- Words Laviea Thomas
Aly & AJ speak to us about their new single “With Love From”, OG breakup songs and co-producing their forthcoming album.
Aly & AJ are a Californian duo best known for their early stage acting careers and 2007 hit singles “Potential Breakup Song” and “Like Woah”. Throughout the last four years, the pair have been rebranding their sound as independent artists. Now back with a brand new release, “With Love From” sees them share the lead single and title track of their forthcoming album of the same name, scheduled for release next spring.
Following up from their February release, ‘a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun’ is a deluxe album and extended cut of their last. Having made their surprise return to music in 2018, their ‘10 Years’ EP saw the band move forward from their teen years of pop hits into a brand-new matured project.
Now back, and better than ever, Aly & AJ are in the process of releasing their eighth album, which sees them release a collection of rhythmic Americana-folk singles and a touch of electronica. We spoke to Aly & AJ about the meaning behind their new single “With Love From”, touring with Ben Platt and co-producing their forthcoming album.
You recently shared a brand-new single “With Love From”, (the title track of your forthcoming album) can you talk to me a bit about this track?
Aly: Yeah, we wrote this song with a collaborator of ours that we’ve worked with in the past. He’s actually played the drums on our past record, we got in the studio and thought it would be a great opportunity to write a song from the ground up together. The song came together quite quickly in the studio, which was really lovely as that doesn’t always happen. We really love the message of the song and the fact it’s very empowering, it’s about reminiscing on the past or even the present moment. “With Love From” has a lot of Americana folk references throughout the album, and we’re really proud of it.
“With Love From” is co-produced by yourselves amongst Yves Rothman & James McAlister – what was it like to collaborate with these producers?
AJ: They’re both so talented. We’ve actually known Yves for a while as he worked on our second EP with us. He was someone that we knew we’d want to connect with further on down the line, so we ended up making our first full-length record in 14 years with him. He’s been a major inspiration as a producer and a co-writer. As for James McAlister, (who is a drummer by trade), we connected at a film retreat and became friends. Since then he’s played the drums on our last two albums, became a co-writer, and has co-produced with us. I have a lot of respect for both of them, Yves works with a lot of indie rock artists, and James works a lot with Sufjan Stevens, The National, Taylor Swift etc. – so it’s been a really cool grouping between the four of us. Someone that we really look up to is phenomenal mastering engineer Emily Lazar, who mastered the last album and this album. She’s been an inspiration, just knowing how many male rock bands and female bands she’s worked with. It’s been really encouraging to work with females that drive Aly and I, and I think working with someone like Emily made it that much clearer that Aly and I have been working behind the scenes as artists, producers and co-writers for years.
Aly: Adding to what AJ was saying, I think it was important for us to finally give ourselves credit as producers on this upcoming record as we’ve basically been co-producing these records since we were teens – ever since our first album. But because we were so new to it we hadn’t realised we were helping to co-produce alongside our producers. We’ve been doing this for such a long time and it’s not exactly an easy space for women to feel accepted in. But we’ve had such wonderful collaborators that have really guided us and encouraged us to be vocal about our opinions. So we took this opportunity to finally put our names down as producers on this album, and we feel really proud about that.
What is it about producing that you enjoy the most?
Aly: We quite like vocal comping, AJ and I really enjoyed looking at all of the vocal takes and choosing the best performance. I think we’re good at vocal producing with each other, we know how to get the best possible take from one another.
AJ: Not only have we been able to be each other’s vocal engineers, but as producers, we’ve been able to really craft the format of the song. We’re in a position now where we have a lot more creative access and are able to take the reins on what’s going on the record. Aly and I have also been a part of the hiring process, which is good because it means we’ve been able to have a pretty heavy hand on who gets hired.
In May this year you shared a brand-new album ‘a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun’ – currently working on the release of your forthcoming album ‘With Love From’ (out Spring 2023) – how would you describe the difference between these two projects?
Aly: I think we definitely picked up where we left off with ‘a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun’. But I think the biggest goal we set out when making this new album was to make something we could translate even more into our live shows. We had obviously been away from music for a while, so when we made ‘a touch of the beat’, we hadn’t done a tonne of touring previously. Obviously, we had the two EPs, but once we got out on the road with ‘a touch of the beat’, it definitely informed us what songs were best suited for live performance. It essentially meant us going back to the drawing board. We tried to go further away from programmed drums or using a lot of synths, there’s almost none of this in the new record. I’d say it’s only on “Talking in My Sleep”, and a couple of other songs. Everything is pretty much down to raw instrumentation, and I think that’s really lovely. We also chose to record it differently to ‘a touch of the beat’ as we recorded all the live vocals with our band in a separate soundproof room. We were all still playing the song through at the same time, which I think gives a very different energy to the vocals.
How have you found being able to churn out such a large scale of music in such a short period? Had you been working on both of these projects for a while?
AJ: It’s definitely been a really large body of work in a short amount of time. We took such a long break from actively pursuing music but now we’re on a roll with writing again and have found our style and team of people we feel really comfortable working with. As soon as we were done with ‘a touch of the beat’, we started writing and began really thinking about the next album. The funny thing is, we ended up making and recording ‘With Love From’ right before we went on tour for ‘a touch of the beat’. In a way, these prefixes were already ready to go, not finalised, mixed or mastered, but at least laid down with a live band. Obviously, it all was pretty back-to-back, and that’s how we were making music because we were on a roll. People ingest music so quickly now, I think it’s important to have a moment with a record for a good bit of time but to also remind yourself to move on to the next thing and we were just ready for that record.
What would you say has changed in between your short hiatus, to coming back to releasing new material. What were you getting up to, did you continue making new music?
AJ: I think as a band we didn’t know exactly where we were headed, we felt a bit musically directionless. We continued to write but nothing ever went out publicly, we were also in the process of making two records but they never got released. All of the music you have heard so far is an accumulation of what we wrote during the 10-year break. But as our acting careers grew we started taking time off. Aly was on Hellcats and iZombie, and I was on The Goldbergs and then Schooled. Once 2016/ 2017 hit we knew it was about time we got back into music and that’s what led us to the ‘10 Years’ EP. We were definitely always creating, but it was just very private for a while.
Aly: It was a hard time for us, and I think it took us making the ‘10 Years’ EP to finally feel like we were on track to being the type of artists we wanted to be as adult women and not as kids.
You’ve come a long way since your 2007 hit singles “Potential Breakup Song” and “Like Woah” – since then your albums and releases have been indie singer-songwriter projects. Would you say your pop era is something you’ve left behind?
Aly: I don’t think it’s a full departure for AJ and I, but I do feel it’s something we’ve evolved from. I think it was a large part of the music that we were listening to then in our lives. We’ve moved away from listening to mainstream pop music, we rarely listen to that anymore. On the radio, or even on Spotify it’s usually indie bands, singer-songwriters, or bands from the 60s and 70s that we really look up to. I think it’s been a natural evolution for us as a band. We’re diving deeper into a sound that’s always been there, but it’s just never been properly nurtured. We’re now at a point where we feel comfortable and aren’t shying away from that. We’re always going to have pop sensibilities because that’s the world that we come from. But I don’t think that we will ever be seen as or known as a mainstream pop act.
You’ve just recently wrapped up a UK tour, what was it like to play on British soil, was there a particular date you enjoyed the most?
AJ: It was only eight dates, but it was a really exciting tour for us because we hadn’t been overseas since 2019. To be able to perform for our fans in Paris, Amsterdam and London are some of our best highlights. It was so special because we have friends all over the world. It’s such a blessing to be able to do what we do because we are travellers at heart. To be able to have that built into your band and our business is really cool. We also have so many fans who have followed our career since the beginning with Disney Channel, ABC and CW, which is amazing. It’s been really exciting to meet our fans over here, it’s been a lovely tour.
In 2007 you released “Potential Breakup Song”, which honestly broke the charts. Thinking back, what was your go-to breakup song at the time?
Aly: I’d say at that moment anything that was by Avril Lavigne. We were also very much into Michelle Branch; those were the two female singer-songwriters that we looked up to.
AJ: That felt like angst we could relate to.
You recently went on the road with Ben Platt earlier this autumn – how was this experience?
AJ: That was so much fun, Ben is an absolute angel and is super talented. We played 19 shows with him and we got to play some really iconic venues between the Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden – places we’ll never forget. Ben gave us that opportunity, it feels lovely to be welcomed by another artist. Aly and I have never actually opened for someone before, we’ve only ever headlined. Having that reversed meant the world to us, we’ll never forget it.
What’s next for Aly and AJ?
Aly: A lot of touring.
AJ: This year we will have played around 80 shows. Who knows how many dates we will play next year, but between touring, festivals and one-offs, we plan on continuing to really craft the development of this next cycle and ‘With Love From’ obviously kicks that off. We’re going to release another single in February, the record will come out in the spring of 2023 and we’re about to announce the tour. So next year is really all about ‘With Love From’.