March, 2012 Issue

In This Issue

8 online articles from this issue. Next



Of all the viral videos from the last year or so, probably one of the single most addicting, at least for your humble editor, has been, "Grinding The Crack" a video featuring base jumper Jeb Corliss and the hit single from our cover artist AWOLNATION, "Sail."

Apart from the 10+ million hits the song has seen on that video, the official music video for "Sail" and other threads have scored around 30 million more views. It's been used in several television and movie projects and now their second single "Not Your Fault" appears to be gearing up for a similar sort of success.

AWOLNATION will be one of the hottest ticket acts in the coming years, not since we had Fallout Boy on our cover have we been more excited about the talent and explosive growth potential of a vanguard band. We were given access to both acts courtesy APA and they know how to pick'em; in the past we have featured not only Fallout Boy but also Plain White T's, The Dirty Heads and The Movement, all from APA. If past behavior is the best predictor of future outcomes, you better check out this red hot act while they are still available and affordable for the campus market.

The band features Aaron Bruno, lead singer, composer and the main driving force for AWOLNATION (formerly of Under The Influence Of Giants, Hometown Hero and Insurgence), Christopher Thorn on lead guitar (formerly of Blind Melon), Kenny Carkeet, David Amezcua and Hayden Scott.

Aaron sits down with Campus Activities Magazine for an exclusive interview about the band, their history, and the campus market.

From the greater L.A. area, Aaron was just one fish in a very large pond of that area's music market and, just like any other artist, he had to struggle through his own journey to find success and more importantly, artistic freedom. "I've been in several different bands leading up to this one, going back to sixth grade and that awkward age around puberty when I first started jamming with friends."

Aaron, now 33, explains that when he was a kid growing up in the Thousand Oaks area, there weren't bands pouring out of the woodwork at every local high school, the way some may picture Southern California. "There was only one other guy at my school that I knew of who really cared about music at all, at least the sort of music I was into. Most people listened to whatever was on the radio, it wasn't easy to find other musical pals to bond with and discover new music. I was lucky enough to meet a couple of those guys early on and developed my first 'musical marriages' with them."

Despite mainstream success being only recent, Aaron feels very fulfilled with his journey, and looks on the positive side of his increased experience. "One advantage I feel I have is I have been doing this for a long time. I don't really remember a time when I wasn't writing songs, ever since I picked up a guitar in the third grade. It seemed like something really fun for me to do and it was interesting to me that someone could hear something on a CD (or cassette tape at that time) and be able to apply that to some sort of instrument and physically manifest what you just heard. That was always a cool rush for me and one of the first ways I can remember in which I found contentment, besides surfing. It was a great thing."

Aaron describes the struggle between finding his passion, and finding it's application. "None of the other bands I was in, between picking music up and AWOLNATION, ever ended up having the sort of success you want as a professional songwriter, or any business or career you choose for that matter. It just never quite worked out. There were many times where there were high hopes, maybe a radio station picked up a song or MTV played the video but nothing ever translated to selling tickets or even half the success we are having now."

Aaron and AWOLNATION are still within their first year of success and still a little shell shocked. Without a clear separation between obscurity and fame, looking back and seeing what was different this time as opposed all the false starts is difficult. "Part of it, to me, is just life and the universe; the stars aligned, whatever. I can't really tell you why some of the songs on this AWOLNATION record have been hit singles, whereas in my last band I thought we had songs that deserved the same kind of attention but never saw the light of day."

Megalithic Symphony, released on Red Bull Records, has done incredibly well for a first release, producing two charting singles already and climbing to number 15 on Billboard's US Alternative Album chart. Aaron went with the label because they allowed him utterly complete creative control (even referring to it as a partnership), in fact he really just used their studio to record the AWOLNATION record. Perhaps this artistic freedom is part of the reason this release has made such an impact, perhaps it's partly due to Aaron continually getting better at what he does. "Some of it may be chance, but spending hours and hours writing songs, I guess I figured out how to understand my instrument as a songwriter and an artist. I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to do so much experimenting before this, because it was all a learning experience."

It also primed him to be even more appreciative of the new band's successes. "I went into this project with no expectations of any kind. I just wanted to make a record that blew my own mind foremost. If that happened, I could at least feel proud of that. I felt pretty confident that there would be a certain amount of people that would feel the same way, but I had no idea to what extent. With me being such a huge music nerd, I knew someone would like it as much as I did, but little did I know it would finally turn into the success that has been so elusive all these years."

Aaron had been measuring success by his ability to release music at all. "In the past I have dealt with complications involving labels, contractual issues, legal matters, bonds and all that sort of evil 'workin' for the man? stuff. I put my heart and soul into a bunch of records and songs that I wrote that weren't even allowed to come out because of contractual issues. This time around, being completely free, there are absolutely no rules or expectations except for my own and I was going to put this stuff out regardless of whether I had a label or not. The fact that other people wanted to partner up and help me out probably was a component in making this an undiluted project and therefore, successful."

Red Bull Records helped to facilitate Aaron's vision of complete creative control. "They have an amazing studio in Santa Monica that I was able to use and without that, I couldn't have done it. Not to mention they have a brilliant engineer by the name of Eric Stenman, who happens to be an old friend of mine. He did my first hardcore band's CD for like $500 and I hadn't seen him in over 10 years. When I first began talks with Red Bull, I walked into the studio and he was the engineer there. Again, life being strange and stars aligning I guess. I made one of my first records with the guy and now as an evolved and developed artist have been able to work with him to create a record finally breaking through. I made the record in a room, mostly with just him and I really feel lucky that I got to meet up with him again."

As we talk about this, we should bear one important point in mind. A point which so often gets lost in today's ADHD society, where sometimes not even singles satisfy listeners in the world of mashups, and albums all too often are completely lost. While most of you are probably reading this story because of "Sail," this is a great record and all present should be cautioned not to pin this band into a "Sail" pigeonhole. It can be frustrating for an artist to only be recognized for one small sliver in the great pie of their catalog. Fortunately Aaron is still too enamored with the enthusiastic response to be jaded enough yet to complain. "It isn't frustrating at all, in fact its very rewarding because most people, including myself, don't ever get the opportunity to have that sort of complaint. To even be asked that question is a huge blessing really. To address "Sail" specifically, it has that sort of nursery rhyme quality and just ended up really catchy. It has sort of a soothing melody, straightforward lyrics and it hooks you. I am not upset because all of my other work hasn't had that effect, I am ecstatic that at least one piece of it has.

"'Sail' was written with no expectations of having any label support or radio play whatsoever. I didn't sit down to contrive that, it was just me. I didn't sit down and say 'I want to create a spooky, epic melody with a hip hop beat and this message.' It wasn't calculated, it was what came out of me at that moment."

The story of Sail's origin is inspiring and depressing at the same time; Aaron was in a stagnant place when he wrote it, yet it also turned out to be his boon. "It actually was a song that was written at a time when there was no hope for me ever touring again, or putting out any more records. I was doing the best I could at the studio and was even working another job at the time, writing half-assed pop songs for bubble-gum artists that were giving me and my keyboard player a couple hundred bucks a song two or three times a month and that's how I was getting by. If you do the math, it wasn't really working. It was a really weird and transitional time in my life and I guess 'Sail' came out of that."

Aaron says "Sail," more than anything, was a random sort of notation of his state of affairs. "That strange time for me was almost a sort of journal entry that turned into a song. I think I got very lucky to have said something no one's ever said, or maybe not in a while, or maybe just in a new way and it connected with people. That and the beat and melody just seemed to have some sort of haunting hook to it."

It was a little bit of a surprise for Aaron even. He described it almost as an aside, the track is even buried at number 10 on Megalithic Symphony, but somewhere it transformed from an afterthought into an organic force with a life of its own. "I thought it was one of the stranger sounding songs on the record...I was very grateful that what I believed to be more or less of a center album single ended up being THE single. It made AWOLNATION and myself sort of the oddity or outlier of the class, because this song sounds so ominously different from anything else in new alternative music."

Despite the insane virility of "Sail" taking off from sharing and people like Jeb Corliss (who Aaron says actually approached A.N. after the song had taken off), Aaron has even higher hopes for their second single, a track less dark than "Sail" but just as catchy, titled "Not Your Fault." I personally watched the music video once, which by the way is extremely cool and was made in the style of the 1964 stop-motion Christmas classic "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"and can't get the song out of my head.

"Now 'Not Your Fault' is charting better than "Sail" even did. Of course that is all based on a strange and sort of obtuse business related math I don?t really understand, but I do know it's doing well. If it weren't for "Sail," this song probably would have never made it on the radio. "Sail" has literally built us a house that we can start decorating. It just so happens that the layout of this house is kind of strange, which gives us room for some interesting architecture and design moving forward. If we'd been stuck with a standard ballad as the breakout hit, it would be much easier to be forced into a very cookie cutter career progression from there. From here, I feel we can truly make our own way."

Have AWOLNATION make their way to your campus, because this band is super hot and will only continue their rise. Adam Brill and Corrie Christopher at APA are taking late spring festival dates and filling AWOLNATION's fall calendar as well, so grab this band while they're still a reality for most campuses, before they follow in the footsteps of their agency brethren like Fallout Boy, Plain White T's and other monster successes. Mention this article and get exclusive opportunities courtesy Campus Activities Magazine®. Get in touch with Adam and Corrie at APA at (310) 888-4200 or corrie@apa-agency.coma