AWOLNATION

Hit singles are great, but for every real artist the dream when they go into the studio is to make music that reaches people, songs that strike a deep chord and resonates with audiences well after the track ends.
For Aaron Bruno, the architect of white-hot new rockers AWOLNATION, hearing that his brilliant Megalithic Symphony has achieved that lofty ambition with anyone is the greatest reward of the success the band is enjoying now.
"There's a good amount of word of mouth stuff going on with this record where I meet fans after the show and they're like, 'Oh man, I hadn't heard of you guys and my friend turned me on and it's my favorite record in the last 10 years,'" Bruno says. "People are saying stuff like that to me, which is obviously the goal and it blows my mind."
To make that connection you need two things, the first being a hit song that brings fans into the music. AWOLNATION has that with the unlikeliest of radio successes, "Sail," a dark, infectious tale of angst with an unmistakable and unforgettable hook where Bruno wails at some point, "Maybe I should cry for help/Maybe I should kill myself/So blame it on my A.D.D. baby."
As we said not a likely radio hit. In fact, Bruno is as surprised as anyone by the success of "Sail." "It has been charting and still climbing, but it was never intended to be a song that was on the radio," he says. "I think I just struck a nerve in people and caused a visceral reaction with the sort of the nursery rhyme aspect of the melody and how simple it is."
The second ingredient for a lasting impression is originality, something that stands apart from the banality of top 40 radios and dares to speak to people's true feelings, both musically and lyrically. Bruno has definitely done that with Megalithic Symphony, an album whose uniqueness is evident right from the ambitious title and carries on throughout the 14-song collection.
From the opening title piece, a mishmash of computerized sounds and keyboards that culminates with a robotic voice calling out the band's name twice, and the following 22-second sound bite, "Some Sort Of Creature," Bruno invites fans in on a journey into his musical Wonderland. And it is a dizzying soundscape, one that moves from the frenetic paces of the hook-laden "Soul Wars" and the vaguely Nine Inch Nails-esque "Burn It Down" to the engaging upbeat feel-good dance hooks of "People," a song that begins with Bruno thanking fans for listening and saying, "I am grateful for this," and the hard grind of "Kill Your Heroes," a song who vivid imagery starts with Bruno singing, "Well, I met an old man dying on a train/No more destination, no more pain/Well he said one thing before I graduate/Never let your fear decide your fate."
Among the tracks that fans are picking up lyrically the most are the soul/pop gem "Not Your Fault" and the more than 12-minute closer, "Knights Of Shame," which informs listeners from the outset, "Dance, baby, dance, like the world is ending."
For Bruno, that fans are picking up on that song is as gratifying as the success of "Sail." "A lot of people seem to know that whole thing and that was like the most fun time of my life making that song," he says. "And when we play it live it's so enjoyable, so I'm stoked that people are into it."
Like "Not Your Fault" "Knights" is an amalgam of styles, something that bridges techno, soul, a lullaby feel, rock, rap, and pop into one 21st-century anthem. That much diversity in one song can blow the minds of an industry still used to the compartmentalized mentality of the 20th century record stores where every genre had its own bin.
But you won't pigeonhole Bruno into one style of music. "I like so much music. I love old country music, I love a lot of kind of silly pop stuff, I love all hip hop, all different eras, obviously metal, punk rock, indie rock, there's no one genre that I love more than another one. So I think that comes through in the music," he says.
That does lead to some memorable, occasionally confusing, and very flattering descriptions. "I'll talk to one person and they'll go, 'I hear Nine Inch Nails meets Aretha Franklin.' I'm like, 'That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard. How does that even make sense?'" he asks. "I've heard the Nirvana comparisons, Nirvana meets Outkast meets Prince, that's a comparison I love obviously."
All of those artists have achieved the dream that Bruno has been striving for since he started making music. "It's always been a goal of mine to make that special record people remember as sort of like a landmark in time." With Megalithic Symphony Aaron Bruno has proven that he is the unique talent that can make that dream come true.

Young Heart

"We were driving around with friends and someone said 'I smell a bonfire,'" recalls Erica Driscoll, lead vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist of the brother-sister duo Blondfire. "We thought they said 'Blondfire,' and at first we kind of jokingly said it should be our name – but it stuck. We liked the fact that it was masculine and feminine at the same time. It represented who we are in a cool way."

That push-pull of elemental forces is fundamental to the siblings' sound. Winsome, melancholy vocals and '80s-influenced melodies float atop shards of guitar and propulsive beats, leavening Blondfire's infectious pop tunes with real punch. Alternately haunting and ebullient, their Warner Bros Records debut Young Heart represents the purest example yet of Blondfire's unique musical hybrid.

"We tend to write sweet, dreamy melodies," agrees guitarist-drummer-sequencer-backup singer Bruce Driscoll, "and having a rhythm section that's more aggressive – and not too straight – gives it that gutsier, edgier feel." Like Erica, Bruce grew up loving bands like The Smiths, The Cure and New Order. But when it came to drums, Led Zeppelin skinsman John Bonham always occupied a special place in his heart.

The formula has resonated strongly with listeners. Blondfire became the first unsigned act to hit the #1 spot on the iTunes Alternative chart and one of very few unsigned bands to be added to the Sirius Alt Nation playlist, on the strength of the evocative, bouncy "Where The Kids Are" and its arty video. "I submitted that song to a few blogs and it just took off online," Erica marvels. "According to Hype Machine, we became the #1 most talked-about band on the internet!"

"Where The Kids Are" is the lead single on the self-produced Young Heart, most of which they wrote and recorded, Bruce reports, in "about a week" at his home studio and Hollywood's historic Wax Studios (formerly TTG). The set was mixed by Wally Gagel (Muse, Folk Implosion, Gorillaz). "Wally mixed 'Kids,' and he has a great grasp of what we're about sonically," volunteers Bruce. "He has a real knack for pressing the 'sound big' button."

Young Heart is the duo's first full-length album since their 2008 indie release My Someday. In the interim, the band has developed a homegrown following in Los Angeles through live residencies and radio airplay from KROQ, KCSN, 98.7 and KCRW. Their music has also been heard in the films Besties and Get a Job; on TV via ESPN's Australian Open Tennis, The Client List, MTV's Awkward and The Collection and in an ad for Ecco shoes.

Bruce and Erica grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan; their U.S.-born dad plucked classic rock and pop on the guitar, while their Brazilian mom – a classically trained pianist – exposed them to bossa nova and music lessons. By her teens, Erica was mad for '80s pop and teaching herself guitar.

Bruce was initially obsessed with film soundtracks, which no doubt ultimately contributed to Blondfire's emotionally vivid musical textures. "My dream was to score a Batman movie someday," he remembers. Later he got into drums (partly as a rebellion against piano lessons); although he soon switched to guitar, he retained his preoccupation with beats.

"Once Bruce started playing guitar, that's all we wanted to do," Erica says. "In Michigan there isn't much to do, especially in winter. So we just holed up in the basement, writing songs and recording them on our 4-track machine." They began gigging soon after.

And that Brazilian thing? "You can hear it a little in the way we use melodies," Erica muses, "and in the way that Bruce likes to put all kinds of variations into his beats." Bruce adds that he leans toward certain chords that lend a melancholy feel one could trace back to Jobim and other Brazilian songwriters. "It's not obvious," he says. "But it's in there." And just part of the one-of-a-kind recipe that makes Blondfire sound like nothing else.

With the world roiled by fear and division borne out of politics, economic uncertainty, and terrorism, perhaps there is no better time for the arrival of music underpinned by the belief that love wins. Into the maw of anxiety comes Vancouver's indie synth-rock band Mother Mother and their new album 'No Culture,' which posits that society uses negative byproducts of culture -- such as narcissism, hedonism, and addiction -- as a means to nurture its fears of the unknown. "If we can strip back the culture, or the masks, attitudes, and stories that feed our differences, and just connect as people we might be more united at a time where we really need to be," says Mother Mother's frontman, guitarist, and lyricist Ryan Guldemond.
To amplify the themes on 'No Culture,' the album's cover art depicts a painted-white baby doll dabbling in black paint, suggesting the immediate imprint society makes on us once we enter the world. As its creator Molly Guldemond, Ryan's sister who sings, plays keyboard, and makes all the art for Mother Mother, puts it: "The idea for the image came from careful consideration of what culture is and how it is used in society as a form of self-identification and belonging. What would it be like to be clear of this? How much of our identity is placed on us from the environments we are born into? A baby, shiny and new, is without culture. It is the tabula rasa, the clean slate. Slowly through immersion in domestic and social environments, it is painted with the brush of other people's ideas, fears, and beliefs ... it is imprinted with culture."
For Ryan, stepping away from cultural influences was crucial to his ability to write Mother Mother's new album. Unless he did so, Guldemond was afraid he'd never be able to write another song, much less an album -- a significant concern given that Mother Mother fans were expecting a follow-up to 2014's 'Very Good Bad Thing,' which hit No. 1 on Canada's Alternative Albums chart. In 2015, the band, which also features singer-keyboardist Jasmin Parkin, drummer Ali Siadat, and bassist Mike Young, was nominated for a Juno Award for "Best Group" and toured the U.S. extensively, including dates with Imagine Dragons and AWOLNATION.
When it came time to write, Guldemond retired to a home studio he had built in the woods on his dad's property on Quadra Island off the Eastern coast of Vancouver Island where he and Molly grew up. "It was so perfect and quiet that it became deafening and self-defeating," he says. Three months before heading there, Guldemond put down a long habit of self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. After a few months of sobriety, the honeymoon wore off and he fell into a depression and "a regression back to the shit that I was trying to avoid when I was a kid," he says. "That stuff just lies dormant."
A debilitating period of writer's block ensued, which inspired anthemic first single "Love Stuck." "It's about the condition of overthinking and how it creates blockades against creativity," Guldemond says. "I wrote this on my birthday at the height of my funk and so, always having believed in the magic and synchronicity of the universe, despite not feeling it at the time, I told myself that some element of cosmic numerology would inform the birth of a song."
As a result of his paralysis, Guldemond was forced to write autobiographical songs for the first time in his life. "I was having my own identity crisis at the time so I couldn't help but write about it, despite not wanting to," he says. "So I really had to capitalize on everything that I was going through. The clean-living experience surprised me with a lot of discomfort and confusion, and a loss of confidence. I was second-guessing everything, what my intentions were with the music, what good was, what bad was, what authentic was. I had grown used to conducting myself with a kind of intensity, and sobriety seemed to take that ability away from me. I found myself more open and softer, which allowed for more authentic connection."
It turns out that exploring life, songwriting, and his own identity -- and being clear of mind and substances during the year that 'No Culture' was written and recorded -- resulted in Mother Mother's most emotionally honest, vulnerable, and least cynical album to date. Guldemond says he felt free to explore lyrical concepts unfiltered by persona, a move away from the allegorical and conceptual writing the band was known for on its five previous albums. "The Drugs" is about the euphoria, or "high," that one gets from being in love and replacing one source of dopamine with another, with love being the "true" path of light and health. The piano ballad "Letter," a song Guldemond sat on for years as he searched for a deserving chorus, morphed from a simple idea rooted in unrequited love into a lament for the past: "a case of toxic nostalgia, which I directly related to, being in my own state of longing, looking back on the good old days and indulging their mythological qualities," he says. On "Baby Boy," Guldemond delivers confessional verses that admit his penchant for self-destruction and deceit, while Molly takes the lead with a melodic intervention, singing: "Baby boy, baby brother, we're losing you to the gutter." Molly also shines on the album's closing track, "Family," which began as a fairly caustic take on the Guldemonds' family dynamic, but eventually softened into something that celebrates the idiosyncrasies of kinship.
But just because the album's themes skew dark does not mean the sonic mood of 'No Culture' is gloomy. "It's not a down record," Guldemond says. "There's never a dark theme that isn't accompanied by an answer or a way out. And it was crucial to take introspective themes and prop them up with energized and optimistic music. Sometimes sadness is better carried in a vehicle of happiness." On their new studio album, Mother Mother continue to honor their synth-driven sound with aspects of alternative pop, creating a shimmering blend of strong hooks, big beats, ethereal vocals, and sing-along choruses, with an injection of punk-rock energy. The listener is taken on an epic sonic journey that is filled with emotion, similar to Guldemond's experience during the writing process. Now he's relieved to have some distance and to be able to represent his journey from a place of objectivity. "I think a story is better told when you're not so entrenched in living it," he says. "I look forward to performing these songs from the vantage point of having moved on from what led to their creation in the first place."

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