After Aly & AJ left Hollywood Records over a decade ago, when they were only just entering their twenties, they struggled to find their place as a duo and were eager to start over. In 2013, they released the jangly indie-pop single “Hothouse” as 78violet, a rebranding meant to distance themselves from their Disney past. But four years later, they returned as Aly & AJ with the EP Ten Years, which spotlighted their synth-pop strengths, followed by the Sanctuary EP in 2019.
The word “Sanctuary” has become the official title of Aly & AJ’s exclusive fan club, and AJ says it’s a word that “will be around in our catalog for years.” She describes their band’s fans as “warriors” who have waited years for a proper album. Rosenberg says, “The relationship that that they developed with their fans is not too dissimilar from friendships we all have like growing up where you could spend 10 years away, but then when you see them it's as if you never left.”
Ten Years and Sanctuary also served as learning experiences for Aly and AJ on navigating independent promotion in a digital age, from Twitter banners to Instagram swipe-ups. “You have to follow up on a lot of different platforms and keep those all consistent and cohesive and creative and authentic to the band,” says AJ. “It’s a challenge.”
Even so, Aly says it’s a responsibility they are embracing, with AJ agreeing that having control is “empowering” and a feeling that informed the new album. “There’s a confidence to our music and our direction,” adds AJ. “We’re very clear about what we want to put out, and [if we did it] any sooner, we wouldn’t feel the same way.”
Adds Rosenberg: “I think with anyone in life as we grow, we either become a more authentic version of ourselves or we become a version of ourselves that we think the world wants to see. It's really evident to me that [Aly and AJ] just keep becoming a more authentic version of themselves — and that's exciting for them, especially considering the amount of time they've had in this business and the industries they grew up in.”
Such creative certainty allowed them to place more uptempo tracks, like the airy and horn-heavy “Break Yourself,” alongside more unexpected tunes like the ominous and twangy “Personal Cathedrals” (AJ says she and Aly “felt very strongly” that this album not lean entirely into synth-pop and offer more sonic variety). It’s also why they decided to release the five-and-a-half-minute-long “Pretty Places” as the album’s third single earlier in March.
“How great that we don’t have to be in the confines of pop rules,” says AJ.