Interview: AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno Talks ‘Run’, Tim Commerford & Steve Perry

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The story of Aaron Bruno and his creation of the industrial outfit AWOLNATION (a one man act in studio, in the lineage of Trent Reznor) is one of the greatest success stories of the past ten years, achieving a massive crossover hit in 2011 with “Sail” off of his debut studio album, Megalithic Symphony.

Bruno certainly took his time in crafting the long awaited follow up, finally releasing Run on St. Patrick’s Day last month. Run refined Bruno’s trademark “lullaby” songwriting sensibility and veered it into a dark new direction, immediately evident on the first track of the album: “I am a human being capable of doing terrible things.”

One month into Run’s lifespan, I had the chance to speak with Bruno, who had just finished recording a performance on Conan. Bruno elaborated on his unlikely assistance from Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford and the pressures of creating a successful sophomore record (out now via Red Bull Records)…

First off, congrats on the great record! I must have listened to it about 30 times by now. 

[laughs] Thanks, it’s only at listen number 27 that you understand what the fuck I just did.

This record is so dark compared to Megalithic Symphony. Did you come from any specific place when you were creating this atmospheric record?

My dark heart, I guess. I’m just kidding. [laughs] I think it was a weird experience to have so much success on the first record, coming to the realization that success doesn’t change who you are. It certainly didn’t change who I was. I still have all the same insecurities and issues that I’ve always had. The only thing that’s different is that I don’t have to worry about paying rent next month. I went through a couple of relationship issues.

I think that everybody else has gone poppier, at least in the alternative world. That seemed like a boring place for me to go. After having a record do so well and a song that crossed over into the pop world… it was only natural that I wanted to push the boundaries a little beyond what everyone expected or wanted.

Even the poppier songs on the record have this emotional, dark edge to them…

It was terrifying to make a record that people were actually going to hear, instead of just experimenting… it’s like the “Boy Who Cried Wolf”. You go to the top of the hill and scream at the top of your lungs about how great your music is and nobody hears you… suddenly you go to the top again and there’s tons of people with you, ready to hear what you have to say.

The whole album flows together as a cohesive whole, yet there must have been pressure by the label to make that one real standout song to rival “Sail” on the first record.

Once [the label] heard it, they thought there were four or five potential songs that could have a decent commercial life. You never know whats gonna take and whats not. We had a lot of options. We’re still in the infancy of this record’s lifespan. We’ve already made a hit in “Hollow Moon“.. they chose a harder song first, which I was happy with.

I think they wanted to go with “Woman Woman“, which, to me, could potentially be a big commercial success, but that doesn’t mean its the right first look at this record. It would have been a misrepresentation of the feeling of the album, so I’m really proud and happy we were able to go for something a little more energetic, and darker.

While we are on the subject of that specific song, could you elaborate a bit on Woman, Woman? I couldn’t tell listening to it if its an incredibly uplifting song, or a depressing one: “Last night I fell apart, Broke from a swollen heart…” 

[laughs] It’s sort of that moment in life where you throw the towel and say, “That’s it, I’ve found the person, and I’m not gonna fuck this one up.” We’ve all had faulty relationships, some more than others, and me being one of those people, and “Woman Woman” is sort of a celebration of all the pain and misery you went through to get to the right individual.

Another standout track that I believe should be a single is “I Am“. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of that track? 

I think at that point in the record, it was time for a good ol’ anthemic moment. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Subconsciously, I wanted a song that was easily digestible to all human beings and not just to weirdos like you and I. I don’t know you, but I assume you are a music fan…

Yeah, I’m a total weirdo. 

…who likes music all over the place like me, so I thought it was about time to have sort of a crossover universal moment. When it came up, I remember having the beginning part of the song which was simply a chord progression on my nylon string guitar that I learned on from my dad as a kid. It was really late at night, and I was pretty…  in sort of an elevated headspace, if you will? [laughs]

I remember just playing it so quietly and tenderly into my phone, thinking this was sort of a nursery rhyme to go to sleep to, and when I opened it on my phone months and months later, it sounded pretty neat to me. I imported it from my phone, used it in a recording session, and built the whole song around that.

I heard Tim Commerford gave you some input on the record and that song in particular…

Yeah, that song in particular was a big “fuck you!” to Tim. When I showed him the first draft of the record, it had several songs that didn’t even make the record on there. It was even weirder. I loved it, but it was abandoning a lot of the qualities that put me on the map, and one of them was the anthemic nature of some of the songs. We went full circle. I was pleased that he pushed me a lot. He’s a dear friend. He’s a scary dude when you first see him. But the amazing and inspiring things he’s done in his life… I value our friendship very much.

I remember it was reported that you would have a collaboration with Journey frontman Steve Perry on this record that didn’t seem to make the final cut…

The problem with that is I never announced I was doing a collaboration. I was doing an interview with someone and my words were twisted a little bit, I said that we wanted to do something together and we MAY do something together at some point. Again, he’s sort of a mentor/older brother like Tim Commerford. He’s a wonderful singer, he can still do it beautifully. I don’t have any information about when we’ll be able to hear his voice again. When that does happen, if it does happen, it’ll be a beautiful moment.

I’ll try not to twist your words.

I said it as clear as I could!

I’ll do my best anyway. [Breaking news: Aaron Bruno thinks Steve Perry will never sing again] Anyway, will we be seeing any of the scrapped songs from the first draft any time soon? 

I hate calling them B-sides, because the record had a story to tell and took a life of its own. I do not believe them lesser songs by any means, they just didn’t make sense in context with the final album. I can’t wait to release them. I don’t know if it will be through an EP that releases between Run and whatever record three is gonna be… I’m not sure, exactly.

You probably have your biggest show ever coming up with the Firefly Music Festival in June, playing with Paul McCartney and The Killers, among many others. 

Wow… I guess it is. We’ve played Coachella and played a couple of stages from bands like Radiohead, but yeah, Paul McCartney would be the hugest name that’s been on the flyer that my band has been on for sure. Although at Bonnaroo I played with Robert Plant and that’s pretty amazing.