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Awolnation's Aaron Bruno: "I still feel like the underdog"

After writing a surprise hit single, the AWOLNATION mastermind explains the challenges of writing their second album...

Aaron Bruno is a very relieved man. 'Run', his second album as AWOLNATION – and, actually, the only second album any of the musical outlets he’s been in have ever made – came out that morning. It’s been four years and two days since AWOLNATION’s debut record, 'Megalithic Symphony', was released and, with the help of runaway single 'Sail', turned the electronic rock act into a worldwide sensation.

“It means a lot,” he says. “It’s a huge sigh of relief. We worked really hard on the record and put a lot into it, so I’m just thankful that it’s out for people to listen to. I thought the music industry was going to just crash the day before it came out and nobody was going to get to hear it, so right now I am extremely proud and pleased it’s out. Real music fans and real ears are digesting this record right now and interpreting it rather than a bunch of industry people who heard it first, so it’s really nice to have the ball start rolling.”

That it’s a record for real music fans seems of paramount importance to Bruno. Because while the success of that song – which spent 79 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, the second longest time for a single ever, behind Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive – propelled Bruno and AWOLNATION into the kind of success he hadn’t even thought was possible to dream about, it also meant he was suddenly sucked deep into the whirlwind machinations of the music industry. 

“There’s a huge difference,” Bruno says, “between people like us – well, I don’t know you very well, but I assume that you love music – and other folks. And it was weird for sure. But this record was written really for our fans and myself and my peers as well, so now that it’s out, like I said, it’s a huge sigh of relief. I think it’s an extremely special record and an important record that people are going to talk about for years to come.”

When pressed on why he thinks that, however, and asked what makes the record so special and important, Bruno is suddenly quiet and evasive. Then he answers curtly: “I don’t know how to answer that, so I’d rather not.”

Quite why he’s so reticent is unclear, but the crux seems to be that it’s for his fans and listeners to interpret for themselves. Much of that seems to be because Bruno, despite the immense success he’s enjoyed, still very much considers himself the little guy struggling to be heard.

“Success gave me more licence to do what I want to do,” he says, “but I still feel like the underdog and I guess I always will. I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but it’s just a thing that’s embedded into my DNA. I’m assuming that a lot of people would not want to see me succeed on the second record, so maybe that made me feel a bit like the underdog still. Because no-one ever told people to like this record, no-one ever told the listener that it was cool to like this record. It just kind of came out, word of mouth happened and we had mass commercial success follow that as well. But we were never the press darlings or anything like that. Real people just started to gravitate towards it, and I guess for that I’ll always feel a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.”

AWOLNATION's second album, 'Run', and right, Aaron Bruno

At the same time, that’s precisely what seems to spur Bruno on. Run is a record that embraces even more fully the odd, off-centre sounds that make Sail such an unlikely hit, and sees Bruno deliberately pushing boundaries as much and for as long as he can. 

Sail crossed over into the pop world,” he says, “so we were being played alongside Katy Perry and Beyoncé, which is not the company that I thought my songs would be anywhere near. So I went even weirder with this record. It’s almost like we’re turning people onto an alternative way of thinking about music and I’m really proud of that.”

Run is out now through Red Bull Records. AWOLNATION play London's Electric Ballroom on April 1.

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