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Aaron Bruno used to leave high school without saying goodbye to his friends because it was easier, so they used to nickname him 'Awol' (absence without leave). When Bruno decided to form his own band after being part of major label Californian groups Under the Influence of Giants and Hometown Hero, he decided to name it after his high school moniker. AWOLNATION released their debut album Megalithic Symphony digitally on March 15, 2011, and the physical CD was released two weeks later on Red Bull Records.
This is the album's lead single, which debuted at #89 on the Hot 100 dated September 3, 2011. It came about during a period in which Bruno and his keyboardist Kenny Carkeet were financing themselves by writing for other artists but found they were making little money. When they came up with song's beat Bruno decided to record it himself rather than selling it to another artist for a pittance. This fueled the fire to form AWOLNATION.
Lyrically, the song's protagonist is wanting to "sail" away from his problems, which are overwhelming him, and it seems he is unable to shake off the fear of not being able to meet up to people's expectations. In an interview with the Red Bull company, Bruno was asked if the lyrics are about suicide. He replied: "Well that's a dangerous world to talk about. I don't condone that but I definitely know what it's like to feel so low in your life that you wonder what the point is being around. I'd say 80% of people have fantasized about that for a second."
Bruno explained the album title, saying: "When I write these songs my ideas come out of nowhere and I couldn't really explain to you why they happen or how. If you look at megalithic structures it's been suggested that there's really no explanation for where these things come from and why they're here. The rock on the cover image is a place I saw in my brain one day. Hopefully one day you'll discover it too."
Speaking to Toronto.com
, Bruno said the song was initially a diversion that took him less than an hour to record. "That was written at a time where I didn't know what direction I wanted to go," he said. "I was sitting at the studio trying to make these little pop songs for aspiring pop artists for chump change, [with] barely enough money to buy a bean and cheese burrito."
So, he decided to try to come up with something that was quirky and unusual. "I came up with the string section part at the beginning, and the song just came to me," Bruno explained. "I recorded the strings, the beat and the synth — all within 45 minutes. My engineer went down the street to get some sodas for us, and by the time he got back, I'd sung the lyrics and it was done. It happened so quickly it was almost an accident."
The song's sci-fi music video features Bruno being pulled by a mysterious force before being levitated up to the sky. The clip was directed by one of the singer's friends, Cameron Duddy, who appears as a rapper on the band's song "Knights Of Shame" under the name The Gatsby. Bruno explained the video's concept to Culture Brats
: "We didn't have a hit song or anything yet, so we got... I don't want to say the bottom end of the barrel, but the ideas weren't the best ideas. It was all cheeseball s--t like 'and then we're gonna have this girl who's a seductress in vinyl and all these flames and s--t.' I'm like, what? That sounds horrible. That sounds like a Puddle Of Mudd video or like a new Metallica video, 'Give me fuel, give me fire,' that whole scene. And then Cameron called me one day and was like, 'I got it: you're abducted by aliens.' And I'm like,' Obviously, that's the video.' But we knew we weren't going to have an actual alien in it. We just wanted to provoke thought and the idea of questioning society and all those fun cliché things that we all like to do. It was an idea that wasn't meant to be taken literally. I've seen a lot of crazy conspiracy stuff which I tend learning about as well but the whole idea is just to be searching for the answers of the unknown."
Bruno wrote the song before the band had a record deal. He explained to Artist Direct
, "I was in a studio where I could do something like that with an engineer who was talented enough to help accommodate my ideas at the moment. I'm lucky that it came out of me quickly and easily at that time. I didn't think much about it. I just thought I had a good song I'd written, and I was proud of it. I was going through a dark time so the lyrics are admitting some feelings I was having at the time. That ended up being the one that opened up everything for us."
The song first got noticed in July 2010, when the Austin DJ Toby Ryan played it as a staff pick on KROX (101.5). Within a week, listener call-ins made "Sail" the station's most-requested new tune. Spins elsewhere gradually followed, and later in the year it went viral on the back of a couple of user-generated YouTube videos.
"Sail" first debuted at #89 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on the week of September 3, 2011, before dropping out four months later. Following its use in various advertisements including a BMW commercial and TV shows the tune re-entered the tally in mid-2013. It then undertook a slow ascent up the chart and when the song climbed to #24 on the listing dated the week ending September 21, "Sail" became the first song in history to reach a new peak after spending more than a year on the Hot 100.
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