“I want people to walk away thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t even know what just happened to my brain.’”
Photo by Dave Lichterman.

Let’s talk about the first single, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf).” What’s the inspiration behind it?
We’d just gotten back from a great European tour. I was jet-lagged and I woke up at 4 a.m. with this weird, hazy, hungover vibe. I watched the sun coming up and wrote this way mellower, ambient version of the song. I didn’t even know if it was going to be on the record, it just seemed interesting. I could see the moon at the same time, so that’s what I labeled the session—“Hollow Moon.” It’s something I’d been interested in on a sci-fi level. I took it to the studio with Eric my engineer, where we put the energy into the song, which wasn’t intentional.

All right, it’s 4 a.m. and you’re jet-lagged and looking at the moon. What do you use to record the idea?
I have my own Pro Tools rig at home on my laptop, and that’s where I usually start demo ideas. Most of my demos end up being extremely lo-fi sounding, more than the recorded version … but you can’t beat that demo you have as an artist.

You’ve got a mean low-end fuzz going on in a lot of tracks on the album, like at the end of “KOOKSEVERYWHERE.” Is that a bass?
I can tell you that I never played any bass guitar on this record. I never—not once—held a bass in my hand. It wasn’t intentional, but it’s really cool to me and I’m proud of it now. Having said that, there are definitely ways to get bass guitar sounds out of other instruments. That could be a guitar with an octave pedal or a Moog-style synth where you can get that low-end power.

“I feel the world is definitely ready for a little bit of passion, a little bit of anger, and a vulnerable moment for people to relate to.”

That power of low end is so important to me, it’s kind of the heart and soul of the record in a lot of ways. So I don’t necessarily have a formula or any rules of how I get it to sound on those specific parts I think you’re referring to. I just want it to sound as massive and as brutal as the heaviest metal records, and at the same time as gigantic as any of my favorite hip-hop albums, but—hopefully—with the integrity and credibility of the best-sounding guitar tones that I loved growing up so much.

Did you use a guitar to get those tones?
Yes, of course. But never just one guitar tone. It was a combination of multiple things, so what may sound like just a guitar and some awesome pedal settings is never just that. If we’re talking about the low-end breakdown riffs on the record, it’s a combination of multiple things to get that power, and guitar is one of those things, but not ever the only thing.

You’d be surprised: Some of the things that clearly seem like a guitar are actually a synth, and some people think I have some sort of synth sound, but it’s actually a guitar that sounds like a synth. I have no loyalty to any instruments.

Do you use a pedalboard live?
I do. I just have a tuner pedal and a distortion pedal. That’s all I need for the songs I’ve chosen to play onstage. What we do live is completely different.

Aaron Bruno's Gear

Custom powder blue Gibson SG (live)
1981 Gibson Paul (studio)
Gibson ES-335 (studio)
Gibson goldtop Les Paul (studio, belongs to Eric Stenman)
Nash T72 (studio, belongs to Eric Stenman)
Nylon-string acoustic (model unknown)

Dr. Z MAZ 18 Jr.
Vox AC30
Ampeg SVT-VR head with 8x10 bass cabinet
Fender Deluxe Reverb

DigiTech Whammy (one vintage model, one current model)
Boss MT-2 Metal Zone
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
Boss/Roland RE-20 Space Echo

Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball Beefy Slinky (.011–.054) or Dean Markley Blue Steel (.011–.052)
0.73 mm picks (unknown brand)

Is your live band a democracy?
I haven’t run into any huge disagreements with Drew [Stewart] and the guitar parts, and he puts his own twist on it. I don’t want it to be the same thing live. I want it to be like the record, but on acid. Pick whichever cool drug you like and that’s what I want the music to feel like live. Please understand I’m not trying to encourage anyone to do drugs, I’m just saying metaphorically, I want people to walk away thinking, “Wow, I don’t even know what just happened to my brain.”

You also use acoustic guitar in some special ways. On the last album, your song “Guilty Filthy Soul” has an intro with a really raunchy acoustic riff that sounds like its doubled. What’s going on there?
That was actually only one sound. I recorded that on GarageBand with a nylon-string guitar that just happened to be at the house I was staying at. I don’t know what the tuning was still to this day, but I remember having that rhythm in my mind. If my memory serves me correctly I ended on E, so it’s like that open-string, no-note nonsense is the first thing you hear going into E, which is not the key we’re in when we play the song. That guitar—some piece of shit in the corner—was tuned weirdly. I recorded it with the gain all the way up because it already sounded like hell, so I figured I might as well make it even dirtier. Once we got into the studio I just thought it sounded cool and I wasn’t going to get a better tone so we kept it. I’m still shocked to this day that it worked out.

Is that hard to recreate live?
Yeah, it’s never going to sound as specifically weird and cool as the record.

Do you have go-to guitars or do you use whatever is available?
I’ve always enjoyed SGs. When I was a kid I saw a white SG with a black pickup and it looked like a storm trooper to me and I thought that was really cool [laughs]. My cousin was a Gibson rep for a while and he brought an SG over to our house that he let us borrow for three months and I would play it every day. The storm trooper combined with him bringing one over—that was it. I’ve mostly always played Gibsons. I guess that’s just what I know and what’s the most comfortable to me.

What guitars did you use in the studio?
I recently got a 1981 Paul, which is the economy version of the Les Paul. There’s not a bunch of them out there. It’s cool, it’s a little bit different. Les Pauls are heavy and hurt my rib cage when I play ’em.

One of the best longboard surfboard shapers in the world is Lance Carson—an iconic pioneer of longboarding and someone I respect very much. He shaped me a board, which I felt honored about and I became buddies with him. In 1982, he gave someone a longboard and the guy couldn’t pay him, so he gave Lance this Paul guitar I’m speaking of. I asked Lance if he wanted to sell it and he sold it to me for what I thought was a great price. When I plugged in, it just had this warm feel that I thought was pretty good. That appeared on 80 percent of the guitar moments on Run.