Awolnation frontman Aaron Bruno’s grungy, unkempt blond hair — parted perfectly down his scalp — and shiny black shoes with blue-and-white checkered socks matched perfectly with his wide, blue eyes, almost said it all as he took the Recreation Center stage Thursday. But to learn the story behind the singer’s face, fashion and lyrics, Mustang Daily sat down with Bruno before “No Big Deal” and talked performing, songwriting and Bruno’s rocky musical past that led to Awolnation’s continuing success since its 2010 debut.
Mustang Daily: So, have you been on tour for a while?
Aaron Bruno: We’ve had about five days off.
MD: Oh, so you’ve had a nice little break then.
AB: Yeah. It’s been really important for me.
MD: I’m sure. You don’t want to wear yourself out. So, what is your pre-show routine after you’ve had a break?
AB: I don’t really have one. I try to stay as confident as possible, and spend a little bit of time alone. Because you’re about to entertain a bunch of people and host this event or party that, you know, you want to give people their money’s worth and not waste their time. So I think it’s good to focus, and it’s important to not get too carried away and do too many things to get ready for a performance. I just want to be as instinctual and as honest as possible.
MD: Do you have a post-performance routine?
AB: Showering. I like to shower like, within 30 seconds after getting offstage. I can’t shower quick enough. I sweat a lot. It’s pretty gross. And when you’re gonna shake hands, and meet folks … I mean, imagine going to the gym and then meeting a bunch of people for the first time. It’s kind of a weird experience.
MD: Have you ever had any embarrassing moments onstage?
AB: Not really. I’ve dropped the mic a couple of times — that’s a big no-no because it makes such a loud sound. So any time that happens, I’m extremely embarrassed. Or if my mic feeds back at all. But I’m never actually totally embarrassed unless I’m having a bad night and I can’t hear myself and don’t know how good I’m singing. I mostly care about how the show went, as far as the energy in the room and the reaction on people’s faces rather than if we technically played perfect or not.
MD: So, what does Awolnation mean to you?
AB: That’s open for the listener really to decide. What it means to me is different than what it means to other people, but I can say that I think most people would agree that, like most music that has moved me, I hope it moves other people to feel that they have some sort of an escapism through listening to it and hopefully I’m saying things that people relate to and hopefully it helps them get through the day. There’s no rules for anything like that. It’s all open for interpretation.
MD: Does that go for your songwriting as well?
AB: Yeah, of course.
MD: Where do you find inspiration for your songs?
AB: I don’t know, just life. Whatever makes me get up out of bed. All the highs and lows of life, all the music I’ve listened to … There’s not one thing though that inspires me. I try to stay out of the way of the song ideas and just be a filter of these ideas and do the best I can to help them see life I guess.
MD: What’s it like hearing your songs in soundtracks such as “Art of Flight” and commercials?
AB: I haven’t decided what that’s like yet. I still don’t understand it. It obviously feels good. But it feels a little scary too at the same time. But you know, it’s very rewarding because I’ve written so many songs that have never seen the light of day, and I feel sad — you could have the best song in the world, but if no one hears it, it can only go so far in the earth’s atmosphere. So hearing them, it feels good. It means there’s a demand for what you’ve created and that’s a flattering feeling for sure. But it doesn’t feed my ego at all. It makes me more nervous, like, “I better do great on the next one as well.”
MD: What makes Awolnation stand out as such a huge success compared to your previous bands?
AB: It’s impossible to say exactly what that may be, but I know I feel that I — probably through going through all these ups and downs and being in all these other bands, and feeling a lot of disappointment from these other bands, and heartbreak from having to end all these relationships with bands — that maybe I’ve experienced more life this time around and actually have something to say now. And so the lyrics are more relatable instead of the nonsense I was saying before. And hopefully I’ve just gotten to be a better songwriter.
MD: What’s the dynamic like between the band now?
AB: It’s just really positive. I’m the architect of this project, and I’m lucky enough to have guys that believe in what I do and want to play with me, you know. And they bring something each individually to the live show that I couldn’t do without them. And they certainly give me strength when I’m feeling weird or insecure, because there’s certainly those moments as well.
MD: I notice you’re drinking a Red Bull … which happens to be your record label …
AB: Yeah. But — funny — I actually bought it at a gas station.
AB: I was tired … but I wasn’t like, “Hey, I’m the guy that is on the label.” I actually never have this product around me, so it’s funny you said that. But I got tired on the drive, and I just said, “I need one of those things.”
MD: What’s it like representing this extreme sports-centric energy drink brand?
AB: Well, I don’t represent them at all. You know, it’s a partnership. I’m lucky, when I signed with them, it’s like “Fight Club.” You don’t have to mention it, or talk about it at all. We’re trying to put out music and they have their hands in with some really amazing, next-level athletes, so I think they wanted to do the same thing in music — not that I’m saying I’m as wonderful as some of these athletes at songwriting, but I think that’s what their goal is. And music is a universal language, right? Regardless which language you’re singing in, people can memorize a melody or a rhythm and be affected by that in a good way, so it’s probably a smart idea to be invovled in music one way or another if you’re a company. But I’m stoked, they seem to do everything in a classy way. I’m grateful.
MD: What was your life like before you decided to become a full-time musician? Or was that goal always a part of your life?
AB: It’s always been there. But when I turned 19 years old, that’s when it became full-on, where I left everything else behind, and quit everything else, and spent all my time on learning how to create a real band. But as far as I can remember, I’ve always been playing with different people. I don’t feel that different now than I did before. I’ve always been a huge, obsessive fan of music.
MD: Was your dream always to be in a band? Is that what you told people as a kid?
AB: I think I did, yeah. But I don’t think I ever thought that would actually happen. But the point of it, why I wanted it and my idea of what that means has completely changed. When I was younger, I just wanted to “make it” in some way in the music field. And then once I started writing these songs, it was more about honesty and trying to make a difference in this world and leaving some sort of mark behind that had a positive meaning behind it, as opposed to just making money or becoming successful or noticeable in any way.
MD: What do you hope the crowd takes away from the show tonight?
AB: I hope some people consider it the best night of their lives. That’s always the goal.
MD: Do you have any plans for the band’s future?
AB: Just trying to make a better record, and the next one even better than that. Hopefully people that enjoyed this record will want to join us on the next journey.
MD: Do you have any songs on your latest record that are particularly close to your heart or hold special meaning?
AB: That’s like asking to choose which you like better, your mom or your dad. They all serve their own purpose in their own ways, you know?
MD: Are you going to have a chance to check out SLO after the show tonight?
AB: I think I’ll probably go home. I have a lot of stuff to do tomorrow — normal life stuff, believe it or not.
Interview by Allison Montroy and Maggie Kaiserman