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Give Your Soul A Rest: AWOLNATION, Pressure And Album Two

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 Written by Huw Baines

Photos: Craig Thomas/Tallboy Images for Stereoboard.com (c) 2014

Perhaps it’s not stated enough, but it’s important to wear the right shoes. Stepping on stage at Bristol’s Trinity on Monday night, for the first date of a whistle-stop UK tour, AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno was struck by just that thought.

With his footwear fit for skating but not Moonwalking, he settled into his rhythm a little slower than he might have liked. But, in truth, the gig was always likely to feel a little like rediscovering something that was once second nature.

“It was our first show back in the saddle,” Bruno said the following afternoon. “I’ve been doing a lot of writing and getting ready for the second record to come out, whenever the hell that is, so it was nice to get the band back together and play a show. I walked on stage and thought to myself: ‘Oh fuck. I’m the singer of this band. Shit, I gotta entertain people.’ So I just let it go.”

That sophomore record has been a topic of discussion for the band’s many admirers for some time. Bruno’s first under the AWOLNATION moniker, ‘Megalythic Symphony’, was a sleeper hit of rare proportions following its release in the spring of 2011, propelled by the Billboard chart-dominating single, Sail.

It’s called the ‘difficult second album’ for a reason, as Bruno is all too aware. He’s been holed up on a ranch for most of the winter with a makeshift studio, some great California waves and his writing for company, with his pursuit of bigger and better piling weight on shoulders not used to that kind of burden.

“There’s going to be a lot of anticipation for the follow-up record and I’ve never had this kind of pressure before,” he said. “Every record I’ve ever put out in my life was the debut album. I’ve made a bunch of debut albums. This is the first sophomore record I’ve made, when really it’s the sixth or seventh I’ve made if you count all the other bands, from my first punk rock band when I was 16 up until now. It’s absolutely terrifying.

“I think that’s good, though. Before I was always the underdog. I had a lot to say, I had a chip on my shoulder and I wanted to prove everybody wrong. That happened, so I don’t really have that kind of chip on my shoulder. It’s a different one. It’s just the horror I feel of failure.

“I like to think that Sail is my Creep. At least in America, no-one knows any other songs off ‘Pablo Honey’ besides Creep. And then ‘The Bends’ came out and it was such a beautiful record. And after that, ‘OK Computer’ completely changed music. So, hopefully this follow up is something inbetween ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’, artistically speaking of course. That meets ‘Thriller’, meets Refused’s ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come’. All in one. By the way, it sounds nothing like any of those things. But that’s the spirit I’m going for.”

Bruno’s policy of isolation followed a ferocious touring schedule for the band’s last record, allowing him a little bit of space to reflect on an unexpected smash hit and the freedom to open the songwriting vault full-time after snippets were pulled together on the road.

“I find that when the songwriting process becomes too calculated I don’t do my best work,” he said. “It’s when I’m feeling good and open, and something just comes out of my hands on the piano or guitar, synthesizer or drum beat. Or a piece of paper where lyrics just pour out of me.

“I moved into a barn on a privately owned ranch north of Santa Barbara in California, where there’s no cell service at all. I lived on top of the barn, in this one bedroom shoebox sort of situation. The only things that were around were my lady, my buddy who owns the place and a bunch of cows and horses. I definitely gave my soul a rest from modern technology and society.

“That was one of the best times in my whole entire life and it was only then that I was able to look back and reflect on the achievement of the first record and get focused and ready, pretty pissed off about what I needed to do next.”

Despite the odd press report dropping the ‘concept album’ bomb, Bruno is considered when discussing the record’s overriding themes. Like ‘Megalythic Symphony’, listeners can expect something that is tied together, if not entirely in a narrative sense, then by mood.

“There’s a bit of a story I’m telling,” he said. “You know, what is a concept album? Every album has some sort of concept, right? I don’t know if I should be so brave as to call it a concept album. There is definitely a theme. The first one, I don’t know if I’d call it a concept album necessarily, but it definitely had a commonality in the feeling of the record.

“This one follows that path. It’s certainly weirder, I think. But then again, when I made the first record, nothing sounded like it and people thought I was nuts. I certainly didn’t think Sail was going to be the massive, platinum smash hit that it became.”

If ‘Megalythic Symphony’ was Bruno discovering some uncomfortable things about what had gone before him, then its follow up has a slightly more personal focus. It is, in part at least, about how the outside world can’t change some of the incontrovertible truths inside us, for better or worse.

“I went through a break up so, you know, blah blah blah, break up songs and all that kind of stuff, and I have a new relationship, so there’s a lot about self-reflection and love,” he said. “The first was a lot about how the world was and my discovery of how often and how much we’ve been lied to growing up. History is written by the victors, right? So, I think that we barely know the half of it. And I don’t know anything, by the way. I think that’s the secret, to acknowledge that we know nothing. Then you can start to learn something.

“I feel like I tackled that on the first record. This one seems to be more about human relations and how, after all this success, I don’t necessarily feel more complete as a human being, or better off necessarily. I still feel the same insecurities I felt before, I still have the same confidence I had before, the same sadness. It’s all the same, just coming from a different position. I have a platform now. I know that people will hear it. Before, all I ever wanted was a chance to be heard. Now I have that, so we’ll see what I do with it.”

To check out more of Tallboy Images' AWOLNATION live shots, head here.

AWOLNATION Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed May 28 2014 - BIRMINGHAM Institute
Thu May 29 2014 - MANCHESTER Academy
Fri May 30 2014 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Sat May 31 2014 - NORWICH Waterfront

Click here to compare & buy AWOLNATION Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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