Topping the runaway success of 2011’s Megalithic Symphony was a task AWOLNATION creator Aaron Bruno did not take lightly upon entering the studio to create his second album. Written, performed and produced entirely by Bruno, RUN is the result of the California songwriter’s years of very private work that he’s excited to finally share with listeners. Bruno discussed the next chapter in his uncompromising musical vision with Jason Schreurs

You’ve said every moment on this new album was very thoughtfully placed, and that just sounds exhausting. Was it a tough slog writing this album?
AARON BRUNO: There were definitely ups and downs, with moments of self-doubt, and moments of glory, as well. I just had such a wonderful opportunity to make a record with impact and one that really mattered to people. I learned who our core fans are along the way, and I was able to harness that feeling and energy and push myself as far as possible. Following up a success story like the first record was terrifying at times. Most of the pressure, I put on myself. No one heard the new album until it was done. I just want to be the best that I can be and mature as a songwriter, and hopefully as a producer. So it’s definitely a tricky game to play when you are writing what’s just… you. But the name of the game for me was rest and time in between sessions and being able to give myself a fresh perspective: to listen to these ideas and songs along the way, as if they weren’t me. So I was able to be a fresh listener, which was difficult to do. That was the hardest part: being able to listen to it as an outsider. Sometimes I’d have to take a couple days, or a whole week, off on certain songs in order to get a fresh perspective.

Do you feel comfortable bringing other people into that process, to give you some more fresh ears?
Not on this one. No one heard a thing until it was over. Having said that, the engineer I worked with, he was involved all along, and I trust him a lot, so he was a great second opinion. His name’s Eric Stenman and he was my right-hand man. And while he didn’t write or play anything on the album, I respect his judgment very much. If I can impress him, then there’s a good chance other people will enjoy the songs as well, because he’s kind of a hater—which is good. I don’t want to surround myself with a bunch of “yes” people; I’d rather have people that are pushing me. So while making this record, he was a great hater to have around. [Laughs.]

Were there any breakthrough moments during the writing of RUN?
I had a lot of different ideas and the songs took different shapes and feelings. It wasn’t until I wrote the title track, where I felt like I had a starting point. I already kind of knew how I wanted to end it, so the rest fell into place at that point. But it wasn’t until I wrote that song that I felt, “Okay, here’s the album.”

That must have been a good feeling.
It’s weird; I was so excited that it almost became anxiety. It’s like knowing a secret you want to tell the world, but you can’t. So that’s how I felt, like, “Oh, my God, I just want to show everybody this song,” because I was so proud of it. So, if anything, I wanted it to come out… yesterday, because I was so amped on that song and the way it set up the album and what came after it. It was nice to take my time making the record, but at a certain point I got really, really inspired and extremely passionate about sharing it.

No offense to your band, but you’ve always been known as a one-man project. I’m wondering how much ego—maybe ego isn’t the right word—but how much self-confidence is involved with doing a project like this?
That’s a tricky one to answer and it’s kind of a sore subject for me. I don’t enjoy talking about it that much. I didn’t wake up one day and think, “I’m going to make the Aaron Bruno record” with Megalithic Symphony. What happened was my last band broke up and the last thing I wanted to do in the world was start another band. I’d been in only serious bands, but none of them were successful. Although there were a couple moments and glimmers of hope for record deals and stuff like that, it never got to the point we wanted it to. So I didn’t want to start another marriage with another band all over again and figure out the personalities. I felt like at that point in my life, I was ready to take it all on myself, and had the tools to make my own record. I was never going to call it by my name; I was going to call it something else, and as time went on it developed a sound and it felt like AWOLNATION to me. But as much confidence as you need for this kind of scenario, there’s an equal amount of self-doubt because you have to look in the mirror. With this new record, if I were to have failed… that would all be on me. I couldn’t blame anyone else. So sometimes it’s very lonely, to say the least, but it’s a dream come true to be able to make the art I want to, exactly how I want to, and not have anyone get in the way of that. At this point, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why do you think people who do amazing things can have so much self-doubt?
Struggle can just bring the best out of you sometimes. All of my favorite songwriters and artists are extremely insecure. Like comedians—they seem to be the most depressed of all the entertainers. They’re providing laughter and joy for people, yet inside they’re torn up. When artists or songwriters are honest, it’s a terrifying thing sometimes, to be vulnerable and put yourself out there, musically and lyrically.

What’s the one thing about this new album that you’re most excited to reveal?
Well, I would have said the song “Run,” because it’s one of the favorite moments I’ve ever been a part of musically, so that’s already happened. But just in general, I’m excited for people to hear the whole album, because it goes through so many different journeys and peaks and valleys. So I’m just excited for it to be out in the world.

What’s the biggest difference between Run and your first album?
I’d like to think it’s a better record and 2.0 for me. Hopefully I’m more mature now. I’ve learned a lot and grown as a songwriter and a producer. But I definitely think it’s a darker record and more focused, certainly heavier. I just think it’s better, too. alt