After years of being in bands like Under the Influence of Giants and Home Town Hero, AWOLNATION architect Aaron Bruno had his long overdue breakthrough in 2011 when “Sail,” off the band’s Megalithic Symphony, became a smash on alternative radio and crossed over to CHR and Top 40.
The runaway success of the ubiquitous hit has brought about a lot of changes for Bruno and his fellow players in AWOLNATION, as the group recently kicked off the promo run for the band’s second effort, the superb and sonically ambitious Run.
In fact, when Yahoo meets up with Bruno backstage at the studios of Jimmy Kimmel before the band played two songs off the new album, Bruno is having an admittedly hard time transitioning the new material to the promotional shows, like an afternoon appearance at L.A. radio station KROQ the day before.
“The first show was the KROQ thing, which was a weird way to start. It was a fun environment, they have a great thing going on there, then Kimmel was our second show for the new record, which is a bizarre thing to do that early on for me, and new for me,” he says.
Not that he was complaining at all, far from it, as he was very grateful and appreciative for the level of interest. Still, as a guy who grew up going to hardcore gigs, there was something special for him about being able to bring the new music into a nighttime club show.
“We finally got to play an intimate show in Chicago at a place called Cubby Bear, sort of a free radio listener first come first serve, and they turned away 2,500 kids at the door after everybody got in. That felt like the first real AWOL show back and it was incredible,” he recalls. “Just to hear everybody singing the words to almost all the new songs we play when the record hasn’t even been out yet was overwhelming for sure.”
On Run Bruno pushed himself as a writer, opening himself up to be more personal and vulnerable than any of his previous works. And he found the payoff in the Chicago show as fans screamed along to “Windows,” a song he feels could have a similar trajectory as “Sail,” and the album’s lead single, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf).”
“Those verses sounded like a hardcore show. People were screaming at the top of their lungs, every single word. The opening line of that song is ‘I’ve been running from it all my lifetime.’ And people sang that like it struck a nerve with them.”
To Bruno it reminded him of seeing bands like Strife at the age of 15. He still recalls how powerful that was for him: “It was like poetry, these bands were speaking for the underdog, they were speaking for all the kids that didn’t fit into the popular cliques in high school in the Nineties. I didn’t have my first sip of alcohol until the age of 22, so when I was 15 going to these hardcore shows, most people were going to keggers in high school. And getting hammered and getting in trouble and getting in trouble is fun sometimes, but I just felt I wanted my mind to have control at that time. Of course that changed as I got older, but just to see this unity of bonding over being straightedge, or bonding over just being in this underground scene that no one else knew about, was probably the most impactful musical moment of my life.”
Fast-forward now more than a decade later, and Strife’s guitarist Todd Turnham is one of Bruno’s closest friends, as is Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford, or “Timmy C,” as Bruno calls him.
That is one of the other strange and wonderful things about mainstream success: the opportunities it affords to meet those you admire. “There definitely have been a couple of legends that reached out to me and appreciated the music I make,” Bruno said with a remarkable humility, almost embarrassment, to be discussing these names, but these are the people who have helped shape this album and helped him grow as an artist.
“As you and I talked before about Steve Perry; he’s just this beautiful human being that is still an amazing, caring musical mind, and to have him in my corner and care is incredible. And he’s great to go to for advice. I’ve become acquaintances with Rivers Cuomo and I love Weezer so much, so that’s really incredible to me as well. I guess to have these people that I looked up to as a kid just a phone number or text away is absolutely incredible, because I can ask them how they felt when they went through some of the trials and tribulations,” he says. “I was able to play this record from front to end for a couple of my heroes, and it was definitely a cool experience, to say the least. I got to finish my record and play it for Rick Rubin. I played the record for Rick way before it was done, and he’s made some of the most impactful records in pop culture. So it’s just incredible to be bumping shoulders with some of music’s most treasured artists in some way or another.”
However, the best part for Bruno, as he learns to deal with the newfound success, is having these people there to guide him. “It’s been even better just to have a friendship and have older brother figures to help mentor me through the ups and downs of record cycles.”