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Aja Volkman Of TWO Teaches Us How to “Pull The Knife Out”: BUST Premiere

by Francesca Volpe

It’s been said that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. That the only certainty is uncertainty. And if 2020 has forced us to do anything, it’s to shake hands with the unknown. A loss of normalcy has culminated in collective grief. We may have never had control, but now we don’t even get to have the illusion of it. And since Covid shows no signs of slowing down, never has the phrase, radical acceptance, been more pertinent. 

Much like how it sounds, radical acceptance means accepting the things that you cannot change while letting go of emotional suffering. It is not about dismissing the situation or allowing bad things to happen but accepting your current reality without judgement. Easy to understand. Hard to execute. And probably why they call meditation a practice.

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Notions of “radical acceptance,” or “letting go of the outcome,” or “the path of least resistance,” have been explored for years and through every type of medium. It’s one of the central themes in Pull The Knife Out from TWO, the new duo project from Aja Volkman and Dan Epand (formerly of Nico Vega).The album reflects a traumatic time in Volkman’s life. Written when her husband, Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, called her from the road and told her he wanted to split up, leaving her with their children, the record illustrates feelings of shock, loneliness, rage and despair surrendering to self-worth and contentment. We sat down with Volkman to discuss how she pulled the knife out and are excited to premiere TWO’s new video for their single “Woah Man.” Don’t forget to check them out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

What sorts of artists of any kind of medium have impacted your work?

I do love Bob Dylan and I love love Johnny Cash. And I love, like even just like the old school Woody Guthrie kind of stuff. And I’m a big fan of Gillian Walsh.She’s kind of like a folk singer that just has a really classic style that kind of almost feels almost like lullabies for your kids. Almost like I mean, it’s a little more complicated than that. It feels like very relatable. And I love that kind of earthiness. I’m a huge Tina Turner fan like Tina Turner since the beginning. Tina Turner. So even when she was with Ike and having an awful life, but really channeling her pain through music. That’s been a huge influence on me all growing up. And when I first really started singing in rock bands, that was kind of like at the forefront of my brain. It was relatable for me, especially cause my voice is so raspy kind of… it’s just that it’s not technically a good voice. It’s charactery voice. So I’m able to like I relate to charactery singers and songwriters. More than I do to technically good singers.

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I understand that one of the central themes to this record is that relief comes from letting go and that pain comes from the resistance of letting go. And not only do I feel like that reflects in the vocals and the music, but also in your lyrics, especially in “Phoenix” with the lyric, like, “you can’t take the song away from me” as almost like you can’t take away my integrity and like you can’t take away everything good I have to offer.

Exactly. There are some things that just stay with you because they’re you.I do feel like that’s what kind of re-routes you is like this reconnection with yourself where you’re like, oh my gosh, me, I don’t need to lose me for this thing whatever this thing is that’s happening. I still get to heal and recover from this.

PRESS PHOTOS TWO 4 071a4Courtesy of Cameron Jordan Artistry

I read somewhere that your band mate Dan Epand said that your mantra leading up to the release has been to let go of any preconceptions of outcome. So what kind of significance does that have for you? Like spiritual or philosophical?

Oh, it is so philosophical. And actually, it’s really interesting you ask that because my whole theory now on life is like that we’re kind of here to experience, but also we’re put into finite situations. Whatever we’re doing here. On how or why we’re here. But regardless of that, it’s a very finite situation that we’re in where your life is a series of gaining and losing. But eventually you lose everything whether or not you’re like the last man standing and all your friends are gone or you’re the first one to go, you’re going to have to learn to let go. Right. whether it’s of this life or of the people that you loved that have to leave first, and I guess that’s been sort of my life lesson over the last two years. And it’s interesting because it is so philosophical, even though it also is just as simple as like not having an expectation of outcome.

TWO image by Cameron Jordon Artistry 03jpg ae8a5Courtesy of Cameron Jordan Artistry

I know this record for you pertains to a romantic relationship, but it also feels like it could speak to, you know, any relationship one has for something they care about.

Absolutely. I mean, honestly, after I wrote the whole thing, I thought this also pertains to some feelings I have towards like the relationship of my old band, Nico Vega when we were all together and kind of losing that, losing the future of Nico Vega when we all decided to part ways with the project. It felt very similar. And it’s really interesting because it kind of is a continuous thing, whether or not it be about like our relationship, you know, a intimate relationship or not.

I’m always curious about artists creative processes. What was the process like from writing the music to recording to dealing with life, especially being a mom and having parental responsibilities?

Yeah, that’s always just like such a challenge for me. I’m starting to get better at it, but it’s really hard because I have a hard time like letting go of my kids. Which is another lesson. It’s like learning how to let them also just meet and have other people besides me. And that process has always been hard. It’s hard to find the time to be creative at home. It’s interesting. I was actually just talking to my band mate about this. To Dan Epand about this. And we were talking about how he has friends that don’t have kids. And they’re just kind of like they’re on their own sort of creative patterns and passed every day, like they wake up and they just kind of like look for inspiration. And then they like maybe, eventually end up at a guitar or, go have some lunch and then the day,n and work on a song for a while and then maybe do something else and then come back to it. And that couldn’t be further from my reality. So often it’s like, “okay, you get an hour,” and I’m just like running and everything comes out in one big barf. Like one big expression and that’s my moment and that’s all I get. And if it’s just a part of an idea, sometimes the whole song comes out, but that’s what I get and then I move on, because I’ve got other things to do for the rest of the day. 

And luckily, it does work with me because I’m really a spontaneous creator and like if I have to agonize over something even for like ten minutes I’m done. I’m like, “No thanks. It’s not coming out. It’s not path of least resistance. I’m not doing it.” If it’s like flowing, flowing, flowing, I would just need to finish it. And then so. Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of what it’s like when you’re a parent though. I mean, for me, when when you’re working on anything and then you’ve got kids. And I fortunately I don’t have to go work all day. My work comes in these little bursts. And it’s really fun for me it doesn’t even feel like work most of the time when I’m creating anything. But it’s also just my sanity. I think I’m really lucky, know that I don’t have to go to a nine five. I’ve worked every kind of job under the sun like I have done all kinds of things growing up and I’m just so lucky that I don’t have to do that stuff anymore. Like, I was always working to get to band practice, or like working so hard to support what I loved until it started to sort of support itself. And then obviously my husband and so on and so forth.

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How did the split with your husband affect your creative process?

Yeah. I mean, you know, when we split up I just was really caught off guard because we’ve just gone through so much with, like the life path that we had been on and it was always a whirlwind. I was always just catching my bearings. But I’d really lost myself in the process of that. And so when we split up, I really did not even have any idea where my footing was, who I was. I had just gone so far down this rabbit hole kind of supporting this ultimately, the Imagine Dragons kind of tent that was all over us. It just took so much to make that machine go even emotionally in our own household. And it was really no one’s fault, because with the way that things went, it was kind of bound to happen because it just was like a tornado in our house constantly. And at the point that we ended up splitting up, we just had times where we were two ships passing in the night. It was so hard to even see each other I felt. And we had had twins. It was just insanity.

So basically what ended up happening was, as I do when I’m really bummed or having a really hard time I usually write. That’s when I write the most words. It’s also just when I have so much to say and it’s because it’s like a journal entry for me. And so that’s kind of where the record started. It was just it started there and it started with so much confusion and so much anger, so much. And then as time went on and I was able to sort of reconnect with myself, I felt that it was this massive blessing that was bestowed upon me to be released from this chapter that had been crushing my soul in a way. And again, like I said, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just that we were constantly reacting to the situation, like constantly reacting to the overwhelming success and take off of the band. So I think in doing that, I stopped creating my own world because I was kind of just supporting and reacting to whatever was happening all the time. There was utter chaos all the time. We were always shooting a documentary or doing… there was always something happening in our house. And it was overwhelming. And then also our kids. So whether we were like on a world tour with our family or he was gone and I was there with the kids it was just always intense. And and so that’s how it ended up happening.

It ended up just being so amazing for me because I never understood that I wasn’t gonna let go. I wasn’t going to, not be there every second to make sure that he was okay because I love him so much and we have so much love in our relationship. And I think we did, regardless of splitting up or not. It was just it’s always been there. So it was hard for me to let to let go. I needed to kind of be forced out. And that was really good for me ultimately, because then I started seeing myself again. You know, I was like, “Oh, here’s you. Who are you? What do you do? What do you like? What do you have to say,” and it was really hard to find that. And then I started to flourish again as this person because I was finding that in myself. And now we’re back together. But it’s like somehow we’ve maintained that center in ourselves and our marriage is really strong because we’ve been through hell together. We recognize the blessings of what we have. We recognize beauty of what we are capable of creating together in ways that we never thought until it was gone for so long. It was so brutal but it was amazing. I think literally if you were to ask me, like, what was the single most important chapter of your life, it would be that.  

What kind of advice would you give to other people going through a similar situation where maybe they’ve lost a little bit of themselves in any kind of relationship?

I would say that it’s super, super important to reconnect with yourself. And it feels like that’s a really hard thing to do. But again, it’s just following your desire. You know, if I would have allowed myself to have desires and really honor those and honor them as if they’re so important, not, “oh, this is a fun thing for me to do. I’ll let myself do this.” It’s not about that. This is a lifeline. You need to be responsible and find something that you find that helps connect you to yourself and help. You’re dishonoring yourself if you don’t like, give yourself that right. Even though we get lost in our responsibility. You cannot be supportive of other people until you are supportive of your self. I mean, I wasn’t a good support system because I was not happy.

What are you hoping that people take away from this record?

Oh, man. I mean, just to accept all the many stages of grief or feelings and versions of yourself that you go through when you’re going through something hard. And ultimately, for me, reaching for forgiveness and releasing my anger was the thing that I feel healed my soul, because what I learned through making all of that music when I was going through my separation and I was so angry for the beginning and then slowly finding that that wasn’t doing me any service. By the end, I really did realize that the surrender and the forgiveness was where the freedom was. And so that’s why I like Live Forever More, which is a song about sexual violation from my childhood like that moved from the back of the record where it was like one of the last songs that I really put it in the beginning. And it’s like this full circle. It took me back to the beginning and it also helped me to realize that forgiveness and acceptance and surrender really was my freedom.

The whole album sounds like finding grace through grief.

Exactly. Finding grace through grief and anger. And anger is so necessary. And that’s, the other thing I would want to stress is shame and blame, those are the things that are truly the most destructive things. So honoring the path that you have to go through in order to get to a higher state of mind is important, because the second is shame yourself for the mistakes you’ve made. It’s a shrinking that happens. It’s not a blossoming. So that’s the other thing, I could have easily not put out the angry songs. Like, “I don’t want to hurt any feelings. I don’t want to step on any toes.” But the reality is, it’s important to go through.


Header photo courtesy of Cameron Jordan

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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