The third time certainly is the charm. Aaron Bruno, lead vocalist and mastermind behind AWOLNATION is no stranger to the music scene. After somewhat unsuccessful attempts fronting other bands and the resulting collapse of record labels and spiral legal matters keeping beloved songs from being released, Bruno followed his own heartbeat. Signing with Red Bull Records, taking on the moniker AWOLNATION and setting out to release an album of his own, he created the monster hit "Sail" and an album that is impossible not to dance to.
AWOLNATION's first EP Back from Earth was released in May 2010, with its debut album Megalithic Symphony coming less than a year later. The first single, "Sail," debuted at number 30 on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs chart in February of 2011, catapulting AWOLNATION'S career somewhat overnight.
It's difficult to be specific about the perfect mixture of pop, melodic rock and hip-hop (and nautical inspiration) AWOLNATION has created, but that is part of what makes it so wonderful. I spoke with Bruno about his recent success, his upcoming show at the Vogue and his future musical plans.
NUVO: Were any specific vocalists who largely influenced your vocal sound over the years?
Aaron Bruno: Most strongly would be the stuff that made me fall in love with music when I was younger: Michael Jackson, Prince and a lot of the punk rock scene. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain [were] a huge thing for me. I grew up in the hardcore punk rock scene around singers that did a lot of screaming, but in more of a melodic way. At the same time, I always really loved pop music. More importantly than music, I feel like life experiences have influenced me to do what I do. Since I'm such a huge music fan I listen to everything. I'm not genre specific. Jeff Buckley was a huge one for me vocally. Not that I'm half the singer he is, but when I heard how well and how confidently he sang in his falsetto, it really gave me the confidence to explore singing in a more feminine way.
NUVO: As an aspiring musician myself, I dream of what it would be like to have a huge crowd sing my songs back to me. How would you best describe the experience of having your own work verbally reciprocated at live shows?
Bruno: That's a good question. It's acknowledgement that you're reaching people when they can be singing so loud that you can actually hear them sing back. The first time that happened for us was in Austin, TX. We went to play a show, and it was when "Sail" started to take off. I always thought ["Sail"] was such a strange song and a strange choice to play on the radio [so] I didn't have any expectations for it to necessarily do well. So when it ended up doing well and the crowd ended up singing it louder than the whole PA system, it was really stunning. It's always really special to hear your song like that.
NUVO: I'm sure it gives you a break from singing which is always nice.
Bruno: Yeah, it really is. The vocals are extremely demanding. When I wrote a lot of these songs, I guess I didn't ever think that I was going to be able to play a bunch of shows, so I didn't really put a lot of thought into how hard it would be. It's a work in progress for sure.
NUVO: How would you compare what people hear on your record to what people will experience at your live shows?
Bruno: It's what I would want to see happen at a show for a band that I really liked a lot that sounded like this. It's heavier, in a different way. We accentuate the parts that matter most and do our best to replicate the record with a lot more intensity and a lot more intimacy. I made the record myself, but with the band we become a family and a cohesive team so that makes a huge difference too. I love the '90s energy of alternative music, and it seems like it's getting a little closer to that too.
NUVO: Will your show on January 19th at the Vogue be your first time in Indianapolis?
Bruno: It will be our third time actually. It's a great venue. It's the perfect size. Playing in front of more than twenty people is a big luxury to me. It gets really wild though. The security guards definitely have to work hard.
NUVO: Having been in more than one successful band over the years, and experiencing the highs and lows of the music business, what would you say is your most personally satisfying musical accomplishment to date?
Bruno: The first two bands I was in didn't really work out the way I wanted them to, although I'm proud of the work and learning experience I gained from it. First and foremost, I'm grateful to have a third opportunity to get my music out there with the help of the people that really believe in it. That's really special to me. All I wanted was to release these songs I had recorded because the last band I was in ended up putting a lot of heart and soul into songs that never even got the chance to be released. My first goal was to simply release songs and not have them sit on a hard drive forever. I can't necessarily pick one thing that I'm most proud of. I'm just thankful to be able to sell out shows. It blows my mind.
NUVO: With the large success of Megalithic Symphony and a mini musical 'nation' forming under your thumb, I am dying to know if you have any interesting plans for vocal collaboration in the future.
Bruno: Vocal collaborations are tricky, because it has to make sense. I've been working with a few different up and coming rappers that have a lot of beats that I like. That may not be great for AWOL, but they seem like they could be great for a good emcee, or just someone different in general. I just don't want anyone to get sick of this. I feel like "Sail" has become such a huge hit that in some cities people are like "Geez man, I've heard this song a lot." That's obviously the goal, but I want to keep things fresh and more importantly than working with anyone else I'm just making sure that the next record is going to be great and hopefully a step above this one.