Suits, Helen Anthony. Necklace, Shay Jewelry. Ring, Austin James Smith
When it comes to discussing the endless list of iconic cultural moments synonymous with growing up in the early 2000s, it’d be a crime not to give due diligence to Aly & AJ. After getting involved with Disney Channel at a young age, the multitalented sisterly duo, comprised of Alyson Michalka and Amanda Joy “AJ” Michalka, conquered both the television and music industries with their girl-next-door charm meets rockstar attitude. The adolescent stars soundtracked the formative and delightfully angst-filled teen years of many Millenials and Gen- Z’ers alike with their 2007 album Insomniatic and RIAA certified platinum hit “Potential Breakup Song,” which had every teen – regardless of relationship status or past experience – berating their partner for forgetting their birthday: “What kind of boyfriend would forget that?”
Now, 14 years later and on the other end of a TikTok resurgence of the same 2007 hit, Aly & AJ have finally released their first full-length album since Insomniatic. The record, a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun, is the product of years of musical growth and personal discovery that was necessary after the industry left them unsure about their futures as musicians. “I do kind of think that that confusion and 78violet moment and [our] break,” AJ expresses earnestly of the sisters’ brief stint as a differently named act in 2013 followed by their five year musical hiatus, “all of that just made us kind of stronger, and more sure of the fact that we are supposed to be doing this.”
Even though the two have been producing captivating ‘80s inspired pop music together since 2017, their new record feels like their ultimate rebirth. “I feel like the record we made,” AJ shares, “was the record we were born to make years ago and didn’t necessarily have the writing skills under our belts yet [to] because we were super young when we first got signed [and] didn’t really have the ability to write what we wanted to write because we were being a bit pigeonholed by a label that I don’t think really knew what to do with our kind of band.”
The new record, which flaunts a lengthy album title plucked from the chorus of one of the album’s formative tracks “Don’t Need Nothing,” is a proclamation of the now adult duo’s reclaimed artistry with a quintessentially Californian flair. Recorded at the historical Sunset Sound in Los Angeles almost entirely with a live band, the album reflects a sense of musical maturity and clarity that the sisters have gained over the duration of their hiatus. “I do believe that these are the best songs we’ve ever written,” AJ states firmly. “This is the first record we’ve made where we got a bunch of musicians together in one live room, playing music at one time, together, in a space that created a lot of good energy. I think being in that setting with musicians who are really talented just brought a whole new level of authenticity to the songs.”
Dress, Prophetik. Boots, Jeffrey Campbell.
Laced with ‘60s and ‘70s inspired melodics, the record leans into the sisters’ West Coast roots, recalling images of desert drives and warm sunsets like those depicted in the music videos for both “Slow Dancing” and “Pretty Places” off the record. “I think that choosing that as our path was really important,” Aly adds later regarding the live instrumentation, “because it kind of put the human aspect of music-making back into our records again. I think that it’s so easy to be able to make an album just out of your laptop nowadays because of technology, but at the same time, the magic of some of those old records is because people were playing those instruments in one room together in one moment.”
In an effort to harness that magic, the sisters teamed up with producer Yves Rothman (Yves Tumor, Banoffee, Conan Gray), who they credit with being a guiding force behind the record’s cohesive sound. Throughout the writing and recording of the album, the duo also enlisted the help of a handful of musicians also credited on the record, including friend and mentor, Nancy Wilson, Melissa Etheridge, and even Aly’s own husband, Stephen Ringer.
“He was just kind of sitting on the couch observing AJ and I and we were trying to figure out a line that would go in the chorus,” Aly explains in response to a question about the songwriting process of “Stomach,” a track on the record that narrates the harsh realities of a dwindling love affair. “He was like, ‘How about, ‘I just can’t stomach being your ex-wife,’ And I was like ‘What? People are gonna think that we’re almost getting a divorce or something.’” Regardless, Ringer insisted that the lyric would resonate greatly with others going through situations like that illustrated in the song. “I was like, ‘Alright if you’re fine with it, great,’” she laughs, “you’re now a writer on this song!’”
a touch of the beat diverges from the musical approaches Aly & AJ fans are familiar with from both the girls’ early albums and their more recent EP’s, which could have prompted concern about the album’s reception by die-hard fans. The two, however, trust that their relationship with their fans runs deeper than just the sound of their records or any particular song. “I think we knew that they would follow the music because it was true to who we are and who we know we’ve always kind of been,” Aly expresses. AJ agrees, adding that there is a shared understanding between them and their fans that artists are meant to grow and change and that fans more often than not appreciate when artists go through musical metamorphoses. “I feel like there’s a trust and a communication we have with our fans that’s really sweet,” she shares. “I feel like our fans just get it. They’re like ‘Oh, this is where Aly & AJ want to go? Cool, we’re here.’”
Aly also shares that this record and the inspirations it pulls from can inform their younger fanbase about music they may appreciate but may not be familiar with – music that the sisters have grown up loving themselves. By doing so, she believes there’s an exchange between the artists and their fans that fosters growth on both ends. “We’re both kind of teaching each other, you know, in a way,” she remarks. “I think that’s really beautiful.”
The duo’s love and respect for their fanbase is palpable in the way that they speak about them, as well as in the way they take responsibility for fostering a safe space for their significant LGBTQ+ following. The two have long been allies and advocates for the queer community, partnering with The Trevor Project on multiple occassions, openly expressing their love Rupaul’s Drag Race, and even casting a handful of queer performers to star in their video for “Star Maps” off the Sanctuary EP.
“I think part of it is second nature,” Aly shares when asked about their inclusive songwriting as mentioned by a fan on Twitter. “I think that it’s good to be conscientious of wanting to include everyone in our fan space.” The two cite long term friend Raymond Braun as a major contributing factor to their education surrounding queer issues and exposure to queer media, which has made them better allies to their own fans. “You know, just having these really wonderful encounters with our fans that have changed our trajectory as songwriters and musicians, wanting to continue to deliver those songs to our fans that help lift them up and help validate who they are as people,” Aly adds.
Top, Dsquared2. Pants, Alabama Blond. Bracelets, Shay Jewelry. Shoes, T.U.K.
And as a show of appreciation to their fans, Aly & AJ have prepared a lineup of virtual events and announcements for the week following album release, including a special live performance of the new record filmed at the historical Ace Hotel. Streaming the night of album release and available to view for 24 hours after the event, the duo will take the stage with a live band to play the record front to back in all its glory. “Our budget was definitely different because it was a one off show as opposed to an entire tour,” Aly explains, “so we really put [in] a lot of time planning it and prepping it with our band and our lighting director and [deciding] what exactly we would wear and what guitars we would be using for which songs.”
Putting aside all the glitz, glam, and strategic album promo, Aly & AJ hope that a touch of the beat can act as a beacon of hope for listeners, especially now as society gains some traction after the uncertainties of the past year. “I think there’s a hopefulness to this record that when people listen to it they’re gonna feel like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m able to kind of start over. I’ve got a new beginning ahead of me,’” AJ remarks. “And I think we all kind of feel that way – it feels like a clean slate right now.”
“Hopefully it gives them a sense of normalcy again,” Aly adds. “And that it gets people out and into the sun, truly. That it gets them out into life again and into their social circles and back to work and with their friends and family. I know that that might not happen completely overnight but I do know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and I feel like the record does a good job of representing that.”
Dress, Baja East. Boots, Jeffrey Campbell. Top, Baja East. Earrings, Austin James Smitth. Jeans, Dsquared2.
CONNECT WITH ALY & AJ
story / Jack Hannon
editor / Sam Berlin
photos / Shervin Lainez
styling / Phil Gomez
makeup / Caroline Hernandez
hair / Jerrod Roberts
styling assistant / Branden Ruiz