Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably heard “Sail”, AWOLNATION’s enduring mega hit before. It’s the one that goes “Blame it on my A-D-D BABY” and has been used in a laundry list of ads, trailers and television shows, including Pretty Little Liars, Vikings, BMW ads, NBA playoff preview videos and yes, Hockey Night in Canada. The song’s crossover appeal has kept the band touring their debut album, Megalithic Symphony, for three solid years. The question now turns to how AWOLNATION plans to follow-upsuch sweeping success. We got a chance to sit down with singer/songwriter/jack-of-all-trades Aaron Bruno to talk about the band’s process, collaborations and of course – their upcoming sophomore album.
You’ve been on Red Bull records for about three years now. What was their pitch like to get you on board?
Well, the president of the label (Greg Hammer) contacted me. I’d been told that they were interested in some of the versions of the songs I’d recorded, but at this point, I really didn’t want to be on another major label – I’d already done that twice before and had my songs fail to be heard. Greg mentioned that they had this amazing studio in Santa Monica, and it was mine to use for free. That was the first major part of it. The other part of it was Eric (Steinman), their engineer. The guy was actually a friend of mine from before. That situation made me feel like I was totally in control of my destiny.
They gave you a lot of leeway to do your thing?
They gave me all the leeway. Other labels would have wanted me to work with this or that producer, but I think I went with Red Bull because they were so upfront about giving me complete control over my music.
Were there other studios competing with them at the time?
Only the studio I was working for at the time. They had the space to do it in, but it wasn’t free. I was working there, doing whatever work I could – I was broke at the time – so it wasn’t really an option in terms of recording the album I had in my head.
It’s well known that you were responsible for most if not all of the instrumentation on Megalithic Symphony. Which parts were the simplest/easiest for you? Which parts proved the most challenging?
Anything that was a challenge, I had the presence of mind to bring someone on who was better than me. For percussion, I brought in an amazing drummer named Tony Royster Jr. – a guy who worked with Jay Z – on one of our more bombastic punk rock jams called “Soul Wars”. I brought in the Watts Choir for “All I Need”, which was very cool. But even then, I layered my own vocals to weave in with them. The whole situation really felt too good to be true.
Sounds like an ideal situation.
Yeah, it really was and continues to be.
The deluxe edition of Megalithic Symphony features a ton of remixes (Dan the Automator, Ghostland Observatory). Did you guys just hand the tracks off, or was there some collaboration?
Well, Dan’s a good friend and I’m a fan of everything he does, so I just let him do whatever he wanted.
That new Deltron 3030 record is just ridiculous.
Yeah it really is. I actually sang on the new Deltron record. It’s the first full track on the record called “Nobody Can”. Loved working with those guys. Couldn’t stop listening to their first record back in the day and man, that first Gorillaz album was so influential for me.
Any other collaborations with Dan in the future?
Actually, yeah. Dan and I got to talking about making a record together. I think we’re going to start with an EP and see where it goes from there. I’m not sure which emcees he’s getting on there, but I think we’re getting started soon.
When “Sail” became a monster hit, what was going through your mind as you watched that happen?
You know, I thought it was a cool track when I finished it, but I never thought it’d become this crossover hit like it became. I thought there were other songs on the record that would have become hits before “Sail” because they were more digestible for your average listener. I also figured those would be the ones that had any chance at commercial success.
It’s been used in some pretty diverse examples, like a BMW Olympics ad, an ad for Vikings and as a floor routine on “So You Think You Can Dance”. Were there any that you were kind of iffy about?
It’s been pretty amazing to see all the places that song’s been used. I even remember seeing someone do the song on The Voice and they were talking about how much the song meant to them and how it helped them deal with some of the pain in their lives, so if I can make some music that inspires people in that way, I don’t care how it’s being used. Stuff like that’s great because it totally made my parents proud (laughs).
We’ve been looking to release your follow-up record this year.
Probably next year. No – definitely next year.
What were the key differences creatively between this one and Megalithic Symphony?
This time there’s just a lot more pressure. With the first one, I had nothing to lose. The band had developed a cult following while we were on tour, but with that record, I just put what had been floating around in my head onto it and hoped for the best. I didn’t expect much commercial success, but now that we’ve got it, there’s some pressure to keep it going. I’ve only made debut records – I’ve never made a sophomore record in my whole life. But I’ve got thirty really strong songs and I have a pretty good idea of which ones are really going to work. I’m really proud of what we’ve got coming because I think a lot of what we’re laying down is stuff that music is kind of lacking right now.
How is automatic genre-fying like that helping/hurting up and coming artists these days?
I’d rather that kind of system not exist, to be honest. We’re playing this festival (Riot Fest) today and it’s like, we’re sandwiched in with some punk bands, a bunch of metal bands, The fuckin Cure. Last week we played a show with a bunch of much heavier bands and those fans were really receptive. The week before that, we played with a bunch of poppier bands, and we were seen as the heaviest act on that bill, but people still dug it. We’re always going to be the outsider wherever we go, and that’s just fine with me to be honest.
Are there any lessons you’ve taken away from Megalithic Symphony that you’ve applied to the new record?
In terms of process, I’ve learned that when you’re writing songs, when you’re laying it all down, enjoy it and get into it. When it’s done – it’s done. It’s important to work hard and spend as much time at it as you can, but at a certain point, I’ve learned to walk away from something when it’s not working, and approach it with fresh eyes the next day. You just have to let it come to you.