Aaron Bruno has been making music ever since he was in high school, and at the beginning of his career, he played in several bands before he formed AWOLNATION in 2009. Three years later, they released their first album that included their mega hit “Sail”, which so far has been streamed more than 700 million times on Spotify alone. During their more than a decade-long career, they released four studio albums, they played at one of Hungary’s and Europe’s biggest festival, Sziget, and their fifth album has just arrived. This one is special, though, because it’s a covers record including collaborations with several other artists.
The album is called “My Echo, My Shadow, My Covers & Me” with the likes of Beck, Jewel, Conor Mason and Taylor Hanson appearing on in, and it includes covers of many timeless classics such as “Material Girl”, ”Beds Are Burning”, ”Maniac”, ”Winds of Change” or ”Take a Chance on Me”. We sat down for an interview with Aaron before its release to talk about the album, the collaborating musicians, his experience at Sziget here in Hungary, their new original album, which is coming soon, and of course we taught him a little Hungarian, as well, which he was a bit scared of at first since they tried to trick him with this abroad before – exlusive interview with AWOLNATION’s frontman, Aaron Bruno.
I’m good! It’s morning here, so that’s why you’re not seeing my face, ’cause my face looks crazy, man!
Okay, so your new album „My Echo, My Shadow, My Covers & Me” is coming out on May 6. I’m wondering, how did the idea of making a covers album come about?
Well, I just released an original album, which happened to be my fourth album called „Angel Miners & the Lightning Riders”, so that came out, and just like everybody else in the world, it got shot down. You know we were gonna do your traditional album cycle, tour all over the States and the world, and that album cycle got shot down.
I was at home thinking, well, I’m not really in the mood to make another new record ’cause I just finished this one, what can I do to stay busy and stay positive?
And so, digging into some of these older songs, they were very nostalgic to me and really fun to my upbringing. It felt like the right thing to do as an exercise and a way to, honestly, get re-inspired to make original music once I was done with the covers album.
I would compare it to a bit of an intermission for me as a songwriter.
Can you tell us what inspired the title?
Yeah, it’s based off an old folk song. I don’t know who originally wrote the song, but I discovered it by an artist named The Ink Spots and I think this came out, I wanna say the ’60s? But anyways, the song is called „We Three (My Echo, My Shadow And Me)”. It was just a nice old song I was listening to at the time and I’m like, oh wow, that’s so cool, so it’s a spin on that. Very appropriate because at the time, like everyone else, I was spending a lot of time alone with my own thoughts. Of course, I was lucky to spend that time with my wife and my two dogs. So yeah, that’s pretty much why it was, well, obviously a covers record and then really a way to combat the isolation of a world that was going through something together.
The tracklist is full of classics. How did you select the songs you covered?
I don’t have a sexy answer to this question, I wish I had! I should have just made something up ’cause I have to keep answering this. It was really random, these are just songs I always thought were very powerful and, again, really fun that I grew up hearing all the time. While these songs may not be obvious hits to maybe people much younger than me, these are all classic songs to me whether it’s „Just a Friend” or „Beds Are Burning” and the list goes on. You know, Madonna’s „Material Girl”, that was on all the time in my mom’s car growing up, as she would take me to little league baseball practice or elementary school.
I wanted to cover songs that weren’t necessarily too similar to what the sound of AWOLNATION is, you know.
Honestly, it was just really random. The only thing I didn’t wanna do is cover extremely obvious songs like a Beatles song or a Nirvana song or a Radiohead song.
Is there a specific song on the album that you have a special connection with?
Umm, you know, no? But the song „Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan which came out in 1972, so I think that’s the oldest song I did. The lyrics, I always knew that song, right? And I’m sure a lot of people do, but I never took the time to put the lyrics under a microscope like I had to with all these songs I sing the words to and it just blew my mind. The story of sadness and loss of life and love and it felt very appropriate for how I was feeling, and I think many humans were feeling at the time. I’m very grateful that I got to read the actual lyrics almost like a short story and I encourage anyone to check out those lyrics. It was almost hard to sing that song without chocking up from how devastating those lyrics were.
Out of the songs on the record, which is the one that you wish you had written yourself?
That’s a great question. I would have to say probably that song, „Alone Again (Naturally)”, but since I just spoke on that, I’ll choose another one. Probably ABBA, „Take a Chance on Me”. It’s such a simple yet complicated pop song. I guess since I’m half Swedish, that’s the choice I’ll go with.
What did you enjoy the most about the creation process of this project?
I think what I enjoyed most is while I was making it, it didn’t feel like the world was gonna end and it made me feel normal again.
It was a way to connect to other artists. This record wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago because we weren’t allowed to see each other, right? So with today’s technology, it was such a beautiful thing that I could have Beck or Jewel send me their vocal, even though I think Beck lives somewhere in LA or Malibu, which isn’t too far from me, but we obviously couldn’t get together. It was a great excuse in a way to stay social while social distancing. I know that’s the last thing people even wanna think about right now, as the world in moving ahead, but it is a real thing that happened to us and this was my way of dealing with it.
There are a lot of collaborations on the album. Can you tell us a bit about the process of choosing which artists you wanted to work with on this project?
Sure! Most of the artists I either am friendly with or have relationships with over the years of travel and playing different shows and everything that comes with being in a touring act. And then some were newer friends that I met during the lockdown process where concerts weren’t possible so people did a lot of those online streaming concerts. I was part of one for that Jewel put on. She did this wonderful charity and I got asked to do a cover song, having nothing to do with my covers album, but a cover song on her live streaming charity. I chose to do a Beck song from his album „Sea Change” that I love very much. He saw it and reached out to me and said, „wow that’s really pretty, great job” or something like that. You know, something really nice and that blew my mind ’cause I love Beck, grew up looking up to him a lot so I was like „wow, this is so cool, Beck approved of my cover song of his”, and so I thought, why not ask him to do a cover song with my on my album now? And I’m gonna ask Jewel, as well, because I just did this thing for her, and see what happens, and they both said yes.
The 15-year-old in me would have never dreamt that I have Beck and Jewel on one of my albums, even though it’s a covers album.
That was kind of a happy accident.
Speaking of collaborations, who is your dream collaborator that you haven’t got the chance to work with yet?
Jeff Lynne from Electric Light Orchestra.
Would you consider making a volume 2 for this album?
Yeah, I would. I would love to do that because there are so many songs that I didn’t get to touch. I didn’t wanna overdo it and do 20 songs, right? So once I do this next original album, we’ll see. The funny thing is about it, a lot of our fans have been I think a little worried that since there’s this covers album, there’s gonna be no more original music. I had to clarify that, and say, hey, this was therapeutic for me, and it was the way for the to get back into original songs, so.
I don’t wanna become a covers band or anything like that, but, it was really fun, super easy and I’d love to do it again.
As you said, you’re working on a new original album. How is that shaping up?
I think it’s going pretty good. I mean, I’m very good at sort of ignoring the progress of the writing of a new album, so I recently actually listened to the group of new songs and was pleasantly surprised with how it’s turning out. Usually what I do is, I’ll make a song, move on to the next one, move on to the next one, and so forth and so on. Then I wake and one day, and go, okay cool, I have 15 songs, let’s see what that sounds like together. Now, after that, usually 5 to 6 of those songs don’t make sense to the rest of the group. They don’t match the family, so they’re kicked out of the family. Not necessarily thrown in the trash or anything, but I put them aside. So right now, I feel like I’m at a good amount of songs. Each new record I make always feels to me like the best one I’ve done but that’s probably because it’s the newest and freshest. It’s like the honeymoon phase of the new romance and I’m in that right now.
At this point, how would you describe the new material using only 3 words?
Disco, rock, odyssey.
That’s only because you forced me to use 3 words.
It’s more fun! So your last tour was cancelled because of Covid. Are you planning to go on tour in the near future?
Yes, I think so.
You’ve played in Hungary before in 2015 at Sziget festival. I was there, it was a great show. I know it was a while ago, but did you get the chance to explore the city a bit?
Yeah, it was beautiful. Can you refresh my memory, is that when…? Did it rain? It didn’t rain, right?
No, it did not rain. It’s the festival that’s on an island.
Yeah, and I remember there was a gigantic catwalk on the stage, that was really long, right?
I remember thinking, like, that’s pretty crazy, that’s something Madonna would do, walk out on that thing, so I gotta try it, you know. I think that was the first show we had on that European run, and I remember landing and feeling extremely jetlagged like you always do coming from Los Angeles. It was like, I don’t know, 4 pm, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But as everybody knows, if you do that, you’re screwed, so you’ll wake up at the weirdest time and then be not adjusted at all to the time of the new country you’re in. So my drummer called and goes, „let’s go on a run right now”, I’m like „I don’t know, man, I really need to go to sleep”, he’s like „you’re making a mistake, we need to get up and go running right now”, I’m like, „okay, fine, fuck!”. Pardon my language.
So I got up, put my running shoes on, and went on a wonderful, beautiful run across the city that we’re staying at, and there was a nice sushi place that we found.
If you ever wanna explore a city, running through it is a great way to do it ’cause you cover more ground. Anyways, that all being said, I ended up sleeping very good that night and the next day at the show I felt well-rested and slightly exposed to the beauty of the city and country in a limited fashion.
Finally, is there a message that you would like to share with your Hungarian audience?
I’m just blown away that I have a chance to be heard by these beautiful people and it never not shocks me that this music has reached countries that I never expected to reach and I’m very grateful.
Alright, so that’s all we planned for you today, but before we let you go, we would like to kind of teach you something, so you can take away something from this interview, as well. My question is, do you know any Hungarian words?
I do not.
Okay, so is it okay for you if we teach you how to say „I love you” in Hungarian?
Yes, as long as that’s what you’re really saying and aren’t tricking me because I went to Portugal one time and I went on this TV show and they taught me how to say „fuck the government”. It was crazy. It was not good. I didn’t say it because there was a DJ on the show with me, he’s like „don’t say it, dude, don’t say that”, I’m like, „okay, I don’t know”.