AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno Tells Us How His Dogs Helped Inspire ‘Here Come the Runts’
As an artist with a devout following, switching genres is almost impossible. Luckily for Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION, he didn’t so much switch genres as he did renovate his electro past with raucous guitars and a go get ‘em style. From his breakout single “Sail” back in 2011, Bruno’s pseudo solo-project has run through a tear of electronic-influenced rock albums. His new project “Here Come the Runts” takes that same energy yet uses the raw electricity of guitars, organic drums and Bruno’s signature self-deprecating lyricism. This is, perhaps, a new page for AWOLNATION.
As the North American tour kicks off, and before stops in New York on Feb. 22 and back-to-back shows in his hometown of Los Angeles on March 15 and 16, Bruno spoke with Entertainment Voice about his latest passion project, his admiration for Rick Rubin and why his dog deserves to be President.
“Here Come the Runts” mixes both serious rock n’ roll with your lyrical humor. How would you describe the end result of this combination?
Well, music can become very heavy, very serious and emotional sometimes. So it’s nice to remind the listener… as a listener myself I wanna hear an album, if there’s some sort of sarcastic element, some sort of moment to remind me as a listener that, you know, we’re all the same and we all appreciate these kind of moments. Basically in a nutshell, to not take ourselves to seriously. I think that’s important. It can be accomplished.
Underneath a lot of the irony and self-deprecation, there’s certainly a lot of sincerity. How personal does this record feel for you?
Very. It all is. It’s all very personal, of course. You’re trying to bare your soul, you know? And hope that people can relate. I just felt a little more open and honest and clear than I had ever felt before. I think that can come across on the album for sure.
The single “Handyman” stands out as one which feels deeply personal from an outsider’s perspective. What can you tell us about this song?
The simple chord progression. Almost every chord progression has been tried and true, you know, for hundreds of years of music. I’ve never tried to reinvent the wheel with new chord progressions. It was something that was being strummed and the lyrics just poured out of me fairly quick and seamlessly. It seemed pretty important at the time. It’s a bit of straight-forward love song in a lot of ways, where there’s not actually, at least in my head, there’s a nostalgic sort of happy ending to it all. Both with the video too, as well as the lyrics. But through that kind of resolve, there’s some questions whether or not it’s gonna end good along the way. I’m always turned on by the ups and downs of life and the struggle and what keeps us either emotionally satisfied or happy, you know. The song’s really about the idea of going back in time and doing things over and how you would approach things differently and possibly warn either someone you love very much, or even yourself, of mistakes to come and hope to not make those mistakes. But, at the same time, mistakes along our journey definitely shape who we are and our personalities and our character, so I think that’s important too.
“A Little Luck and a Couple Dogs,” though only 30 seconds long, has a beautiful poeticism to it. You’ve even posted videos of your dogs running around your California property where you recorded the album. What can you tell us about your pups?
Billy, my first born, is a lab/vizsla mix. They’re both rescue dogs. I encourage anyone to rescue when they have the opportunity to. I mean, all dogs need a home. I’m not trying to frown on people finding from a breeder necessarily, but I always encourage people to rescue. Anyways, they were both the runts of the litter. The other one name is Sally. We don’t know what she is. We actually just recently, we get pretty psychotic, but we did a DNA test to find out what…and I don’t know how accurate these tests are, but we’re gonna find out what she is or isn’t. I don’t know what she is. She’s definitely hilarious. But Billy, the lab/vizsla should be the President of the United States because she’s so smart. It would be an upgrade obviously. She’s the love of my life. I miss her so much right now. Sometimes she gets to come on the road, but right now since we have Sally too, they kind of keep each other company.
The record’s not about dogs necessarily, but I just thought of it as a metaphor and a nice story line to take the attention off anything too literal, I guess, you know. Often times the runt is special and unique, to stand out a lot. And to me, that’s been the case with her and other dogs in the past I’ve noticed. The runts seem to appreciate the love a lot. They have a lot more to overcome so they have a certain kind of fight and a certain kind of kindness all at the same time. This record and this whole project of AWOLNATION has always, to me, represented the underdog as much as it can – given that it’s been more successful than I could have ever anticipated or dreamt. This was never handed to me or anything. I’ve had to scratch and claw my way to be heard since I first started writing songs. So, to go full-circle, the runt can be special and shouldn’t go overlooked.
Alongside Riley Harper, you directed the music video for “Seven Sticks of Dynamite.” Was this your first time directing?
How did you find the process of both starring in and directing a music video?
It was a lot easier…it’s embarrassing to have to be in front of a camera. Not the part of this whole thing that I signed up for or anticipated despising so much, you know. Being behind the camera made it a lot easier because I saw exactly what the results were, I had to tap into both sides of the camera with my brain so I could focus on how it looked, the framing and the choreography of the whole thing. And it was really fun. All of my friends were there and it was a really light-hearted video. I wasn’t trying to make any sort of deep connection there. There’s always some sort of rabbit that we’re all chasing, right? And most often they get away. And in this case, Dr. Wu, who’s also a good friend of mine, he got away, I couldn’t catch him. I asked a couple friends to make cameos, like him and others. I was surprised that they wanted to be a part of it.
In the same video, Rick Rubin makes a cameo, someone whom you’ve said you idolize. As a producer whose worked with so many varying artists, what’s some of your favorite work of his?
If you look at it, I think he’s responsible in so many ways for bringing hip-hop…to the mainstream. Combining Aerosmith and Run DMC, of course, and his work with the Beastie Boys and just blowing it out of the water in so many ways. But you can’t overlook his work with… the Geto Boys and everything in between. Even those System of a Down records were insane how great they sounded when they came out. The list goes on and on. I mean, let’s talk about the Johnny Cash covers album. That’s was one of the most endearing, brilliant records. It’s such a simple concept. It’s one of those, ‘Wow, why didn’t I think of that.’ Not that I had access to Mr. Cash at the time (laughs), but he’s just great. Somewhere along the way, along my journey, I found out that he was a fan of mine and I just can’t believe I even get to say that sentence. We connected and I’ve been showing him my early demos for different records ever since, and getting his approval and thumbs up. He never gives me a thumbs down, but the thumbs up is so much more stronger than the medium reaction, if you will, that I can tell which ones seem to be stronger than others. So it’s just been really cool to sit there and talk music (with him).
You and the band kicked off the supporting tour on Feb. 11. How much fun has it been performing this album on stage thus far?
It’s really fun. Very serious though, because we want to make sure we’re as good as can be. So, while it’s a blast to play live, we’re still in the self-analytical process of it all. So each morning I’m waking up and thinking what was a little bit sloppy? What could be better? There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of sloppiness here and there, or it being raw, you know, on the spot. But there’s different things to make it sound better, to make the presentation better, make the stage look better. Really utilizing the opportunity to play for these people who spend their hard-earned money to see me, of all people, and these other guys. We don’t take that for granted. It’s hard to make money in this world. For anyone to spend their currency on an AWOLNATION show just kind of blows me away and I feel a really serious responsibility to be as good as possible. So currently, right now, I’m just kind of focusing on how to get better. I haven’t been able to celebrate it or appreciate it just yet.
Has it changed the overall vibe of your live shows, considering the juxtaposition from your more electronic music from past albums and the rock-heavy “Here Come the Runts” tracks?
Yea, for sure. Before, people would come and see us and say ‘Man, you guys are so much heavier live,’ and this and that. I understand where they’re coming from on that, but on this album it’s a much easier transition because my guitarist Zach Irons, for example, played guitar on each song. My drummer Isaac Carpenter played drums on each song. Dan, our keyboard player, he played some keys on a few songs while I played most of the keys on the rest of it. So, it’s just been an easier transition and a different kind of ownership because they were involved. Where before I would preexist these albums and then show the band and say ‘Hey, I hope you like this. Here we go. Let’s do it!’ So, it’s a lot more fun and collaborative and it feels a lot more like, you know, the exciting youthful comradery that the band’s always been in the past, but not any of the bullshit drama from the past (laughs). It’s been really cool. I wake up excited to play another show and do something better.