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Interview:
Sister Act Putting Itself Out For All To See -- And Buy
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

You don’t have to work hard to fi nd Aly & AJ these days. The teenage sister duo from California has a new album out — “Insomniatic,” their third — and star as rivals in the MTV movie “My Sweet Super 16,” which has also been released on DVD. But that’s just the tip of a product iceberg.

Aly & AJ are on the front of more than seven million boxes of Honey Comb cereal and have their own line of T-shirts and other apparel along with dolls, calendars, video games, jewelry and cosmetics. It’s the kind of onslaught only the Disney empire can produce (the duo records for the Disney-owned Hollywood Records label), but the sisters say they stay conscious of not taking things too far.

“AJ and I are definitely part of lots of brands now,” notes 18-year-old Aly (full name Alyson Renae Michalka), who’s two years older than sister Amanda Joy. “It’s important for us to have a team that keeps us out there but not where it’s crazy and ... overexposed, ’cause it gets too much for the buyer or the listener when you just see someone all over the place.

“So I think it’s tastefully done, and also we don’t attach our names to a brand unless we really are supportive of it and fully into the product.”

So they really do eat Honey Comb? “Yeah, we do,” Aly says. “It’s literally my favorite cereal.”

The jury’s still out Corbin Bleu on whether the marketing barrage helps or hurts Aly & AJ’s career. They’re still in the process of making their mark; the first two albums — 2005’s “Into the Rush” and the following year’s Christmas set “Acoustic Hearts of Winter” — have sold about 100,000 copies combined and launched hits such as “Rush” and “Chemical React.” “Insomniatic,” meanwhile, debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 chart in July and has so far sold about 112,000 copies.

The sisters are aware they haven’t taken over the world yet. But time according to AJ has allowed them to hone in more on how to get there.

“We make sure we’re making music for ourselves,” she explains, “but not only for ourselves, for our fans, too. We’re always aware of, ‘Oh, will they like this?’ We do care; they’re the ones that are supporting us and buying our record and listening to our music.

“So we want to make sure it’s material they’re gonna like. It’s important.”

Growth was the duo’s goal on “Insomniatic.” Both sisters have been in show business since they were young, singing in church (their mother, Carrie Michalka, was in the Christian group J.C. Band) and learning to play piano before they started elementary school. Before they began recording music, Aly & AJ racked up acting credits in TV films and series such as “Phil of the Future,” “Now You See It ...,” “Six Feet Under” and “General Hospital.”

By the time the music business beckoned, however, they were each adept at several instruments and were also writing their own songs. “They’re really cool,” says “High School Musical” star Corbin Bleu, who’s touring with Aly & AJ this summer. “They’re really talented and really fun to watch on stage. They’re rocker chicks; they get up there and they rock out on their guitars. It’s so great.”

AJ says she and Aly are confident Bleu isn’t the only one who recognizes they’re artists and not manufactured hitmakers.

“I think we definitely get respect for that,” she says. “We’ve always written all the material, and I think people do notice that, which is cool. Hopefully we’re inspiring other people to pick up an instrument and learn to write, as well.”

Aly & AJ took a few chances with their writing on “Insomniatic;” they composed several of the tracks — including the single “Potential Breakup Song” — to beats this time rather than starting with melodies, which brought a different, edgier quality to them.

“We’ve just been more experimental and open-minded towards ideas,” AJ explains. “I think we’ve definitely learned a lot more and we’ve used that in our writing. And we’ve experienced more and been around longer, so we have more things to write about.”

That includes boys, especially boys who have done them wrong and populate many of the songs on “Insomniatic.”

“Definitely we were going through a lot of that,” says Aly, who was reportedly dating Joe Jonas of fellow teen sensations the Jonas Brothers. “We wanted to bring that to our album. I think it’s always good to write about what’s happening to you emotionally. I think it helped with the genuine and sincere honesty of the record.

“It wasn’t something that we pushed, though. AJ and I just normally started to evolve into older, more mature artists that were writing deeper stuff, and as musicians we were definitely progressing.

Neither sister is dating anyone steadily now, according to Aly; the music, she says, “is a good boyfriend to have.” Both have graduated from a charter school in California that allowed them the flexibility to finish their studies. They each voice a desire to attend college someday — AJ has even selected Pepperdine as her ideal school of choice — but the horizon for that grows increasingly distant as their career gets even busier.

“I think it’s going to be older than a regular person at college when we finally get there,” Aly says. “It’s a really huge experience to have, just for growing up, so I’d definitely like to do that.

“But we’ve had amazing experiences making the records and the movie and being out on the road. I think that’s also life-changing — in a good way.”

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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