Feature: AWOLNATION Lean into the Sweet Authenticity of ‘Candy Pop’

AWOLNATION © Amalia Irons
AWOLNATION © Amalia Irons
Aaron Bruno, mastermind of the alt-rock juggernaut AWOLNATION, sits down with Atwood Magazine to delve into the bittersweet crossroads of their latest EP, ‘Candy Pop.’
Stream: ‘Candy Pop’ – AWOLNATION

I don’t feel the need to prove myself anymore.

Who could have predicted AWOLNATION?

In a landscape saturated with formulaic hits and predictable sounds, they have always stood out as an enigmatic force. The brainchild of eclectic visionary Aaron Bruno, they burst onto the scene with the mold-shattering, diamond-certified track “Sail” in 2011, a song that would go on to define their anthemic melodies and set the stage for a dynamic career. But Bruno is not one to rest on past successes or succumb to the pressure of replicating a hit formula. Instead, he follows his artistic instincts and embraces creative freedom under the AWOLNATION banner.


“I just want to write good songs that have good melodies,” he explains. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a heavy song, or a ballad, or a dance song, or a rock song. I just want it all to feel sincere and touch into a certain kind of emotion.”

It is this authenticity that has consistently driven Bruno’s songwriting process, as he crafts tracks that resonate with his own beliefs and experiences. His passion for sincerity and penchant for irony intertwine to create a musical tapestry that is both thought-provoking and deeply personal.

It’s that mission statement which carries into the release of his latest track and EP of the same name, “Candy Pop.” In both, Bruno dives into the absurdity of pop culture and invites listeners to scoff even as they dance their way through it.

Are you sweating in the valley?
Do you study astrology?
Do you tend to dilly dally?
Grab a drink attend a rally?
Drop a bomb in Southern Cali

Inspired by a haunting rhythm that seemed to follow him in his day-to-day life, Bruno took a leap and allowed the song to organically take shape. “Some songs take a lot of different turns and peaks and valleys,” he shares, “but this one was nice and smooth.” Bruno reflects on the ease with which the best songs come to him, noting that simplicity often yields his most memorable work.

Authenticity has always been a driving force in Bruno’s songwriting and recording process. He emphasizes the importance of songs like those on Candy Pop feeling genuine, adding, “I can usually tell when I’m writing a song if an idea, a sound, a lyric, doesn’t seem completely honest to myself.”

It doesn’t really matter if it’s a heavy song, or a ballad, or a dance song, or a rock song. I just want it all to feel sincere and touch into a certain kind of emotion.

Bruno, now a father, finds himself contemplating the world and the direction in which it is headed.

His lyrics on Candy Pop offer reflective observations on life and strive to capture the complexities of our ever-changing society. There is an underlying sense of urgency and a desire to connect with listeners on a deeper level, fueled by a desire to maintain a human element.

In this respect, the music videos for “Freaking Me Out,” “We Are All Insane,” and “Candy Pop” form a trilogy that explores a dreamlike, futuristic world. Delving into themes of technological advancements and the loss of privacy, Bruno envisions a future where holding onto the dream of a simpler time becomes essential. He recalls his own youthful adventures, reminiscing about the freedom of being on a BMX bike in the park, untracked by constant surveillance.

When asked about avoiding a technological dystopian future, Bruno believes that there will always be a segment of the population that resists the mainstream. He cites the resurgence of CDs and cassette tapes as an example, emphasizing the joy and uniqueness they bring in contrast to the digital world. While the majority may embrace rapid progress, he encourages individuals to explore new possibilities and innovations outside the herd.

AWOLNATION © Amalia Irons
AWOLNATION © Amalia Irons

AWOLNATION is more than just a band; it is a musical journey guided by an artist who constantly seeks to challenge the status quo and explore the uncharted territories of sound.

As the next chapter unfolds, fans can rest assured that the music will remain as vibrant, captivating, and sincere as ever. It’s a powerful testament to the transformative power of music and its ability to connect us all on a deeper level. Come set “sail” with Candy Pop.

Atwood Magazine got a chance to sit down with Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION to discuss the EP, technological dystopia, early garage jamming sessions, and more. Read all about it below!

— —

:: stream Candy Pop EP here ::
Stream: ‘Candy Pop’ – AWOLNATION



Atwood Magazine: I want to talk first of all about the single ''Candy Pop,'' which explores the absurdity of pop culture. I'm wondering if you could share a little of your inspiration behind the song and how you approached creating it.

Aaron Bruno: I had a good number of songs that were done that will probably end up being on the full-length album which will come out next year, which is a story for another time. But I kept hearing this rhythm which ended up being the synthesizer pattern and riff if you want to call it that. It was a haunting rhythm that stayed with me in my day-to-day life. And so I thought to myself, “I may as well go for it.” And the rest took its own form naturally and I just tried to stay out of the way.

So it came and you just followed it where it went?

Aaron Bruno: Exactly. It was pretty simple. Some songs take a lot of different turns and peaks and valleys to get to the final result, but this one was nice and smooth. I found if I look back throughout my catalog, I would probably arrive at the commonality of my favorite songs or possibly the best ones being the easiest to come up with. Always has. Some other songs that I look back on contain a degree of difficulty and problem solving. But those don’t seem to be the ones that connect with most people as opposed to the easier, quicker, simpler writing processes.

The music videos for ''Freaking Me Out,'' ''We Are All Insane,'' and ''Candy Pop'' are described as part of a trilogy with a dreamlike, futuristic feel. Can you talk a little more about that story?

Aaron Bruno: As the world moves towards more technological advancements, my instinct is to be wary of them. Like zoom (I wish I was on a landline). Now, there are huge advantages to progress of course. But I do fear a a time — maybe not in our lifetime or that of our kids — where everything is under surveillance. That can’t be a good thing, in my humble opinion.

I think that the concept of these videos was about trying to escape that and holding on to the dream of a more simple time. I think about being young. My parents didn’t know where I was. I was on a BMX bike in the park with some friends and I just knew I needed to be home at 5pm and they had no way of finding me.

I suppose this is just my little endeavor in a sci-fi dystopian adventure.

Since you see this kind of technological dystopian future as an inevitability, do you think there's any way for us to avoid it or maintain connection to like the human element as we move in that direction?

Aaron Bruno:Well, if I were to answer that in an optimistic way, I would say that a handful of the population will always push back a little bit.

As an example, CDs and cassette tapes are very popular right now. And they sound good, and they’re fun to listen to.

If you could come across someone’s tape collection, it’s gold. It looks cool. It feels cool. You can touch it. We’re in a resurgence of tapes and that’s really fun. That’s all to say that while the whole population is is running one direction at light speed, some people bust out of that herd at times. You may have a little picnic on the side of that road and discover new possibilities and new opportunities and new innovation in a different kind of way.

AWOLNATION © Christina Bryson
AWOLNATION © Christina Bryson

In an interview with REVUE, you mention that authenticity is a keyword in your approach to songwriting and recording. Could you elaborate on how authenticity influences your music and the stories you want to tell through your songs?

Aaron Bruno: I can usually tell when I’m writing a song if an idea, a sound, a lyric, a vocal, a melody that creeps in doesn’t seem completely honest to myself. It always sticks out like a sore thumb. Ultimately I have to perform these songs and sing them and I think it would tear me apart to have to perform a song that I just didn’t believe in anymore. Now do I like songs some more than others that I that I played? Of course. But I try to make sure what I put out as AWOLNATION feels honest to me.

Like there’s some genres of music that I just can’t do. I couldn’t just release a country album with a bit of a an accent. You know? I love country music, but being a country artist isn’t a role I can really inhabit.

You've mentioned that music is incredibly nostalgic for you and takes you back to various moments in your life. Could you share a specific memory or experience that significantly influenced your music and songwriting?

Aaron Bruno: In sixth grade when I knew how to play guitar just a little bit I met a kid named Matt Broderick (not the actor, of course) and we became buddies. He said he played drums and although I didn’t know how to play guitar well, I could play enough that I could say to him, “I play guitar.” I found a way to borrow someone’s electric guitar and we jammed together. It changed my life forever because I got the feel the power of being in a band and collaborating like that. And he was pretty good. He was a much better drummer than I was a guitar player. The camaraderie and cadence that we linked up on was was really special and I’ll never forget it. That was a huge influence, not necessarily on how to write songs, but more so on how much I love playing music. Back then jamming would feel like a secret that no one else knew because we were we were never going to play these songs for anyone. They were just for us.

I can usually tell when I’m writing a song if an idea, a sound, a lyric, a vocal, a melody that creeps in doesn’t seem completely honest to myself. It always sticks out like a sore thumb.

And flash-forward to now, you've got a got a new album on the horizon. Can you provide some insights into the themes and emotions that will be explored in it?

Aaron Bruno: Well, I’m still kind of figuring out how to finish it up. It’s not really complete. I just hope it’s my best foot forward. That would be my biggest goal.

And I also read somewhere that this this is your fifth and it might be your final one as AWOLNATION. Is there any truth to that?

Aaron Bruno: If it’s good enough, then it’s possible that it could be the last.

Where would you go from there?

Aaron Bruno: There are a few other projects I have up my sleeve, so to speak, that I’m very excited about. Not necessarily more excited than this next record, but certainly enough to keep me very satisfied and push me in a new kind of way. Five album, six if you count the covers album, that that’s a lot of music. And I have this fear that I eventually won’t put out quality music anymore. I  can’t name too many artists that have over four or five records that stay good. We have the legendary bands like the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen that continue to make music and you could cherry pick a song or two here or there that are good, but it’d be nice to walk away before it gets to that point. There’s something romantic about walking away and having a different kind of life and a different perspective, because music has been so good to me. And my fans have been so good to me. And I don’t want to be too greedy about it. I don’t want to keep asking people to listen to my new music and bludgeon them over and over and over. And it may be nice to take take a break after this record and read the tea leaves and look back a couple years after and go, “That was incredible. And I want to do it again.” Or maybe I’ll just enjoy getting older and family life and other things.

I don’t feel any need to prove myself anymore. When I was younger, I certainly did. I was in failed bands and was really struggling and broke and in debt and all those things, and life’s handed me this opportunity to explore other things besides just music.

I’m a father now, and that immediately changed me for the better forever. I want to be able to spend as much time as I can as a dad moving forward.

I think this idea of AWOLNATION being a period in your life that you can walk away from and do something new begs the question of what defines AWOLNATION as a project and what makes it different from anything else that you want to do or have done?

Aaron Bruno: It’s the biggest thing I’ve done for starters, so there’s the most pressure on it over anything else. There was a certain expectation I had with Hometown Hero and the band that followed and the band before, certain expectations and dreams that came from sitting in high school and thinking about music, what it could be, and what it couldn’t. With AWOLNATION it exceeded my wildest dreams.

I’m a father now, and that immediately changed me for the better forever. I want to be able to spend as much time as I can as a dad moving forward. And touring isn’t what it once was to me. It used to be a dream to get in a van with the fellas and play as many shows as possible, but I don’t get the same fulfillment as I used to. Now, when we get on stage and play the music and have that that magical bond, it’s incredible. It’s euphoric. But every other minute leading up to that is a minute where I get homesick and I feel like I’ve done a lot.

Again, you don’t want to be the annoying guy that keeps knocking on everybody’s door. “Vote for me, vote for me, vote for me.” Now. It’s like, “Get out of here for a minute.” I want to read the room and recognize that there’s a lot of music for people to listen to. I’ve given a lot. I’ve given a lot of my heart and soul to this thing, lyrically and emotionally, and it may be maybe a nice thing to just chill out for a minute. Reassess.

What do you hope fans take away from the album in the new EP?

Aaron Bruno:It did the opposite of what a label would have wanted it to do. I think if I was part of a major label, they would have said, “Alright, we need ‘Sail 2.0’ now.” On a business level, maybe that would be correct, but I felt like since I had no intentions of that song being on the radio ever, or being commercial whatsoever, it gave me more freedom to just make the music that felt appropriate to me at that time. And I still feel that way. Aside from the success, it’s been the hugest blessing for me to be completely free artistically. And I gotta tell you, I still don’t know how that happened. I can look at all its different parts and it’s still a mystery how it became as big as it did.

What can fans look forward to as the album approaches the horizon?

Aaron Bruno: Hopefully they’ll get a really fun album. And beyond that, I’ll never be able to stop making music. It just may not be at the same level of demand as what AWOLNATION has become and was and is. In other words, it may be a project that comes out where I don’t even know if I’ll play a show, but I want to release that side of me. Whether that’s something extremely heavy, which is very likely, or something very mellow, or it’s more of an acoustic record, I just want to release it and get it out of my system and exercise that. And do so with no expectations to make it a number one hit. I’m going to make an announcement probably closer to the end of this year or the very beginning of of next year on exactly what I’m hinting at. But I’m fired up.

I’ll never just abandon everybody. It just may have a different look to it.

For fans of Atwood Magazine’s podcast Tunes & Tumblers, if you were to describe the sound of “Candy Pop” as a drink, what would it be?

Aaron Bruno: I would probably say just a regular straight up gin Martini. Because gin has a certain sweetness to it that’s like Sprite to me, or 7up or something. But it packs enough of a punch. And I don’t think there’s olives in it. You know? Just an old school gin Martini.

— —

:: stream Candy Pop EP here ::
Watch: “Candy Pop” – AWOLNATION

— — — —


Connect to AWOLNATION on
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
📸 © Amalia Irons

:: Stream AWOLNATION ::

More from Anthony Kozlowski
Feature: Joywave Wash, Rinse, and Start Fresh on New Album ‘Cleanse’
Daniel Armbruster of Rochester rock band Joywave sits down with Atwood Magazine...
Read More