Stephen Ringer

It's not easy for the artists we've loved from yesteryear (mainly from the '90s or '00s) to make a proper musical comeback without some pitfalls. But Aly and AJ Michalka, who first grabbed everyone's attention thanks to some help from Disney Channel and later two albums Into the Rush and Insomniatic, have found a way to ease into the spotlight once again with their new single "Take Me." We're so glad they're back—after all, 10 years is a very long time. Stream it below:

I spoke to Aly & AJ over the phone about the new "Take Me" song (whose '80s influence is a complete departure from what fans are used to), why it was the right time to return after a decade away from music and the personal struggles that fueled their journey. And of course, there's a nostalgic bit about "Potential Breakup Song" tied in there as well. Read my endearing chat with the sisters, who explain just how much closer they've become over the years, below.

FUSE: This song is a departure from the pop-rock that you were doing before and has an ‘80s dance feel. Why did you decide to go on that route?
AJ: Yeah that’s a good question! I think it just came down to inspiration. Aly and I over the last 10 years have changed a lot, just in regards to musical taste and what we write and what we lean towards listening to. This just seemed like a great departure for Aly and I and it came really naturally in the studio when we were writing. We didn’t sit down and say, “Okay let’s move away from the singer-songwriter/rock sound and get into more of an ‘80s electronic feel.” It happened naturally with what we writing and the bands we were listening to at the time. So I think this record is going to transcend time a little better. I still appreciate the records Aly and I have made. I do think that style has kind of dated a little bit just in regards to a decade passing, and that’s pretty normal. That happens with a lot of music, but I think this music going to hold up a lot longer and it’s just what we lean towards writing and playing live now.

What bands were you listening to while you were vibing in the studio?
Aly: We definitely had a mixture of different artists we were listening to, but we also tried to stay away from listening to too much music when making a record because we never want to copy a certain sound. But we were listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel, Duran Duran, St. Lucia, Beach House…artists that we listen to on a daily basis. Not anything specifically different, just kind of delving into why some of the songs they created are so good and whether that’s song structure or lyrics.

We’re all used to you guys doing the pop-rock music, but how do you think the longtime fans will react to the new sound?
AJ: I think people are going to dig it! I mean, people seem to be super supportive of this new chapter in our music. I think if you’re a true fan, you’re there until the end no matter what the music sounds like. I mean that’s how I am with the bands I like. So far we’ve gotten a really solid reaction from our fans just in regards to little clips they’ve heard or the images. I just feel like they’re engaged and ready for new music and supportive of the new sound. I actually think it’s going to be welcomed really well.

And what was your mindset while recording this EP? Were there any personal stories that influenced the writing?
Aly: I think a lot of it had to do with personal relationships. When it came to making this EP we didn’t want it to be all love songs, so we definitely have some songs on there that are about our friends and just where our head is at now with this generation with Trump as president. I think that affected our writing as well. But mainly AJ and I just sat down and said, “Let’s just tell some stories.” Whether it’s a personal story of ours or a story that we want to share with others that is from a friend of ours, or from a relationship. So it’s kind of a mix. It’s hopefully better writing and better lyrics and comes off a lot stronger than when we were telling stories at 13 and 15.

Stephen Ringer

So what are both of your favorite songs on the EP?
AJ: God, it changes a lot for me between the four but I think I’d have to say this song called “The Distance.” It’s just really personal to me and is about a long-distance relationship I was with for two years. That kind of stuff obviously so many songs have been written about something like this, but I think what makes it different is that it’s a personal experience I went through. And because we’re all completely different human beings we all experience things differently. It’s kind of fascinating to put the song up against other long-distance relationship related songs. There was a couple that I was inspired by that really trigged this song emotionally. I think there’s something that happened in the studio just in regards to recording vocals that being it was such a visceral experience for me, I was able to fully sing my heart out. I feel like the vocals stand alone on a song like that because it’s so personal. And it was really therapeutic and just nice to get out. It was like a therapy session to write the song, sing it and kind of put it to bed. That song brought me a lot of closure in that relationship.

Aly: For me it would be this song called “I Know.” I really gravitate towards it not just because of the subject matter but I really love the melody of it and how the production turned out.

You guys have been away for 10 years and we’ve been patiently waiting for your proper comeback! Are you a little nervous about putting out the new record? I feel like social media brings a lot of pressure nowadays.
Aly: I think we feel really confident about it—at least I do. I’m overly confident just because I think it’s the best music that we’ve made. I feel like if fans were there for us when we making music at such young ages, I think they’re gonna show up this time when the music is so much better. I guess for AJ and I, this 10-year waiting was not planned obviously. We would’ve loved to put out music sooner. But a lot of times we would make a record and complete it, and it just didn’t feel like it was good enough to put out to the world. So we ended up not releasing it. And that was something I think we struggled with. We were so picky about our own production and our writing that it needs to be 100 percent for us to release it. And this time around we actually ended up doing it.

AJ: Yeah I’m with Aly. I feel super confident about this music. It’s weird to feel this confident. It’s definitely not a matter of arrogance; it’s just about knowing that the music is there and it stands alone. I think it will get the proper support that it deserves. It’s been worked on and massaged for a while now and every move we’ve made was super intentional. And I think the fans stand with us, the ones that truly there. I have a feeling we’re going to gain a lot more with this sound. It’s genuine and real and I really think it speaks for itself, so I feel great about it.

Aly: I definitely think social media has changed the music industry in a positive way, but also in a negative way. It’s interesting coming back with that huge change that’s happened. When AJ and I first started releasing music, Instragam and Twitter did not exist—which is so crazy. There’s obviously a positive to those platforms because fans can really speak out about certain things that they’re supporting and are behind. But at the same time I think that it can really become a vortex you’re kind of sucked into where you need to show the world this perfect life, which can put a lot of pressure on what you post. AJ and I try to utilize it for good and not in a way that gives a false impression of who we are as people.

Nice, I love that! Are you guys independent now?
AJ: No we’re not signed to a major label right now. Aly and I have stayed independent pretty much throughout this whole process. But we recently got on board with Kobalt Music, who have been amazing and they are super supportive of the release. We actually went in recently to meet everyone over there and I think what they’re doing is incredibly supportive for artists who are a little more on the DIY track, which is what Aly and I have been doing. So their in-house services have been incredible and we got to be really hands on.

Well I was going to ask if there was any benefit to being independent right now.
AJ: I think so. I can definitely tell you the downside of being independent, which is finance. If you don’t have the money to back up your work, then how do you make anything happen? That’s definitely the struggle. But I think when it comes down to choosing the co-writers and choosing the producers, figuring out who you want to mix and master it with, you really are the boss of your creation which is really cool. You’re not dealing with the head of A&R at a label—not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I do feel like this progression of sound with Aly and I, had we started this new music under a major [label] I’m not sure we’d be able to speak our piece as much as we’ve been able to. So I like that we’re able to start on our own, and the goal will be to collaborate with a label down the road after already establishing what Aly and I want to do.

I remember when you had a brief moment when you went by 78violet and you put out the amazing “Hothouse.” Did you change the name because of your departure from Hollywood Records?
AJ: Kind of. Yeah I think Aly and I…we started so young as Aly and AJ that we were not bitter towards those names because they’re our names. But we were feeling like a departure had to be made. 78violet is something that Aly and I chose due to a couple of things in our life that we felt were meaningful to make a band name. I don’t regret that and that was kind of a cool moment with “Hothouse.” It kept fans alive and awake for a little bit as they waited for more new music. It was a needed departure but at the end of the day, Aly and I were like “Let’s just go back to Aly + AJ.” It’s who we are, it’s how we started and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not necessarily the music we represent anymore, but it doesn’t mean you have to change your name. I always encourage when artists want to rebrand and change their imaging and change their name. I think there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve gone back and forth with it but I feel really solid about sticking with Aly + AJ. It’s who we are. There’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of at this point. [laughs]

Were you disappointed that 78violet album never got released? Or do you think it just wasn’t meant to happen.
Aly: I think looking back, I think it was meant to happen that way where it didn’t end up being released. I know that we put a lot of time and effort into making that record, but it just didn’t end up coming together in the way that we thought it would. And so we walked away from it. It’s almost even harder to walk away from a project that you invested your own personal time and money into at that point. But it was just not ready and we weren’t excited about it enough after the full creation of everything. And I’m still very much behind that. I’m glad that the music didn’t come out. I think it would’ve been just confusing for fans.

Alright so I’m going to take it back to 10 years ago when you guys released “Potential Breakup Song.” It turned 10 in June, which is incredible. Can you take me back to that moment when you were recording the song?
AJ: Oh my gosh, I barely remember it! Aly, do you?

Aly: I remember writing that song. Funny enough, we ended up finishing the song in the car driving back from the studio. Our security guard was driving us. I think I had my license but you didn’t at the time, AJ. And yeah, we were really excited about it because we thought something special happened in the studio. We had the track in the car and we were playing it. Then it was completed in the next 24 hours. We thought it was special because the concept was super original.

How do you think the song has blossomed?
AJ: It seems to really stick with people. I definitely think there’s vibe it has that lasted, not only in regards to the subject matter but the production. It’s really fun. And like I said I think some of that pop music can really get dated and “Potential Breakup Song” stands on its own. People seem to remember and care about it after all these years. I’ve listened to it recently for fun and it’s still something that I enjoy, which is really neat. I can’t say that about everything we’ve done. But I think “Potential Breakup Song” due to the original meaning behind it and just the fact that Aly and I weren’t trying to come up with a hit…I think that’s what secretly makes it so special. It kind of was an accidental song for us that seamlessly came about in a really cool way.

Stephen Ringer

I love that you guys are still embedded in music, but of course you’ve been acting for a long time. Aly you’re on iZombie and AJ you’re on The Goldbergs. How do find the balance between the two?
Aly: We get such different highs from both. They couldn’t be more different in their art forms. Obviously with music, you’re performing for a live audience. Whereas when you’re shooting something on set, you’re with a crew but it’s not like a theater production. It’s different. You’re performing for the camera and for the audience that will one day see it on television. So I think for us it’s a matter of being able to balance the two and being able to keep up with those careers. Ultimately I think at the end of the day, music has always been our number one and our love. I would actually probably be willing to walk away from acting if music needed to take up all of our time. I just love having the control that we get with music, which you don’t have as an actor. You just go in and shoot your scenes, and it ends up getting edited together and color-corrected. You don’t have any part in that other than your own personal performance, which is just one small thing. So I think for us, we get a lot of joy out of being part of the entire creative process when it comes to music. We’ve somehow been able to…I guess we haven’t 100 percent been able to balance the two because acting kind of started to take the place of music these last 10 years. But hopefully it’ll start to even out again where we can do our own projects as actors but also tour and play our music live. 

I think what makes you so special and why fans like myself have connected with you is because you’re obviously sisters. How much stronger has your bond gotten since your debut album’s release?
AJ: That’s sweet! I think it’s bound to get stronger with just the personalities Aly and I are. We’ve always grown up really close, just living together and making a film together about our life and going through the ups and downs of the industry. Or just life experiences, Aly getting married…there’s so much that we’ve gone through over the last 10 years. We now no longer live together but we’re just as close as we’ve always been, if not closer. I think the more you go through together, the stronger the bond. I feel like me and Aly’s relationship has grown. 

Aly: I agree. I think with age there’s a maturity to our relationship now that we didn’t necessarily have at 13 and 15. We’ve obviously gone through some heartbreaks together and devastations within our own family. I think that’s obviously brought us closer together. And we’re the only two siblings, which made us stronger. It’s really just the two of us leaning on each other. We definitely got lucky. I think when same-sex siblings it’s either this incredible friendship or this really negative competition against one another. Thankfully AJ and I are on the other side where we are very much supportive of each other’s lives and careers outside of just doing music together.

Keep the nostalgia vibes going with this special Besterday podcast episode withe guest co-host and former Steven's Untitled Rock Show host Steven Smith, where we celebrate all the best music, artists and pop culture moments from 2007: