Awolnation's 'Sail' charts music history

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NEW YORK — He has the second longest-running song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. You’ve likely heard the song — but not the name of the man who created it.

Aaron Bruno is the musician behind “Sail,” the sleeper hit from his band Awolnation. “Sail” became a success after it debuted in 2011 and spent 79 weeks on the Hot 100 chart, ending its run in March. Though not as ubiquitous as Pharrell’s “Happy,” it has made its impact on every platform, including TV, film, commercials and pop radio. It is one of those melodies that burrow in your head — even if you don’t know the title. And it has sold more than 5 million tracks in the United States.

“Being played after a Miley Cyrus song blows my mind still to this day,” Bruno said.

“Sail” originated from a journal entry.

The 35-year-old industry veteran, who had been in different groups before Awolnation, was beginning to think his dreams weren’t achievable, and he had financial woes.

The haunting, screeching track finds him frustrated, angry and beaten. Lyrics include, “Maybe I should cry for help, maybe I should kill myself.”

“I definitely wasn’t feeling super-optimistic at that point. There was no deal, there was nothing like that, there was no money. It was definitely a darker time in my life,” he said. “(The) lyrics came out; they just poured out of my soul on a piece of paper.”

The success of “Sail” is a bit uncharted: After the song peaked in the Top 5 on alternative radio, a request came from the TV channel History to use the track in the trailer for the historical drama “Vikings.” That more than tripled the song’s weekly downloads, “and it never stopped,” said Bruno’s manager, Berko Pearce.

The song was also used in the trailer for the film “The Counselor,” starring Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Michael Fassbender; in a viral video with skydiver Jeb Corliss; and in a BMW commercial, among other licensing uses. “Sail” peaked at No. 17 on the Hot 100 chart and is just behind Imagine Dragon’s Grammy-winning “Radioactive,” which is the longest-running song on the Billboard chart with 85 weeks and counting.

Bruno said he had to find enough confidence in himself to lead the five-member Awolnation. He derived the band’s name from his childhood moniker, Awol, adding nation because he thought “at the very least, if I had an ambitious name for a project then the sky would be the limit.”