AWOLNATION is really the brainchild of talented musician Aaron Bruno, whose endless hustle has landed him his highest-charting song so far, 'Sail'. The standout single from his band's first album, Megalithic Symphony, is still a modern pop rock favourite, with over 300 million streams on Spotify alone.
Despite such success early in his career, Bruno remains focused on the process, laboriously crafting albums that are all at once anthemic and intricate. With their third album imminent, three years after 2015's Run, Bruno shares with us what goes into the making of each album, and what people can expect from their upcoming third effort, Here Come The Runts, which was recorded in a studio which he built from scratch
Your debut album, Megalithic Symphony was a huge record, and it garnered a lot of attention. Looking back at the album, is there anything you would change about it?
No, I try my best to never look back. It’s all about where we’re headed.
It seemed like a whole different experience back then. I always want to write a better song and I always want to progress. So, at this moment, I’m all about looking forward and whenever I hear any song from the first record, I’m proud."
There was a four-year gap between Megalithic Symphony and Run. Tell us more about that period.
When you’re a new band or artist, there’s so many new people to meet and so many new places to go, especially when you’re becoming successful.
This wasn't an overnight success at all, rather it was us starting out in a small city and then we started getting big in our hometown and then it was domino effect. We started gaining popularity in the whole country and then it expanded overseas, but it was never overnight.
We really wanted to take our time to nurture the growth of the first record. When things were winding down for the first record in the US, it had just started getting big overseas and it didn't slow down for a long while after. The last thing I wanted to do was stunt the growth.
I had been in several other signed bands before and they didn't work out and I never thought success in music would be possible for me until Megalithic Symphony. When I was writing the first record, I was basically broke and I didn't know what was going to happen.
So when it blew up, I had never experienced having success before and it was a very strange thing to write a follow-up record because I never had the opportunity to do that before, it always ended after the first record for me. So I really took my time with it and I took a more personal approach, it was like a journal for me — except it was an open book, everyone read my entries, so to speak."
I'm sure it was a fairly scary process, wasn't it?
I was really really glad I got through that record, but it was for sure a scary album to make. Having been through the whole touring cycle for Run, making the third album was a whole different experience and it feels like this really bombastic, positive, anthemic, uplifting record, closer to the first record than it does the second.
It’s a really live-sounding record and I’ve progressed in so many ways since both those records — in a sense that I have a very clear way about how I feel about this record, compared to how I felt about the second record. I didn't know how to feel about that.
So now, I feel comfortable in my position and I’m just really excited for the record to be released."
You’ve mentioned before that, for a lot of songs you write, you don't necessarily know what they are about — that they kind of take on a life of their own later and reveal themselves to you. Do you still find this happening after all these years?
On this latest record, I found that I know more about what these songs are about before they’re completed. I have a certain amount of clarity going into the studio now and I’m going in with this focus and burning desire to make a very important pop rock album.
When I mean pop, I’m referring to the pop that I used to grow up with, like Michael Jackson and Tom Petty — stuff like that, not necessarily the pop of today. Because if you think about it, Fleetwood Mac was pop, Led Zeppelin was pop, because they were popular, and that’s what pop essentially means.
So I wanted to make a record that embodied the best parts of Bruce Springsteen’s albums, and all the other records that were so impactful to me growing up. It’s a really important record and I can’t wait for people to hear it."
There’s definitely a sound and vibration on the record that’s different from the first two records. I’m not going to say one’s better than the others but I think this is the best work I’ve done.
I always want to be progressing, and if I’m not progressing, then what’s the point? I’m kind of a homebody, I like to stay at home so being able to work in my own studio has been great for me."
— AWOLNATION's Aaron Bruno, on the band's upcoming third album, Here Come The Runts.
The upcoming album was recorded in a studio you built near your home. How did that come together?
I was lucky enough to find a place with a lot of land so I was able to build this studio that is around 400ft from my home. It’s outside, and that’s when I’m the happiest because I’m a nature lover — I surf and trek and hike all the time and I thought that would bring the best out of me, when I feel the happiest.
When I built the studio, I was definitely scared that it would not work out, because you’ll never know what could go wrong right? On day one, I pressed record and it worked beautifully and the rest is history.
There’s definitely a sound and vibration on the record that’s different from the first two records. I’m not going to say one’s better than the others but I think this is the best work I’ve done. I always want to be progressing, and if I’m not progressing, then what’s the point? I’m kind of a homebody, I like to stay at home so being able to work in my own studio has been great for me.
The most impressive thing to me about the studio is how great the drums sound. You never know how drums are going to sound in a room — like some people say they want to record drums in a castle like Led Zeppelin did, but it just doesn't sound good and that’s wasted resources.
On our single that’s out now, 'Passion', there’s a breakdown towards the end of it where the gospel choir comes in — even though those are all my voices, the drum beat behind that was actually recorded in my living room.
I kind of just put the phone down and I just felt like messing on the drums one night and the studio wasn't ready yet, so I recorded the drums on my phone. It’s this little beat that I’ve always had in my mind since I was a kid and the sound in this room was so good.
When I was thinking about how to end 'Passion', I thought it’d be cool to sample that recording. So not only did the studio sound great but my living room made it onto the record too."
It’s been a while since the release of ‘Passion’. Do you think the song is already resonating with people the way you intended?
The reception has been better than I could ever have imagined. I’ve always wanted to make music that musicians would enjoy — to keep it all as honest as possible in the sense that there’s no Autotune or any other sort of manipulation production-wise.
So for the public to enjoy it the way I do, it means a lot. There’s real playing on the record, it’s real instruments, real craftsmanship and I’m really proud of that."
In what way is 'Passion' different from the rest of the upcoming album? What made you decide to release it as the leading single for the record?
I think I wanted to give the world a boost of energy, to get the adrenaline going. It’s a good track to get the dancefloor going off right out of the gates.
It was a hard decision because there are so many songs on the record that could be single contenders. I liked the way the old albums sounded, starting off with an uptempo song and the same goes for the first single. It’s something that should really get people excited and 'Passion' does just that.
I’m still trying to live out my youth where you had to draw out people with your singles and get them excited for the record, rather than how everything’s so mundane now with downloads and all that.
The song itself, I feel, asks a very important question, being, "what is it that you’re passionate about?" And the answer will vary for every listener. For me, it’s always been music and surfing and nature, for someone else it might be food or movies, just about anything really. This is a track that I feel is pretty interactive, in a sense where it really turns the focus back onto the listener."
What would you say are the differences between your upcoming record and the past two albums?
I think the new record is pretty in line with the first record, in a sense that it’s a lot more upbeat and energetic, while the second record was a lot more dark. I think the new record would be a great live album and it really tells a story from start to end. It almost feels like a movie."
What’s one thing you would like listeners to know before hearing it?
There’ll be a few singles coming out before the release of the record and there’ll be a few short films as well, so they could really get acquainted with the new characters to follow the story of the record.
When the record is released, I hope people listen to it from start to finish to really enjoy the full experience. There’s a nice little break in the middle that should make things easier on the listener as well, because there’s a lot of energy in the record and it might get a bit overwhelming for some listeners. But I think it’s a great blend on this record.
AWOLNATION's latest record, Here Come The Runts, will be released on February 2nd on all music platforms.