10 Years Later, Aly & AJ Reclaim Their Fame With '80s-Inspired Dream Pop

It's been more than a decade since the release of their last full-length album, so it's no surprise that Aly & AJ have rediscovered themselves on the music front. In 2013, the Disney alums attempted to rebrand themselves under another moniker (78violet), but quickly learned that their core audience was simply attached to Alyson and Amanda Michalka, and no amount of nostalgic cringe at teenage wardrobe or aesthetics could change that. Now, over 10 years since Insomniatic, the sister act has unleashed a new chapter of music, including the self-released 10 Years, a four-track '80s-inspired EP, which combined their cooing vocals, heavy synth and their knack for tender songwriting. 

During a rare east coast appearance in conjunction with their tour for the set, Aly & AJ stopped by iHeartRadio HQ to discuss their latest single, former Disney days and just how they've managed to become principal businesswomen in the process.

"It is kind of surprising that people connect with old music so much," AJ explained of their early releases. "We've only played five shows so far on this tour, and the response to the old tunes, as well as the new, has been overwhelming. I have to say, I didn't really know how much people cared still about Into the Rush and Insomniatic and as soon as we play an old chord, it's like people know and they immediately start singing with us."

Smack dab in the middle of the uprising of the careers of Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and more, the Michalkas sister were thrust into the mix of becoming teenage tycoons, conquering the lanes of television, music, endorsements and so much more. As the 2000s pop scene reveled in a wave of pop/rock from the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Ashlee Simpson, Aly and AJ would soon follow suit, but they brought a benefit to their Disney-backed material: songwriting. Sincere lyrics, strong melodies and a dash of teenage angst brought the pair to the forefront, significantly separating them from their counterparts. It was a formula that worked. However, it's not something that they had to fight for at times, which was jarring to Aly, particularly because they were so tame. 

"I mean, I guess it makes sense being a part of the Disney machine, but it's funny because our lyrics really were so safe," she recalled of the makings of their early albums. "They were actually policing us when we probably were one of the safest artists for them to allow the ability to write their own music and release it." And, as we've seen with the politics of the industry's gender bias, the rigid confinements saw some lyrical creatives fall through the cracks, a notion that Aly said was ultimately due to their age and gender. "I think once they saw singles take off they gave us more wiggle room to create, but we felt stifled at times," Aly revealed, adding, "It was very S&P driven."

Asked about their brief change in monikers years later, the learning lesson on the matter seemed pretty concrete. "Aly and AJ is a better name than 78Violet," Aly proclaimed, before AJ offered up the real talk on the matter. "The fans have really responded well to the 78Violet stuff, but it took them so long to realize it was us. There are some fans who are like, 'I didn't realize that was you guys!'"

Moving away from talk of the past, our conversation ventured into their newest chapter of music. Much like other artists in the 2018 landscape, the pair has forged their new identity without the benefits of a label, financing everything from promotion, radio support, and tour advancement. "I guess the positive aspect of being an independent artist is that you can make all of the decisions," Aly said. "All those things that we didn't really think of as teenagers because we're just ready to go play a show. We're not thinking of those other aspects."

"I mean, there's definitely pros and cons to both. I think being an independent artist is wonderful and empowering and awesome, but I think the support of a major label is also wonderful," AJ explained. "I think artists have benefited from that greatly. When you can see throughout history most people are signed. Then you have people like Chance the Rapper, who kind of did things on their own or Mac [Miller]. I feel like there are artists that have been able to sustain a career on their own, which is really beautiful, but it's more rare."

It's an entire journey that has led to the release of their new single, "Good Love." Inspired by the synth-pop sounds of LCD Soundsystem's 2017 LP, American Dream, the track follows in the steps of 10 Years and focuses on the embrace of love. "It's a really neat song. I think it's a cool departure from the EP, but it's still very consistent with the music we're playing," AJ explained of the track, which they were intent on releasing during Gay Pride Month. It's a step in another direction for their next project, which they admit will feel less somber in the production and subject matter. "I think the next round of music will be more looking forward in a positive way," Aly detailed.

The next era of Aly and Aj is in the hands of their core audience. From specialty merchandise to the music they play on the road, fans have been able to personally drive their requests directly to the sister act. "Social media was not a thing when we first released music. It's like now we have that direct lifeline to people hearing exactly what they want, what songs they want to hear on the road, [and] what they want for the next single," Aly said. Far removed from their former Disney restraint, it's an ultimate dynamic that has created a sweet spot between business and creative for the Michalka sister. "We take that seriously. Our fan base is kind of running things, outside of what Aly and I run," AJ said.

Photo: Rachel Kaplan for iHeartRadio

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