Local Waves, Episode Five: Karlie Bartholomew

Karlie Bartholomew Local Waves
Karlie Bartholomew Local Waves
Our local wave to catch this week, Karlie Bartholomew.

This week on Local Waves, I decided to take yet another different route towards covering local artists who might not get as much of an opportunity to be heard as much as some of the big guns. Suggested by a Montauk Music follower, I found myself not only in contact with our latest local wave, but impressed by her story. With hard work comes success, and it is clear that this young artist is putting in her dues now in order to further herself as much as possible for the future.

Karlie Bartholomew, a Baltimore local, has been doing what she loves from a very young age. After realizing the desire to turn in into a full time career, Ms. Bartholomew left what could be a comfortable position to some, to a path towards her dreams. While she may not be able to drop some of the big names that other, more experienced local waves have shared, her story sheds a light on a just as important topic that anyone in the industry can relate to: the very beginning. It is, after all, a very good place to start.

Karlie Bartholomew Local Waves
A candid, performance shot. Photo Credit, Dennis Woo.

Henry Pazaryna: So I have been doing interviews of local artists and their experiences around the area. Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself, and what you are doing?

Karlie Bartholomew: Sure! I’m a singer – songwriter based primarily out of the Baltimore area, but I play shows in various other areas such as Annapolis and Frederick. I have been writing songs and singing from a very young age, but began to take it seriously about three years ago. My first year of college, I attended Hood College in Frederick with plans on majoring in journalism. While I was there, I was in every single one of the music groups I could possibly be in. Somewhere along the line I realized that I didn’t want to major in journalism and wanted to do music for the rest of my life. After that, I spent the next year at home going to community college, playing shows at venues, like Rams Head Live, Soundstage, and Ottobar, and planning on transferring to Berklee College of Music in Boston. So this past year was my first year there and I’ve been working on developing my own style of music and learning music theory for the first time in my life. I’m just trying everything out there and playing with different people and it’s really given me a whole new perspective of music. Aside from working on my own music, I joined a band called Shah with some friends and play the banjo-guitar. Now I’m home for the summer and I’m trying to play out as much as I can, whether it be an open mic or a paying gig, because I really just want to meet people

HP: Most of the people I have interviewed are a little more established within the music community. As a student and the interviewee closest to my age, what is playing at all of the open mics like? What goes through your mind?

KB: It was honestly a little scary for me at first because I’m normally one of the youngest people at these open mics and a lot of people have been playing at them for awhile so everyone kind of knows each other. I’ve met so many great people just doing open mics, though. My dad always goes with me to them and afterwards we kind of talk through my performance and things I’ve could’ve done better, etc. It’s a great way to become comfortable, practice performing, and learn how to work an audience and determine what songs they like and don’t like. I think of it as practice for the real thing.

HP: Totally understandable. You are also the first girl I have interviewed, and I am happy I am getting the chance to do so. Do you feel any kind of pressure regarding gender in the industry that you have experienced so far?

KB: Most definitely. I feel a lot of pressure to be your typical pop star. I had a private audition for the show the Voice about two years ago and I went in wearing a plain t-shirt and old boots and I played the “A-Team” by Ed Sheeran. The producer said he really liked me, but he wanted me to play more pop-style songs and dress more according to the style. Well, a couple months later they invited me to audition again for them. This time I went in wearing huge red high heels and played a popular song I hated and completely messed up the audition because it just didn’t feel right at all. It just wasn’t who I am. I want to be authentic and I want the same thing for my music.

Karlie Bartholomew Local Waves
Karlie playing an event at the 9:30 Club.

HP: I don’t think I could ever fully comprehend the scope of something like that, to that extent. And not just with women, but with minorities too. Good for you for sticking to your guns. It does seem so much harder for a female artist to try to make it on the scene. So you said you wanted to go to Berklee. Is that happening? What is going on with that?

KB: It can be pretty frustrating at times. Yes! I just finished up my first year there. I should be graduating this next year, but some things got weird with transferring so I’ll be there with another two years. It’s absolutely incredible. There is a like-mindedness there that I have never experienced before. The teachers there are so inspiring and will go out of their way to help you. A lot of them want to get to know you on a personal level as well. The whole Berklee community is incredible. Over spring break, I took a trip with Berklee to Nashville and met so many different alumni who just want to help you as much as they can.

HP: Great to hear. As a transfer student who had a pretty smooth transition myself, it sucks that all of that happened. The connection making is really important, and it sounds like you are killing it on that front. While this may be a short time away, what are your aspirations, post college? Will you stay in the northeast, or try to hit Nashville or LA, or even stay local?

KB: I really want to move to Nashville. I absolutely love the city and I think my music would do well there. I’m still trying to figure everything out, but I really want to perform and eventually tour. I also want to work as a recording artist.

HP: I have heard a lot of great things about Nashville. Seems like a really happening spot. Do you feel like your genre would fit well there? Speaking of which, what would you consider your style to be? Would you be willing to expand on that?

KB: Yes, I think it would. There’s a lot of country there, but there are tons of other music happening as well. My style is more of an acoustic sound so I think that’s why it would fit well. My music has tons of different influences such as R&B, jazz, folk, and pop. I normally just say pop because that genre isn’t really just one specific sound. I have a lot of influence from artists like Tori Kelly, Ingrid Michaelson, Colbie Caillat, Kina Grannis, Ed Sheeran and Ella Fitzgerald (to name a few) and I feel like you can definitely hear that in my music.

HP: So finishing up: where are some places we can hear more from you? Do you have anything on the internet or any kind of set performance schedule?

KB: My main website is www.karliemusic.com, but you can search Karlie Bartholomew on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find me there. My next shows are August 20th at Peace and a Cup of Joe in Baltimore at 9pm and August 21st at Frederick Coffee Company in Frederick at 7pm.

Karlie Bartholomew
Photo credit, GB Imaging.

SurfRhythm wants to thank Karlie one more time for the effort she put in towards catching up with us. Find out more about Karlie online through her website and various forms of social media, all links shown above and below. If you are around, definitely show some support to a local artist at the end of August, and be sure to check back in soon for the next installment of Local Waves. Catch you soon.

Website: www.karliemusic.com

Social Media – search for: Karlie Bartholomew

Local Waves, Episode Four: Charles Kavoossi

Charles Kavoossi Local Waves
Kavoossi Local Waves Open Mic
Moni's Open Mic, brought to you by Charles Kavoossi of Kavoossi Music.

Since I started riding the local waves, I have been able to meet and talk to many different musicians in the town of Annapolis. From the venues they play, to the work they put in the studio, and the time they take enjoying the city itself, it is truly interesting to be able to discover and document the different stories of the people living in my backyard. While did enjoy poking around, and will be coming back around soon enough, I wanted to expand my horizons to other artists outside of the Annapolis wake. This time, I had the pleasure of hanging out with singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Charles Kavoossi of Kavoossi music.

A native of Bowie, Charles has an interesting story that takes us away from some of the more heavily, Annapolis based groups that we have looked at in our other interviews. From moving up the ranks locally throughout his development as a musician and producer, as well as moving across the country and back, Charles has carved a place for himself and his art. Anyone in the market for all around, good, local music should look no further than the man of the hour himself and this week’s local wave.

Charles Kavoossi Local Waves
Charles the Performer...

Henry Pazaryna: So I have been doing a bunch of interviews with local musicians, talking about their experiences in the area. I started out in Annapolis because that’s where I am from, but I am looking to kind of branch out. Would you mind talking about yourself, taking about what you do, and talking about the experiences you have had?

Charles Kavoossi: Sure. I started off playing music actually in Bowie, with a couple of friends of mine that I grew up with in a three-piece punk band after I learned guitar for a few months. I got into a punk band, learned a little bit about songwriting and the whole being in a band, and then started playing shows, like house parties and stuff in Bowie and Crofton, and then moved into Severna Park, Annapolis area as far as gigs went. We got a little bit bigger, we started a new band in high school, and then kind of reached into the Baltimore scene. We would always kind of come back to Annapolis too, I guess you might have heard that from other people too. The Bowie scene for me was always like house parties and a more do it yourself kind of thing, which was cool in it’s own right. You don’t see that everywhere. Then, you get into Anne Arundel county cities like Severna Park, Pasadena, and all those. You start having more of almost like a hybrid between bars and do it yourself. We had this thing called Manhattan Beach Club that a friend of ours, Laura McKay, would run, and that was in Severna Park.

HP: I know Manhattan Beach Club. I know a bunch of kids that played there. Did you play there as well?

CK: Yeah. We played there a lot, actually. That was with my band called Think. The first band was called Common Addiction.

HP: So what year was Common Addiction, and what year was Think?

CK: Common Addiction was 2001 to 2004 or 2005, and from 2005 on to maybe 2009 was Think. It was like middle school into high school, and then high school into college, were the two. We did a lot, like Manhattan Beach Club was one of those things that we started off getting into, but then the more our band developed, we would do the Ottobar and… what else was out in Baltimore? We never played the Sidebar. We played the Recher a little bit. Just some of those go to venues out there. It was fun. It was a whole different crowd though. A whole different world of real promoting. You have to go out there and learn a little bit about demographics, and where you are going with flyers and posters, but then MySpace came out. And MySpace coming out was like the change of the industry, because all of a sudden, you promote online, easily. You can make little flyers, I had Photoshop, and figure out how to make flyers and put them on different people’s pages, searching people through zip codes and adding them as music and friends and all that. As far as the area, Annapolis has always been a home base as far as having something. The Whiskey, which has come and gone, that was a cool venue. That was some of our best shows. We had our Think reunion show there. We packed that place. But, now it’s the Metropolitan.

Charles Kavoossi Local Waves
...and the man behind the scenes, Charles the Producer.

HP: So right now, because I have seen posters of you doing acoustic sets by yourself, could you describe your style? And what is going on right here?

CK: Sure. The acoustic stuff you have seen; I moved away a couple of times. I moved to Boston, and then I moved to Portland, Oregon. When I came back from Portland, Oregon, actually, backtracking a second, all of Boston and Portland, and the time in between, was a lot of me getting into cooking. I got really into that. I moved back from Portland and I got back into music, and kind of abruptly got out of the kitchen thing. I quit my job unexpectedly and I had to make some money in the time being. I had some friends who were offering up some spots during their longer sets at restaurants, and they said I could make a few bucks. Eventually, I worked my way into that actual scene. And I do that professionally, and my style would be like acoustic, looping, pop covers. Anything from Johnny Cash and Jim Croce to The Strokes, and the Gorillaz, and Coldplay, and everything in between. What you are seeing here, at Moni’s, is an open mic that they actually came to me and asked me about doing six or eight months ago now. It’s kind of grown its own legs and become its own thing. It’s really cool, because there is also another open mic down in Bowie, the Old Bowie Town Grille, and between those two, in Bowie alone, or Crofton, I guess you could say, you really see a lot of awesome musicians in suburban towns that you would not realize exist if we did not have these open mics going on. It’s a lot of really cool discovery of being able to record this and putting the recordings online for their friends and families to see. It has really become something awesome.

HP: Have you thought about the future and what you want to try to do in the next couple of years, or are you just taking it day by day?

CK: A little bit of both. I do have plans, vaguely. One, I have a studio album coming out of my own stuff. I just put a band together to support that, and that comes out at the end of July. We will be doing a CD release show at an undetermined time, probably the end of summerThat band is called Kavoossi. It’s just my last name. From then on, we are going to try to do little bursts and go to Philly, and Boston, and back. Then maybe Pittsburgh, go to Nashville, you know, do little mini tours like that. But in the meantime, with this, I have been getting together and gaining a lot of equipment just from doing this, running the open mic. I have been running my own little entertainment business through playing acoustic. I have my own PA system and equipment, so the more I get into doing that, the more I get into promoting these things, the more that I am learning that I like production. I like live production, like putting together events. That is fun for me. That is one direction that I would like to take it into also.

HP: So do you have website or a Facebook page that people can add you, if they like what they see?

CK: Yes. Kavoossi Music. If you do that on major media, like Facebook, or KavoossiMusic.com, Soundcloud.com/KavoossiMusic, you can find all of my individual stuff there. The open mic I am running is at Moni’s, and the same thing happens with that, Facebook.com/MonisOpenMic, but Kavoossi music is the name I am rolling with these days.

HP: I have heard a little bit about some influences, coming from punk all the way to pop. Who do you have as your biggest influences? Could you talk about that?

CK: Definitely. The first influences I had for the punk world were The Misfits, I love The Misfits, and obviously a little bit of the Ramones. Anti Flag was another big one for me. They were more poppy, but still that fast power chord punk. Sublime also fit in there, which is not surprising for most people. With Sublime, they tied a lot of melody to punk by the way of reggae, which is kind of cool. Growing up a little bit, I got into Weezer, and Weezer is a big one for me. They are one of the definitions of pop rock. As much as people have called them emo or indie, they are a pop rock band. I learned a lot of songwriting from them, and singing. Growing up further, it was The Gorillaz, The Strokes, and Cake. They are my three big guys that I really look to now for influence.

Kavoossi Music Local Waves


We at SurfRhythm want to thank Charles for taking some time to sit and catch up with us. You can find the link to Kavoossi Music for updates on his performance schedule and the link to his newest single, “Out of Time” from his album, Repent To Karma, below. If you are trying to catch Charles play and produce, Moni’s Place Open Mic Night is every Wednesday at 8 P.M., located on 1641 MD Route 3, in Crofton, Maryland. Come back for the next edition of Local Waves, and as always, one last thanks to our readers who ride out with us. Catch you on the flip side.

Kavoossi Music link:  https://www.facebook.com/kavoossimusic?fref=ts

Single: https://kavoossimusic.bandcamp.com/album/repent-to-karma

Local Waves, Episode Three: Brandon Hardesty

Bumpin Uglies tour SurfRhythm Music
Brandon Hardesty,
Brandon and his soon to be wife, Sophia. Photo Credit, Sophia Tobin (Facebook).

On Friday, June 19th, I had an opportunity to continue my search for learning about the history of popular music in Annapolis and the experiences that the musicians share. This local wave proved incredibly radical, giving me new insight into the experiences of a more recent and extremely popular local group, Bumpin’ Uglies. On the night of their new CD release party, I was able to sit down with their lead singer and guitarist, and our local wave being featured today: Brandon Hardesty.

Another big time local player, Brandon has been working tirelessly for years both by himself and with his band to promote themselves as a huge part of the Annapolis music scene. And it has definitely paid off. While somewhat of a new convert to surf music, every time I see the Uglies, I enjoy their work more and more, thanks to the effort put in by Brandon, as well as musicians Dave Wolf on bass, and TJ Haslett on drums. If you are in the area, you should not miss this group.

Like always, the views expressed by the artist are only those of the experiences that they have been through. Any younger readers, who happened to stumbled upon this, now would be the time to talk to mom and dad if you can’t handle expletives. Otherwise, sit back, and get ready to ride.

Brandon Hardesty Eastport A Rockin
Brandon performing with his band, Bumpin' Uglies at Eastport A Rockin', 2015. Photo Credit, Matt Frye (Facebook).


Henry Pazaryna: So recently, I have been doing some interviews talking to local musicians and their experiences in Annapolis. Do you mind talking about your first music experiences, starting off with Bumpin’ Uglies, and then go from there?

Brandon Hardesty: Yeah man. I started playing guitar when I was seventeen and me and my friend who I initially started the band with, back in the day, before there was even a thought of the band, we were seventeen and would just go down to the harbor and he played djembe and I would play acoustic guitar. We would jam, just like busking, before I even knew what that word meant. We would just go out and play for tips and shit. We would just play until we made enough money to get a thirty pack, and we would go to the liquor store and get one of the dudes out front to buy us a thirty pack, and then that would be the end of that. Then we would go to a party, or whatever, and rinse, wash, and repeat. But instead of tips, we were looking for girls. I did that for a while and kind of lost it for a minute, but then I turned twenty one and I started doing open mics. There used to be an open mic at Acme that Jimi Haha ran, and I would hit that. That and Stan and Joes were both on Mondays, and the Whiskey did one on Tuesdays, and I would just do that, over and over and over again. I was like, “Man, I really like doing this.” I really liked doing this, you know? I put the band together and started doing it. Then it was all downhill from there (chuckles).

HP: So what year was this around?

BH: It was 2008.

HP: How old are you now?

BH: I just turned twenty nine in April.

HP: You’re twenty nine? Man, you look like you are twenty two.

BH: I just shaved, so… (laughing).

HP: It must be a surfer mentality or something.

BH: It’s funny. My little brother just had his twenty eighth birthday, and he was giving me shit. He said, “You know, everyone thinks I’m older!” And I said, “Dude, all right.” That’s not a compliment any more, but I’ll take it (laughs).

HP: That’s funny. So this is 2008. At that point, what was the band’s first venue?

BH: The Whiskey, man. The Metro didn’t even exist.

HP: So you must have been pretty bummed when they destroyed the Whiskey.

BH: Dude, I cried my eyes out. It was one of… I could count on one hand the number of times I have cried post puberty. That was one of them. I lost it. I was there on the last night. It sucked. It was just awful. I put my band together at that place. Like I said, initially it was just me and my friend Zach, and I would do that open mic. My first drummer was a guy I went to high school with who I hadn’t seen in years, and I just ran into him. And I was like, “Dude, I play guitar now and I do this thing.” And he said, “I play drums. Do you have a band?” And I said, “No. Let’s jam.” My bass player, Wolfie, that I have played with for five years now, he was in a band called The Cheaters that played there all the time, and he used to just hang out there. Every Tuesday night was like a thing at the Whiskey, back in the day. It was the shit. Everyone was there. At one point I had a six piece band. I played acoustic guitar, had an electric guitar player, I had a saxophone player, Zach played congas and shit. All that shit. Every Tuesday, we would do the Whiskey open mic. That was just the shit. Our first three album releases were at the Whiskey. When they tore that down, it sucked. It was a dagger to my heart.

HP: So now that it’s gone, and I know that you guys have done some touring, locally, where are the biggest places that you play? Nationally later, but locally in Annapolis: what are the best venues that you guys enjoy doing?

BH: The Metropolitan is the spot, now. That’s a good show. Ram’s Head is cool, but it’s not our kind of venue. It’s sit down and dinner crowd. Our shows are kind of rambunctious. Armadillo’s is a lot of fun, but it’s kind of weird right now with what they are doing, but I have always really liked playing Armadillos because it’s kind of like punk rock. It’s really tight, sweaty, and drunk. It’s fun. I like playing there a lot.

HP: Every time I have been to Armadillo’s, there has always been a DJ there. I guess I have just never been around on the days the bands play.

BH: Dude, back in the day, back when I was sneaking into bars and shit, they didn’t even have DJ’s or whatever. It was live music. Bands every weekend, and it was like this awesome environment of all the musicians. They would all hang out there. It was like what the Whiskey became, kind of. And then, they started doing DJ’s. Even then, it sucked. It was all downhill from there. Even when they have been doing DJ’s, they still would have shows upstairs every once in a while. They did it as much as every weekend for a while, and it was awesome. It was just crazy and wild.

HP: Would you be willing to talk about your experiences seeing Annapolis as it’s changed over the last couple of years? As a local guy, I have definitely noticed how, not “yuppy – fied” its become, but it’s definitely different than what it was.

BH: Yeah, I guess. It’s grown. I’ve lived in Annapolis my whole life and a running joke, a running shtick of mine is “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m going to live here as long as I can afford to.” I truly believe. I love this city. I will live here as long as I can. And it’s grown, a lot. It was a town at one point, and it’s a city now. I remember being a kid and walking into the Market House. You could smell the fried chicken.

HP: Dude, I miss that Market House. Getting cups of Cream of Crab soup? I would demolish those.

BH: Yeah, man. I have waited tables for years at Middleton’s. You would walk over and get a donut before your shift. It was awesome. I feel like that was really the first nail in the coffin of the town that was Annapolis. Now it’s a city. And it is what it is. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, because it’s preserved its integrity and the character that makes it what it is. It’s just more people, you know? It’s good for the economy. You get your chains that come in and the crazy yuppie shit, but there is a lot of character. There is a huge art district here. I have been all over the country and I swear to god that Annapolis has one of the best music scenes I have ever seen. And I don’t just say that because I am a part of it. I couldn’t give a fuck less. It doesn’t matter. I don’t need to justify what I’m doing. But it truly does have the most talented and diverse music scenes. Part of that is because there are so many bars here that have live music. I can speak from personal experience – you can be a musician, and be a working musician around here. You’re not going to have a lot of luck, unless you are like… like Pressing Strings. Jordan Sokel and Pressing Strings kill it playing his own work every night, because he is the fucking man. I personally play six or seven nights a week a lot of times, and I do a lot of cover stuff during the week, but it’s awesome. I don’t mind it, because it’s work. It’s better than waiting tables. It’s better than fucking not making money doing something that’s not music. There are a lot of cities, most cities, you would have a hard time finding an atmosphere and businesses that allow you to be a working musician. That is something that is great. And I think Annapolis has always been like that, but it got better with the growing economy. It kinda sucks, because it has lost a lot of the character. Like I said, I have waited tables here since I was eighteen, and one of the things – it’s like a double edged sword. Every summer, it’s the busy season, but it’s tourist season, and it’s just dumb. Getting crab cakes and tipping ten percent. Whatever. But it keeps me alive. It could go the way of Detroit and totally collapse upon itself. It’s very important to our city.

HP: So aside from Annapolis, where are the most favorite places that you guys have been to, nationally? And even internationally – have you done that yet?

BH: As far as international, they only thing we did was the British Virgin Islands. We did fly to get there, so that was cool.

HP: So nationally.

BH: Nationally. I love St. Augustine and I love San Diego. Specifically Ocean Beach. If I had to move somewhere, those are some of the places I would move. It’s cool. Good environment, same vibe, good music scene. Laid back. St. Augustine, way more so. It’s very small and has a beach vibe to it. Small town vibe. It’s actually, St. Augustine is going through what Annapolis went through probably ten or fifteen years ago, where it’s like people are finding out about it, and they are just invading. But, you know, whatever, it’s good for their economy.

HP: Listening to your music: what kind of influences did you draw from when you were writing? Is there anything that you can compare yourself to, or are you just trying to do your own work?

BH: Musically, like melodies, guitar chords, and rhythm patterns and shit, Sublime is what I am trying to do.

HP: That’s a big inspiration for you?

BH: Yeah. I’m not really a good musician at all. I’m a songwriter and a singer. Not a great guitar player. I have never claimed to be a great guitar player. But I love Sublime. When I started this band, that’s what I wanted to do. It’s what I enjoyed playing at the time. And it’s working. There is a lot to be said for branding. That’s what this band does. We do the ska – punk, reggae dub thing, and I love playing that. I grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, Neil Young, storytellers. The Avett Brothers is one of my favorite bands. I love Bright Eyes. Lyrically, that’s what I try to do for Bumpin’ Uglies. I try to take the Sublime grooves and the dub reggae ska punk shit and make these songs that have stories. Real stories that I have gone through, and my friends have gone through, or stuff that I have seen or something I think is clever. Either way, I want it to be clever. 90’s Hip Hop too, that was a big influence of mine, lyrically. Eminem, Big L, Tupac.

HP: Finishing up. In the next couple years, you said you will stay here until you can’t afford it. Do you see yourself going anywhere else, or jut bopping around?

BH: Hell no. Dude, if I go anywhere else, it’s going to be Arnold or Edgewater (laughs). I’m getting married in a few months. We are looking at houses right now. I have been saving since I was eighteen to buy a house, and my girl is pretty good with money. She is better than I am with money, honestly. We are trying to buy a house, and we have saved up a decent amount. We really want to get something in Hillsmere. It seems like the community is great, and the property value isn’t crazy expensive. Even if we don’t do that, we will still stay a hop, skip and a jump away. I’m not leaving. Unless I have to.

Once again, very special thanks go out to Brandon for sitting down and talking with us at SurfRhythm. I would very highly recommend catching Brandon as a solo artist or Bumpin’ Uglies as a band. If you are looking for a great time, check out the information below and look no further. As always, thanks again for reading, and catch you soon for the next installment of Local Waves.

Bumpin Uglies tour SurfRhythm Music
Bumpin' Uglies newest release, "Freakout Hell Bus" tour dates.

Bumpin’ Uglies website: http://bumpinugliesmusic.com/

Aaron Bruno 2013 exclusive interview transcribed

Just after Aaron told us to just hang out on AWOL's tour bus.

We had the very good fortune of sitting with Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION on May 4, 2013, for an in-depth interview. It’s one that fans of Aaron and AWOLNATION will certainly appreciate, for his candid answers, and also the ease of conversation, which actually does show through in written form. We hope you enjoy this as much as we enjoyed our time with Aaron, and we’ll give a spoiler alert: The last thing Aaron said to us was, “Hang out here as long as you want, drink some beers or anything else; only the whiskey is off limits.”

Jeff Schad: I want to get the obvious question out of the way first, and I know you have heard it dozens of times before, but what was it like when you dropped “Sail” on the public? Your song became a widespread hit–that’s incredible!

Aaron bringing the energy during AWOLNATION's live performance at the DC101 Chili Cook Off, 2013

Aaron Bruno: There was never a distinct moment where we said ‘Okay, we’re going for “Sail”.’ It was more of an accident–I had several songs recorded for the record, and certainly I thought that it would be a different song, if there was going to be a song at all that would ever be a commercial success. I don’t know, I mean I think we tried to have “Burn It Down” as a single and it didn’t really react when it was played on the radio the few times it was tested. Which I was lucky and grateful that it even got tested at all, you know? And then a programmer by the name of Toby Ryan, he decided, “I think that song “Sail”, I think I’m going to play it, do you mind?” And we’re like of course, play it. Because we are lucky enough to be friends with this radio guy from Austin, TX,  [radio station] KROX, they played “Sail” and the phones lit up, and I didn’t expect that to happen, obviously, and it’s still going now as we speak, two years later. It’s a crazy thing. It’s almost at three million [copies sold] and it’s gone four-times platinum in Canada and Norway and a bunch of other countries.

JS: What does that feel like when you get that news? You don’t expect it, and it’s not your goal, so what is that like?

AB: You know it’s headed in that direction, because a lot of numbers equals a million right? So when you get to 100,000 your like ‘Holy shit, maybe it will go gold! Maybe it will go to 200,000.’ I always thought that if I had a record that sold 100,000 copies, I did it, you know I mean? I did it. Like a full record, not just a single, you know? I always thought a single would be great to sell 100,000 copies of. I mean, I don’t even know what these numbers mean anymore, I just know that uh… I just wanted to be able to sell out small venues, anywhere from 200 to maybe 500 or 600 [capacity] if we were lucky, and has ended up being a much bigger thing.When I was younger though, I would have told you that we were going to take over the world, sell millions of records, because I was just completely naïve and ignorant to the world.

JS: You can do anything…

AB: Yeah. 21 years old, you get your first record deal, of course you want all the fame and fortune. And then at a certain point, when it all failed for me, it became really truly about expressing myself through the music and nothing to do with the fame or fortune or anything like that. In fact, you know the fame side of it has been the thing that I have struggled with the most. It’s been the most uncomfortable part about it. I embrace it because it means that the music is translating to people and people are actually affected in such a positive way. So I would like to think that I have made my mark in this world by helping people get through the day with a song, that can be “Sail”, that can be any song on the record. And I meet folks that get tattoos with the lyrics, and stuff like that.

JS: That has to be a crazy feeling.

AB: It’s a little bit scary because you’re like, “Okay, well, man I have a lot of pressure to make sure the next record is good, because you have a tattoo of my words. My thoughts are on you forever.” And I’m also thinking, “I hope you still like this thirty years from now.” Your kids go, “What in the hell is that?” So, to answer your question, it was such gradual growth, and it still blows my mind that people know us at all.

JS: That song to me, and this is just the spirit the comes to me as a surfer… I just picture you writing that on some gloomy, big day, and some gnarly beach break. And that’s where it takes me to.

AB: To me, that one has that feel to it. It has a strong, one of those winter days that is a light drizzle, but offshore winds to go with it. Which back home is usually like an East-Southeast wind that goes along with rain. You know, there are those certain breaks that take are better than others that day. For some weird reason, the Santa Monica area takes the Southeast wind very, very good when it’s rainy conditions, which Santa Monica is terrible for surfing. It fucking blows.

JS: I’ve been there, yeah.

AB: I mean, sometimes at the breakwater in Venice… I have seen that go off.

JS: Yeah, sessions here and there.

AB: And the locals are so intense, that at this point in my life, after touring and being around human beings coming at me all the time, I really want peace of mind when I go surfing. So if I’m lucky enough to get the phone call from one of my best buddies to say, “Hey, let’s go to this one spot that no one’s around,” then I jump at that opportunity. In fact, I swear, if I was about to get married or have a kid and I was told that “Hey, we’re going to go to the spot,” I would probably go to the spot. I can just figure out the rest later, you know? If we were going to play on the Grammys, I wouldn’t show up to the Grammys to surf this spot. And I mean that. I really mean it. So, hopefully he doesn’t ask me if we ever get a Grammy nod.

JS: I nearly missed my sister’s wedding because I was surfing, you know? Those types of things happen when it’s the day.

AB: That’s why I didn’t go to college. I was sitting, and I remember paying for these little classes or whatever, and trying to start the whole process of it, and I was sitting there thinking, “Okay, well, I know the waves are good right now, so I’m going to leave.” And I just left. Because there was no one telling me I couldn’t, so I just did.

JS: You have to go surf!

AB: And, I failed. I still have these weird nightmares now, that it made me feel like I’m not going to graduate high school or something. It’s like I have unfinished business with school or something.

JS: That’s interesting.

AB: Yeah, I know – it’s a reoccurring dream. It always happens around “Oh, I’m going to graduate” and then…

JS: “I’m out! It’s okay.”

AB: Yeah. (Chuckles)

JS: So I’m particularly interested in the connection that music and surfing have to you, and that follows in from talking about surfing already. I found surfing connects me to my passions in life deeply, and that there are always parallels to be drawn, and things to draw from surfing into what you do that you love. So it’s like you are able to find those clear, as well as abstract thoughts of moments in the water. What does surfing and music mean to you – that connection?

AB: They are almost the same to me. I couldn’t tell you which one I like more. Right now, sometimes I wonder if it’s surfing, because music has become a little bit of a profession, a major profession for me. Sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t want to do. You have to fly, or just like any job there is ups and downs. Or just being tired. Coming back from a seven week tour, that was very grueling for us, but I understand music so well, and I feel like it runs through my veins. With surfing, I’m not as natural at. It took a lot of work to get to be able to come out of a barrel.

JS: The layman has no idea.

AB: I started surfing at 13. My first true barrel, really, I mean I had a couple pocket rides, but really when I was like, “Am I going to come out of this? Ahh ahh….(swish, sound effect)”, I came out at Pitas Point North of C Street, south of Rincon and little Rincon, which has become way too crowded. I think I was 22 years old. It’s crazy that it took that long. But I was one of those slow learners. I got up in three steps for ever, and never would go left on my regular foot. I would never go left because it took me way too long to get up. And I surfed this spot called Leo Carillo way too much. It was such an easy, simple wave… Sometimes I look back and go, “Man, I wish I wouldn’t have surfed that spot so much,” because I got really good at carving and doing cutbacks, but nothing else, because the wave kind of runs away from you, so you’re constantly…

JS: Bending away, trying to find a hook?

AB: Yes. It’s just an easy wave.

JS: It’s not bending back at you.

AB: And there are assholes out there all the time, just in my way, and it’s interesting now because I grew up with this generation. We were like the next breed, and now there are like two more breeds after us, and I thought, “Oh, I’m that old kook.”

JS: I know. That’s the shocking thing to me.

AB: You know, I will paddle on my 9’6″ Lance Carson, which is a rare, beautiful item that I will keep in my family forever. So if it’s not barreling, I pretty much kind of longboard now. I’m on that level where I just love to…

JS: Go out, cruise, have fun.

AB: Not trying to get radical all the time, you know what I mean? You got to get radical when you click.

JS: Talking about localism and spots – Lunada Bay. You ever surfed it?

AB: No.

JS: That is one of those spots I think, if there is no reason to go there, you don’t go there.

AB: Totally.

JS: All right. I want to ask you about your spots, as we talked about, but what experience do you prefer – surfing it at home, now that we know you don’t surf on tour as much, surfing on the road?

AB: When the beach break lines up with the right swell, and the offshore conditions are tubing, there are a bunch of spots. There is really, like, four or five really incredible beach breaks. Well, six. One is private and you have to have like a military identification.

JS: I know exactly where it is.

AB: My brother in law is a civilian that works on the spot. So, every once in a while, the stars align, and he can get me in. But he has to drive me in.

JS: They do a contest, or they did a contest there?

AB: Yeah, you know the drill. But that is a difficult thing to regular foot.

JS: That’s gnarly.

AB: It’s like the Wedge, but a better wave for surfing. The Wedge is legendary, but this is more like a wave you can surf.

JS: Yeah, it’s more surfable for sure. But it’s a left mostly, right?

AB: It’s a left mostly, but in the wintertime, on a negative tide, the right breaks off a point, and I can do whatever I want. I have never surfed it. Actually, I did surf it one time. But it was small. It was one of those weird forcing it kind of things. I saw one maybe.

JS: Novelty session.

AB: Yeah, novelty session. Novelty sessions are what it’s all about. Sometimes, it the best when it’s just you and your buddy, and you feel like you are doing something special, but then you realize that you surf knee high slop for an hour and nothing happened. It never turned on.

JS: It’s that experience though. Like, “Hey, we got to catch it.”

AB: It is. I would rather surf close out barrels with my friends and pick my own peak than a good day at Rincon, or something like that.

JS: I’m the same way.We had a hurricane swell here once , when I was in New York. The swell pushed into an inlet and created this nice wrapping, kind of point break. I had never seen it before or since, but I caught it that day. It was four feet, it wasn’t anything great, but it was cool.

AB: And then there are those days you regret where you actually saw something that looked incredible, and you didn’t paddle out because you thought, “Maybe a different spot was better,” and you always go, “I wish I had done that.”

JS: Should have gone out there.

AB: This semi pro surfer that I grew up surfing with, he was older, like fifteen years older than me. But when I first started surfing, he was…

JS: What’s his name?

AB: His name is Dave White. He’s a realtor now. His daughter plays softball with my sister, and I met him and I was like “Please take me!” And he took me to a couple spots. Ones where he said “Never leave good surf to find better surf.” I have broken that rule a million times, by the way. It’s a good rule to live by, but I suppose you could be more mellow if you just live by that. I will spend five hours before I decide to paddle out, just driving around.

JS: Going here and there, and checking it all out.

AB: Yeah, it’s a sickness for sure. But I think of so much along the drive, and I listen to new songs I’m working on in the car, or whatever, and I do some of my best thinking when I am in the process of trying to figure it out.

JS: As is now, I usually drive two or three hours to surf, so I know what you mean. That is crucial time.

AB: It is.

JS: The lyrics, “live in the water, stay in the water, scared of the city” – that resonates to me. Having surfed in Los Angeles, having grown up in New York, surfed in Long Island. I know that feeling that I get from it, does that represent surfing as a respite to you, those lyrics? Or is it something else?

AB: It can, but it’s also a metaphor for life. You know what I mean? The night life, the city life, the glamour, in bright lights, and all the stuff that doesn’t really have longevity, soul, and life, I guess that is what it’s about. It’s my way of staying stay true to yourself and not get caught up with the stuff that doesn’t matter. The superficial and fraudulence of life.

JS: Last question here. Read in previous interviews, how do you feel about your relationship with your family and how much it means to you? How do your parents feel seeing you now? How do they see your howling success, and your touring the world? What is their feeling?

AB: They are so proud that it’s almost hard to talk to them sometimes. My mom just oozes with excitement and they are pretty emotional at this point. My dad, he just saw us in Dallas, we played this festival in Dallas, and it was pretty high up, very similar to this. It was in a stadium, and I can’t guess how many people were there, it was in the 20’s(thousands). And of course, he got emotional when we played certain songs. If anything, it’s a great feeling to make them proud and not feel like a failure. I was starting to feel like a failure leading up to this. Getting a little bit older, and you’re not a kid any more. I had an agreement with my father that I really believed in what I was doing, and I thought I could find a career out of it. When none of that happened, we had a man to man talk and talked about what I was going to do. And that’s when I started trying to figure out other stuff. I wrote a script for a show, that actually there was some interest in from legitimate people, but they backed out.

JS: That’s cool; yeah Hollywood is kind of funny.

AB: I was also writing songs for other people, all along, having these ideas in a way that I wanted to express myself genuinely  Yeah, they are extremely proud. I’m mostly proud for them more than I am for myself.

JS: Giving you support, backing.

AB: It would just be a heavy burden, a heavy weight to bear having a child fail at life.

JS: It’s an interesting perspective.

AB: I didn’t want my father to feel like he failed me by not being a better dad, because I didn’t make it. So, if nothing else, I am very happy that he realizes that he has taught me all the right things to get where I’m at.