Aly & AJ Are the Duo Making a Grand Comeback

Aly & AJ Are the Duo Making a Grand Comeback

We talk to the musicians about their new music, their Disney days, and why they're now coming back after ten years.

We talk to the musicians about their new music, their Disney days, and why they're now coming back after ten years.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Famed music duo Aly & AJ are sisters, if you didn’t know already, but you’d be forgiven if you thought they were twins — not that they look exactly alike, but speak to them both at the same time and you’ll get two people taking turns to construct one sentence. “It’s to the point where I feel like it might be annoying for other people to witness,” Aly said. As if on cue, AJ jumps in and continues, “because Aly and I don't even realize we're doing it and it probably bugs people that neither of us really finish our own sentence, the other one does.” Except it’s hard not to find their connection charming.

The tendency reappears when we talk about their new single, “Take Me,” their first as Aly & AJ in nearly a decade. “I was in a long-distance relationship for two years and I ended it two Februarys ago,” she says of the song’s inspiration, explaining how she uses months to keep track of past time. “After that, I went through a period of time where I was very single, and I was struggling a little bit. A couple friends had really inspired me to join some dating apps which I was really against, and you know what, I ended up joining one, Raya.” Suddenly, her sister cuts in and airs her grievances the app, one made for people in creative industries, as if she knew AJ’s next thought: “By the way, which in its own self has a problem, like if there's a dating app for industry people, that's already weird within oneself.”

For fans of the girls since the early days, the pounding drums, pleading wails, and 80s-inspired video game synth-lines of “Take Me” was a refreshing if not surreal listen, a far cry from the melodic pop-rock of “Chemicals React” and message-focused singer-songwriter fare of their last true record Insomniatic. But their newfound aggression makes sense once you hear the hilarious Raya backstory, and comes across clearly in the track's new video, released today — a liberating, fiery tale where the girls turn into literal vampires and act on their prey.

“Something about [a dating app] is so ego-centric because if I press on this and this person pressed back, it's like, ‘Great, we're matched,’” AJ continued, eye-roll likely included. “But then no one takes a step further, it's almost like you only go on there to score the match and then no one was following up. You talked back and forth with a couple people, they were interested and then it was like, ‘Cool, let's meet up in Venice or let's walk the boardwalk,’ and you're just like, ‘What? That's not a date. Take me out.’ It was just my frustration of being like, ‘Can you please go a step further than we matched on an app?’”

The sisters, born as Alyson and Amanda Michalka, got their start on the Disney Channel, releasing their first two records with infamous Disney label Hollywood Records as the sisters took on starring roles in Disney shows and movies like the rags-to-riches flick Cowbells. But as they transitioned out of Disney, it seemed that the girls disappeared from the music scene in a flash, choosing instead to focus on individual acting roles in everything from theatrical blockbusters like The Lovely Bones and current TV show iZombie.

And that decision was intentional. Every time the girls tried to write music again, they explain, the spark was simply not there. They became insecure about their past work and doubted if they could ever find chemistry as musicians again, making them go through bouts of depression and writers block. It took years of not having control in their acting career, and delving into new artists, in order to get that drive back, sparking a new wave of creativity.

“Honestly now was the time to come back because we became inspired again, it's really as simple as that,” Aly explains. “It was really a matter of having that want to make music again and to have that creative control that we don't necessarily get from the projects that we work on as actresses. We were craving that… at the end of the day, we were able to sit down, look at each other and say, ‘Let's give this one last shot, and let's do it for real this time, and not half-ass it.’”

During this period of indecision, the sisters decided to try to reinvent themselves and release music under the moniker 78violet, forging a more bohemian-pop sound. They ended up only releasing one single, the sultry and melancholic slow-burner “Hothouse,” before realizing that what they had created simply wasn’t authentic to who they were, putting them in a creative slump once again. “I think we learned to not be ashamed of our past and to embrace it, and know that everyone goes through change and everybody has a moment when they're trying to find who they are as artists, especially when you start at a really young age,” Aly remarked about the experiment. “I think going back to Aly & AJ was just another step in the progression to where we are now. It was just a reminder, like let's not fix this if it's not completely broken, and I think AJ and I realized that at the end of the day, there was really nothing to be ashamed of. That is who we are, we are Aly, we are AJ, those are our names and there's nothing to change about that.”

Once they finally embraced their past, they were able to flourish when they started to create music again, and in their minds, it was key to why this comeback is being received better than ever. “I think Aly and I, in a weird way, were on this cusp with Disney where we did really well and we gained quite a springboard for just getting music out there. I think our music does what it does because of the fanbase that Disney provided for us, but I also feel like we didn't blow up in a big enough way where it really affected us transitioning out,” AJ remarks.

And while breaking from the Disney mold has presented challenges, it’s exactly that background that stabilizes the girls and allows them to continue creating. “All of our fans have grown up with us,” AJ says. “I can't imagine releasing music as a brand new artist unless you have a ‘Gangham Style’-type video that comes out of nowhere and is doing crazy numbers. Like how do you really break as a brand new artist without having some backbone of an older fanbase or audience?”

Luckily, they’ll never have to learn how. When they put their minds to making music again, they went hard, creating an EP due this fall entitled Ten Years (they’re well-aware they kept us waiting), that retains the songwriting that won over their fans in the first place while digging into their newfound 80s influences, something that they weren't expecting at all yet feels natural. "We didn't grow up in a household that was heavily pushing 80s rock or pop, we didn't actually listen to a ton growing up. It was like, 'You're going to listen to gospel, Heart, and the Beach Boys and that's about it.'" Rather the inspiration came from friend Mike Einziger of Incubus, who constantly played 80s power bands in the studio. "He just inspired us in a really cool way, playing Duran Duran, playing Depeche Mode, playing artists like that that I feel like Aly and I almost took with us and infiltrated that into our new music, not even knowing what we were doing."

One track, “The Distance,” sees AJ grapple with the loss of her longest relationship yet, while “I Know” is a tribute to a lost soul. “One song is about a friend of ours, not a close friend but someone who was very loved in the athletic world. He was in his 20s, he died very young of cancer, and Aly and I wrote this song that's an ode to him. Just seeing the outpour of fans and support of people that loved him growing up in LA and seeing his work, and then for him to lose his life at such a young age, Aly and I just felt really moved to write this song. It's kind of our dedication to him.”

But perhaps the most exciting thing about this endeavor is that, in their minds, the best is yet to come. “We’ve written enough right now to if were to just go in and do it, we could deliver an entire record, but we want to continue to write because we think that there's better songs that have yet to be created.”

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