In April 2020, just as the pandemic was starting to hit, AWOLNATION released their fourth studio album, Angel Miners and the Lightning Riders – and then the world shut down. Without touring or seeing anyone, the band’s architect, Aaron Bruno, began reaching out to old friends and other artists (virtually, of course) to collaborate on a cover album.
AWOLNATION announces the finished product, titled My echo, my shadow, my blankets and me, exclusively with Billboard on Thursday January 20, just a day before the release of the first single – a reimagining of Scorpions’ 1991 rock classic “Wind of Change”, featuring Portugal. Brandon Boyd, frontman of The Man and Incubus.
“Wind of Change”, which depicts the symbolism of freedom surrounding the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989, contains lyrics such as “The wind of change / Blows straight through time / Like a stormy wind that will ring the bell of freedom / For peace of mind The concept seemed timely even in 2022 for Bruno, who reflected on the impact of the passage of time on everyone throughout the pandemic.
Moreover, through My echo, my shadow, my blankets and me, AWOLNATION hopes to illustrate the mental health benefits of music and connection within the artist community. Bruno will tackle this topic head-on in a series of in-depth conversations with his collaborators throughout the album campaign.
Celebrate My echo, my shadow, my blankets and me – due out May 6 – and the new cover of Scorpions, Billboard sat down with Bruno to discuss how the album and single came together, and how the music saved his life in more ways than one.
Billboard: So why a cover album?
Aaron Bruno: This dates back to the release of my last AWOLNATION disc of original songs. I released it like so many other people release music – and the world shut down and we couldn’t shoot. Like any other artist, I put my heart and soul into this latest record. Although it was disappointing to cancel tours like everyone else, the last thing I wanted to do was jump in and make another new album of original songs. In the meantime, I thought it was an opportunity — since I was on my own, like everyone else — to make a cover album. I’ve always wanted to do this, and these are songs that made me feel like I was escaping the reality of 2020. And then 2021 and now 2022.
I also saw it as an opportunity, with today’s technology, to join other artists that I have met during my career. I was very lucky to meet a bunch of different artists who were really nice and shared different wisdom, camaraderie and artistry. I contacted all of these people who are on the record, and most of them said yes and agreed to do a song. Some of them were very reluctant because some songs sounded out of left field, but most people agreed – with a bit of conviction of course – to join this project. The covers album felt like a palate cleanser for releasing new original music. And it was just a good time to hang out with other people even though we couldn’t physically be together. I could send files and people would send their voices back and it was really fun.
You said that for certain songs you had to give the artist you were working with a little bit of conviction. Was that the case with ‘Wind of Change?’
Strangely, that one was a happy accident. I knew Brandon [Boyd] for a long time. His band, Incubus, released my old, old band, Home Town Hero, in 2002 or 2003 and we became acquaintances then and I’ve seen him a lot over the years. We don’t live too far from each other either and we have a lot in common. But I asked Portugal. The Man originally because Jean [Gourley]…I love his vocals and thought that would be a really cool tone and texture for such a giant arena rock ballad. I also thought our voices would go well together. They said yes, but it took them a long time to record the vocals because they were finishing their new album.
In the meantime – not that one was my first choice and the other one was my second, but that’s how the timeline worked. I then asked Brandon because I was thinking of Portugal. The Man wouldn’t arrive, and I thought, ‘Maybe Brandon will.’ He was very busy but he found a way to do the vocals, send it and I was happy about that. Then, just as I heard Brandon’s voice, the guys from Portugal said, “Hey, we’re in town.” We want to come and do the song. It was then that everything began to calm down and people began to gather. I thought, ‘Oh fuck, I hope they’re both cool with each other.’ I asked them both separately if the three of us were on the song together, and everyone was really excited about it. It was a totally strange combination of worlds and a happy accident.
Why did you choose this song as one of the covers?
Mostly because it was a ridiculous idea. [Laughs.] And a huge attempt not to butcher a classic song. One of the funniest things about a covers record is that if someone doesn’t like the songs, it’s not my fault. I didn’t write it! I picked some great songs and just a weird collection of songs that I’ve always wanted to cover at some point in my career. I’ll never claim that I even scratch the surface of the originals, but it was just a fun thing to do.
What inspired the name of the album?
It’s kind of a play on an old folk song. I had to do it alone, and I think we’ve all felt so alone and many of us still feel alone – but through music it’s the glue that somehow binds us together. way.
You also plan to have in-depth conversations with your collaborators about mental health throughout the album campaign. How has music helped you personally, as an artist and as a fan?
As far back as I can remember, when life got tough for me, I always turned to music. Not just playing it, but listening to it, sharing it with other people, and enjoying it with other people. From the first time I picked up a guitar and started writing songs, it was always my warm blanket in the cold night of life. The common theme was fear of uncertainty over the past two years. I felt and continue to feel that the best thing to turn to is music. For some people it’s a good book, or maybe it’s a great movie. For me, number one has always been the music.
So accidentally it became a therapeutic project and made me feel a bit normal in such an unusual time. Instead of worrying about a bunch of bad news, I got to worry about what voice I was going to get from Brandon or John or whoever. I’m sure, just like you, because you seem to like music too, it’s therapy for me. He always will be. It’s so interesting how when you’re feeling sad, a sad song can make you feel good – which I think is a lyric from Weezer’s new album, if I’m not mistaken. Music is how I got through breakups, tragedies, everything.
It’s crazy how comforting the music is like a family member or something.
Yeah, and for some of us music is like our weird uncle. [Laughs.] There are times in life when you think, “Damn, Uncle So-and-so is here,” but when he’s gone, you miss him, don’t you? There will certainly be some weird uncle songs on this record as well.
Do you have any upcoming concerts?
I am not sure. I’ll be waiting for this cover album and another AWOL album, or at least a single, to come out by the end of the year. Probably at that time. I can’t say for sure, because everything is constantly changing. The last thing I want to do is cancel again, so I’m going to make sure the coast is literally clear before jumping again to sail. I definitely feel hope, though. People are very resilient and we are starting to see more hope every day.