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AWOLNATION Musician: Aaron Bruno: One of our Favorite Musicians, Crushes, and Inspirations on Awkwardness, Self-Doubt, Not Waiting for Good Shit to Happen, and Having the Power to Leave Unpleasant Situations

I Ran Away for a Couple Years Just to Prove I’ve Never Been Free.

—“Hollow Moon” Lyrics Our Editor Disturbingly Lip Syncs in Public

7x Platinum AWOLNATION celebrate their new album, Run.

Interview: Maranda Pleasant | PHOTOS: KARI ROWE

Aaron Bruno: Hey, Maranda.

Maranda Pleasant: Hey, Aaron, how are you?

AB: Sorry about the delay, the power went out at my place and my phone was dead, blah, blah, blah.

MP: I’m listening to some of these lyrics on your latest album here in Paris, and they’re pretty conscious. I feel like a lot of it is poetry, in a way, but you can tell that you’ve felt a lot in your life. Is there something you’ve struggled with that had a huge impact on you and how did you come through it?

AB: I would say just typically the same kind of insecurities we all have as humans. From being accepted, to different relationship situations—which is sort of the same thing— to wanting to be heard. Trying to put music out there in the world is a pretty exciting, yet terrifying, thing and I’ve just been through the ringer. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. I’ve been on both sides of it all, I guess. So there’s not one specific event or thought that I’m dealing with or drawing from necessarily. Mostly just what makes us tick and what makes us happy, sad, scared, full of soul, terrified, all those things. I just feel a lot of that, and when I cruise around, I can’t help but study people’s faces and emotions and wonder why they’re feeling the way they are. And the world’s pretty trippy. I just like to travel around and see what’s out there. I have a lot of questions and I don’t have that many answers. So what better place to exercise those thoughts than the lyrics, I guess. Of course with my first record I didn’t think anyone would hear those lyrics, it was just what I was doing at the time.

MP: Surprise!

AB: Yeah, now I’m talking about it, it’s a weird thing. But I remember songs on the first record, going, “This is pretty gnarly to write this but nobody is going to fucking hear it, so who cares.”

MP: That’s when we do our best work. Someone was telling me about you and said, “Oh, he’s into mindfulness, and he’s a vegetarian, and he’s into pain.” I’m like, “Done. I’ll download him and listen to him.”

AB: It’s not that I’m into pain, it’s just when music expresses . . .

MP: I’m not saying you’re into pain, I’m saying I’m into pain.

AB: I just find that with music I’ve always felt a sort of comfort. Like when Radiohead’s OK Computer came out, “Paranoid Android” was the saddest song I felt like I’d ever aaron burno awol nation 2 (2)heard in my life, but it felt so good—it was like, “Oh, you understand where I’m coming from.” I was at a weird age at the time. I was in a hardcore band that had no melody, no chance of finding any success, and I was just trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. And that came out and changed my life forever—on an artistic level, and a lyrical level, for sure. I just find that I enjoy the music that feels like there’s a journey to the top of this mountain, then you’re at the top of the mountain finally with this magical feeling, and you’re stoked because you made it, and you’re up there, but there’s a little bit of sadness to think of all that you lost along the way to get there.I guess I relate and enjoy the path and the struggle very much. Maybe that’s just being a surfer, growing up in Southern California and having to scrap for waves, or being in punk rock bands before social media, and you really had to fight to get people to care at all. Maybe it’s the competitive spirit in me. I’ve always found it pretty difficult to write a happy song. Since I was a kid, when I pick up my guitar it’s been hard for me to write some sort of bubblegum lyrics. It’s not really ever been my route. I do it sometimes but it never seems to fit the mood of being Awolnation. There’s a bunch of songs that I call B-sides on the record that you could argue could maybe have some potential commercial success with another artist, but for me, they just felt really whack. In fact, on a side note, after the success of the first record, I got asked to write for some pop artists, as everybody does, and I did a couple songs for some of these massive stars and the review that I got back was,
“This artist likes the song but it’s too POP-y for them.” I was like, “What do you mean, I thought I was writing for a pop star.” My point is I’m kind of an outlier. For whatever reason, the success still blows my mind—that I’m able to talk to people about the music I’ve written. At the same time, I’ll tell you I’ve always been confident about it. I always felt like there was something there because you don’t put out music unless you have a sense that people will maybe like what you’re doing or you’re standing for something artistically. I don’t mess with that. It’s more about just music and trying to keep the integrity, I guess. I just said basically nothing in five sentences.

The older I get, the more I realize that you don’t have to be around people you don’t want to be around, and you don’t have to be in a situation you don’t want to be in. You have the power to rise up and leave.

MP: Well, fantastic. We’ll stretch it out to like four pages, it will be great.

AB: Cool.

MP: I listen to you, and you sound like an outlier. You sound like someone that’s punk, but there’s a thoughtfulness to it that sometimes I feel is missing. There’s a fun playfulness to your music, and there’s also a rage to it, and there’s lightheartedness at the same time. Not easy. There’s that line in “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” that goes, “Motherfucker I’ll be back from the dead soon.” There’s a real, close-to-the-vein rawness that doesn’t sound manufactured when I listen to that song, which is a very rare thing.

AB: Well, I appreciate it. That’s the nicest thing you could possibly say, really.

MP: You don’t sound angry, but like you’ve felt every bit of it. There’s something very poetic and very creative about it that doesn’t sound like a studio has overproduced it. It sounds like you just cut yourself open a little bit and bled out. This is one of my favorite lines: “I ran away for a couple years just to prove I’ve never been free.”

AB: Well, I remember when that came together, that little part, and then that drum riff and then that drum fill; I was pretty proud of that. Coming from heavy music too, it’s really hard to have heavy music not sound too butthead-ish or jock-ish, and there’s a fine line between Limp Bizkit and Nirvana—there’s a fine line there, and it’s terrifying.

MP: How do you stay centered and not lose your shit?

AB: I’ve had the same friends I’ve always had. I mean, I’ve lost a few over the years. Stuff gets a little weird when you put it into perspective . . . some people are more affected by, I hate to use the word “success,” but I don’t know what else to say, but some people are more affected by that than others. I’ve had the same core group of friends that I’ve always had. We’re surfing, so that definitely keeps you grounded. Just when I think I’m cool because we’re playing these massive shows or having some sort of commercial success, I can always be reminded how small I am when I try to surf a wave that’s a little bit out of my league, and I just get pummeled. And, when your life flashes before your eyes kind of stuff, deep down under the water where you don’t know what’s up or down, and that kind of thing, or just Mother Nature reminding you how small you are compared to it. That’s kind of the main thing for me.

MP: Do you do yoga or meditate?

AB: No, not so much. I’ve been stretching more lately.

MP: [Laughs.] When you’re on the road is there something you do to stay grounded?

AB: I’ll tell you what, I don’t take myself that seriously when it comes down to that stuff. My drummer is my favorite drummer in the world, and he also happens to be the funniest person you’ll meet. He’s a constant reminder every time stuff gets a little too heavy, maybe I have a bad show or I’ll hit a horrible note on some recorded TV thing or something, and he’s like, “Man don’t take yourself so seriously—this is a joke, we’re playing music.” And that’s a great thing to keep me grounded at all times. We’re not saving lives, but the power does help us. Growing up from Nirvana to all the bands I was listening to at the time, those were my best friends, more than my real friends. Those were the people that sang me to sleep or gave me the confidence I needed to go to first period. When we’re all so insecure with weird stuff, when we’re having weird feelings toward girls or guys, or whatever. It’s the insecurity of life that we all go through. So music helped me. Those are my friends, so I know that I now have become some people’s best musical friend in the same way those people were for me, so that’s a great accomplishment, in my mind.

If you’re waiting around for something to be handed to you or win the lottery, chances are nothing is ever going to go down, you know, so you got to make it happen on your own.

MP: You exude energy and passion, and when I started googling you, I got why you have this cult following. Your song “I Am,” on your latest album, is fucking beautiful.

AB: Well, I’ll say it was a risky video. Videos are tricky because stuff sounds amazing on paper and it seems like it’s going to be this mystical experience and you’re going to look back and go, “Wow, that was magic.” But more times than not, it doesn’t end up that way, so I never know what I’m going to get. I don’t know, you just got to do your best,
keep your head down, and see what’s fixed and not take it all too seriously.

MP: What is “love” to you?

AB: I guess no one’s ever asked me that question . . . that’s pretty heavy.

MP: In 30 seconds or less.

AB: Hey, what does life mean to you?

MP: That’s the next one. No, I’m joking

aaron burno awol nation 2 (1)AB: I don’t know that I can say what exactly love means to me because it would be hard to put that into perspective. But I’ll tell you that the older I get, the more I realize that you don’t have to be around people you don’t want to be around, and you don’t have to be in a situation you don’t want to be in. You have the power to rise up and leave and that’s part of the band name philosophy in a kind of tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted way. Let’s say I’m at a party and I don’t like the feeling I’m getting, I’ll just leave. Why do I have to be there? I want to surround myself with the people I care about and that has a lot to do with what love is. It’s surrounding yourself with the people you do love and trust, and that kind of thing. Or everybody has got their vibes—it could be mountain biking, it could be hiking, but for me, it’s surfing and music. There’s a lot of different things, but I think love gives us peace one way or another, and a calming effect on our soul, so I don’t know exactly what love is to me, but I know I try my best to surround myself with that. Whenever I can. It’s hard sometimes. We travel all the time, so I’m sitting there at TSA, so pissed off, my armpits are sweating and I’m just miserable, but then I have to go inside my own head and go to some happy place, you know?

MP: What is a truth that you know for sure?

AB: Look, one of the things that I know for sure is that none of us truly knows. That’s it. It’ll hit you later.

MP: Best line. {Laughs.} That’ll hit you later.

AB: I don’t think we’ll really know what’s going on until we enter the next dimension and all that.

There’s a journey to the top of this mountain, then you’re at the top of the mountain finally with this magical feeling, and you’re stoked because you made it, and you’re up there, but there’s a little bit of sadness to think of all that you lost along the way to get there.

MP: You should work that into your next song. How old were you when it went big?

AB: Thirty, dude. I was 30, I guess, or 31, 32 when it really went down. My first attempt at real music was when I was 13. My first signed band was when I was 21; that failed. I got another deal at 26; that failed, and then I was broke. I imagine trying to handle this head-trip of an experience when I was younger—it would have just turned into too much, probably. We all go through ups and downs with drinking, and In think it would have probably been a lot worse had I experienced that before. I never wanted to do it to get girls, right, to get popular, or anything like that. I really love music and I want to make it better the best I can. I can tell when something’s real, or when something’s put together. I can just feel it. So I’m my own worst critic and harshest critic and I just want to put honest music out there. There’s a difference. It’s been a weird experience to hear other versions of “Sail,” which is our biggest song, obviously.

MP: I love that line from “Hollow Moon,” “Waiting patiently was waiting taking up space. We are waiting taking up space.”

AB: If you’re waiting around for something to be handed to you or win the lottery, chances are nothing is ever going to go down, you know, so you got to make it happen on your own.

MP: Are you a vegetarian?

AB: My wife and I are on this raw kick. We’ve been eating raw as much as we can over the last couple years. I was already on this health kick for a while. More importantly, I just didn’t trust what was being put in the food that I was eating, so I just woke up one day and went ballistic and started on that kick. And then we met and she was on the same path so we kind of joined forces. My point is, I don’t see the need to eat animals. I love animals; besides the horrible stuff that’s put in meat, I actually love cuddling with animals and petting them and stuff. We’re practicing a pretty healthy raw vegan diet. We try not to be too militant about it. I haven’t touched meat or anything like that in over six years. You know what’s pretty trippy, once I stopped, I didn’t get sick from that point on. I’ll get a light cold once in a while, but ever since that, I’ve just been completely on my toes and it helps for surfing too, to stay light on your toes and be healthy. I find that a lot of times when family members get bronchitis or the flu or something like that, I’ll kind of skate through and be really lucky and not get that sick.

MP: Isn’t that amazing?

AB: It’s weird, right? You start treating your body right and your immune system is better.

MP: People are always like, “Oh you get sick all the time if you’re vegan.” And I’m like, “I never get sick. I don’t fucking ever get sick.”

AB: Me neither.

MP: A good diet and being in nature, for sure. That’s the thing.

AB: You got to head north. It’s always about going north, you know?

MP: Going toward the sun.

Look, one of the things that I know for sure is that none of us truly knows. That’s it. It’ll
hit you later.

 

 

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