When Aaron Bruno released Megalithic Symphony, he kept his expectations in check. He had already experienced professional disappointment, having been in acts that gained traction, were signed, then fizzled. That’s the reason he took matters into his own hands, writing and recording AWOLNATION’s curious debut by himself. It never would have happened without Red Bull Records offering free use of its studio, part of the unique arrangement the label has with burgeoning artists.
Then something amazing happened. “Sail” reached the airwaves and spent 20 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. Already a bona fide hit, the song experienced a second life as a viral sensation, being featured on So You Think You Can Dance, a trailer for the History Channel series Vikings, an episode of The Vampire Diaries and the A&E crime thriller Longmire. It was even used as a soundtrack to a YouTube video by extreme sports maven Jeb Corliss that has racked up more than 27 million views. And that’s just for starters. The song has been certified 6x Platinum, selling more than 5.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.
With all of this exposure, anticipation for a follow-up was intense. Despite the announcement it would be released in 2014, RUN didn’t reach listeners until this past March. A dense listen stuffed with abstruse lyrics and shifting momentums, it’s not your typical pop record. Puzzled reactions were delivered accordingly. Yet like the previous album, the new disc’s mysterious appeal has taken hold and the first single, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf),” recently hit No. 1, a feat “Sail” never accomplished.
MC chatted up Bruno about solving songwriting riddles, why “Sail” took off and what it means to have so many ears tuned in to one’s artistic vision.
Music Connection: How has the release of this new album been different from the first?
Aaron Bruno: Everything about it was different. With the first record, “Sail” was doing well at radio and multiple stations said, “We’re never going to play this.” And I agreed with them. Towards the end, when I thought it couldn’t go any further, it crossed over to the pop world and went to another level. It allowed me to have as much time as I wanted to make RUN and truly make a strange, dark record I could hang my hat on.
I like to take my time. I like to keep it as instinctual as I can, allow the ideas to flow through me and throw them away if I want. I feel blessed, because if I had to rush it I don’t know what I would’ve turned in. Maybe it would’ve been cool, maybe not. But I couldn’t be more proud of what it ended up being and the impact it’s having.
MC: Yeah, it’s great stuff. Was it a challenge writing material for this album without having the pain of lack of success that inspired you to write the first album?
Bruno: Yeah, absolutely. I think I spent the first half of the making of the new record sort of digesting what had happened. When you’re in the middle of it, you just have your head down and take advantage of the opportunity the best you can. That was key, to keep it as real as I could and not follow down the wrong roads, because they’re everywhere.
I was able to find that angst after a while; that underdog, punk rock spirit came from fear of failure. It was the first time I had to be prepared to be cut down. But my goal wasn’t to have “Sail 2.0,” although that’d be cool if it happened. I’ve never been a calculated songwriter. It’s more instinctual. I’ve always had this fantasy of making a mellow, stripped down record that throws everybody off a bit. Instead, I [made] a record that was heavier than the first and softer all in one, so that shocked people on both ends. I didn’t sit down and think, “I’m going to make this kind of record.” It’s just what happened. It ended up sort of writing me.