The multi-talented frontman holds one measure of success above all else: Making sure mom and dad are happy too.
For Aaron Bruno, the sole proprietor and main producer of AWOLNATION, the idea of being outside of the music industry’s standards is something he says comes naturally and drives the progression of his career. After his last band broke up, there wasn’t any real desire to start a whole new one — so he continued producing music he wanted to create without the help from outside perspectives.
The result is the current electronic rock form seen dominating charts and controlling everything from commercials to sitcoms and even a blockbusting super-hero movie. As bright as these successes all are, the stomped-in path to get to the positions and the accompanying soundtrack to them is what gives the act its distinct identity.
For an artist to roll solo in music isn’t all that much of an oddity — singer/songwriters do it all the time. For one to manage it in a saturated rock landscape of expendable triplets or quartets, however, lends itself a uniqueness all on its own. While Bruno does have touring musicians accompanying him on the road, the writing, performance and production on both studio albums is generally all his.
“It’s not something I love to talk too much about,” says Bruno about his band’s configuration. “I think the label gets more excited about bragging about that aspect of me, but it’s a little uncomfortable to even really think about it or talk about.
He says going solo was due to circumstances beyond his control, something that ended up happening in his career because of the past. But after signing with Red Bull Records — an abnormality in the industry all its own — he was given opportunities to make the music he wanted to make, all without the standard pressures of big labels or other’s input.
It came with a surge of popularity, too, with 2011’s “Sail” (now 6x platinum in the US, with multiple other platinum distinctions around the world) eventually going on to hold the record for the most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by an independent artist and the second longest for any artist. The success of that hit, plus the other smash singles “Not Your Fault,” “Kill Your Heroes” and “Thiskidsnotalright” would place Bruno in an echelon of current rock nobility.
But listen to any of AWOLNATION’s songs, and it’s clear there isn’t anything typically rock and roll about them. There’s a contrasting vibe, varying structure and a fragile, unknowable ingredient, which puts its sound into uneasy classifications. It can build the listener up, ride them down, crash with unrelenting aggression and then move swiftly into anthemic and repetitious cadence all without tripping over itself. It’s an untold rawness, and something Bruno says comes without much forethought.
“There’s no conscious effort to do anything other than just be the best I can be and be authentic and true to my heart and soul,” he says. “I’m just drawing influences from all sorts of different places.”
As a self-described "huge music freak" himself, Bruno says his appreciation for every genre of sound is what drives him to discover a comfortable niche. Now through his second album, “Run,” he says the idea of being able to do what he feels he does best — regardless if people like it or not — is a gift.
Through both albums, Bruno claims to have written many songs and created myriad different albums from bands in the past that haven’t seen the success like the current one has, and he’s stoked on the opportunity — but it’s not like it wasn’t without adversity.
“Just because you think of a song or just because you write a song doesn’t mean it’s a good song,” he says. “Since there’s no arguments in my situation, it’s easy for me to sit back and just assess the songs I’ve written. I also don’t take myself too seriously. I’m very capable of making fun of myself and absolutely tearing a vocal performance to shreds or even a lyric to shreds.”
By the time AWOLNATION releases a song, he says, it’s already been put through a tumultuous ringer of scrutiny from personal doubt and self-depreciation. In the end, Bruno is likely the most aggressive critic he has. But what matters to him most is whether or not Mom and Dad approve.
“It’s (all) great, but mostly I feel extremely pleased that my parents are proud,” Bruno says with a laugh. “Because … had this not worked out … they would have felt like they failed me as parents, that they didn’t lead me down the right musical path. That’s probably the most consistent thought I have as far as when I take in a breath of what’s really happening in my career, that I’m happy and pleased that they’re not devastated.”
AWOLNATION will have two Colorado shows next month: one on July 11 headlining KTCL 93.3’s Big Gig, and the other in Ft. Collins at the Aggie Theatre on July 28. The Rocky Mountain market has always been good to Bruno, helping launch a productive career with high-selling shows and larger bills through the years. It’s a feature of the area Bruno says he never takes for granted.
“Even from my earliest travelings with other bands, Colorado has always seemed to be pretty open and forward-thinking when it comes to music,” he says. “Why that is, I don’t exactly know. The city is pretty rad and artistic and surrounded by such majestic beauty. Maybe everybody kind of relates to that and there’s a commonality where we’re feeling a similar spiritual feeling of nature, why we connect so much. I’m not sure …”
It’s different here, in more ways than one …
“I certainly feel different if I drink the same amount of alcohol that I would usually, because I’ve learned the worst hangover in the world is probably in Colorado,” he says, laughing. “’I’ve lived, I’ve learned’ … like Alanis Morissette …”