Posted on
Feb 10, 2022

Interview: Aly & AJ Are Taking Intimacy to the Next Level + ‘Way Way Back’ Live

AJ Michalka doesn’t want to go into detail about what happened that day in May 2020. Then again, she doesn’t really need to. Her song “Dead on the Beach” serves as a journal entry, its simple lyrics (“Dead on the beach / you’re on your phone”) and eerie, stripped-down chords capturing her shock and trauma such that a listener understands it through osmosis.

AJ wrote the song in “one fell swoop” at her dad’s house in Laguna Beach, and it appears intact on the deluxe edition of Aly & AJ’s latest album, a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun, out February 11. Once you’ve heard it, it’s impossible to forget.

There are other hints in the lyrics to “Dead on the Beach”—“A man lifts me up / he brings me to the shade” conjures a distinct image—and at one point in our conversation, Aly Michalka, who wasn’t with AJ when whatever happened happened, describes trying to understand what her sister went through. She recalls a duality: accepting AJ’s version of events wholesale, but also thinking, “Are you sure? Really? You really think that you died?”

At first, AJ didn’t think she’d write about that day at all. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t know if I ever can,’” she tells me. But over time, and with prompting from Aly’s husband, Stephen Ringer, whom they lovingly call “the most positive, beneficial version of Yoko [Ono],” she decided it felt right. Technically, AJ is referring to the sisters’ next album when she says this—the as-yet-unnamed record they just recorded in a five-day sprint at Los Angeles’s Sunset Sound—but the line fits here too well to ignore. “That’s the goal,” she says, “more intimate, more intimate, more intimate.”

“More intimate” has become something of a maxim for the sisters as the musical project they started almost two decades ago continues to evolve. And it takes a certain bravery, especially for two people who experienced commercial success so young. Both Aly and AJ spun their child stardom into acting careers, but they were slower to return to music, stalling out for a while after a break with an early record label. Then, in 2017, their Ten Years E.P. brought them careening back onto the scene, and they’ve kept up their momentum ever since, all while hewing closer and closer to what feels authentic. They’ve experimented, taking their sound in a darker, dance-pop direction, then relaxing it into something more country-adjacent. With every release, they feel more like themselves.

“We didn’t always have complete and total freedom in what we wanted to do,” Aly says. “Now that we have that, all bets are off.” Continue reading Interview: Aly & AJ Are Taking Intimacy to the Next Level + ‘Way Way Back’ Live