantly surprised when it was a mostly undiscovered Dylan record. I just love stories like that.
I know you were working on this record forever, but as your first record became this massive success, did you start to get nervous or anxious about the follow-up?
No, because I was always working on it one way or another even if I was working on songs that weren't that good or ideas that were clearly just too radical to appear on a normal record. All along through touring, travelling, and the up and downs of the first record, I always had my mind set on the excitement of making a sophomore follow-up. In the first year of Megalithic Symphony, it was going well and I think we were aware that at the very least, we'd have a gold single and maybe do well with the other singles. Each month that went by, it kept growing and growing so I was able to use that slow growth as kind of a blanket or comfort zone for me knowing that I had all the time in the world to make this follow-up.
Since you were working on it for so long, what kind of drastic changes did the album go through from inception to completion?
Let's just say it wouldn't have been as good if it had come out a year ago. It would have been a stranger record, although I'm aware of how strange it is now. It would have been much, much, much more bizarre though. If it had come out a year ago, there would have been probably a lot less commercial songs than ended up being on the record. There were definitely points throughout that I was very prooud of the record as a piece of art from front to end. It took me a while to find that anthemic kind of quality in my songs and present them back to our fan base. There were times where there were songs I'd only sing for basically a verse and then it'd go onto this musical epic for the next eight minutes. I loved those moments, but they didn't really make sense for the record and certainly didn't satisfy the listeners that I had gained. I wanted to make sure that there was enough material to have something for everyone on the record and not just this self-indulgent art piece.
Do you find it hard to the straddle the line between being brilliantly anthemic or wildly self-indulgent?
I guess. I can't sit down and try to write a big hit on a whim. That's not how I operate and I wish I could. Whatever idea is most important and exciting to me is what I'm going to be working on that that moment, even if that song could never be on radio or could never even be played live. Those ideas are very important to me at that moment in time and it's important that I see them all the way through and let it come to life. After that, then I can decide what's going to be heard and what's not going to be heard. You know when you have sort of a to-do list when you wake up in the morning or at the beginning of the week. Re-arrange a bookshelf, make sure the laundry's right, drop off dry cleaning, clean out and re-arrange my closet; all these different things that you know you need to do and if you don't, you know it will eat you up inside. That's sort of how it is for me and song ideas. I like to clean and rearrange my "closet" as often as I can so I can choose which clothes I actually will be wearing and which ones I need to giveaway.
It's prime concert season now. Do you have any shows you're specifically looking forward to? Outside of Richmond of course.
Oh, we're in a stretch now with some festivals that is great. Our headlining shows and our tour is obviously the most exciting show for us and Richmond will be no different. It's our real fans, our own set-up, and our own family-like environment we've created for ourselves. Our own little world if you will. When you play festivals, you don't have as much control over that so that also makes it exciting to change it up a bit. Festivals to me are very much like a reunion where you go and see everybody else and what they've been up to. I didn't go to my ten year reunion and I have no idea what that would have been like had I gone. Could have been good and bad, who knows? Anyway, we have three shows that we've been looking forward to for a while, one of which we just did. We did Bonnaroo, which we've never done before so that's exciting, where we shared the stage...actually, it's more that we shared the flyer with Robert Plant. There's one check off the list for me. Then we play the Firefly Music Festival with Paul McCartney this weekend so there's another check for me as far as flyers go. Then almost directly after that, we're open for with The Rolling Stones at the football stadium in Pittsburg. Those three - I don't even know what to do after those.
It's probably easy to get star-struck when meeting those people. Is there anyone that would completely throw you off if you looked over mid-show and saw them on the side of the stage singing along to every word?
Of course, but it would never happen because it's so farfetched. To see Jeff Lynne care at all about the music I've written - that'd be a dream come true. I've said it multiple times that he's one of the last living recording legends. So many of the great songs I loved growing up came from him or had his fingerprints on it. His involvement with Roy Orbison, the surviving members of The Beatles, and Tom Petty all the way down to his work with Electric Light Orchestra - everything he did is kind of overwhelming to me. I just want to have a cup of tea with him one day. That’s all I'm asking for in this life.
AWOLNATION plays The National tonight with Family Of The Year and Parade Of Lights. For more information on the show and where to buy tickets, click here.
Words by Doug Nunnally