August 18, 2017

Interview: Aly and AJ

An interview with Aly and AJ on their return to music.

The last time that anyone heard anything from Aly and AJ was in 2007. After putting out three albums on Hollywood Records, the sister duo left their Disney Channel-molded pop star image behind. In 2013, the pair briefly reemerged under the name 78Violet with a slow-burning single titled “Hothouse" (The music video channeled some major Lana Del Rey vibes). Despite hosting private performances at The Gramercy Theatre in NYC and The Roxy Theater in L.A., the side project faded out and the sisters fell back into acting. A decade later, Aly and AJ are finally back and ready to share their music with the world. If you’re expecting the Michalkas to pick up where “Potential Breakup Song” left off, you won’t be completely disappointed. Their new single “Take Me” tackles relationship woes, but it comes from a more mature perspective. Given that the sisters are in their mid-twenties now, they’ve grown up--a lot. We recently talked to Aly and AJ about their comeback, changes in the music industry, and their goals as artists in 2017. Don’t worry, there are plenty of ballads on the way.

The Le Sigh: I would love if you could tell me about your new single, “Take Me.” What's the song about?

AJ: “Take Me” for us is kind of one of those songs that’s just very honest. It’s not really written about anyone in particular, just the fact that I’ve been going through the dating scene a little bit. Aly is married, but I’ve seen what I’ve gone through in the sense of just trying to meet someone that can be bold enough to take you out and want to get to know you beyond getting to know you on social media. It’s kind of hard to find. At the end of the day, it was one of those frustrations in the studio where it was like, “Just take me out already. If you want to get this done and want to get to know each other, you’re going to have to get to know me first.” It’s an honest depiction toward my dating life, just really saying, “If this is what you want, make it happen.” I think that song is a really honest moment for us.

TLS: What was the songwriting process like for this new material?

Aly: This new music that we’ve made – it’s been a rough road for us because I think we were in a bit of a depression when it came to writing. I think it just had to do with the business, where our careers were at at that point in time, personal stuff that was happening. We had to take a long hiatus from music because it was the only way for us to find it again. That’s why we kind of spent so much time working on our acting projects. We were inspired to get back in the studio thanks to my husband who saw AJ and I beginning to have an itch again and actually genuinely want to make music, and so he really encouraged us to start co-writing again. That’s kind of where all the music ended up starting. January of 2016 is when we really started to form a passion for music again after all these years.

AJ: We ended up approaching a really good friend of ours, Mike Elizondo, who has kind of been a mentor for years and is incredible. He’s an amazing writer and producer and he’s been doing this for a long time – he’s worked with some amazing acts. He’s always really believed in Aly and I. It was one of those things that was really kind of an open-door policy. You know, “If I’m needed again, then I’m here.” It just always felt like he was going to be there and it was the truth. So he was the first guy we approached and we just said, “Hey, would you kind of help spearhead this music. Aly and I have found the passion again and we want to go after it and start writing.” He ended up really kind of spearheading the project. He hooked us up with two guys and we ended up co-writing the record with as well as producing.

These songs have now become such a huge part of our lives. I haven’t enjoyed music written by me and Aly in so long and I truly adore these songs. It’s so cool to love your own work and to be proud of it and believe in it. I don’t know if every artist can say that. A lot of times artists are forced to put on a little bit of an act and I think Aly and I have been able to really find our true selves again, and Mike really helped us get there. This music is a really true depiction of us 10 years later.

TLS: What are some of the themes that are going to be on the EP? Also, what has been different about putting this together in comparison to your previous records?

Aly: They’re not necessarily all relationship songs, which is interesting. Only two of them on the EP are. The other song is about a relationship that AJ just got out of and that’s called “The Distance.” It’s interesting writing a song when the other half isn’t experiencing the relationship. Obviously, I feel like I have partially just because I’m the sister and I’m so close with AJ that I hear all aspects of the relationship and what’s kind of gone wrong with it, but it doesn’t feel super strange to write a song about someone that isn’t my partner. That song is really great because it talks about – specifically for AJ – long distance relationships, but I think for anyone, they can relate to the distance that starts to happen in a relationship when you just start to feel like you aren’t close anymore and you can’t explain why or when it happened or how but that emptiness and that void kind of needs to grow and you don’t know why. You keep trying to make it work over time but at the end of the day, it was really the distance that kind of drove you away from the relationship. Those two songs are our songs that are on the EP that are relationship-based. The other two songs – one happens to be about a friendship and the other happens to be about AJ and I and having been gone from music for 10 years.

TLS: Being out of the industry for a little bit, how do you feel about the ways it’s changed?

Aly: I mean, it’s crazy. The social media aspect of this industry has changed so much and it’s funny because AJ and I, when we first had music out, it was MySpace. YouTube had just launched – I think they were only a couple years old at that point and there was no Twitter. There was no Instagram. There was no Snapchat. It’s bizarre. There weren't even iPhones at that point.

AJ: Now there’s this instant gratification. You put out a photo and you say, "Hey, here’s the release date," and the fans are like “Oh my gosh,” whereas before... I can’t even look back and remember how we even released new music, not like it didn’t happen.

Aly: I guess it was through a website or something, or online interviews and things like that. It’s definitely not the same. There’s things about the past that were great and fantastic, and I do miss buying CDs and I miss having a physical copy of music. I think eventually there will be a time where people will want to go back to that, just like how there’s been kind of a turn in people wanting to purchase vinyls. I think it’s out of a nostalgia for that time. But for this new social media instant gratification, like AJ was saying, it’s a huge shift and change for AJ and I. We definitely sit a little bit outside of it. I mean, yes, I do have an Instagram and so does she but we’re not nearly as savvy and as active on it as some people are. People truly make a business out of it and AJ and I are trying to learn how to use our social media in a way that’s positive and is able to reach our fans and communicate with them, but we also don’t want it to take over our lives. I think that there’s a fine line between that and just having a conversation online and maybe opening up someone’s mind to another way of thinking. That’s great, I think those are wonderful ways that social media can help the world, but I think there’s also the other dark side of social media.

TLS: How do you both balance everything? Obviously, you’re not too consumed by the digital world, but how do you juggle music, acting, and having a life outside of all that?

You know, it’s not easy but it’s one of those things where I think when you’ve been doing this for so long, you find a rhythm and you find out what’s most important in your life and you kind of try to set it up appropriately. For Aly and I, music is kind of the number one thing on our plate right now. It’s hard. We haven’t juggled music and acting at the same time for a long time so I can’t even really answer that. I don’t know how it’s going to be to do both and it’s a little scary. But we have two passions and I think figuring out what takes priority when something's really important, and that’s why you have a great team around you to help strategize. When it comes to personal life, Aly and I are really good at making sure that personal life is high up on the list because I think when you lose that you lose everything. It’s like you become a little bit of an entertainment robot to society and that really scares me. I’ve seen that happen to a few artists where I’m like, “Wow. I don’t think this person gets out much. It seems like this is all you are, all you do.” And at the end of the day, I don’t want to lose who I am as a person, which is why Aly and I are really social. We make lots of plans, we see our friends really consistently so we have a tight circle that we’re with a lot and we surround ourselves with the people that we trust and we’ve learned to weed out the negatives, the time-wasters, if you will.
TLS: How are you both dealing with everything else given this intense political climate that we’re in?

Aly: Oh my gosh. Honestly, it’s interesting because AJ and I are proud to be Democrats and we feel that the only way to reach the other side and have a conversation that’s peaceful and meaningful is to have a kindness and a genuine want for understanding when you’re discussing politics. It’s really hard because I think there’s so much anger, hate, and bullying that’s happening – online and offline – that's just causing more chaos. I’ve learned through even my Instagram, which, you know, during the election got just absolutely hammered because of posting pro-Hillary photos, which AJ was doing as well.

AJ: I don’t read the comments so I didn’t even see how beat up I got.

Aly: That’s true. We actually operate a little differently in that scenario. I purposely wanted to converse with the fans out there that think we’re misinformed, we’re just naive, or really truly have a different viewpoint. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye. I felt like the only way to stand up for what’s going on right now that's wrong, that's unethical, that's racist and sexist is speaking out about it. The more that you silence yourself, the worse the problem because. For AJ and I, we said, "Look, we know we have fans of all kinds and not everyone is always going to believe the same things we are but our music can always bring them together and that’s great." I think that’s where they can always bond. But, I do believe that silencing yourself, especially as an artist, is really dangerous. I think that we have to use our voices and our platform as artists to speak up about it. Not to be hard on the artists that don’t, but I truly think especially being female, there is no excuse not to speaking up and in 2017 if you’re not speaking up, you’re doing something wrong.

AJ: Yeah, 100 percent. To be honest, in 2018 we need to do more. We didn’t do enough and I’m ashamed of that. You think that time is going to pass and everything is going to be ok and Hillary is going to win and there’s no chance it will go in the other direction, then you’re slapped in the face with the truth.I want to do more when 2018 comes. I want to travel, I want to canvas, I want to get the word out there, I want to risk being spat on for what I believe in. I think that’s kind of the next move everyone needs to make. I think it’s all about putting it into action, putting it into gear and Aly is right, voicing it on social media. We have a huge platform so when people don’t use it and they have millions of followers, I don’t understand that.

TLS: What were some of your goals when you first started out and what are they now? How have your views shifted in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish as artists?

AJ: That’s actually a really good question. I think in regards to music, the goal for Aly and I used to be, quite honestly, it was like, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to get on Top 40 radio, we’ve got to have a pop single, we’ve got to have a hit on KISS FM.” And all that’s great, that was kind of what was going on, that’s what was really appealing to a lot of artists, five, ten years ago, now it’s like if that stuff comes, amazing, I’ll never turn it away, but that’s not the ultimate goal. I look at music so differently now. I don’t think we would have been happy releasing this music had we looked at it the same way we did five, seven, ten years ago, which was “We gotta have a hit.” At the end of the day it’s about making great music not only for our fans, but for us. That’s really important. I want to put together an amazing live show. I want to tour, I want to open for great acts. I don’t need to be the closer.

Aly and I, I can honestly say, have no ego in this game and at the end of the day I just want our music to penetrate people and I want to hear people come up to our booth at the end of our concert and say "Wow, that song has really done something to me. I can’t explain it, but it’s gotten me out of bed in the morning," or, "It’s made me feel great about life or a relationship again that I couldn’t get through." That’s the kind of thing I want to hear. I’m not interested in writing songs to make sure that they do really well and chart really high on radio. It’s more a matter of I want to play this material live, I want to travel the world and I want to experience meeting our fans all over. That, to me, is the greatest gift that music can bring is the live element.

Aly: I agree.

TLS: Anything else?
Aly: We’re just excited to be back making music again. And we’re excited to be back as Aly and AJ, not as the side-project name that we went by for the last couple years, which again was, I think, growing pains and us trying to find our identity as artists again as adult artists…When you think about it, we released our first record when we were 16 and 14-years-old and a lot changes from 16 and 14 to 28 and 26 so, we’re just happy to be back. We’re happy to be back as Aly and AJ which is who we are and we’re not ashamed of that. We’re not ashamed of the music that we put out in the past, we were proud it at that moment in time and that’s all that really matters. This new music is so much better and so much deeper and wiser and so much more focused in its sound and that’s why we’ve never been more proud of anything we’ve ever released.

AJ: Aly’s right. Also, I just want to thank everyone for accepting this new chapter for us. The fact that we’re already getting so much love and we don’t even have the music out, it’s just amazing to see that people are truly excited about this comeback and I do kind of consider it that. In a weird way, it’s not. It just feels like a new chapter of our career, probably more so than a comeback. At the end of the day, it’s been this long and people are truly, truly excited about it and it’s really neat. I didn’t know people cared that much. It’s really cool.


Listen to Aly and AJ  here.


Sydney Gore is a writer and editor based in NYC. Her work typically revolves around music, culture and feelings. She believes that Wawa is a lifestyle and deeply aspires to live as well as the girl who inspired Drake's "Hotline Bling." One time she met Michael Cera and she swears in that moment it was infinitely awkward. Sydney currently freelances for a variety of outlets including The FADER, Genius, PAPER, Girlboss, Pigeons and Planes, and The Wing.