You might assume that a band who has released just two records in the past 10 years is easily distracted. Lacks focus, drive and ambition, the report card might read—but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The reality is, writing and recording music is anything but a walk in the park for Bud Wilson, the singer, songwriter and guitarist behind Aan—a band that’s been making a blend of impassioned, restless, noisy rock for almost a decade yet only has two full-length albums to its name. 2014’s Amor Ad Nauseum (which is actually the moniker Wilson initially performed under) took some seven years to come to fruition, so it should seem like a feat that he’s returned just two years later with a sophomore effort, Dada Distractions.
A band that’s been through numerous personnel changes over the years, “Not a single person that played on that album [Amor Ad Nauseum] is on this album [Dada Distractions],” Wilson says.
As paths diverged and different callings pulled his former bandmates in other directions, it wasn’t really a choice for Wilson whether or not he’d continue. Well, his “finger is [always] just hovering over the button,” he says—“the eject button,” adds bassist Travis Leipzig—but this is not something Wilson can turn his attention away from. Distractions may slow him down, but they can’t prevent his forward progress. This music is made out of necessity.
“I’m so persistently prickish that I’m like, ‘I gotta fucking make another record,’” Wilson explains. “I mean, this is what I do. I wish that I could just turn it off. But I would be so bored. I’d go crazy. It’s my outlet for my sanity.”
The process can be a protracted slog at times, especially when life brings you down. That’s when distractions are welcomed because sometimes they’re exactly what you need to help you handle the realities of life. Last year, two of Wilson’s close friends died and a six-year relationship ended. So distractions were necessary.
Both physical and emotional distractions got in the way of progress. “Every time I wanted to get something done working on this, I’d get distracted doing something,” Wilson explains. “Then I kind of looked at the bigger picture: ‘Well, what are these distractions?’ And they’re just so superfluous and pointless. I can’t just sit down and record something because I’m suddenly doing the dishes and then I’m watching something on YouTube or reading Tape Op in the bathroom,” he laughs. “And I’m like, ‘Oh shit, I was gonna record that song.’”
As for the emotional distractions, “When so many of these songs were being written, I was not in a good place,” he says. “It’s hard to motivate sometimes when you feel like shit. Or when you’re worried about somebody. That’s sort of the crux of my productivity, being distracted.”
But once Wilson got the ideas out of his head and shared them with his bandmates—this time Dana Valatka on drums, Leipzig on bass, and sound engineer Gabe Nardin, who provided keys and guitar—things progressed quickly. Entering SE Portland’s The Hallowed Halls with producer Riley Geare (the former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer who’s also responsible for recent stellar records from Radiation City and Jackson Boone) behind the board, “We played it all live as a four-piece,” Wilson says. Most of the songs had been in their live repertoire and recording didn’t take very long. Geare and the band established a manifesto to help them capture “a raw-sounding record, like you’re more in it—a Stooges style,” Wilson describes. “Everything was analog, and nothing was edited. This is how we played it, this is what it sounds like,” and Geare really drove those ethics home. “When we have happy accidents, we’re going to live with them. In my experience, that’s what you learn to love about a record or a song.”
Emerging with nine dynamic songs that at times remind of ’90s greats Fugazi, Stereolab and Soundgarden while remaining distinctly Aan thanks to Wilson’s versatile vocal stylings, which carry songs from calm to surging with intensity in a manner akin to Maynard James Keenan, the record has a permeating fuzz that’s warm and energetic. But less than two months before the release of Dada Distractions, Wilson was hit with another bleak distraction—the passing of his father. A cattleman and prankster, George Lonell Wilson Sr. “was a cowboy in the most classic, badass, Marlboro man, ’70s sense—like skiing in jeans and stuff,” Wilson tells. The album’s opening track—“Lookout!” (listen below)—was written about his dad, well before his death, yet “I never really thought about it [the meaning] until he passed.” Lyrically, it perfectly encapsulates everything his dad stood for. The record’s initial salvo goes something like this:
Shit off a mountainside
Light is harsh I shield my eyes
My stallion by my side
Frozen wind up my behind
I struggle to decide
Off this peak which way to ride
If I was to slide
To my death off this incline
“The song is about taking a shit in the snow while the wind is blowing and you’re on the edge of a cliff and you don’t even know which way to go—and the irony and how funny it is,” Wilson describes. “If you fall, you’re dead. And you might fall. But the chorus is, ‘Get over me’—just live your life.” The song continues:
I’m so afraid of distractions
Each breath now might be my last
I want to live this with passion
So kill me if the best has past
Don’t want to sleep with a memory
Of fading dreams and wished for things
I’m only happy I’m breathing
In this moment here so let me be
“This life is all you have, as far as I know,” Wilson says. “And that’s where that song comes from. Just do it as hard as you can and get it done.” Asked if his dad embodied that mentality: “Fuck yeah,” Wilson responds. “He was a son of a bitch and an amazing man. When he left, he’d done it. He lived his life.”
Songwriting helps Wilson live his life; it allows emotional processing and enables healing, but it doesn’t completely tranquilize the pain. For the friends he lost, “I realized that the only way to keep thinking about them was to put them in verses and then repeat those when I play out for people—and it’s sort of cathartic every time. And sometimes, it’s a little too much because they’re emotive songs,” Wilson describes. But these odes are “my way of resurrecting them for four minutes every time we play it.” Plus, the emotions are also Wilson’s muse, something exemplified in Aan’s searing live shows. “That thought or that emotion propels the performance,” Wilson says.
Life is full of distractions, ups and downs—it’s what you choose to make of those interruptions, how you process them. And Wilson’s distractions continue to bear fruit these days. “I probably have 40 songs for the next record in my phone,” he reveals. “We’re already starting the next record.”
And with that, Wilson announces his desire to seek out another little distraction, a simple one that obviously brings him joy. He’s off to “get my flip on”—navigating a shiny steel ball amongst the bumpers and kickers of an unpredictable environment, not unlike his daily life.