AWOLNATION's Aaron Bruno Never Thought "Sail" Would Be a Hit

Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION
Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION
Kari Rowe

AWOLNATION's success is a slow clap.

The Los Angeles band's music has been featured in dozens of television and reality shows, commercials, and soundtracks. Macy Gray and metal band DevilDriver have covered the group's six-times platinum single "Sail." The same song has been used to sell phones and sportswear. It even aired on "House." There's a dichotomous appeal -- it's been used everywhere over the last four years, but it's still not tired. The sound can be edgy, vulnerable and delicious enough that the mainstream media is shamelessly smothering it in Sriracha for every marketing cause imaginable. When asked what the weirdest thing AWOLNATION's music has promoted, though, front man Aaron Bruno answers, "Anything. It's still weird to me that anyone wants any of it."

The last time AWOLNATION was in Phoenix, Bruno admits, "it was a weird show." The singer had destroyed his voice in Los Angeles the night before, was fighting a cold and hadn't quit smoking yet. Though no audience member may have noticed, keyboardist Kenny Carkeet's case of food poisoning had him hurling throughout the set, and Bruno adds the group was still just cutting its teeth on the whole touring thing.

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"This time, it's going to be a whole different story," he says.

The band, performing on Friday, March 13, at Pot of Gold Fest at Tempe Beach Park, will be gearing up for its St. Patrick's Day release of its sophomore record RUN. Though the band's passive-aggressive, lightly industrial singles still growl their way between Taylor Swift and Avicii, the group's debut album, Megalithic Symphony, dropped almost exactly four years ago. While that success has padded any pressure to release a new album, Bruno is ready for round two in the three-ring.

"It's a nice sigh of relief," Bruno says of the "RUN" release. "I think this record touches on so many different tempos and feelings that it is possible that people can actually pay attention to it [from start to finish]. It does play into society's ADD."

Bruno says of all the songs he thought would take off first, "Sail" was a surprise.

"While they're all slightly strange in their own way," Bruno says of his debut album's songs, "['Sail'] was one of the stranger and darker songs. I felt very blessed to expand on that feeling and mood with [RUN]. The stars aligned for the songs I'm really proud of."

The success of "Sail" over the band's more pop-influenced records, says Bruno, was the artistic license he needed to write more music that welds industrial, pop, electronic, songwriter and a bit of disco on the group's sophomore album.

"I felt if anything the (success of 'Sail' gave me) artistic license to be strange," Bruno says. "If it had been 'All I Need' or 'People,' I would have felt pressure to go in a more poppy direction. People appreciate the stranger side of me and that's what I do best."

If AWOLNATION's music seems conflicted, it is. And this sound is ever more apparent on the new records, which shift between catchy to moody and split by very human, sad and deceptively mundane voicemails samples.

"What feels most natural to me is to speak on the struggle of life," Bruno says. "I like music that feels victorious in the face of chaos and adversity."

Bruno's struggle to catch the radio waves was choppy. He admits he still has a gigantic chip on his shoulder from years of trying to get people to just listen.

"It wasn't about the songs being good. It was the struggle to get people to hear the songs," he says.

Conversely, he takes pleasure knowing people are still discovering the band's music for the first time every day and would never try to force his music on anyone. Now that they're on the map, he feels confident that the music and listeners will find one another.

"I want to let people discover something for themselves," he says. "I love to discover stuff on my own. I respect the listener very much. Word-of-mouth is very strong. People will gravitate toward this record one way or another."

AWOLNATION is scheduled to play Tempe Beach Park on Friday, March 13.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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