A love of – and boredom with – music makes Awolnation | AspenTimes.com

A love of – and boredom with – music makes Awolnation

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Autumn de WildeAwolnation, led by Aaron Bruno, plays a free concert in the Aspen Skiing Co.'s Hi-Fi series on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 5:30 p.m. at the base of Aspen Mountain.

ASPEN – For Aaron Bruno, necessity has not been the mother of his invention, a rock ‘n’ roll band named Awolnation. The mother of this creation was boredom.”I’m pretty bored with any one genre,” the 33-year-old Bruno said during a day off in Amarillo, Texas, en route to New Mexico. “Rock ‘n’ roll has become boring over time. I can say that for any genre. You can only listen to so much metal, so much punk, so much hip-hop, even classic rock.”Which is not to say that Bruno tires easily of music exactly. In fact, he has surrounded himself with music, absorbed it, digested it and analyzed it.Instead, let’s call this the case of a supremely restless mind. Or as Bruno put it in “Sail,” a song that last year reached No. 5 on Billboard’s alternative songs chart, “Blame it on my A.D.D.” As “Megalithic Symphony,” the debut album by Awolnation demonstrates, one narrow sliver of the musical spectrum is not going to provide sufficient stimulus for Bruno’s fidgety imagination.”Megalithic Symphony,” the debut album by Awolnation and released last March, is an extreme case of musical wandering. There are moments of pure pop pleasure like “Guilty Filthy Soul,” reminiscent of Hall & Oates, with sweet melodies and the smoothest beats possible. “All I Need” features a chorus that sounds like angels, an upbeat progression of keyboard chords, and Bruno hitting his highest vocal register with no edges showing. Skip back to “Soul Wars,” though, and Bruno’s voice is thrashing with punk viciousness; “Burn It Down” combines bits of Little Richard-type screaming, a pounding beat and a chorus that verges on menacing. “Wake Up” might be the album’s most A.D.D.-affected track of all. It opens with soft electronic sounds and a gentle cooing of “Waaake up, waaake up” – the sound most anyone would want to open their ears to in the morning. Then the tone shifts dramatically, and now it’s Bruno’s voice shaking you out of bed. Quickly enough, though, it’s over into upbeat pop terrain, and from there it’s a nonstop shift between the two moods.”I’m just a fan of music and of all different genres,” said Bruno, who leads the five-piece Awolnation to its Aspen debut, a free, 5:30 p.m. show on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the base of Aspen Mountain, part of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Hi-Fi Concert series. “I never set out to be a slave to one genre. And I’ve been around a while, seen a lot of shows, been around a lot of different scenes.”A native of Los Angeles’ Thousand Oaks area, Bruno was a member of Home Town Hero, a group that was influenced by punk and grunge. Home Town Hero morphed into Under the Influence of Giants, a band that leaned closer to indie pop and dance styles.Bruno, though, was itching to make an individual expression that didn’t have to go through other band members. A few years ago, he took his high school nickname, Awol – earned from his habit of simply walking away from conversations without saying goodbye – and formed Awolnation, a project in which he is the primary songwriter, singer and visionary. Awolnation released the EP “Back From Earth” in mid-2010. (The Wikipedia page for “Back From Earth” lists, as the album’s genre: electronic rock, noise rock, indie rock, alternative dance, pop rock, alternative rock, indie pop, twee pop, alternative hip-hop and rap metal. And that’s for a five-song, 18-minute recording.)Then came the full-length debut, “Megalithic Symphony.” Bruno saw it as an opportunity to let out all the music that was in him.”When it came time to make this album, I had enough exposure to so many things I love that I could take them all and turn it into something new. And that became Awolnation,” Bruno said.Whether anyone would care much for an album that ranged from punk to blue-eyed pop soul was unclear, especially to Bruno. “Megalithic Symphony” was made to be the kind of album Bruno would want to listen to.”I didn’t expect anyone to believe in it,” he said. “I think having the attitude of not expecting anyone to listen to it freed me to write. I wasn’t thinking about styles or radio play or publicity.”Instead, “Sail,” inspired by but not reminiscent of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” became a hit, featured on commercials and TV shows.”Knights of Shame” didn’t become a hit like “Sail,” but it is probably most emblematic of Bruno’s music-making essence. The album’s final track, it is a 15-minute marathon that runs through numerous textures and segments.”I always wanted to make a song that was six or eight minutes long but wasn’t boring, didn’t have the three-minute shredding guitar solo – something that felt like a pop song, but was extremely long,” Bruno said. “I just wanted to get to six minutes without being bored. I got there and said, Why not keep going? It was one of the last songs I wrote, and there were already enough normal songs on the record that I felt the freedom to do something ridiculous like that.”The idea of mixing disparate styles like this can seem tied to this era, when Afropop, old-school rap and orchestral pop are all within easy access. But for Bruno, drawing on a love for Radiohead and Pantera and Michael Jackson and NWA all at the same time is embedded in the roots of rock ‘n’ roll.”When the Beatles were making their records, there was r&b, soul – even punk rock, which people overlook,” he said.stewart@aspentimes.com

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