Dream-pop duo Aly & AJ are back to put out their first album in 14 years. The record comes out May 7 and is called a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun. The pair sat down with staff writer Megan Doherty to talk about the new album and answer some listener questions.
TIKTOK BROUGHT BACK “POTENTIAL BREAKUP SONG” THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUT OUT. NOW YOU GUYS RELEASED AN EXPLICIT VERSION. WHAT'S IT LIKE HAVING THIS SONG GO VIRAL YEARS AFTER ITS RELEASE AND GETTING NEW YOUNGER FANS FROM IT?
Aly: It added to the bizarre year that we've all experienced. That was definitely a cherry on top for us. It was awesome. It was cool to see how much love is still out there for the song, and the fact that a whole new audience that didn't even know the song existed was able to enjoy it was awesome for the two of us to experience. And it was also just fun to do an update on the song as well because we had recorded it so many years ago. So it felt good to kind of do an updated version that felt fresh and new to us.
IS THAT SOMETHING YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
Aly: Not necessarily.
AJ: We never really thought about it before the TikTok launch. I mean, for Aly and I, we've always kept it around. We've always performed it live, but we never thought about re-releasing a new version of it. I think it gave us an opportunity to re-record it in a new voice with a new sound. Just drawing attention to the explicit lyrics, which I think a lot of people were wanting for a long time.
YOU ALSO JUST RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT YOUR ALBUM’S COMING OUT MAY 7TH. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO START WRITING AGAIN FOR A FULL ALBUM, ESPECIALLY AFTER 14 YEARS OF NOT PUTTING OUT AN ALBUM?
AJ: Well, we never really stopped. Obviously, I think to the audience it felt like we stopped because we hadn't released new material in a long time. But, I think between the EPs and then figuring out exactly where this album was going to land, Aly and I have really been working on music consistently throughout this entire time–
Aly: –even if it wasn't released.
AJ: Yeah, and there's a lot that never got released. I mean, we have two full records that never came out that we made. So, for us, I think it's just been a matter of just hitting the pavement hard and perfecting our writing and our ability to write great lyrics and great melodies and to harmonize with each other and vocalize with each other in a way that I think is very specific when it's two sisters singing together. So I really feel like that time has just helped craft this moment we’re at now.
Aly: And we had the freedom to be able to do it because we weren't on TV shows at the time. So we were able to set aside many months that were solely dedicated to being in the studio. It's kind of hard jumping in and out of the studio. We were able to do that for the EPs, but it also was a lot less material. So, it was easier to jump in and out and make those records over a couple months period of time, as opposed to this, which by the time that it's out and released, it'll have been a year that we actually started recording, and then to actual release, but you could even add more time to that with the writing process. So probably about a year and eight months, nine months all together.
YOU’VE SAID THAT NOT HAVING AS MUCH ACCESS TO THINGS YOU TYPICALLY HAVE IN THE STUDIO WHEN WRITING ACTUALLY PUSHED YOU TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE WITH YOUR SONGWRITING. SO, WHAT WAS THAT LEARNING CURVE LIKE WHEN YOU WERE CREATING ALL THE SONGS AND ALL THE MUSIC AT HOME?
AJ: Well, the good thing is even during the pandemic we did have access to a full studio, and we were able to access, not only great musicians, but all the instrumentation that we needed. We went to an iconic studio in Los Angeles and recorded the entire record. It was more of that when we're shooting music videos, we’re limited in the sense that less crew is hired because of the pandemic. We're limited to where we shoot.
Aly: It forced us to be outside.
AJ: It forced us to be outside. It’s harder to get permits. You have to be very creative about where you go. So, a video like “Slow Dancing,” and even an upcoming video for “Don't Need Nothing,” were all shot at our mom's property in Santa Ynez, out basically where she lives. So, we kind of just had to be creative about where we took things, and–
Aly: –it made us think outside the box a bit more.
AJ: Yeah, yeah. I think we made videos we wouldn't have made outside of the pandemic because you're kind of forced into certain situations. And you end up working with a very small crew. But I think it made for some really beautiful art.
Aly: Yeah, I would say it’s – you're right AJ. It’s probably more the creative aspect of the images and the videos and the visuals behind the album. We're limited, but I think again that actually brought a lot of magic to it at the same time.
AJ: Yeah, and we didn't really feel restrained in any way from a production standpoint. We were able to work with our producer and a bunch of live musicians, and we all got tested and wore masks and felt very comfortable in a space, kind of a pod together. In terms of creative, it does change some things. I mean, Aly and I ended up making music videos that, like I said, I don't know if we would have made some of these. And now I'm looking back going, “I'm so proud of us.”
Aly: We did our own hair and makeup. We did our own styling. We did a lot of clothing pulls from vintage shops, a lot of Depop. So it was definitely different than what we've done in the past in terms of just gathering a team. We did it differently this time, but it felt really good.
LASTLY, WE HAVE A FEW QUESTIONS THAT LISTENERS SENT IN. SARAH ANELLIN FROM INSTAGRAM ASKED, “WHO ARE YOUR ARTIST INSPIRATIONS? AND DO YOU REGRET BEING ASSOCIATED WITH DISNEY IN THE PAST?
Aly: I don't think we regret being associated at all.
AJ: No, no regrets with association. I think we're really lucky that we did have that association because I think it brought our fans to a place where they have continued to support us and have met us at this age. I think in terms of album inspiration and other artists that we listen to, that kind of varies. It's all over the place. Aly and I are music lovers, but we don't have one specific taste. We kind of listen to everything. There are moments where I find myself listening to Janis Joplin, and then Jeff Buckley, and then My Morning Jacket, and then War On Drugs, and The National.
Aly: And then maybe Dua Lipa. It's kind of a mixed bag. But as long as it feels like it's good music, and that it's thoughtful, and that there's an authenticity behind it, usually we’ll gravitate towards it. Most of the music that we listen to are the artists that write their own material themselves. I just think that that's something that we personally take a lot of pride in, and I know that it's probably our favorite part of the creative process is creating the songs. So I think first and foremost, is it a great song? And then, if it's an artist that is brand new or an artist that maybe I have a preconceived notion on, I’m willing to completely change it if that song is a killer tune.
NIAMH SYGROVE FROM TWITTER ASKED, “WHICH SONG ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO PERFORM LIVE?”
Aly: Probably “Don't Need Nothing.”
AJ: I think “Don't Need Nothing.”
Aly: It has the title of the album. And it feels like a track that is meant to be played live with people chanting along the album title with us, which is going to be great.
AJ: It feels like the song we’re supposed to play after we've been in a pandemic for a year and a half, and people have waited for live music. It feels like that moment that's going to kind of break the dam. I'm excited.
BILL SPEAKS ON TWITTER ASKED, “WHAT WAS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF WRITING YOUR NEW ALBUM?”
AJ: I mean it's all so rewarding.
Aly: It's kind of like a therapy session. Even if it's subconscious, you end up getting out a lot of inner thoughts that maybe were festering inside of you. I think for us, a lot of it was healing and very cathartic. I think it also was just another opportunity for us to spend time together, you know, to grow deeper in our relationship as sisters. And we were able to meet wonderful new people that are now a part of our life and now part of our team. One thing that we can really walk away with is the trust that we have with our producer E. We worked with him a little bit on Sanctuary, but the work that we've done together on this album far surpasses any of our past music. It's just nice to be able to have a creative partner in him for future songs. It's really exciting.
SO WE HAVE ONE LAST QUESTION. OUR SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR GRACE WANTS TO KNOW “WHAT'S A STANDOUT MEMORY FROM YOUR MUSICAL JOURNEY SO FAR?”
Aly: I think a standout memory was us finally finding the album cover image for this new release.
AJ: That was huge.
Aly: Yeah, we were very behind on delivering that. We were about three weeks behind on giving the assets to our team, and they kept hounding us and we were like, ‘it's not there yet!’
AJ: We just didn't have the right image that encapsulated how this record sounds and how we feel needed to be interpreted. And I really think that we found it, and we found it right at the 11th hour.
Aly: I just remember us all signing off on it, and we sent it to our manager.
AJ: Isn’t it crazy how right it feels and the day before having it we were like, “what are we gonna do?”
Aly: We were just so lost. We were like, “what are we going to do with the image?”
AJ: And it's weird, because you're probably expecting an answer of like “oh playing in front of this crowd or this going viral or whatever.” But it's those moments that are actually behind closed doors that end up having the biggest effect on Aly and I, as opposed to playing a huge venue or whatever it might be. Those moments are great too, but it's little moments like that where–
Aly: –we just saw that image and we just knew we did it. We set out to make this record with this intention, with these songs, and all of these feelings wrapped up inside of it. And this is exactly how it should be interpreted – through this physical piece of art. That was a great accomplishment for the two of us.
YEAH, IT'S DEFINITELY REALLY SATISFYING WHEN YOU FIGURE SOMETHING OUT THAT YOU’VE BEEN STRUGGLING TO GET FOR SO LONG.
Aly: It was literally the absolute last puzzle piece that we needed to add.
AJ: To the point where I love it so much, I’m going to blow it up and hang it in my house because it's one of those moments where it's like, “whoa, this was groundbreaking for our album.” It also really represents the way Aly and I reacted at that final moment of knowing we had finished it
Aly: like, “yes, we did it!”
AJ: It's very special. That's a really special image.
YOU SHOULD PAINT ON A CEILING TO LOOK UP AT IT.
Both: That would be really cool.
Aly: That would be good. We are not painters though, so we’d need to hire someone.
AJ: [Laughing] We would need to hire someone.
Aly & AJ’s fourth studio album, a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun, comes out May 7th. “Listen!!!” and “Pretty Places” are available now.