In Advance of Their Upcoming House of Blues Show, Aly & AJ Talk About Their New Issue-Oriented EP

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click to enlarge In Advance of Their Upcoming House of Blues Show, Aly & AJ Talk About Their New Issue-Oriented EP
Parker Woods
Two years ago, the pop duo Aly & AJ, sisters Alyson "Aly" and Amanda "AJ" Michalka, returned after a 10-year hiatus with the EP Ten Years, an album of introspective tunes laden with ’80s-inspired synthesizers. Album opener “Take Me” features rattling drum machine beats and falsetto vocals and sounds like Like a Virgin-era Madonna. “The Distance,” another album highlight, is a breakup tune that nicely mirrors “Potential Break-Up Song,” the band’s big hit from 2007.

The duo returns to House of Blues on Tuesday, May 28, in support of Sanctuary, a new five-song “examination of time and soul searching.”

Amanda “AJ” Michalka, says the duo has really “found its voice” on the new EP.

“The songs on Sanctuary are really strong,” she says in a recent conference call with her sister. “I think once you get locked in after taking a long break from making music, it’s important to stay consistent, but this record brings up new subject matters. We’re used to writing relationship-based songs about make-ups and break-ups. I think that’s what circulates most in pop music, but I feel like this record speaks true to subject matters that Aly and I haven’t touched on. These songs are about issues like depression and pleading with someone to not change who they are. There’s a lot of noise right now in pop music and not much depth.”

The mid-tempo album opener, “Church,” features falsetto vocals and shimmering synths, and the anthemic “Star Maps” sounds like a pop hit from the ’80s. The Sanctuary songs are even more synth-based than the ones on Ten Years.

“We're having a great time playing with and experimenting with [synthesizers],” says Alyson "Aly" Michalka. “This new EP needed to be its own thing. That’s why ‘Church’ was our first choice as a single. It couldn’t be more different in style and in tempo from [Ten Years'] ‘Take Me.’ It’s a confessional song. It touches on rebirth and redemption. We wanted to write something that references religion but doesn’t talk about church in the literal meaning. It can be going back to your roots or to your family and friends. It can mean so many different things.”

While growing up, the sisters say they listened to “everything.” Their mom was on the “gospel side,” and their dad was a classic rock guy.

“Our taste has grown immensely,” says Amanda “AJ” Michalka. “That’s the wonderful thing about growing up. Aly and I listened to some good music growing up, but we also listened to some crappy music. As we’ve gotten older, we introduced ourselves to music we didn’t listen to when we were kids. The music we listened to in the past five years has established this new sound. I don’t like to say who those people are because it changes, but we’ve just stayed steady and true to the sound of Ten Years and tried not to focus on other bands. We took what we believed in and just went with it.”

The duo started writing together in the early 2000s when they were really young, penning the tune “Protecting Me,” a track Amanda “AJ” Michalka describes as “a sweet song about our parents who protected us and made us feel safe because we had such a great family structure.”

They both say that making 2005’s Into the Rush was “really fun” simply because there were no expectations. The album became a hit, the group had a good run with Hollywood Records.

Now, however, things have come full circle, and the band self-releases its music and doesn’t have to satisfy the higher-ups at a major label.

“It’s really refreshing,” says Amanda “AJ” Michalka. “Everything just goes through Aly and me.”

Significantly, for this tour, the group has teamed up with the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people. The group will have donation bins and awareness booths at every tour date.

“We’re thrilled to be bringing [Trevor Project] on this tour,” says Alyson "Aly" Michalka. “We want to do everything we can to protect the lives of the people in the LGBTQ community. We want to show our support in a public space. We want this tour to be about giving back. It’s about reaching out to our fans and providing them with a safe place. The Trevor Project makes total sense to us especially because of the work they do with their hotline. It was a no brainer for us.”

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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