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Going AWOL



The frustration of coming so close almost burned him out, but a solo project offered, at the very least, the full creative control he’d always desired. Bruno began working under the moniker AWOLNATION and soon was approached about then upstart Red Bull Records about releasing his debut.

AWOLNATION’s first full-length effort, “Megalithic Symphony,” saw the light of day in early spring and, on the strength of the smash single, “Sail,” became his biggest hit to date. The semi-Gothic, synth-heavy, orchestrated indie rock has been described as breath of fresh air on the radio otherwise dominated by all things light and empty.

AWOLNATION plays Saturday at Tulsa’s inaugural Brady District Block Party Music Festival, and Bruno took the time to chat with Oklahoma Gazette about heavy laundry loads, being a doorway, and the money he doesn’t have.

Gazette: Has it been a fun summer so far, with the album getting bigger and bigger the deeper you get into it?

Bruno: It's been great. We've been playing packed shows for great crowds, and it's a really exciting time that only a few bands get to experience.
Having said that, it's been extremely hot. Being raised in Southern California, it's been the most extreme summer I've had. Let's just say, I've had to do a lot of laundry on this tour to maintain decent cleanliness.

Gazette: How has the festival circuit treated you so far?

Bruno: You go onstage, and there's a sea of people. We're in that place where we aren't the headliners at the massive shows, but we get a really good spot — sometimes main support for bands like Linkin Park. You're still the underdog, so you get to go out there, spill your guts and prove it. It's easy and comfortable. I've spent most of my life wishing people were there at the shows, so I've been ready for this part forever. Now that it's here, I feel really prepared for it.

Gazette: You've had a couple of different bands in the past; what things added up to you starting this new one?

Bruno: The natural progression of a band seeing a little success and then going through hard times ... it becomes apparent it's time to go your separate ways. I didn't want to start another band; I'd already been in two others. I'd had a lot of songs in my head, but never had the courage to make them. There was nowhere else to go but to put out my own record with the songs the way I'd always wanted to.

Gazette: What freedoms do you have with this group that you didn't previously enjoy before?

Bruno: I have all the freedoms. I have final say and total control. I have people to go to for second opinions, but at the end of the day, I'm just looking in the mirror. In a lot of ways, I have all the freedom in the world, but it's also very scary. If things go bad, I take the blame on my shoulders. But you know, if I want to do something I do it. I feel artistically free, and that's a good place to be, for sure.

Gazette: What sort of things did you want to achieve with this project, musically speaking, that you hadn’t previously?

Bruno: Exactly what I accomplished on the record. For better or worse, it sounds ambitious, different, bombastic. The lyrics had always been in me, but I don't think I had the life experiences to know how to write them.

Gazette: It's a unique sound; how do you attempt to describe it to people?

Bruno: I just don't. I can't explain it. It's everything I love coming out of me through songwriting. I have no rules or regulations here; if something comes to me, I do it and find the appropriate sound best suited to the song. I don't want to get in the way of the idea. I consider myself to be a filter or doorway of some sort ... these songs coming from nowhere and landing out there in the world.

Gazette: Do you think the fact that it’s hard to describe is part of the charm of it?

Bruno: I think that's a positive component to the success we've had with the record and with “Sail.” It's crazy to me that that song ever got on the radio. I thought there was no way. A couple of radio stations latched onto it and did really well with requests ... I didn't even know people still called in requests! It sounds so different. I'm such a weirdo, it comes across new. I think I just put down on paper what a lot of people think or say but never do. At the right low point in my life, I said some things, and it's kind of a breath of fresh air.

Gazette: How has this relationship with Red Bull Records compared to ones you had with labels in the past?

Bruno: In the past, there's been a lot of opinions. There's still opinions now, but they came to me when I was already sort of halfway done writing the record. They signed me after the vision was already sort of fulfilled, so they didn't ask me to write songs that sound like The Killers or Muse or whatever the flavor of the month was.
They appreciated that it was different and just wanted to put my art out into the world. And they have a great studio to work for free. That's meant a lot to me. They have a lot of money with the nature of the company, but I'm not rich by any means. I go out with friends and they are like, “Dinner's on you man! Drinks on you!” It's not like that yet.

Gazette: What about it do you like best?

Bruno: The complete artistic freedom to do what I want. I don't have deadlines; I can work at my own pace. I'm already making the second record as we speak. It's always something I'm continuing, whether on tour or after surfing.

Gazette: Arguably, this band/album has been your most successful. Do you see that coming from you having total control or from working with an alternative label like Red Bull?

Bruno: It's all things considered. Those other bands I was in, I was proud of the records we made, and I thought they were going to be successful and weren't, for one reason or another. The stars aligned for this record, the powers that be seem to be watching over this project. I don't think it's necessarily better, but for whatever reason, people are identifying with this record.

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