Interview with AWOLNATION

We’ve been fans of AWOLNATION since the first day we heard the song ‘Sail’ and got our hands on their debut album ‘Megalithic Symphony’ back in 2011. 2015 saw the band release their sophomore album ‘Run’ for which a headlining supporting tour is now underway. Before the tour hits Philadelphia on November 10th for a show at ‘The Fillmore’ in Fishtown, we spoke with frontman Aaron Bruno about the tour, his creative process, his critics, 15 minute songs, and a slew of other topics. If you’re already heading to the show, need a little extra motivation to pick up your ticket, or just want to learn a little more about the man behind the band, you’ve come to the right place!

Independent Philly: Let’s start with the basics, how did you come up with the name ‘AWOLNATION’?

Aaron Bruno: AWOL is a nickname I was going with for a while in high school and when it became time for me to create something new I figured I may as well attach a ‘NATION’ to it and shoot for the stars. I figured that if I had an ambitious name, maybe there would be an actual, hypothetical nation of listeners that would come and follow. Somewhere along the line it became more than just that and it has a deeper meaning to our fans and myself. Which is a way to, it’s a musical place that people can go to where they don’t need to explain themselves. It’s music for everyone. I see personally, with my own eyes, that we have fans of all different ages, shapes, and sizes, different styles, and the whole thing. So yeah, that’s what AWOLNATION is all about.

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Independent Philly: You released your second studio album ‘RUN’ earlier this year. Personally we love the album but the reviews have been mixed. We wanted to know how you handle some of the harsher criticism that you hear on a personal level. Does that affect you or do you do a good job of just ignoring it?

Aaron Bruno: It’s tricky because you can read one review that says the nicest, best things that you could ever read about your music, and then at the same time come across one that is more negative or challenging to hear or read. I think at first it was tricky for me because on the first record, no one really reviewed it because it just sort of came out unknown, and slowly blew up, sort of under the radar in a weird way. This was the first time that a lot of the people who missed the opportunity to review the first record, came strong on this one. Reading the negative stuff wasn’t too bad because I didn’t really agree with it so you just sort of read it and move on. You’re always going to have haters, especially on a sophomore follow-up record. A lot of folks don’t want to see you dominate the airwaves, again, so of course they are going to hate a little bit and that’s just sort of part of it man. It wasn’t the best experience of all of it but you have to have thick skin and I learned to grow a thick skin quickly. If it was all bad, it would be sad, but it’s been right down the middle. I’ve either heard people being offended by how ambitious the record is on a studio level, or said it’s one of the best records of the past five years. So, I guess I’ll take either rather than someone just sort of being indifferent. I want people to have passion.

Independent Philly: You guys kicked off the ‘RUN 2.0’ tour in Seattle within the last two weeks. How has the start of the tour been thus far?

Aaron Bruno: It’s been great. We have a great line-up here. We have Meg Myers on tour and she brings a lot of passion and energy to the show. Then the first band is a band called ‘Irontom’ who happens to be a band that I’m working with and producing, and writing with as well. It’s one big happy family and the shows have been incredible. We were just in Austin at Stubbs and it was a beautiful night, packed, sold-out, the whole thing. It was great so yeah, we’re feeling good.

Independent Philly: You guys are rolling into Philadelphia on November 10th for a show at the Fillmore. What can fans expect from an AWOLNATION performance if they’ve never had a chance to see you play in person before?

Aaron Bruno: I don’t know what they can expect but most people are usually shocked with how much more brutally heavy it is live than it is on record. There’s a lot of different things I do in the studio to get these songs to sound the way they do, where, when we take it to the live situation, it’s really about taking it to another level and it’s a little bit more raw, a little dirtier, and very interactive. So I think if you come to a show, you’ll walk away being kind of tired. It’s an overwhelmingly emotional experience, both physically and mentally I think. Most of the time, we at least, walk off the stage feeling like we really connected with the crowd and crowd participation is highly recommended and welcome. The louder people sing along, the better the show sounds and feels and ultimately, the only dream I’ve ever had is to play a show for people where people sing the lyrics back to me and we can all unite and bond over the power of music. That’s sort of what our shows wind up being.

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Independent Philly: Do you have a favorite memory from a past show in Philly?

Aaron Bruno: I don’t know if it’s my favorite memory but it’s a memory that stands out off the top of my head. We played this outdoor show, maybe it was a block party sort of show, and it was raining, and the rain delayed our set by an hour. Once we went back on…this is a great memory actually…no one left. I was thinking, “Well shit, it’s raining so bad that most people are going to go home, I probably would too”. But sure enough, everyone stuck around and championed through it and the show went off and it was a great, great, great show. During the show, I guess a couple had just gotten married. He was still in his tux and she was still wearing her full bridal outfit and they rushed the stage. I still to this day don’t know where they came from or how they got on stage, but they came on stage, this newly-wed couple, and danced a little bit before security threw them out. That stands out for me too, and I think a couple of the bridesmaids made their way on stage and maybe one of them tripped. So I think we were blessed by their love and hopefully they are still together and never got a divorce.

Independent Philly: One of my personal favorite AWOLNATION songs is ‘Knights of Shame’. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be ‘Schizophrenic’. How did the writing process go for a song that changes styles and moods so many times within the almost fifteen minutes that it lasts?

Aaron Bruno: Well thank you for saying that. That was one of the last songs I wrote for ‘Megalithic Symphony’ and I remember feeling like, “Okay, I have everything I want for this album right now,” and I had this goal or desire to have a long song to keep your attention. We’ve all heard six to eight minute songs that have these long jams and self-indulgent guitar solos and all that, and there was a time and place for that back in the day, certainly in the 70’s with Rock N’ Roll music. I almost wanted to make a pop song really, to keep your attention that was that long. I started with the acapella intro and then I just kept adding parts to it. I didn’t know if it was going to be a song that I could actually release or not, it was a challenge I presented myself with, so I just kept going and actually didn’t listen to it, in its entirety from the beginning, until probably about ten minutes in. So I would wake up every day and pick up where I left off, at minute, let’s say 3:27 or whatever, and I would press space bar from there, and figure out what seemed like it should come next. It was very exciting and it was definitely an exercise in discipline because, trust me, I definitely wanted to hit it from the front and find out what the fuck I just had done, but instead I just kept my head down and kept making the song until it was past the ten minute point. Then I sat back and was like, “Wow, this is completely strange what I just did,” and I love it. It ended up being definitely a crowd favorite live, believe it or not, so it was a very victorious feeling that anyone had listened to the whole thing, you know? Cause if I’m listening to a song on a CD, because I still like CDs actually physically in my hand, and I see that it says ’12 minutes’, I’m thinking, “There is no way I’m gonna enjoy this for 12 minutes of my life, there’s no way”. So that was my goal.


Independent Philly: What emotions were invoked in you when long time member Drew Stewart left AWOLNATION and what is the process like when you need to replace a band member like that after so much time?

Aaron Bruno: I think that it’s just like any other relationship in life, it has ups and downs and some relationships are meant to be forever and some are not. There are so many ups and downs on tour and circumstances sort of dictate who’s going to be in the band and who isn’t going to be in the band. It’s sad when you have friends that you care about it sort of doesn’t wind up working out but it’s like any other relationship where breaking up is hard to do, as the famous song says. But if it’s not right, it’s not right, and it’s all about being positive and trying to be the best band we could ever be. Any way we can make the show better is really the most important thing to me.

Independent Philly: Halloween just passed recently. Do you have a favorite Halloween costume that you’ve worn, either as an adult or as a kid?

Aaron Bruno: I always thought that Daniel’s shower curtain Halloween costume in ‘Karate Kid’ was my favorite costume. I’ve always wanted to steal that but I haven’t done it. This is a really boring answer but I’m just not a big Halloween guy. I’m not really into dressing up at all. I’m not a huge fan of evil and of darkness and I try my best to stay away from it whenever I can. Halloween seems to bring out the worst in people so I just kind of avoid it altogether.

Independent Philly: The flipside of that coin is that Thanksgiving is fast approaching. What are you most thankful for this year?

Aaron Bruno: I just got married so it would be very strange if I didn’t mention that I am very thankful and grateful that there is someone in the World who would marry me, first of all. I’m grateful for that and the truth is, the sophomore record was a scary thing to do, and we made it through that supposed sophomore slump scenario and it’s going really well and I’m just glad to sort of have that off my chest. I’m thankful for that as well as it sort of pertains to band stuff. I’m just really grateful that my family is still together and everyone seems to be healthy right now, so that’s the main thing I’m thankful for right now. One more thing I’m thankful for: I still wake up every morning blown away that people are still listening to my music. I don’t take that for granted and it’s a very serious miracle for me. That some people, some bands, think that…have a sense of entitlement, like, “This is how it’s supposed to go,” when it’s really not, and I know from so many failures before AWOLNATION that this is a really hard thing to have happen, and for the stars to align to have success in such a difficult industry, I can’t even tell you how thankful I am for that. I remind myself every day that I wake up that this has happened and sometimes I wonder if someone is going to knock on the door in the morning and wake me up and say, “Hey, just kidding! None of this happened”! Just like, fuck me, you know? So I’m just very thankful that people care enough to listen to these songs.

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Independent Philly: Obviously you’re out on the road right now and already released ‘RUN’ earlier this year but are you already working on any new music? Are you one of those artists who is constantly working on new music in your head?

Aaron Bruno: Constantly working on new music in my head but I have taken a little bit of a break from AWOLNATION songs since the record was done. It was an emotional experience for me so it’s been nice to just relax and enjoy these songs and I’ve been able to put my producer hat on for a couple of other artists, Irontom, who is on tour with us, being one of them, so I encourage everyone to check them out early on in the night because they place first of three at the shows. It’s a labor of love because I believe in these kids a lot and I’m kind of searching for unknown artists or bands who haven’t had a break yet, because I know how that feels as well. There have been many people along my journey who have helped and believed in me and sometimes you just need someone to mentor you and give you that break or that help to open up the door to a bunch of opportunities. I feel passionate about doing that for other people because I’ve been blessed to have people like that in my life who have helped me along my way.

Independent Philly: Finally, please tell us something about yourself that would surprise or even shock our readers.

Aaron Bruno: Maybe some would know this but most do not know that I am 80% deaf in my left ear and that it’s been something that I could have looked as a negative thing growing up but I’ll tell you two positive things about it. One: I don’t know if they still do this in elementary school or not but, when I was a kid, they would have hearing tests and it was a very simple thing to do. But, what it meant most importantly was, that you got to get out of class. So, every year when that came around, I was excited that I got to leave class and I’d just take my sweet time to get back to the classroom and so I would spend all day basically doing these hearing tests, just so I wouldn’t have to be in class. So that was one positive way of me basically ditching, legally, so that was cool. Also, I like to think that it sort of gives me a different perspective than people who can hear fully. If you actually listen to my mixes, some of my favorite instruments or sounds, I like to pan to the right because that’s my good ear. So maybe that gives me a sort of an edge, I don’t know.

We can’t wait for AWOLNATION to rock the hell out of the Fillmore and we’ll see you there if you know what’s good for you!

[Interview by David Miller]

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