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A-Sides with Jon Chattman: Run! AWOLNATION Run!

03/17/2015 03:58 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015

AWOLNATION'S "Sail" had a boomerang effect on radio. It was released in early 2011, killed it on alt-rock charts months later, hit the mainstream Billboard charts by year's end, dropped off of the countdown some five months later, and stormed right back a year later en route to going six-times platinum. Not every song has that kind of whip appeal, and that's not a Babyface reference but "Sail" was that rare track. On a related note, this blogger (or whatever you want to call me) thinks it's one of the best songs to be released in the past 15 years.

Anyway, there's no question that song was the shizz but it's not going to define AWOL's Aaron Bruno or his band. Along with that massive hit, their album Megalithic Symphony went gold, and spawned alt-hits "Kill Your Heroes" and "Not Your Fault." It also triggered a highly successful two-year tour, and now Bruno/the band is/are back to prove there's plenty left in his/their arsenal.

AWOLNATION dropped the 14-track follow-up to Symphony today called Run, and the first single "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)" is already getting some serious airplay. The album, which was written, performed and produced entirely by music master Bruno, gels better than Eriq LaSalle's hair in Coming to America and could very well replicate or exceed Symphony. In a phone interview earlier this month, A-Sides chatted with Bruno about Run, "Sail" and Symphony, his creative process, and hitting the road yet again.

Speaking of which, catch AWOLNATION on the road all spring and summer long -- headlining and playing a bunch of festivals including Bonnarro and Firefly. Oh, and if you're at SXSW, like right now, check them out this Thursday! Anyway, read on!

I realize you have a new album out and hit single, but I feel compelled to ask you about your cover of "I'm on Fire" off the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. How'd that come about? It's such an iconic Bruce Springsteen song, and your take is just awesome.

Thanks. I met a woman affiliated with the film. It was a friend of a friend situation. She came by the studio while I was working on some stuff for Run, and she just told me what was on her plate and Fifty Shades was one of them, and gave me a hint that she wanted one of my songs. I hadn't read the book, but word on the street was all the songs would be cover versions. "I'm on Fire" is a perfect song - front to back. I messed around one day, never thinking it'd happen.

The hardest part of recording or anything is the writing of the song and the lyrics. That's the hardest part. The rest you can make the song sound presentable and fill in the painting with all colors. With Bruce, "I'm on Fire" is probably one of my top three favorites with the exception of Nebraska. That whole album is worth mentioning, because it's meant so much to me. Anyway, I took a crack at it, and honestly, it just took a couple of hours to record. I wasn't trying to outdo the original or make it better. I just wanted to give it a darker, low-fi twist. The next day, I sent her a quick mix. I've been in other situations and two other bands before so I know things that are promised don't always happen. You have to keep your sanity in check so I always expect the worse and hope for the best but a year later, they said they were going to use it. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm kind of late with movies. I'm a random Tuesday mid-day moviegoer.

You took your time between your debut and Run was that a calculated move since "Sail" and the whole album stayed around so long?
I was consciously aware I had more time than most bands do. I was blessed in that way. I mean "Sail" hit second and third winds, and crossed into the pop world. I kind of had to let that be, and I did some European touring and festivals. But, I was just doing my best to make Run and that's really how long it just took. It's so funny it's called Run because it really sums up so much - running toward something or away from something. To be stagnant, for me, is the kiss of death. The album is to push yourself... to better myself as a songwriter, artist, man, family member, and friend. I just want to get better and better.

Keeping with that, going into this record versus your last must've been completely different. You had a gold record and mulch-platinum song under your belt. Did you feel any pressure? Did you apply any on yourself?
There's something to be said for taking a breath. I never had success before. I really wanted to take time to smell the roses. It's very easy to push yourself too far. I knew I only had one chance to come up with a sophomore effort. I've always felt the best artists push themselves artistically, and maybe shock people a little on their sophomore or third records. The first record is a birth of an idea, but you have to grow a little bit. I wasn't going to be done until I was going to be done. No one heard any of it except people who just happened to be in my car. For whatever reason, Symphony kind of let me in the door of a strange fantasy - a gigantic, weird world. I feel like I kind of snuck into some weird mansion where I'm not supposed to be, and I've had my own room for a couple of years, and started decorating the walls. Now, I'm onto another room.

Dialing into Run a little more. Creatively, how did you decide on these 14 tracks.
I wrote lot of songs for it. I read so many things from bands who are like 'yeah, we wrote 350 demos' and we picked from those. I feel like maybe if they'd written less songs and focused on a smaller number, there wouldn't be as much bulls--t on their record. At the end of the day, I had 30 songs done and picked 14. I'd say five songs were difficult to cut and some of the people I know with very trusted ears found it devastating. I'll save some for B-Sides or film placements. They're all my children - just some of them will find different homes.

What I loved about your last record was how delightfully all over the place it was, and how many different elements were happening simultaneously and meshed so well together. How does Run compare in that regard?
There's a lot of strange stuff on Run. There are some things weirder, some even poppier...
some have rather bombastic sonic moments. But, this record makes more sense, song to song, and tells a story. When you watch a movie if it was just action the whole time, you'd get annoyed. You'd be like 'enough with the fight scenes.' That's why I fell in love with OK Computer the first time I heard it. It's different storytelling. When all is said and done, the world really wants some passion right now. I want passion. I want music that makes me want to sweat, go to a show and release all of my pent-up energy. I think the world is ready for this record.

A-Sides "Delve Into Twelve" Countdown
Each week A-Sides unleashes its top 12 tracks of the week AKA the "Delve Into Twelve" based on the following contributing factors: songs I'm playing out that particular week no matter when they were released (think overlooked songs, unreleased tracks and old favorites), songs various publicists are trying to get me to listen to that I did and dug a bunch, posts and trends I've noticed on my friends' Facebook walls, and, most importantly: what my toddler is currently enjoying thoroughly.

12. "Lifted Up (1985)" (LW-11) - Passion Pit
11. "Life Underwater" (reentry) - Flagship
10. "Elastic Heart" (LW-8) - Sia
9. "Lampshades on Fire" (LW-5) - Modest Mouse
8. "Contagious" (LW-8) - Night Riots
7. "Electric Love" (LW-4) - B0RNS
6. "Black Soap" (LW-7) - Ex Cops
5. "Somebody New" (LW-3) - Joywave
4. "Prayer in C" (LW-2) - Lily Wood & the Prick, Robin Schulz
3. "No Cities to Love" (LW-6) - Sleater-Kinney
2. "What Kind of Man" (debut) - Florence = the Machine
1. "A Rush of Blood" (LW-1) - Coasts

About A-Sides With Jon Chattman:
Jon Chattman's music series features celebrities and artists (established or not) from all genres of music performing a track and discussing what it means to them. This informal series focuses on the artist making art in a low-threatening, extremely informal (sometime humorous) way. No bells, no whistles, just the music performed in a random, low-key setting followed by an unrehearsed chat. In an industry where everything often gets overblown and overmanufactured, Jon strives for a refreshing change. Artists have included fun., Charli XCX, Imagine Dragons, Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Gary Clark Jr., American Authors, Echosmith,and many, many more!