Aly & AJ Interview Each Other for the First Time Ever
Reinvention is a tough look to pull off—especially in a revolving door industry— but the Michalka sisters make it look easy. You know them as Aly & AJ, the synth-pop sister act that filled your iPod Mini with chart toppers like “Potential Breakup Song.” After a ten-year hiatus triggered by the trauma and overstimulation of early fame, the duo made a seamless return with Ten Years, an album of hard-hitting pop and dance floor tracks that triggered a phoenix-like revival. In the three years since, they’ve released two further albums—last year’s We Don’t Stop, and this summer’s a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun— a prolific outpouring of more meditative music rooted in growth. This month, Aly & AJ released “Get Over Here,” a synth-heavy funk track that the pair describes as “a nostalgic song about potent love.” At 32 and 30 respectively Aly and AJ are throwing open a new door in their musical evolution. To mark the release, the pair took a moment to chat—with each other, for us—between the many Fashion Week events they were hurrying to attend. Below, the pair discusses everything from how to turn trauma into music, to their joint crush on St. Vincent.
AJ: This is the first interview we’ve conducted where we actually interview each other, which I love.
ALY: It is.
AJ: Aly, let’s start out with something basic. Is there a song that you’re most excited about in the deluxe release?
ALY: I’d say “Way Way Back.” I’m excited about that song because it had such a long rewriting process. We wrote that maybe four years ago, remember? It was a completely different song at first. Now, it’s really about wanting to revisit love that you’ve experienced with someone in the past, whether it’s young love or a heartbreak. We know who it’s kind of about, I think— especially for you.
AJ: It’s our version of a nostalgic heartbreak song.
ALY: Do you think that we’re going to put out more albums with long titles now? Maybe it should be our thing.
AJ: I think we should. It’s becoming like a wink to our fans. This one is 19 words: A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet, Gets You Out and then Into the Sun.
ALY: So maybe we need to aim for 20-plus now. I have an album title idea for the next one. It involves the sun again, which I’m really loving.
ALY: Was there a moment at the studio when you realized we were making a collection of music that was unlike anything we’ve done in the past? That everything was kind of falling together?
AJ: I felt that way throughout most of the record, but I think that one of my favorite moments was when we were laying down the music for “Slow Dancing,” and we had all the guys in the room at once. I think recording with live musicians in a space that is full of history —you look up and you see photos of The Doors recording— and you’re like, “Holy shit, Jim Morrison was singing in this same room.”
ALY: It’s wild. I like the idea of working with a group of musicians behind us. It’s like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Or Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs.
AJ: So, Aly is an Italian at heart at this point. She’s gotten married there, she’s traveled there a lot for work. I know some of your friends, specifically, friends you’ve met in Italy [Margarita and Gerardo from Giuliva Heritage], have ended up inspiring how we dress on stage.
ALY: They do classic Neapolitan tailoring out of Rome. We went into their shop and we were talking about what the look of the tour was going to be, and they were like, “We can lend you some pieces for the tour,” which we wore. We’re wearing strictly Giuliva Heritage on the next tour. They’re going to make a bunch of custom suits for us.
MACIAS: You’ve been going to a lot of shows. Was there a moment during Fashion Week that stuck with you?
ALY: Honestly I think it was Peter Do.
AJ: We have a connection with Peter. We’ve spent time together now, between the party and visiting his studio to try on the new collection.
ALY: Seeing his show and connecting with him has definitely been the highlight. Collina Strada was also amazing, and the energy was so incredible.
AJ: And Hillary’s just cool. Like what a cool chick! She doesn’t give a fuck. That’s the energy in the best way. The actual show was free hippie-loving vibes.
ALY: And all about sustainability and inclusivity and, “We’re not going to just have what your ideal vision of a model is. We’re going to show you what people look like wearing our clothes,” and I love that. What are your feelings about social media in terms of how we interact with it as a band?
AJ: It’s busy work that takes you out of the creative. Every single thing we do ends up having to answer the question, “What is the social that follows this?”
AJ: I think social media can be a really good excuse for people not to be creative. I’m not saying you can’t be creative on social media. There are people that create on TikTok and they’re great at it and it’s awesome.
ALY: But that’s their job, whereas it’s not our actual job. We have to go into the studio and write a song and that’s the ultimate focus. Although it’s interesting that you’d say that it can take away our focus, because the other day, Aaron Dessner [The National, Big Red Machine] commented on our cover of The National’s “I Need My Girl.”
AJ: I saw that.
ALY: ..And we never ended up responding to his comment.
AJ: Which means we’re bad at social media. Aaron Dessner messages you, and you just miss it? That’s bad.
ALY: Obviously we love The National, we go to all their shows. I have a good question for you… I don’t know, it’ll be interesting to see how you react to this. So I was thinking about how “Dead on the Beach” came about.
AJ: That’s one of the deluxe songs.
ALY: I want to word this the right way. You had a near-death experience during the pandemic that was not COVID-related, and “Dead on the Beach” came from that. Why do you think that song happened the way it did? I wasn’t actually a part of that song at all, which is very rare that we would not both be a part of song creation.
AJ: Yes, I had a very intense experience in May of 2020. It happened near the beach. It’s something that I really had to work through in terms of trauma. Between therapy and songwriting, I’ve been able to exorcise some of that pain. I wrote it at my dad’s beach house in Laguna while my boyfriend and I were smoking a joint, and Ray LaMontagne was playing in the background. We were listening to his record and I had my acoustic guitar and I just started playing this song. The songwriting happened in one consecutive moment. Sometimes songwriting ends up like that— magical. It’s something that you’ve created out of thin air. This was my first experience of writing trauma into a song. It was a healing moment.
ALY: We experience a lot of the same moments. I would say 75% of our life is shared experience, so it’s interesting that something that intense would happen when I’m not with you. Who is your dream collaborator?
AJ: I’d be very curious to do something with St. Vincent. Even if she just played guitar on a song. She’s incredibly good at what she does, and I think she’s an icon. Or someone like Jim James [My Morning Jacket]. He’s an incredible frontman and wonderful producer. It would also be cool to work with someone from our past, like a record we listened to growing up.
ALY: I think we’re going down an even more soulful sonic road lately, that’s rooted in—
ALY: Yeah. An alternative path. But it’s still music that you can sing along to. At the end of the day, it feels Americana.
AJ: We’ve been a band together, at this point, for 20 years. But in a lot of ways, this feels like our first record. A touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun feels like a new beginning for us. If we count this as number one, how many do you think we have in us? How much longer do you see us doing this?
ALY: I don’t know if we’re Mick Jagger in our 80s vibes, but—
AJ: Yeah, I don’t see us making one a year, to be honest. I think that’s very difficult.
ALY: I can see us making a record every two years pretty consistently, until maybe there’s a kid that’s thrown in the mix…
ALY: Why do you prefer being on the road?
AJ: Why do you assume that?
ALY: Would you say you love being in the studio more? I actually think that you truly like being on the road best.
AJ:Maybe more than you. Do you love being on the road as much as I do?
ALY: If I could only pick one or the other—
AJ: —You’d make a record.
ALY: Just writing and recording records, for eternity, on a loop.
AJ: These are new discoveries. I love both equally but I would say that making a record doesn’t have an expiration date. You can be 50, 60, and still write and sing. Touring is different.
INTERVIEW: With such momentum right now, what is it that you want listeners to learn from you two?
ALY: AJ and I are so used to being clumped into this one organism, and as we grow as artists, I would love for people to see us as separate individuals that operate as a yin and yang to each other in the band. Neither one can make the music she wants to make without the other, and we are truly this perfect melding of two very different personalities. I would also love to see people stop talking about our past music. I’m not saying that in a bad way.
AJ: We want the new music to be what leads them. One thing that happens with us a lot— which is very sweet and it never gets old—
ALY: —We cry with our fans.
AJ: Everyone approaches us with the past, and they lead with that. That always feels really good.
ALY: I think we’re getting there. Slowly but surely.
Styling Assistant: Kito Garcia