Like Peter Finch’s newsman Howard Beale in the movie Network, AWOL is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. Broke and with his world crumbling around him, he launched a NATION.
And indeed, what can a poor boy do… except make some of his toughest, hardest, most passionate music ever, slamming it with the most up-to-date hip-hop and electronic dance beats in a genre-blending mash-up that defines AWOLNATION. It’s not just music, but a crusade designed to fight all that’s fake, commercialized, compromised and debased in popular culture.
Like in “Burn It Down,” a sped-up blitz that goes from the yelps of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis through the punk of Black Flag, the Clash and Rage Against the Machine to the most modern techno-dance acts like Justice, Simian Mobile Disco and Boyz Noize, not preaching destruction, but cleansing past sins to make way for future hope. There’s a whole lot of shaking going on in AWOLNATION…
“If I’m going down in flames, it’ll be my way,” confesses AWOL. “Why do it if you’re not going to do it all-out? I wanted to do a song that was faster than I was comfortable doing, with a ferocious drum fill like some dude fell over his kit and landed on the one. I’ve always loved heavy music… people seem to get turned on by aggressive passion. It’s like channeling a hardcore breakdown with synthesizers instead of guitars”
And that’s what you get on new songs like “Sail,” a hip-hop beat driven wide-screen cinematic soundtrack that could be considered the R-rated version of the voyage Max takes in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, which combines AWOL’s own obsessions with surfing, the ocean, John Lennon’s primal scream era and psychedelic Radiohead trips. “Blame it on my A.D.D.,” he sings. “This is how angels die.”
“I think very much like a kid in terms of fantasy and magic,” says AWOL. “I get rhythms, beats, colors and patterns from the transcendence of the ocean. I’m influenced by both its beauty and its absolute terror.”
Some say AWOL is the name he’d rap under while battling his friends free-style, a reference to the way he’d slip out of parties without saying goodbye (“I never liked the pressure of explaining why I’m leaving”) while Oakland Raiders fans contend that NATION comes from a devotion to the era of Bo Jackson and Howie Long. No one really knows the origin, but together they form a commitment to getting rid of life’s wreckage and building a trend based on honesty, commitment and, well, aggressive passion.
“It’s not a political statement,” insists AWOL. “My definition is to escape a situation you can’t handle. A way for all of us to get our aggression out, cry a little bit, or even laugh.”
In the self-lacerating “Guilty, Filthy Soul,” with its Queen/David Bowie “Under Pressure” harmonies by way of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, AWOL doesn’t point a finger, as much as he takes full responsibility for the situation he finds himself in.
“I built this not necessarily thinking anybody else would believe it but me, and now everybody else is starting to believe in it even more than I do,” he marvels. “I’ll agree to steer the ship, but it’s up to other people whether they get aboard or not.”
No, AWOL is no musical anarchist… When he says to “Burn It Down,” he’s talking about something that goes on within every one of us.
“It’s about killing the devil inside you,” he muses. “You have to be at your lowest point to feel God, to get real. When I wrote that song, I had nothing. There was nowhere else to go but to start over.”
“Burn It Down” to build it up. That’s AWOLNATION. Get down with it or get out of the way. Either way, it’s here.