Lounging outside in the sunshine at the hotel foyer in his sunglasses, anyone would be forgiven for mistaking California native Aaron Bruno for being in his home state. In fact, the location is actually London on an unusually hot day, and the AWOLNATION frontman is here to talk to 1883 about life, death and the new UK album Megalithic Symphony; a 14 track spectrum of music combining rock; electronica and catchy poppy hooks.
Despite the record’s resounding success over in the states, Bruno is weary of fame and fortune. It’s taken a long time to reach this stage, and he explains sagely: “The first band I got a record deal with, Hometown Heroes, totally failed. I learnt a lot and made a lot of mistakes – I was really young and ignorant and full of ego. I thought because I had a deal I was going to be a millionaire and a rock star and it didn’t happen.”
Bruno’s next signed band, Under the Influence of Giants also didn’t go as well as he’d hoped and they were dropped from their label. He reminisces, “We were all broke and didn’t know what to do with our lives. We were getting older as men, or I suppose trying to become men, and it’s hard to do that when you’re living in your buddy’s grandma’s extra garage; which was what I was doing.”
Not knowing where else to turn the struggling musician continued writing songs, and it was at this point the future AWOLNATION mega hit ‘Sail’ was born. Bruno recounts, “When I wrote it that there was a producer around at the time who told me it had no chorus and needed one, and I was like fuck this! This is cool music, it doesn’t need a chorus!
I think we’re very lucky that it was a song that blew down the door for us because we were able to continue to be strange with the art we do and didn’t have to follow any sort of formula at all.”
He explains how working with Red Bull Records has also enabled the band’s creative vision, “We continue to do what we like, and if people like it then that’s great, I mean I haven’t changed one part of the vision to accommodate anyone else. I partnered up with Red Bull and they agreed to let me carry on doing what I was doing…it’s more of a partnership than a record deal.”
A partnership which has since proved fruitful to say the least, one of the band’s most noteworthy achievements include playing at this year’s Coachella. Bruno recalls: “It was a great moment for us. The desert over there is really close to LA and the hometown shows are the hardest - your parents are there but so are all your ex girlfriends, all your ex best friends. There are people there to support you and also people there who are like, ‘Fuck you man!’”
In regards to that Coachella 2Pac hologram Bruno comments, “I didn’t watch it because I didn’t think that was a good idea. I don’t think that 2Pac left this world being good friends with those people on stage. I like to think he’s somewhere better above and didn’t leave thinking ‘yeah I’m going to do another concert’, I don’t think so.”
Hip hop had a big musical influence on Bruno, as did a range of musical genres growing up. Asking which records had a particular impact upon his musical development, Bruno answers, “Radiohead’s Ok Computer made me realise that I needed to think harder. Of course I love Thriller and all the great classic albums growing up like The Beatles albums, but when I heard Ok Computer was when I realised I wasn’t doing good enough, not even close, and that record changed my whole way of thinking, and made me think left of centre from that point on. At the same time Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come changed my life, as did N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton.”
Other inspiration for Bruno’s music is born out of his love for surfing. He says, “Surfing is my religion, my spirituality and without trying to sound too bro or hippy it really makes me who I am.
A lot of the record was inspired and influenced by the weather patterns you see in different surfing conditions. If it’s a little bit aggro or rough and you get held down by a wave as tall as the ceiling then maybe I’ll write a song that’s more intense. If it’s a beautiful summery day where the waves are nice and easy maybe I’ll write an easier, more feel good song.”
I say it sounds like a pretty dangerous pastime and ask if he’s had many near death experiences, to which he answers, “Yeah I must have nearly drowned at least 20 times …so when we play on stage all that stuff doesn’t intimidate me because I’ve already fought against mother nature you know, and crowds are no big deal – what’s the worst that could happen, people don’t like us? That’s no big deal. And I feel the same way about the record, when I wrote it as long as I loved it, I wasn’t really concerned whether people liked it or not, if they do it’s a huge bonus but I never expected anyone to.”
Quizzing the front man on AWOLNATION’s upcoming plans Bruno replies “To continue to tour in other countries, and more importantly for me working hard on the next record. I don’t want to let down the fans who were good enough to listen to us in the first place.”