"I really wanted to focus on Aaron growing as a person and understanding how to better cope with tragedy instead of just shutting down and being self-destructive and self-absorbed and self-obsessed." - Dan Campbell on Aaron West.
Today Aaron West & The Roaring 20s releases his brand new album 'Routine Maintenance' on Hopeless Records, so we've taken the opportunity to dive into the narrative that Dan Campbell has crafted around Aaron West.
Strap in, the world of Aaron West is an interesting one.
How did the idea for creating a new full-length chapter to the Aaron West story come about?
"It started quite a while back, maybe in like 2015/ 2016. Originally we were going to do the one album because I wasn’t too confident. I didn’t know if I could play guitar and I didn’t know if I could write songs without all of my The Wonder Years guys. Ace [Enders] really helped not just producing the music but also producing me as a musician and helped me gain a little confidence. That’s when I decided to play a couple of shows and they went pretty well. Then I played a couple of shows with a band and they went really well. Maybe a year later was when I tried doing some headline shows with a full band and they were selling out.
"That’s when I felt like I should do another record, so I started writing a few songs. I then realised that there was no way I had time to do this now. We were on the ‘No Closer To Heaven’ cycle with The Wonder Years and we were touring everywhere. So instead of making a full record I made the ‘Bittersweet’ EP and followed that up with the ‘Orchard Park’ single. They were the songs I had been working on. I started thinking about ‘Routine Maintenance’ around 2017. We had finished making ‘Sister Cities’ and sometimes when you finish making a record you are burned out in a way like you never want to write another song. I had some momentum though so from the fall of 2017 through to the fall/winter of 2018 I worked on the record a little bit."
How did the process compare to the first album?
"It was really complicated because I was playing shows as Aaron West. So if I was standing on stage and playing in front of a crowd saying I was Aaron West, we believe that to be canon. If I’m in St Louis he can’t be fishing in Norway on the same day on the record. I can’t have songs on the record that are counterintuitive to that. Basically what I wanted to do was figure out a story arc that involved Aaron playing music in front of people. Aaron wrote these songs to be cathartic after all. ‘We Don’t Have Each Other’ was a moment of working through something through song and then playing them for other people. So I had to start looking at loads of calendar dates and making sure that things lined up the best that they possibly could."
So where does this record fit into the timeline of events that have taken place?
"So the way it works is that everything that happens on ‘We Don’t Have Each Other’ takes place in January of 2014. There are events referenced that take place before that but when we find him in his apartment alone we are talking 2014. So that spans January and February, then we pick up March on ‘Bittersweet’, then ‘Orchard Park’ picks up in early June/late May. I think it’s really funny how the timeline and the passage of time that gone is measure by Sammy Watkins NFL career after he was drafted in 2014. So ‘Routine Maintenance’ picks up a couple months after that in July 2014. Then that’s when I knew I had to accelerate the timeline because if I wrote a song about every single month of his life we would never finish. It would be very stagnant, you wouldn’t see any progression and it all had to match up with the shows that we were playing. So on tracks one, two and three you are in 2014. Track four you are in 2015 and then track five you see a whole year pass by. Tracks six, seven and eight we are accelerating over the course of a few years and that’s where in real time I was on stage and saying that I am Aaron West. Then the penultimate track is November of 2018 and final track is January of 2019. We are basically up to present day now."
It feels as though this record is not just about Aaron playing music but also him discovering that there is life beyond the events that took place on the first record.
"Yeah, absolutely. There is a redemption arc built into this album. I really wanted to focus on Aaron growing as a person and understanding how to better cope with tragedy instead of just shutting down and being self-destructive and self-absorbed and self-obsessed. If we’re not showing any growth then we aren’t actually telling the story at all. The thing is I could have very easily just ignored the fact that he plays music and made him do anything. I like this project because it exists in so many mediums. It’s not just about the songs but it’s also about the performance. It’s story telling and it’s acting in a way. I believe pro-wrestling to be an art form and I often liken this to it. The story is evolving via my actions in front of a crowd. The things that I do are part of the canon. During those first few shows I played the acoustic basement on the Vans Warped Tour. It would have been very easy for me to sit there and go ‘who’s going to see The Story So Far later today’ and get a nice little pop. That didn’t work with the character. So I started looking back at the source material for the character, which I had storyboarded and then wrote journal entries for, and thought about what I didn’t use. The stuff that didn’t make it to a song made it to the between song banter. It adds a bit of suspension of disbelief."
From where you were when you were writing the first record, how did the 5 years since influence in terms of where you wanted the path of this record to go?
"I think that some of it happened subconsciously without me realising. I was talking to my US publicist and she said ‘it’s crazy how impending fatherhood changed how you went about writing songs’ and I said ‘I don’t think that it did’. She then said ‘have you listened to the songs that you wrote after you found out you were going to be a dad?’ and I was like ‘oh shit, you’re right’. There’s definitely something there in the lyrics that gives off a nurturing feeling, especially in the last track. That was a subconscious release for me that I didn’t plan for. There’s a lot of that feeling in the details. Sometimes one of the nicest things you can do for someone is pack their lunch. Sometimes taking care of people when they need taking care of matters so much more than an explosive gesture. On the first record Aaron felt like what he had to do for people to care about him were these big polarizing things. He had to run away, he had to stop smoking, he had to start drinking, he had to change himself and change everything. It’s the way that he was dealing with such huge loss. I wanted to lean into the subtlety of just being there everyday. It doesn’t matter that you’re willing to drown yourself for someone, it matters that you’re willing to shovel the sidewalk when it needs to be shovelled."
It’s rather amazing to be able to feel that growth throughout the duration of the record and how Aaron ultimately makes it to that peaceful conclusion.
"I feel like you see the first signs of growth on ‘Just Sign The Papers’. On ‘Divorce And The American South’ on the first record it is still very overly dramatized, like he will never let go of any of this. Now he has started to realise that some people are better apart and that you have no right to stop someone from uncoupling with you. You can’t force someone to love you and you shouldn’t try to. If that’s their wish then honour their wish. Then over the course of him playing songs to people you start to see him find purpose and value. A long time ago when we had just signed to Hopeless, I was talking to the owner about my mental state and being depressed and he said to me that the biggest thing tied to human happiness is a sense of purpose. I’ve always thought that to be pretty true. The more purpose I feel, the happier I am. What we see in Aaron is that same sense of purpose."
How do you feel your changing taste in the music that you want to create over the years has affected the way that this record sounds?
"I feel like I don’t have an immediate answer but I do feel like the music that I have wanted to create over the years has definitely changed because that’s just what happens to people. You start to find and like different things. Also with The Wonder Years songs, they have been rooted within me as a person for so long. That adds a level of exposing yourself and the anxiety of bearing yourself to everyone through the things that hurt you and motivate you to show that to the world. Sometimes when it’s a really painful song, to sing that every night is really difficult and really daunting to the point where you don’t want to do it anymore because it hurts. What is freeing about Aaron West is that I am able to write whatever I want and none of it is going to hurt me. I can do anything with it because it isn’t bound to whatever has happened in my life over the course of the last two years or how I feel about any in particular. If I wasn’t Aaron West to join NASA and work his way to the moon I can, not that I am. It’s really freeing."
How much do you feel you can build into this world? How far do you want this to go?
"Well I do have a plan for an ending, which is going to require another record in a few years. I don’t think I want to wait another five years to do that either."
Check out the brand new Aaron West album 'Routine Maintenance' below: