AWOLNATION Talks "Megalithic Symphony", Movies, the "Sunset Strip Music Festival" and more
Mon, 29 Jul 2013 12:50:26
There are very few geniuses left in music.
We're talking about those guys who can envision an entire song and then execute it. It's cats like Trent Reznor or Kurt Cobain who think of the tune first and bring it to life with an inimitable and irreplaceable spark. AWOLNATION mastermind Aaron Bruno has that kind of talent. Just spin Megalithic Symphony for proof. It's a sprawling electronic rock epic that's as invasive as it is infectious. It's dark at times. It's delightful at others. However, all the while, it's downright brilliant. It's also the sign of much bigger things to come.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, AWOLNATION talks Megalithic Symphony, movies, the Sunset Strip Music Festival, and more.
What do you feel like ties Megalithic Symphony together as a whole?
I can't say that there's one thread. I think there are multiple threads that tie the whole thing together. One commonality is obviously the voice. That's the thing people can relate to throughout the whole record. There are so many different tempos and mood swings that I had to somehow put the order together with segues and nuances in order to tell the story I was trying to tell. Looking back now, I wasn't even trying to tell a story as much as I was trying to make some sense of it at all. The strong sense of melody is what kept it all together, perhaps. I'm very into grooves and beats. First and foremost, it's about the melody. Secondly, it's those grooves. I try to stay out of the melody's way and not get confused about what's best for the song. That's the great thing about not being in a band where you have all these egos involved telling you which parts should be where.
That allows for real honesty.
Yeah, I guess I can be honest with myself. It's really nice to do it on my own. Sometimes, it's lonely, but you've always got your muses around you and people you trust. You can ask their opinions. I'm lucky to be surrounded by people I trust. If I can't impress my friends or my musical peers, I'd be pretty bummed out.
How do the lyrics and music entwine for you?
When you write a melody and you have a vibe going to a streamline, beat, or guitar part, the lyrics come naturally and flow out of me if I'm lucky. Otherwise, there's no one formula. I want to always say something that matters to me, so every single word matters. Before, sometimes, I think I'd be lazy and get by with a clever little riddle that really didn't sense of it all for the rest of the subject matter of the lyrics. Other times, I'd just settle out of laziness or insecurity. This time, I really had a lot to say. I've been through a lot more life. I've experienced more ups and downs so I had more for people to relate to. I wanted to make sure every single line mattered to me. I look back and there are a couple that could've been better, but that's okay. Lyrics are tricky. It's difficult to come up with good ones. There have been a lot of great lyricists before my time and there will continue to be. You walk that fine line of trying to appeal to a decent amount of people but also be yourself at the same time. Let's be honest. I didn't know if it would appeal to anyone [Laughs]. I just wanted to put out a record there. Sometimes, when you're writing lyrics, the mood of the song dictates that. For me, if it's more of an up-tempo catchy part that has the potential to be too poppy, that's when you drop a very sarcastic, dark line to balance those things. I'm trying to follow the footsteps of all the greats before me and not get in the way.
Everything tends to converge on one focal point.
I just got really lucky. I look back on some of these songs and I can't believe I wrote them. I feel grateful that the powers-that-be blessed me with the idea instead of somebody else. I've been lucky enough to get some good ones.
What does "Knights of Shame" mean to you?
I could tell you my goal. It was to make a six-minute song that wasn't too boring. It ended up being twelve minutes because I had so much fun writing and recording it that I never looked back. That's the long and the short of the story. It ended up being longer than short.
How important were the segues? The album does connect like one piece.
Thank you for noticing. I was just trying to make it digestible. I knew I ran the risk of having it sound all over the place. I always have because I like so many different styles of music and songs. I didn't know if people would be like, "This is just chaos!" I put together some sort of theme and made it all work the best I could. It was more troubleshooting than it was intentional. I was dodging bullets. There were a couple of things I recorded along the way that were nice as segues and experiences. They led the listener into something of a journal entry moment of being vulnerable. That may have a lot to do with why people have been able to relate to it in a real way.
What was the initial approach on "Sail"?
That was written before there was a record deal or anything. I was in a studio where I could do something like that with an engineer who was talented enough to help accommodate my ideas at the moment. I'm lucky that it came out of me quickly and easily at that time. I didn't think much about it. I just thought I had a good song I'd written, and I was proud of it. I was going through a dark time so the lyrics are admitting some feelings I was having at the time. That ended up being the one that opened up everything for us. It still blows my mind. I never thought I'd be a platinum artist, nevertheless a multi-platinum artist.
You can see the music as much as you can hear it…
I see things. If people feel that way, I think I've done a good job. It's not intentional. Nothing you're hearing is. It's the best I can do at the time. A recording is merely a time capsule of your expression of music at the moment. Luckily, I haven't gotten bored of this record. People are still discovering it like it's new two-and-a-half years later. I feel like I'm in a very sheltered, slow growth place. It's very nice. No one told people to like this record. It wasn't the press's darling. People came around to it later, so late that I was protected by the potential of reviews that hurt my feelings and things like that. We were our own little entity floating around. Then, it couldn't be denied anymore.
If you were to compare Megalithic Symphony to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
Off the top of my head, I'd say the first Back to the Future meets Star Wars—probably Return of the Jedi if I'm being true to myself—and The Last of the Mohicans as well as There Will Be Blood. I know two of those star Daniel Day-Lewis, but he's my favorite actor so that's why. Maybe there's a little bit of Rushmore. Basically, I picked my favorite movies. Some of the music was heavily influenced by late seventies, early eighties sci-fi soundtracks. That's always been very appealing to my ears and my eyes. I've always liked the late seventies, early eighties depictions of the future. It's modern-looking and strange.
What artists shaped you?
You name it. It's probably there. I'd say Electric Light Orchestra, The Beatles, and Radiohead. Neil Young's Harvest never gets old. Nirvana was everything to me. It made me wonder just if I could do that too because he did it in such a simple, relatable, and rudimentary way. It made feel like I could do it—maybe not in front of people—but in my room and not be bummed [Laughs]. How far along on the next album are you?
I never stop writing. It's an ongoing process. It's a matter of figuring out exactly when it's appropriate to drop the next one and when it's done. I could write forever. At a certain point, I have to feel like I have all of the songs I want to tell the story I'm trying to tell and go from there. I'm working on a bunch of other different projects at the same time that help me grow. When this thing is released, there will be other things going on besides AWOLNATION. I think it's important to expand the listening audience and my sound. When I do come back to focus on the release of the second record, I'll have grown a lot. I don't want to do the same thing ever.
Are you looking forward to Sunset Strip Music Festival?
Sunset Strip Music Festival was one of our first shows as a band. It was a totally different lineup besides Kenny our keyboard player. Nic Adler was generous enough to let us play at all. We weren't signed. We had only played one or two shows before. Nic believed in the music. To be honest, he's believed in me ever since I met him and has been extremely supportive of all the different bands I've been in. It's nice to come full circle and be one of the headliners for this year. It's an honor. It's great to come back and be so much further up on the flier than we were before [Laughs]. We're excited.
What's your favorite AWOLNATION song?