Aaron Behrens Doesn’t (Always) Feel Like Dancing

Ghostland Observatory frontman takes us on a Midnight Stroll

Saturday morning finds Aaron Behrens waiting to soundcheck with Ghostland Observatory, the electro outfit that’s taken him around the world for the past 12 years. After a hiatus for most of 2013-14, GLO again constitutes a harmonious unit. On this last weekend of August, the Austin duo razzle-dazzles thousands at a raceway in Montana.

Six days later – this Friday, Sept. 2 – the 34-year-old singer loads in at a different kind of proving ground: the Hole in the Wall. The Midnight Stroll, his rock band with producer/multi-instrumentalist Jonas Wilson, stages an official release show for their summer LP, Heartbreak Bugaloo.

Aaron Behrens (l) and Jonas Wilson of the Midnight Stroll (Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon)

Austin Chronicle: The title of the new Midnight Stroll album juxtaposes the jubilant word “bugaloo” with the downer of “heartbreak.” What’s the deal?

Aaron Behrens: It came out of a whole big thing that was going on during the time when we were writing a lot of the record. My father had gotten ill and he was really falling out, going in and out of the hospital, and things like that. My mom and him got a divorce, so you know that heartbreak sank in with all this too. It was a deep and heavy time in my life. The album cover art is actually my dad’s heart surgery pillow.

AC: Speaking of heavy emotion, piano ballads make up the heart of the new album, your best work yet. What’s your relationship with the piano like?

AB: I just love to sing in all kinds of ways – with electronics, with rock & roll – and, to me, there’s something awesome about singing with a piano. It’s just so simple. Jonas Wilson is amazing, such great piano player. I’m awful. I just play with one hand at a time.

It came down to me showing Jonas these songs that I’d written on acoustic and Jonas saying, “Let’s do it more like this” or “What do you think about this sound? Try to sing it over a piano instead of singing over a guitar.” A lot of times, we just found ourselves liking that better. It was new to me.

AC: I can’t really imagine a song like “Call Me Back” being written on an acoustic guitar. That song sounds like Styx to me on account of the piano and high-pitched vocals. Are they an influence?

AB: No dude, that’s totally a coincidence. That song was actually written on piano. I got off the phone with my dad – he was in the hospital – and he was like, “Call me back in 15 minutes. The nurse is coming in.” So I was like, “Alright,” and hung up the phone. I was in the studio, so I turned around, put my hands on the piano, and sang: “Call me back/ In about 15 minutes.” The whole song came out right then. Then Jonas came walking in and we finished it up.

AC: That hook, “I get no peace, I get no rest, I am starting to get depressed,” is such a curve ball to the elated vocal melody.

AB: It’s such a contradicting thing because, to me, it captures the moment of being in a hospital. You’re sedated on drugs, so you’re kind of like, “Oh, this is good – no, this is bad!” It weird, but, “lights flickering on/ lines blurring ’til dawn,” that’s all about being in the hospital.

AC: Your 2014 EP lists the group as Aaron Behrens & the Midnight Stroll, while this one simply says Midnight Stroll. What does that represent in the changing dynamic of this project?

AB: It just opens the door for Jonas to be a front part of this thing. For me, I initially wanted to start a solo career and was thinking that was the way to do it. Once I started playing with Jonas, I realized that me and this dude could write some great songs together, starting from scratch instead of me just bringing him songs though the door. I made it 50/50, because he’s such a huge influence on the sound and what I’m doing now. I just don’t see the Midnight Stroll without Jonas. It wouldn’t be as cool.

AC: Each track on Heartbreak Bugaloo has such a distinct thrust to it, similar to that of the big rock and pop records from the Seventies and Eighties. To what do you attribute that?

AB: Our willingness to go there. I think that’s part of our influences, the Queen aesthetic, the Bowie aesthetic. They found the vibe of the song and went there.

AC: There’s a song on the new LP called “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing.” That must be autobiographical.

AB: Oh for sure. I wrote that song a long time ago, before my hiatus from Ghostland, when I was just kind of needing to take a break. That was one of those songs that just came out of me. I needed to feel it at that moment and I captured it with this song.

AC: The album ends with a long spoken word section that includes you saying, “Right now in this moment I am alive! This is my experience! This is my angle on life!” Are those sentiments you try to hold close in your life and music?

AB: More and more everyday, especially with me being back on the road with Ghostland again and having a fuckin’ blast!

I’m realizing those lessons more because so often I’d be like, “Man I got this amazing show coming up in New York City,” then I’d wake up one day and go, “Okay, well I already played that show in New York City.” It’s got to be about the moment. You’ll look down the road and say, “Oh this is coming,” but if you’re not paying attention right now, the best stuff just passes you by.

It’s become this mantra of mine. Every day, I try to remind myself to be thankful and that I’m super blessed to be able to do what I do for a living. I just try to keep that in my heart and my mind.

It’s all about the moments.

The Midnight Stroll plays Hole in the Wall on Friday with Casual Strangers opening. Tickets are $6 – no pre-sale. The first 100 people through the door get a free CD.

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The Midnight Stroll, Ghostland Observatory, Aaron Behrens, Jonas Wilson, Queen, David Bowie, Styx, Casual Strangers

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