AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno Talks ‘Run’ Album, First Guitar + Touring
AWOLNATION are back after monster success with the Megalithic Symphony album. Their new release is titled Run and features the breakout single "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)." Loudwire had a chance to catch up with AWOLNATION's Aaron Bruno ahead of the album's release and he discussed the creative process, how his first guitar factored into one of the songs and how anxious he is to tour in support of the new album. Check out the chat below.
First, congrats on the new album. After the success of Megalithic Symphony, what was the approach going into this one?
Just to be better. I just thought that, it’s kind of a tricky question to answer when it comes to why did you write the songs that you wrote or how did it come about because it’s just kind of an extension of my thought process I guess. So the new record is where I am right now in my life. I think it’s a little bit more personal, a little bit darker and a little bit more confident yet vulnerable at the same time and more realized maybe than the first record. I just wanted to push the boundaries even further than the first record and see how far I can take it with both structure, tones and the overall vibe and push it to the limit of a record that I would hopefully it could be one of the greatest and I want to be that. I think that maybe, just maybe other people will feel the same way.
Was there anything you learned from doing that last record that carried over into this one? Or was it a case of wanting to start fresh?
Definitely confidence was there after proving that I could do this on my own with the first record. I had that and I know a lot of people including myself get kinda bored and turned off by business talk and sort of label talk, but I will tell you that there is basically no label involved in the making of Run. It was just me and my engineer and I just wrote and recorded this thing until it was ready and only then did I show anyone that works with us. So I suppose the biggest difference was that no one heard it ever until it was done. So by the time I turned it in and said check it out, if they hated it, it would have been a bummer for sure, but the reaction has been pretty overwhelming and the reaction has been just as good as my wildest dreams. So I got to give credit to really great hand to the president of the label, for not getting in my way at all. Just kind of letting me extend on what I created on the first record. So hopefully this is just 2.0 version of myself.
You obviously have your hands all over this record just as you did the last record, but AWOLNATION are now more of a band. Knowing that Kenny and Drew were going to be around, can you talk a little bit about maybe what that meant in terms of putting this album together?
I didn’t think about that at all. The songs are God to me. They are the most important thing to me. First and foremost is the song. Even I put the song before myself. So anyone that’s involved in this process understands that’s the model. Songs and the sounds comes first and then personalities and real life are secondary.
Having said that, even though Drew didn’t necessarily play guitar on the record, he’s one of my favorite guitar players in the world, so I would think that he definitely influenced some of the tones I got, or some of the guitar lines that I’d written and his taste in my opinion is extremely, extremely good. So I suppose wanting to impress someone like Drew, who I’ve always looked up to on a taste basis when we were little kids, he’s definitely inspiring to me.
Wanting to turn to that band and saying check it out, here’s what it is and hopefully blowing their minds. So I think I was pushed in that way. Because what if I was like, here are the songs and they are like these songs suck, I don’t want to be in your band. That would be heartbreaking. So I definitely had them in the back of my mind as far as wanting to impress them and creating an album that would be very exciting and hopefully something that they would want to be a part of and pour their souls into and so far that was the case.
There's definitely a darker tone on this record and the songs are first and foremost for you. Did you have a goal in mind of things you wanted to address lyrically?
No, not really. It was just what was on my mind at the time. I think I felt a little bit more vulnerable and a little bit more I think I tackled more relationship issues. I don't know. I think I admitted a lot of my faults in this record in a way I have never really done before, which maybe some people I did too much [laughs] on previous songs. Nothing is ever extremely calculated with me. Once I record the song, I take as much time as I need to perfect it to my ears. Lyrically, I never sit down and say I'm going to write this kind of lyric, or that kind of lyric. It's just what's on my mind at the time and what's coming out of my heart.
What is coming out of your heart? You're being more vulnerable on this record. Is that hard to pull that out, songwriting wise, and knowing people are going to looking this over and maybe analyzing or getting insight into who you are?
No, because I am who I am, not to quote Popeye [laughs]. Take it or leave it, I'm not going to change. I'm not going to sing someone else lyrics or act in some sort of way other than exactly who I am, so I say what's on my mind. For better for worse. It wasn't hard to do because it's all I know how to do, say what I feel lyrically and address subject matters that are maybe a little bit more uncomfortable for people at times but certainly are always on our minds.
So, I think that this record, I was able to finally say exactly what I wanted to say because I had the confidence to and I didn't know what else to say other than that. I wasn't thinking, "OK if I talk about this subject then we'll sell more records." That wasn't a thought in my mind. I just wanted to make the best piece of art I was capable of and make a record that people will talk about for years and hopefully an album that a lot of people's favorite album of all time. That was my goal. Whether or not I did that is really up to the listener but I definitely think it's good. I can't wait for people to hear the whole thing because right now people are just hearing the single and while I love the single, that just scratches the surface of what's beneath the rest of it.
"Hollow Moon" has been suck in my head now for a couple of weeks, so catchy.
Thank you or I'm sorry, I'm not sure.
[laughs] It's good. Can you talk about that song and maybe where that landed in terms of the dominoes of putting this album together? I know you're big on the whole experience of the album.
That was one of the earlier songs I wrote, so that was encouraging that the team collectively thought that was a good way to lead off of this record. Sometimes you're favorite song is the newest song. Just like the honeymoon phase of a relationship is always so exciting, the best sex, you find out all sorts of new s--t and sweating a lot and all this passion and raw energy is coming up. Something in that song still feels like the honeymoon phase and that's usually a good sign or a good way for me to judge a song at least.
There have been many songs where I thought it was amazing and then six months later it's embarrassing. [laughs] I'm my worst critic by far, so by the time there's not much people can say that I haven't already thought of. There are lines I guess, I guess lyrically on that one, I don't like to talk too much about song meanings but I suppose in a nutshell I can say that, that song is about facing your fears straight on because eventually you have to to overcome these fears.
Maybe subconsciously it was kind of about facing the fear of a sophomore follow up. There's always that slump stigma, for example. Weezer with Pinkerton, when that came out me and all my buddies thought it was a brilliant record and on a business level that record ended up failing and it sent Rivers into a downward spiral where he just locked himself in this room and I'm sure most people who are familiar or who care about Weezer at all or his story, it's truly heavy. I can see how that can happen, if you make this sophomore follow up record and you think you've done something kind of out there, or push the boundaries a little bit like I think they did for that record and then have it not translate and how disappointing that would be. Actually, I've become buddies with Rivers and we've talked about this.
That's a scary notion for sure. So, a lot of the time during the making of this record I was facing that fear of failure. Then I realized somewhere along the line, as long as I'm really proud of this record and I feel like I've pushed the limits that I'm capable of and it expanded and grew as a songwriter and grew as a producer whatever you want to call me, then I can sleep at night. I did that and now the rest of this is up to the stars aligning one way or another but i'll promise you that we'll do our very best to convey this message live and take it to a whole other dimension from the last record.
I'm sure you're anxious to get out and play live. Can you talk about what you're looking forward to getting into the set and sharing with fans at this point?
I just want to play the first song on the record Run over and over again. If it were up to me we'd only play that song for 20 minutes, five times in a row. That's not possible. There's just so much on this record that's going to be extremely fun to play live. I just think it's going to be real brutal live, extremely heavy. We're definitely fired up to take it to the next level and we want to be the best possible.
Can you take me up onstage and give me a little idea of what it's like for you to perform for an audience? The feeling that you get back from the crowd.
It's a dream come true, man. It really is. Coming up in the hardcore / punk rock scene it really was always about singing along. So, I would see these shows as a kid from anywhere from 20 people to a couple of hundred people singing passionately lyrics that were almost unlistenable. You would never know what these lyrics where unless you cared enough to read the actual layout of the record and read the lyrics because it was all screaming or yelling. So, the unity of a room was alway what moved me the most about live shows where everybody would be singing the same stuff, it was like one big family uniting to celebrate music and kind of scream out your emotions and passionately express yourself in a way that is unlike anything else.
That's always been my goal with songs I've written or live shows, is somehow tap into that feeling and energy and unity that I've only found in the punk and hardcore scene. It was really hard for me to find that epic environment in mainstream music or popular music of any kind. It does exist, of course but it's few and far between. That's always the goal, to get everyone to sing along, really. So, when that happens and I can hear people singing my lyrics, my ideas coming back to me almost louder than the PA system. It doesn't get any better than that for me and I don't care if it's 20 people or 70,000 people, it doesn't matter. If there's a unity going on, I'll take that whichever size it is any day.
"I Am," I think is a great song off this record. Talk a little bit about that song and maybe where that came in the process of putting this together?
That was definitely towards the end. Probably the fourth quarter, I would call it, of the writing and recording of the record. What's interesting about that song, I guess is that there's nylon string plucking in the intro, right? The first verse, both verses have this acoustic classical guitar and that guitar was what I had learned how to play on, my dad taught me on. The guitar, I didn't know what happened to it, but it was beat up as a young punk kid. I carved my punk band the Ice Monkeys into this awesome guitar and probably broke my dad's heart but he never said anything about that. I put X's on it, and kind of destroyed it. It basically vandalized this guitar. I only recently, I think it was now I want to say maybe two years ago or maybe longer, but I found this guitar in my dad's guitar and said oh my god, I have to fix this thing! It felt so great to hold and has this whole history to it, it meant a lot to me.
I took it to our local guitar place and had them rebuild the guitar, sand it down, try to get rid of all the bullshit I did to it and make it playable and they did. I ended up writing a lot of the songs, at least a lot of the melodies with that guitar and the guitar you're hearing in those verses, that are clearly nylon string stuff, I wrote one very late night and quiet because people were sleeping around me. So what you're hearing, as far as the guitar goes in those verses, is actually what I did into my phone just trying to be quiet and I was probably very drunk [laughs] or maybe have been some green stuff involved but I know it was very quiet and strategically shy and that's what ended up writing that whole song for me. So it started with that moment where I just had this nursery rhyme chord progression in my head and recorded it and it was time to work on a new song and that was in my voice memo. This actually sounds kind of cool, even though I recorded it into my phone. So, the rest is history. It ended up being one of the bigger sounding songs on the record, possibly one of the most anthemic songs. I'm glad I did that because I was such a weirdo in that moment, with that guitar.
Side note, that guitar was in tune shockingly very well for a while and now I can't even get the thing to tune at all. It was almost like I was blessed with it working for only so long and now that the record is done, it no longer works.
There goes my next question. I was going to ask if you ever brought that out live.
No, it's just too special. It's too precious to bring it out and have some ... I'd be so mad at whoever messed it up that I wouldn't even want to be that vulnerable with anger.
Also, recently 50 Shades Of Grey hit the box office and you have a song in there. The cover of Springsteen's "I'm on Fire." If you want to talk about how that came to be.
A woman that was affiliated with the movie came and listened to some early versions of some of the songs on the record because she was looking for some film and TV placements. She was a fan and we kind of hit it off. She mentioned that there's a massive movie coming up that was looking for certain covers and she mentioned that Springsteen song, which I don't love very much. I never do cover songs. I've only ever done three total and I thought I'd give it a try. I thought it was an opportunity to record a great song. Very easy to do, obviously because he already wrote this perfect song. All I can do is just mess it up. So I decided to approach it with a darker, moodier feel I guess. The rest is history. I ended up sending it in, didn't hear anything for about a year and all of a sudden it's in this massive movie.
So, it wasn't very planned out. It just happened organically. For me, I don't expect anything from it. It was just something I was proud of. I like the way it sounds and definitely a lo-fi, strange interpretation of it I suppose. But, to me it's free advertisement to check out another side that maybe some people don't know about me. So many people know stuff off of Megalithic Symphony and "Sail," especially. So it was nice to kind of show that side because there are a lot of moments on the new record that tap into that darker, more valid-esque feeling. It was kind of cool to promote that side of my voice.
I love your version of it, giving it that darker tone.
I didn't know what else to do, it's kind of just what happened. We did that in about three hours of time. The hardest part is coming up with the song, coming up with the lyrics and if you know what you're doing the rest falls into place. That was the easiest recording experience of my whole life because the song was already great. So it was just a fun experience for me. I don't know exactly, I haven't seen the movie or when the song shows up or doesn't, if it's cool or not. But I know a lot of people got to hear it, so I'm grateful for that.
Obviously a big year ahead of you. Do you want to tease what's coming up for the band at this point?
Just lots of touring and expanding on this record and doing the best we can to welcome everybody to Run and sort of see what makes people tick and what we're running from and what we're running to, all in one.
Our thanks to AWOLNATION's Aaron Bruno for the interview. Be sure to check out his Run album, which is in stores now. You can pick it up in a variety of bundle options here. And look for AWOLNATION on the road at these locations.