NEW YORK – He has the second longest-running song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. You’ve likely heard the song – but not the name of the man who created it.
Aaron Bruno is the musician behind Sail, the sleeper hit from his band Awolnation. Sail became a success after it debuted in 2011 and spent 79 weeks on the Hot 100 chart, ending its run in March.
Though not as ubiquitous as Pharrell’s Happy, it has made its impact on every platform, including TV, film, commercials and pop radio. It is one of those melodies that burrow in your head – even if you don’t know the title. And it has sold more than 5 million tracks in the United States.
Being played after a Miley Cyrus song blows my mind still to this day, Bruno said.
Sail originated from a journal entry. The 35-year-old industry veteran, who had been in different groups before Awolnation, was beginning to think his dreams weren’t achievable, and he had financial woes.
The haunting, screeching track finds him frustrated, angry and beaten. Lyrics include, Maybe I should cry for help, maybe I should kill myself.
I definitely wasn’t feeling super-optimistic at that point. There was no deal, there was nothing like that, there was no money. It was definitely a darker time in my life, he said. (The) lyrics came out; they just poured out of my soul on a piece of paper.
The success of Sail is a bit uncharted: After the song peaked in the Top 5 on alternative radio, a request came from the TV channel History to use the track in the trailer for the historical drama Vikings. That more than tripled the song’s weekly downloads, and it never stopped, said Bruno’s longtime manager, Berko Pearce.
Purposely we tried to build it slow and really grow and have a base and really be a rock band, Pearce said.
The song was also used heavily in the trailer for the film The Counselor, starring Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Michael Fassbender; in a viral video with skydiver Jeb Corliss; and in a BMW commercial, among other licensing uses.
Sail peaked at No. 17 on the Hot 100 chart and is just behind Imagine Dragons’ Grammy-winning Radioactive, which is the longest-running song on the Billboard chart with 85 weeks and counting.
Pearce originally signed Bruno and Under the Influence of Giants to Maverick in the early 2000s, two days after watching them rehearse in his A&R days. He managed Bruno’s next band, Home Town Hero, when they were signed to Def Jam, and he and Bruno remained friends in the five years between that band and the birth of Awolnation.
He put Bruno in touch with the independent label Red Bull Records when he decided to get back into music.
We always ran with the idea of no marketing plan; make it up as we go along, Pearce said. We wanted to keep it free and see what happens.
Bruno said he had to find enough confidence in himself to lead the five-member Awolnation. He derived the band’s name from his childhood moniker, Awol, adding nation because he thought at the very least, if I had an ambitious name for a project, then the sky would be the limit.
Bruno wrote and produced Awolnation’s 2011 debut, Megalithic Symphony. On it, he sings and plays the guitar, piano, percussion, bass and more. It has reached gold status and sold 544,000 units, and before going into the recording process for its follow-up – due out this year – Awolnation spent three years on the road performing for feverish fans, and the venues grew as Sail soared.
All I knew before is putting out first albums this is actually the first time where people are anticipating something, said Bruno, who performed in bands signed to Def Jam and Maverick Records.
I’m so used to trying to convince people I’m any good, I guess, he added.
He has been spending the last few months in a ranch north of Santa Barbara, Calif., without cellphone service and little Internet access to record new music, and he has a list of people who have requested his services. He also has famous new friends, including Rick Rubin and Steve Perry.
It’s not my style to drop names, he said.
My world’s gotten kind of weird, he added. Some people I grew up listening to have befriended me, which has been a pretty cool experience.