Q&A: Aly & AJ Bring New Perspectives to Old Themes
The sisters, ahead of their music video launch for “Star Maps,” talk their latest EP and taking creative control of their projects.
After fourteen years, five albums, three EPs, and one brief name change; Aly & AJ haven’t stopped moving forward. On the heels of their latest EP, Sanctuary, out last month, they have a new music video and their very first European tour (and that’s just during breaks from acting projects). While they’ve found their footing with their synth-pop sound, taking turns in the studio and voice memo-ing riffs to one another to seamlessly put out records, they’re only ramping up from there. “I think what we’d love to do is create a full record in the next year,” says Aly, which would be a first for the group since 2007. With Disney-era hits like “Potential Breakup Song” defining a generation’s childhood, the sisters’ adult take on introspective and relationship-based themes in their music is both fresh and familiar, proving that the girls are all grown up.
V caught up with Aly & AJ backstage before their New York tour stop on what’s next for the sister singing/acting pair.
V: How would you describe your goals with Sanctuary? Sonically, did you guys feel like it was more of a natural progression?
Aly: Yeah, I find that Sanctuary sounds different than Ten Years but I still feel like it fits in the same world where you can listen to each EP back-to-back and it makes sense. But I feel like we leaned a little bit heavier into the pop-iness of some of these songs, like “I’m Not Ready to Wake Up” and “Star Maps”, where they have this, I don’t know, this eighties glitter to it. We focused more on a theme, which is more self-reflective and about rebirth, growth and just taking a look at yourself. Ten Years is more of a relationship-based EP. This is much more self-reflective.
V: And what brought that on?
Aly: I feel that it comes to, when tapping back on to themes that we wrote as young girls, we obviously have a lot of relationship-based songs. But there’s a lot of songs from our past, like “No One Speaks for Myself” and “Sticks and Stones” that specifically really resonate with our fans. I think it’s because they’re songs that question your self-worth, and give you that nod of approval that you’re doing it, and on the right path. So we wanted to go back to that, but give our new updated version as 30 and 28 year-old women. And so this collection of songs is kind of that representation.
V: Creatively, how do you balance Aly & AJ with your other projects?
AJ: Last year was a big struggle for us because we knew we wanted to put out another EP in 2019, but also we were both on shows. Like, Alyson was finishing up the last season of iZombie and I was just starting the first season of the new spin-off, and it was definitely a challenge. At that point, you’re kind of winging it, which I think is what we’re going to have to do this year. I also know that there is a way to create both versions of our art in a really seamless, focused way that still gets both things done without having to choose one thing over another. But I also think that music took a backseat for so long, that I’m really trying to keep that a huge focus while still staying engaged with things that we’re obligated to.
Aly: And you have weekends, so you might work all week and then come in all day Saturday and record, and I’m in and out of the studio, fixing and fiddling with things when you’re working. We just take it one day at a time when it kind of comes, because that’s the only way you can.
V: Do you feel like you express more side of yourselves in one medium than another?
AJ: I think both are incredibly expressive, but I feel like music is a really good way to get across everything that Aly and I witness as an art. Acting is hard because you’re such a small piece in a huge puzzle, unless you’re like directing producing or writing.
Aly: You only have so much creative control on an acting project.
AJ: Which is a little hard because you end up working so hard on something, and you shoot it and put in a lot of time and energy, and you don’t necessarily know what the final product is going to look like until it airs. We’ve been lucky enough to work on things we’re really proud of, but I do feel like with music, you just have your hands on the reigns.
Aly: What we are putting out is 100% our stamp of approval. With a movie, or a TV show, we might have envisioned it a different way and it comes out completely different. I mean, there’s definitely projects that I’ve been in in the past that I’ve been highly unimpressed by.
V: So how do you navigate production between the two of you if you’re going into the studio at different times?
AJ: We talk constantly. So we’re always in direct contact so even if I’ll be on set and Aly’s like, “I really want you to hear this part,” she’ll just play it over the phone, and they’re like, “Rolling!” And I’m like, “I’ve gotta go, send a voice note and I’ll listen at lunch.” There’s no rules to it.
V: So what do your creative processes look like? How does writing the songs together work if you aren’t together? Who normally initiates it?
AJ: We go back and forth. Aly’s a really strong lyricist, I’m really strong with melodies, and our strengths are slightly different, which I think is what makes us such a good duo. So a lot of times, I might start with a melody line and Aly will find a lyric that fits perfectly or vice versa. And then we are usually working with a producer that is dealing with the instrumentation, who really is composing the piece. Aly and I, we started this thing when we were younger where every song is split between us evenly, no matter what. We’re a partnership and we’re a brand together and it being that we both have creative choices for a song just makes sense for it to, no matter who started or who finished it, be a project by us both.
V: Where are you going to move creatively in terms of this potential full-length album out next year?
Aly: AJ and I will probably experiment a little bit in this new full record with stuff that we haven’t done in the past because we didn’t feel completely comfortable with it. I think we’ll stay again in this eighties world, in this synth world. I would like to go even heavier into our synth.
V: What preconceived notions about your music do you find the most often, and what would you want to change about them?
AJ: It’s funny because some of the “negative ideas” are actually positives, they’ve kept us around this long. Like Disney, Aly and I come from a past where it’s hard to break that mold. It’s kind of hard to break, but it’s also what’s kept our fans so excited about our music for so many years. It is a blessing, but I feel like if people listen to us, they might expect typical pop, and it’s actually really deep shit and really musically savvy. It’s really good.
Aly: And it’s always flown under the radar. We’ve always been underdogs, maybe from an outside perspective that maybe doesn’t correlate, but to us, our core fanbase is like, “why are people sleeping on them?” And the huge reason is because we don’t have the backing, the shit or the gimmick or whatever. AJ and I are continuing to make music, we’re okay with it being like that. If that’s what our career is like forever, I’m okay with that.