Way before the massive, multiplatinum success of the megahit single “Sail,” AWOLNATION mastermind Aaron Bruno could feel like a king for a day in only one place: Grand Rapids.
The reason: Our fair city actually heard his previous band, Under The Influence of Giants, on the radio when almost no one else in the country had.
Supported by that airplay from a then alt-rock-formatted WGRD, Bruno saw his band sell out The Intersection nearly a decade ago, despite struggling elsewhere across America and receiving almost no recognition in his hometown of Los Angeles.
“We would play Chicago for maybe 40 people, we’d play Detroit for even less and then we’d go to Grand Rapids and be able to sell out The Intersection,” Bruno recalled. “We felt like The Beatles — I’ve got nothing but love for the music fans there.”
In 2013, when Bruno first brought AWOLNATION to Grand Rapids, he again played for a sold-out crowd at The Intersection. This time, he came in riding on a huge wave of multi-platinum success following the moody and synthy smash of “Sail” and its LP, 2011’s Megalithic Symphony.
|AWOLNATION opening for Fall Out Boy
wsg Pvris Van Andel Arena, 130 West Fulton, Grand Rapids
March 8, 7 p.m.
vanandelarena.com, (616) 742-6600
Since that album’s surprise success — with a string of other singles including “Not Your Fault” and “Kill Your Heroes” also rocking the airwaves — AWOLNATION’s studio approach transformed for the second full length, 2015’s Run. Behind the scenes, Bruno continued as the band’s sole songwriter but also took the reins instrumentally.
“On Megalithic Symphony I had friends come in and play other instruments that were out of my league, or play instruments in a way that I wasn’t capable of,” Bruno said. “But once it came time to do Run, I was ready to literally do the whole thing on my own. It’s a trippy thing because my drummer [Isaac Carpenter] is my favorite drummer in the world, but for the record it just made more sense for me to do all the drums.”
Starting off with the crushing low-end of the album’s title track — a ballsy, abrasive song that the band has frequently opened their recent shows with — Bruno wanted to make a statement with the new record.
“The second I wrote it, I went, ‘Wow. This is something I would’ve loved as a way for a sophomore album to start,’” Bruno said. “Clearly it’s not a radio song. Clearly there’s really no chance of any sort of commercial success and it’s brutally heavy. It makes a big statement. And to come off a record that had such massive success and then start a record that way, that’s the kind of thing that my favorite bands would’ve done, from Radiohead to Nirvana to Rage Against the Machine.
“Funny enough,” he added, “that song had a bunch of outside stuff happen with all these different vines and was used in a couple different commercials, which again, is something I never thought would happen. Much like I never thought ‘Sail’ would be a single. So you never know. You’ve just got to put your heart and soul into everything and be proud of it.”
With new singles “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” and “I Am” also charting last year, AWOLNATION proved “Sail” wasn’t some strange alt-rock anomaly and that Bruno had plotted a course to stardom entirely his own and the shows just keep getting bigger.
Currently on tour with Fall Out Boy, AWOLNATION is opening a nationwide arena tour for the first time ever. The bands hit Van Andel Arena on March 8. Bruno said he welcomes both the challenge and the opportunity of the bigger stages.
“Each time we do it I feel a little more comfortable,” he said. “It’s a different thing from playing for everybody on the dance floor and trying to get them to mosh, jump, dance and just really let loose and sweat with us. It’s definitely not a punk rock throwdown anymore. It’s more like I feel like Michael Jackson or something ridiculous.
“It’s really sweet that [Fall Out Boy] asked us,” Bruno added. “No band has taken us out on a whole tour. We’ve headlined from day one, even if it was headlining in front of a hundred people, we just did it ourselves. So it’s just a great opportunity for us to gain new fans and to play for people who have heard our music but they didn’t put two and two together. Maybe they’re fans of some of my songs but they just don’t realize it.”