Q&A with Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION

Photo by Wesley Ng
Photo by Wesley Ng

We’ve all heard “Sail,” the latest rock anthem by AWOLNATION that hit #5 on the Billboard Alternative Charts. Red Bull, in conjunction with Red Bull Records (the band’s current label), helped arrange for me to meet with and interview AWOLNATION’s frontman Aaron Bruno. Bruno is known for drawing inspiration from his experiences and struggles, and defying the traditional concept of dividing music into genres. I sat down with the man himself before the band’s performance for a laidback conversation about his music and personal life.

GK: Is it true that you have a fear of flying?

AB: I’m not very comfortable with flying necessarily, but I’ve gotten much better at it. I don’t know of a fear, like as if the plane is going to crash—I just have social anxiety and claustrophobia…and a bit of a germ freak as well, so those elements all add into flying not being good for me.

GK: So going back to the social anxiety, I heard during your freestyle rap battle days, your nickname was AWOL, because you liked to skip out early on parties and social gatherings without saying goodbye to anyone. So, would you say that you’re not really big on the party scene?

AB: I guess I’ve never been…at this point in my life the right parties are always a good party to go to. But in high school I was definitely into going to shows, which I suppose are their own form of parties, you know. But we were driving actually to Corona, which is not far from here, to a place called the Showcase Theater, and spent a lot of our time. Instead of going to the beer, the kegger party in the cool spot at home, we would go drive as far as possible, or as far it took, to go see concerts. So yeah, I wasn’t super into parties as when I was in high school. But this party is different, you know, today.

GK: One of your biggest regrets at one point was not sticking with piano lessons in the first grade. So, how do you think your music today might have been influenced differently if you had continued those lessons?

AB: That’s a good question. I don’t know if the songs would be better or worse, you never know. I mean, they could be better in some ways, but also, I think that if I had a vast understanding of the way that instrument works, it maybe would have made me question things too much. So, I have no regrets of however it is that I end up writing these songs, and I write these songs as a result of the lack of piano lessons, I guess. But it would be nice to be able to sit down and just play a nice mood, you know—how many houses have you gone to where there’s a nice piano in the corner? No one’s playing it. Every instrument has a voice that wants to be heard. I wish I could go down there and just set a vibe. If you guys were having drinks, I would like to sit down and play a little mellow ditty on the piano, but that’s not my vibe. I can get by for the songs I write, but I can’t serenade you with the piano.

GK: So what song on “Megalithic Symphony” do you have the most fun performing live?

AB: It changes every show, it really does. I would say that right now, whatever we’re doing that’s the newest adjustment to a song or extension or addition to the song that’s normally my favorite. Well, the new song that’s not on [“Megalithic Symphony”] is my favorite to play right now, but aside of that it really all depends. When we play “Knights of Shame,” that’s really fun, ’cause it’s long and we switch up instruments a little bit, and it’s a very musical song, so it’s a lot of time for people to kind of digest what we’re all about in one song’s worth of time.

GK: How is performing on a college campus different from performing at other venues?

AB: I mean, it seems like most times it’s free for the students, right? When they do these kinds of shows. So, I mean that’s a great thing, so everybody gets to come to the show, and there’s a good chance that we could be playing for people who have never heard us before because it’s just the thing to do tonight. So that’s a great opportunity for us. And normally, kids just want to go crazy. I mean, school… School’s tough, right? So, I think that people want to let loose. And I didn’t go to college, so it’s, for me, a really nice thing to be able to sort of host and entertain a party that I probably wouldn’t have gone to. I wouldn’t have been invited or I wouldn’t have been at school to be able to have that opportunity. It’s nice to get…a couple of the benefits of college now in my older age, I suppose.

GK: A lot of people are definitely excited to have you here.

AB: Oh, good!

GK: Well, in 2011, a fan video parody of “Sail” by YouTubers Shawna Howson and Tessa Violet went viral. What do you think of fan videos and parodies like that?

AB: It’s great. If someone wants to pay attention to a song I’ve written and do the spoof on it, that’s great and there’s a bunch of strange versions of “Sail” videos on the Internet. You know there’s the cat one that people seem to love. I love that one. […] The Jeb Corliss video has been great. So anytime someone wants to put anything out, it’s always a good thing…

GK: That’s really cool that you keep track of those.

AB: Someone always says, “Have you seen this, dude?” I’m like, “Of course, I saw the cat thing…a year ago.” Our bass player said that when he joined the band. He was like, [whispers] “Have you seen this cat thing?”

GK: What would be your dream tour with any band, dead or alive?

AB: My dream tour would be a tour that consists on the different coasts throughout the world where the waves are good around that time of the year, first and foremost. And it would also be cool to have that tour and a local up-and-coming artist play different sections of the tour so you never get sick of one band. And that way you get an opportunity to see new music as well. I will say that the band The Sounds…my last band Under the Influence of Giants did a tour with The Sounds where we shared a bus and we became really, really close, and had probably the best time of my life on that tour…so I’m assuming this fantasy tour would have The Sounds in it as well. […] It would be cool to open up for Michael Jackson, of course. That would be the coolest thing possible, I think.

GK: So, it’s definitely no secret that you love surfing. What first drew your attention to surfing?

AB: My older brother and my dad. They were going so I wanted to go, and I went and checked it out, and I loved it. So I just fell in love with the ocean, and when you’re a kid it’s good to do physical activity and figure out different things to do to stay healthy I suppose, and it was a nice alternative choice to the typical soccer, baseball, football, basketball, which I did those things, too, but surfing was sort of like going against the grain a little bit. It was a underground type of thing where I grew up [Thousand Oaks].

GK: More recently you’ve picked up reading.

AB: I would say, yeah, in the last three or four years, because of all the traveling, and I’ve finally had the right amount of time to read, so it’s more of a constant thing in my life than it was before.

GK: Have you read any really good books lately?

AB: I just finished the Neil Young book. I’d give it a solid C+. I love Neil Young so much that I expected a little more from it, but I did like it a lot. I read the Keith Richards book, “Life,” that was great. But before that I got into all the different beat writers and sort of went down the line of all the classics. I would say that Charles Bukowski’s book “Women” was definitely up there in my top three favorite books. Jack Kerouac’s great as well, William S. Burroughs, I love. I read anything I can get my hands on that’s interesting to me, be it just different online articles.

GK: Now, I have some silly, random questions that were contributed by a bunch of different people. Okay, favorite cartoon?

AB: I really love “Popeye” a lot, and I love the black-and-white, old “Popeye” cartoons. I loved “He-Man” a lot, but that’s kind of whack looking back now, so I’m going to go with “Popeye”…the original.

GK: Soft shell or hard shell tacos?

AB: I like both. I’m a huge fan of the double decker taco, which soft and hard, at Taco Bell. But when it comes to a restaurant, so real genuine, authentic Mexican food, I’m going to go with hard shell tacos. Unless it’s fish tacos…I don’t eat meat anymore, I’m episcaterian. I would say soft shell tacos for fish tacos, but hard shell tacos with beef. Do you know what I mean? Or pollo. Depends on how drunk you are, too.

GK: I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them…they’re a British boy band, but if you could describe One Direction in one word?

AB: [After some silence] Void.

GK: Have you seen or read the “Harry Potter” series?

AB: No, I watched the first three of them and then I got a little bored.

GK: Okay, well there’s this thing called the Patronus, where it’s sort of your guardian animal that shoots out of your wand and protects you. So if you and the band had Patronus charms, what would they be?

AB: For me it would be a dolphin. I mean come on just swim all up in your face and get…the best waves. I’d also die when there’s no ocean, so that wouldn’t be cool. Our drummer, he’d be a shark. Yeah, that’s a really good question. Kenny would be probably a monkey of some sort…Drew would probably be a zebra…and Devin our bass player would be a porcupine, I think.

GK: If you could open a store, any kind of store in the future what would you sell?

AB: Well, am I just trying to make money or am I trying to do something that’s awesome?

GK: Something that’s awesome.

AB: I would try to sell some of the best experiences I’ve had through probably a pill form. So it would be a drug that you would get to have, and depending on what was on the menu that day it could be a different kind of journey. But I would provide some of the good times that I’ve gotten to have and experiences and stuff that everyone in this world should experience at one point. I would put that in a drug form, in a pill form, and have you take that. So it would be like the Aaron Drug, I guess. And it would be cool for everyone to have that. It would be cool if I could have your drug as well, and go through your awesome moments that you’ve had in your life.

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