AWOLNATION Interview

AWOLNATION Rocks Madison Square Garden with Fall Out BoyAWOLNATION

California five piece AWOLNATION’s ambitious sound probably influenced a host of others that are popular today. The electronic rock band opens Fall Out Boy’s “Wintour” March 4 at Madison Square Garden along with rock band PVRIS.

AWOLNATION’s thrashing, unpredictable sound is full of depth and angsty poetry, likely the reason their stadium-ready hits like “Sail” and “I Am” have struck a chord with so many – as sports anthems, personal mantras and even ad spots themes. Frontman Aaron Bruno spun an A.D.D. diagnosis to a high school rap battle alias to lasting inspiration.

Not that all of the music is bright, because it’s not – AWOLNATION offers a blend of deeply introspective cuts about personal demons to antagonistic, urgent chants to wide open love songs – but all with a touch of humanity. Bruno wrote, performed and produced the entirety of the most recent album “Run” with the help of only an engineer, with rich storytelling through the band’s textures of metal, hip-hop and electronic. Bruno got real with New York City Monthly on the emotional milestone that is playing Madison Square Garden to being remixed by The Beastie Boys’ Mike D to recalling why New York is one of the greatest cities in the world to see live music…

New York City Monthly: Fall Out Boy’s “Wintour” heads to Madison Square Garden this month. After years together as AWOLNATION, what is the collective feeling as you anticipate playing one of the world’s greatest arenas?

Aaron Bruno: We never played there before. It’s a weird thing ’cause we’re opening up for them so I don’t have any delusions, but I can’t help getting a little bit romantic about it. We just played the Forum, I’m a Lakers fan since the Magic Johnson Dream Team era, I used to go with my dad. It was a music festival for KROC and we were high up on the line-up, that was kind of an emotional experience for me. We shared a stage with The Rolling Stones and I cried, Paul McCartney, all in the same week. Playing Madison Square Garden is one of those things when you first grab a guitar you never imagine. We invented a new sound, a new genre almost, it was almost genre-less when it came out. People were kind of confused by us at first, we have built it block by block, city by city.

NYCM: Your own brand of electronic rock really made a mark when 2011 smash “Sail” spent a remarkable 79 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, the second-longest running song, only surpassed by Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” Many years later, what is it about this song that is still so timeless to you?

AB: I was just really blessed to hit a grand slam like that, it’s never something I expected. I thought maybe we’d get lucky with a few singles, maybe some touring, but I never thought that kind of madness was possible. With some of these other bands, I clearly hear the influence “Sail” had, and continue to with other bands, daily. So I just feel lucky I had the right pulse of what was going on, and push the envelope. I can’t help who I am that I have stylistic tendencies to have an AWOLNATION sound, I’m just trying to evolve and not repeat myself. We have thought we were a year or two ahead of people – it may sound a bit conceited, people were just not ready for what I was going for at the time and then finally the stars aligned. I don’t mind talking about it. It continues to be a real outlier and real punk rock anthem.

NYCM: AWOLNATION music has been featured in Sons of AnarchyHousePretty Little LiarsVikings, with songs in Iron Man 3: Heroes Fall and Fifty Shades of Grey, not to mention numerous commercials like BMW, Ciroc, Red Bull. Did you ever think your sound would reach a larger-than-life audience? 

AB: I would say I thought that it should reach that but I didn’t think it would reach that. I was just talking about this earlier, every time I write a song I want it to be the biggest best song ever, it doesn’t necessarily mean the loudest, I mean emotional weight. People inherently relate to the human struggle more than money or bragging, that’s why I always found some forms of hip-hop to be so silly lyrically but it has had such an influence on me rhyming-wise. I’m talking private jets is off-putting to me.

NYCM: Years before playing Late Night with Seth MeyersJimmy Kimmel Live and Conan, do you remember a particular energy of New York fans while your band was coming up?

AB: I don’t think New York actually has an alternative radio station but I guess it went away. We went for real word-of-mouth and real fans rather than a radio station telling you what to do as a city. The fans were really radical and true music fans. New York, London, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, are intimidating but there’s so much great art coming from all these places. It’s like I gotta face the New York Yankees right now. I mean being from Los Angeles I have LA and Hollywood here, but I felt confident in a different way that we could do well. A smaller club in New York has a different kind of energy – there have gotta be some people in New York like at CBGBs and all the great art that came from that important city, so to play a show there and have it go well is definitely a huge accomplishment, not to alienate some other places. You get to New York, I’m sure it’s the same thing for outsiders coming to LA.

NYCM: New York’s own Beastie Boys member Mike D remixed your current big single “I Am.” The aggressiveness and multifaceted elements of your music have a similar vibe to Beastie Boys’ overall energy. How did this pairing come about?

AB: Someone from the label named Tick (real name Kenny Salcido) knew the Beastie Boys cause he’d worked with him in the past and he reached out to Mike, who was already a fan of the first record if my memory serves me correctly. He gravitated toward “I Am”. The Beastie Boys changed the face of music, and so did Rick Rubin, both of who have become great friends of mine. Any time you meet people who have become so influential in shaping your career, that’s more shocking than anyone – having the approval of people you looked up to when you were growing up. I never thought I would have been hanging out with the Beastie Boys when I was in 7th Grade.

(Photo Credit: Matthias Heschl)