AWOLNATION’s Lead Singer Talks Touring and Success

For whatever reason, it takes some songs longer to reach the mainstream than others.

Take the haunting hit Sail, by AWOLNATION. Released as a single almost two years ago, the song peaked on the charts a year ago. But it’s now getting a resurgence in popularity, has re-entered Billboard’s Top 100 and recently climbed into the top 40 after months of permeating the world of TV.

Aaron Bruno almost never gets called Bruno Aaron. Thought you might like to know that.

“We always thought it was going good enough and it could go really well,” lead singer Aaron Bruno said about Sail before the band takes the stage at the Sherman Theater at 8 p.m. Friday. “Then it got this second wind of even more exposure, and it’s exploded.”

AWOLNATION hits the Sherman Theater on short notice, the band recently rerouted its local show from the Crocodile Rock in Allentown. The tour’s promoter and ownership at Crocodile Rock are involved in a legal dispute concerning the move.

The Lehigh Valley’s loss is the Poconos’ gain, as the band blows through Stroudsburg at what — so far — is the height of its popularity.

Bruno talked about that slow burn to success, touring and avoiding the sell-out label leading up to Friday’s show. (Remember — PopRox has tickets to give away to the show. Find out how to enter here and then make sure you email or FB message me the entry.)

PopRox: How’s the tour been going so far?
Aaron Bruno: We’ve only been going for about a week, so it’s hard to tell exactly what the whole vibe and energy of it is going to be. We’re doing a lot of smaller markets that some bands don’t usually get to, so we’re hoping that brings out a different kind of energy. We just got off a five-week European tour.

PR: What is the feel of a European tour compared to the states?
AB: It feels very European. We haven’t had the same kind of overwhelming commercial success we’ve had here, so the shows may be a little smaller. But Europeans seem to know the melody of a song more than fans here do, and they sing it more. The sync lines, the string lines, it’s a nice change of pace to keep you on your toes. It’s always good to learn from a different culture. Having been away from the ocean for so long and not being able to surf was hard, even though it was a great experience.

PR: You’re not going to find many waves up here.
AB: That’s OK, I got to surf today (in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and the day before. That little bit should last me some time and happiness.

they've been touring so long they probably don't even know where this is.

PR: How long have you been touring for to support this album?
AB: It’s been a couple years. Every once in a while you get a three-week break, in December we got a whole month off, which was a wonderful experience. It gets tiring, but to be busy means people care to see you play. So I can’t complain. you’re on the bus with the same dudes every day, and the whole sausage thing gets a little old, but I get to play music for a living. No complaints. And it’s a great opportunity to try out new music for the next album.

PR: Ed Kowalczyk once told me getting popular was really weird, because it happened so fast and Live was touring the whole time, that within a month the only people going to their concerts were people who knew Lightning Crashes. For the rest of the concert, they just kind of sat around waiting for that song. Have you seen that yet?
AB: Fortunately we haven’t. We see a handful of folks leaving after we play Sail, but it’s not a lot. Our show has such an interesting style, it’s very interactive with a lot of dancing, it’s super intense and people jump on each other without getting too crazy, so we think we give people a good experience that they enjoy. We’re lucky, Sail is the song that helped us get popular, but it wasn’t the only ballad on the album. We were lucky that way. And other songs blew the doors open for us. Sail still has a lot of energy, there really isn’t a ballad moment on it. And we didn’t really have a month of exploding. For us, it’s been a nice, slow, gradual growth. In some places you can tell it’s been a phenomenon. Most radio stations wouldn’t play it at first because it has this insanely long intro, and it’s kind of an outlier of a song. But it reached every single spot it could and now people are comfortable playing it.

PR: Did you think it would be this popular?
AB: You always hope, always. We always thought it was going good enough, it could go really well, then it got this second wind of even more exposure.

PR: Why does it take alternative rock bands so long to get mainstream recognition since Sail was released about a year ago?
AB: It doesn’t take that long anymore. There were a handful of bands coming up through the alternative scene that time we were, and alternative rock stations weren’t even playing alt bands anyway. They were playing the classics and if Linkin Park or the Chili Peppers came out with a new album, they got played. It was kinda like they were classic rock stations, basically. But I think we were part of a wave of a bunch of bands that kicked it open so that new alt bands could get attention quicker on alt stations.

PR: It’s tough to pigeon hole you guys as alternative, it doesn’t always seem that way.
AB: I think we truly are an alternative band. But if the song is good, it doesn’t matter what genre it’s in, you listen to it. The format is the format, and I think Sail has kind of crossed over and there have been more commercial opportunities.

PR: What’s been your favorite use of Sail so far? I’ve seen it on TV shows, on commercials, YouTube videos …
AB: I think the (famous daredevil) Jeb Corliss sky diving video was my personal favorite. To see it used that way was just incredible. It’s been in a few beautiful, beautiful commercials, one in Italy, one in Portugal. And if you’re going to take Sail literally, it might as well be for Vikings. I’m proud of the song, so whatever format it shows up in is great by me.

PR: Do you get paid for those or does it go straight to the record label?
AB: No, I do. We didn’t spend a lot of money on it, we didn’t have to pay a bunch of players. Of course the label wanted it to be a huge thing, but it was more of a hope for the best and expect the worst. It’s been really rewarding. It took a while to figure this formula out, and I don’t even know if we figured it out. I’ve had to avoid some traffic, got some flat tires, the car broke down a couple times, there were some road rage incidents, but now we’re here.

PR: Have you taken any hipster flack for selling out since Sail seems to be everywhere now?
AB: No. We didn’t start out in the hipster scene, so it’s not like we’d get flack from there. If we started out in the Silver Lake (a famously hipster-populated area of Los Angeles, Bruno’s hometown) scene, maybe it would be a little different. But I wrote the song and the album pretty much on my own, and I didn’t think anybody was going to hear it. But it came out and got an eccelectic following since the record is ecclectic. We’ve got some hipsters, rock fans, and even parents. There’s one of everybody out there. I’m not a big fan of cliques or crews, I had enough of those in high school.

sweet, foreigner has nothing to do with sail. their quest to be randomly attached to greatness continues.

PR: Is that a Cold As Ice by Foreigner sample on Sail?
AB: You’re the second person to ask me that in the last week. It’s not true. I don’t even know what that song is, I’ll have to go back and listen to it. Do you hear it?
PR: I always thought there was something familiar about it, yeah. And I was doing research for this interview and came across it on a couple websites.
AB: That’s a really flattering thing, for someone to tell you that your song sounds like a classic, but it’s not true. When I’m writing a song, I’m always thinking, This sounds too good to be true, where have I heard this before? It’s always a good thing if you think you’ve heard the song before, and it’s better if it’s actually brand new. But I always wonder, Wait, am I stealing this from something? But enough time goes by and you realize it’s actually my idea.

PR: Are you feeling the pressure yet of having to repeat this album?
AB: No. There’s no pressure on me because I didn’t put any pressure on myself with the first one, so I’m going to make it the same way I did the first one. And I feel a little bit more open, I think I have a different take on the whole thing to know that people care to hear about what I’m doing next. All I can really do is let people down. I am what I am, but I never set out to create one thing or another.

PR: There have three singles off this album that have gotten good airplay — Not Your Fault, Sail and Kill Your Heroes. When you were putting together the album, which of those did you think would be the most popular?
AB: Actually, none of those at all, I thought a song, All I Need was going to be the most popular. It’s a ballad, kind of the Lightning Crashes of this album. I thought they were all kind of catchy and they could possibly catch on. I didn’t think Sail was the song that would really catch on though. Truthfully I could have seen any of the songs catching fire in some way.

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