When Aaron Bruno finished “Megalithic Symphony,” his debut album as Awolnation, he felt something he’d never quite experienced before.
“I was extremely proud of the record I had made, more than ever before,” he said in an early March phone interview. “I just felt I really did something unique and special and original that truly for the first time in my life I had no regrets, nor did I really question any of the parts.”
That’s not to say Bruno thought this would translate into a hit album.
“I didn’t have any expectations of commercial success, because that’s the business side as well,” he said. “Just because you have a song that 10 strangers could get in a room and all agree ‘You know what, this song does sound like a hit song to me,’ that doesn’t mean that it will be.”
Bruno had good reason to temper any thoughts about chart success or radio play for his new music. His two previous bands failed to make an impact, even though they seemed positioned for success.
One band, Home Town Hero, which was signed to the Warner Bros.-affiliated Maverick Records (owned by Madonna), had some modest success with its 2002 self-titled debut, but broke up shortly before the release of its second album, 2004’s “Bitch City.”
Bruno and Hometown Hero bandmate Drew Stewart then formed Under The Influence of Giants and landed a deal with Island Records. But the group’s 2006 debut album stiffed and the band ended.
“More discouraging than the band ending was just a lack of exposure that those songs I wrote with those guys had,” Bruno said. “I felt there was a lot of stuff on there (the self-titled album) that would possibly move people and mean a lot to their day. And it didn’t really get the right opportunity.”
With Awolnation, though, Bruno’s music has had a chance to be heard, and he’s enjoying his first taste of real success.
“Sail,” the first single from “Megalithic Symphony,” remains a top 10 rock hit after more than 45 weeks on the chart (it is nearing 2 million in sales and downloads), while a second single, “Kill Your Heroes,” has also enjoyed airplay.
Bruno said luck and timing had a lot to do with the success, although he thinks the lyrics to “Sail” spoke to listeners and perhaps he came up with a song and a sound that was right for radio at the time.
“At the time, there was nothing on the radio like it at all, something with that half-time, mid-tempo sort of spooky, weird, catchy little jam that it is,” Bruno said.
Actually, “Megalithic Symphony” is something a bit different musically as an album. Ranging widely in tempos and intensities, it is tied together by the way Bruno blends a big catchy rock sound with instrumentation that features plenty of synthesizers and electronics.
The songs on “Megalithic Symphony” go from frenetic (“Burn It Down” and “Soul Wars”) to anthemic (“People” and “Sail”) to direct and poppy (“Jump on My Shoulders” and “Guilty Filthy Soul”) to big and grooving (“Kill Your Heroes”) to the one song on the album that strays from the synthy-electronic sound, the harmony-laden piano-based ballad “All I Need.”
Despite the success he’s currently having, Bruno said he isn’t standing still musically. He’s been working on a second album, and so far he’s sensing that it will be notably different from “Megalithic Symphony.”
“I don’t see it being as electronic as the first record, I will say that,” he said. “It seems like a lot of the writing that I’m doing on this record starts with maybe some sort of electronic part or melody or rhythm and then I try to replace it with more organic instruments without losing what I originally thought was interesting and quirky about the synths to begin with.
“So we’ll see.”
Bruno’s willingness to evolve musically extends to a live shows he’s been playing with the four other musicians who make up the touring version of Awolnation. After all, he noted, when songs get recorded for an album, they’re still relatively new.
“I want it to be louder, better, heavier, live,” Bruno said. “Heavy music really moves me a lot. And it doesn’t have to be heavy as in aggressive necessarily, but something deep. It can be a groove. It could be the low end of a breakdown that is incredibly deep and moving to me. Something that gets in your gut is really important.
“And heaviness can come from a ballad as well. It can be a lyric. It can be a moment where the audience all feels the same thing at the same time. That’s what you go for. Or course, we’ve been playing these songs for awhile, so we try to reinvent them as much as we can. We’ve been playing some stripped down versions of certain songs that are enjoyable for us to do as well in certain situations.”