Breaking Into ‘Run’: An Interview with Awolnation Mastermind Aaron Bruno

Aaron Bruno talks AWOL's new album 'Run,' the impact of Nirvana and honesty in music performance.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

AWOLNATION 

AWOLNATION released their sophomore studio album Run in March via Red Bull Records, the highly anticipated follow-up to the smash-success debut Megalithic Symphony. Written, performed and produced entirely by nucleus Aaron Bruno, Run is a sprawling, explosive 14-track thrust of eroticism, aggression and connective celebration.

The lockpoint to the band’s initial foothold on success was “Sail,” a grinding lust-fuck of a song that sidestepped mainstream trend for throb-blast sensual rock. The track spent a record 79 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, kicking open the door for Aaron’s full artistic bloom within the Awol box.

Radio is not leaving this new record alone. There’s an undeniable pop gravity to “Woman, Woman,” with a volume-mandate chorus, while the creeping “Jailbreak” digs into your head irrevocably. From the blasting riot of “KOOKSEVERYWHERE!!!” to the gorgeous weary heart of “Headrest for My Soul,” the FM dial should be deep in AWOL goodness by Summertime – just enough time to get familiar before they kick your ass on tour (dates below).

Bruno’s narrative focus has shifted from the macro to the micro, an introspective journey laced with existentialistic mantras, wrapped around melodic phrasing as catchy as nursery rhymes. These sounds are designed to stick in your head, and they succeed in their purpose, gorgeously.

 

With an extensive U.S. summer tour planned, including a stop at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the year is looking pivotal for Awolnation. We caught up with Aaron Bruno on a gorgeous morning in Southern California, days before the release of Run, to discuss the road ahead, the new album’s driving essence and the importance of taking risks in live performance.

 

Thanks for making such a killer soundtrack to the past month of my life. It’s a good companion for metamorphosis.

Thanks man. That’s always been my goal, to make a record you can have that experience. Because that’s what I’ve done, with a lot of the records I loved growing up. So to hear that, that’s an accomplishment to me, man. I could die tomorrow, it’s all good. 

Was there an intention to give a sense of sonic consistency from the first record? There’s obviously an expansion on sound and craft, but a song like “Kookseverywhere” is a perfect pairing with “Burn It Down”.

It’s very instinctive, the way I go about songwriting and recording. And while I’m very proud of the first record and I still love a lot of those songs, I think the massiv success of “Sail” over any other song gave me license to do whatever I want, push the boundaries and go further and weirder – make the music I really wanted to make. 

Looking back, I just feel so lucky that such a strange outlier became such a massive song. I gained a lot of people’s trust that way, so I was able to expand on that and go even further with this record. Not that it was intentional, but I definitely felt a lot more confidence doing exactly what I wanted. 

“Sail” is most definitely one of the ultimate sex songs.  

I can see it firsthand a lot of times at the shows. It’s an interesting song that touches on a lot of different emotions. Guys tend to feel a little bit of the angst of the song, while the girls can tend to take it in a more sensual or sexual way. So it’s nice that you can get everyone on that one, especially with such a strange song. And that’s what I was trying to expand on with this record. I just wanted to make the best album I could make, that people could potentially consider one of their favorites of all time.

Is it fair to assume that the shows will begin the same way the album does? With “Run” setting the pace and tone for what’s to come.

Absolutely. I remember when I came up with that song, it was like ‘This is what’s gonna start the record, this is what I want to play first for the rest of my life, this is what I want to get tattooed all over myself.’ That was the feeling and the mood and the bar that was set for me as far as intensity. I had a bunch of other songs written by that point, but once “Run” came to be it felt like ‘Okay, now I’ve got myself an album here.’ 

The nursery rhyme you hear in the beginning, the first lyrics you hear on the whole record, that’s kind of a riddle I came up with on tour that I’ve been trying to place in different areas. Different parts of songs live, where we’d embellish the jams a little bit or whatever, I would throw that over different rhythms. 

So I came up with that opening line, the synth line, and the intensity came with the strings, and I knew: this is the bed I’m going to lie this nursery rhyme on. I was so happy that the idea I’d had for the last three years was going to start the record, as a call to arms for our fans and anyone else, admitting how truly vulnerable and terrible we can be. And once you do that, you can get better from that point. But you have to face your fears and face the mirror and admit your shortcomings in order to grow. So it was my way of saying listen, I feel just as weird as you guys do.

Aaron Bruno on SXSW, Bonnaroo, Nirvana & more: Page 2