Photo by Matt Arena.

What other main guitars do you use?
I got an ES-335 hollowbody in 2001. It was a gift I got myself when we got signed and had an equipment budget. Five years ago I was so broke that I had to sell it. I sold it to a guy I knew with the understanding that I could buy it back someday. I reached out to him and he was a man of his word. He allowed me to buy it back for the same price.

I custom ordered this powder-blue SG that has a matching powder-blue headstock. That’s my baby. I threw it once because I thought I was going to be awesome and smash my guitar earlier on in my career, which is a huge mistake, as everybody knows. I was going through a dark time in my life when I realized the band I was in was going absolutely nowhere, so I tried to destroy my guitar out of rage. It didn’t break but it got messed up a little bit. I was able to fix it. It goes out of tune quite a bit, but that’s my main guitar. I realized it’s pretty much the same guitar that the singer of Spinal Tap plays [laughs]. And at one point my hair was so long that I would crack up every time I played it thinking, “I kinda look like Spinal Tap right now.”

What’s it like working in the studio with your engineer, Eric Stenman?
There were a couple of moments along the way where Eric was hard to please. I’m like trust me—mute the snare there and move that riff back one bar and see what happens. He’s like, “Are you sure?” and I’d say, “Shut the fuck up. I promise you—if I’m wrong I’ll give you everything I have.”

“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.”

And then we’d be listening back and going “Yes!” We’re almost crying with laughter because we’re so happy that we did something we’d like as music fans, you know? Those are some of the most fun moments in the studio, and no one’s around to see it—it’s just me and one guy.

So you like to take musical risks.
Oh, absolutely. The reward is so much greater than playing it safe. The climate of music, especially in our world of alternative music, is really interesting right now. It’s become extremely poppy, which is fine, there are some great songs out there. But 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. You can only take so many catchy songs without substance. It doesn’t really last.

It’s all about rhythm to me. What’s always moved me are interesting grooves or setting up a groove so that when the one of the bar starts, it hits you like, “Thank god, I didn’t know that was coming!” That’s what I always love most in music. Those moments that shock my brain. I’ve studied serious math metal as well, where once a groove locks in after being in all these other chaotic worlds and then comes together, and kind of rolls on the rails for a little moment in time—that’s just beauty to me. I’ll cry if a riff is that good.

YouTube It

AWOLNATION performs their new single “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” in full-band mode on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Look for one of Bruno’s brutal breakdowns near the 3-minute mark.

In a special interview, Rage Against the Machine’s bassist Tim Commerford talks with pal Aaron Bruno about the acoustic track “Headrest for My Soul” off of AWOLNATION’s new album, Run. Search term: AWOLNATION ‘Run’ Album Special with Tim Commerford “Headrest for My Soul”

To hear music like yours on the radio is exciting.
The second I heard “Hollow Moon” got added to all these radio stations, I called up Eric [Stenman] and said, “Hey, if the whole world blows up tomorrow, I’ll be really proud that we got into millions of people’s ears for 24 hours and that we had that brutal of a fucking riff heard on arguably mainstream radio." It still blows my mind that that’s happening. So I thought it was a courageous decision by the label to be cool with going with that first. Because there are definitely songs on the record that I think have a more universal appeal, or an anthemic energy to them that would seem to be what most people would assume to go with. But we’ve been given the creative freedom to set this up like the fantasy records I grew up loving, which is to start with something energetic and exciting to wake people up a little bit.

If your music had an odor, what would yours smell like?
I suppose it would smell like the ocean, which is constantly changing and could be a lot of different things. In the winter it could be heavy or a kind of mist, and in the summer it could have more of a salty vibe because of the heat.

You mentioned that you struggled earlier in your career. What advice would you give to your younger self, or those trying to find their own voice?
You should figure out what you do best and shine on that. The other thing I would have loved to tell my younger self is: You can always write a better song. The minute you throw the towel in on that—it’s over.