The Michalka sisters are back.
Aly & AJ know how to rock a performance, whether it’s on-screen or onstage. The sisters started out in the realm of Disney actresses and musicians. They starred in movies such as “Cow Belles” and “Super Sweet 16: The Movie.” They were also signed to a record company and dropped several albums and songs like “Into the Rush,” which became an anthem for some in the LGBTQ community.
Then they disappeared from the music scene for a few years, briefly returning under the name 78violet. It wasn’t until 2017 that they jumped back into it, this time as independent artists.
“We needed to feel confident in our new sound. There was a natural progression to the music we started making because we let ourselves breathe. It also helped not feeling the pressure of a label,” the sisters told The Gazette via email.
“Ten Years,” the first EP they released as Aly & AJ in a decade, had a completely new sound for the sisters, as does “Sanctuary,” which they released last week. While their first albums relied on electric guitar, their new sound is more electronic.
“Our taste in music has shifted immensely over the years. This brought new inspiration to turn to when we started writing the 'Ten Years' EP,” said the sisters.
When they first decided to get back into music -- to find their sonic place -- they simply started writing together again.
“What we came to was this '80s synth-pop that felt really right to us. We worked with two collaborators, Jamie Sierota and Ryan Spraker, who both helped bring out our best qualities as singers. They have great taste in music,” said the duo.
The synth-single “Don’t Go Changing,” off of “Sanctuary,” captures a feeling of uncertainty through bright harmonies and perfectly blended vocals. “Church” is more introspective — “I need redemption for sins I can’t mention” — with layered synth sounds and distorted vocals.
Longtime fans have been overjoyed by the duo’s comeback and critics have been pleasantly surprised by the new tracks. Yet returning to the industry hasn’t come without challenges.
“It [has] changed so much from when we were releasing music. YouTube was barely around when we started and streaming didn’t even exist yet,” the sisters said.
Returning as independent artists has helped make the sisters feel more ownership of their careers and their sound.
“Everything falls on us now. Financially speaking as well. We decide everything from imaging, music video concepts, single releases, to the design of our merch ... truly everything. It’s a lot to handle but very rewarding at the end of the day,” said the duo.
That includes touring, which they began doing regularly about a year ago. They've teamed with The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ people. Each stop on their tour has donation bins and booths.
“It’s been incredible. We honestly forgot how much we loved being on the road. It’s definitely not for everyone, but we really enjoy it. Getting to hear personal stories of how our music has affected our fans is the highlight of our nights,” said the sisters.
While fans are excited to hear the new music off of “Sanctuary,” they often request songs from “Into the Rush,” “Insomniatic” and “Ten Years.”
“The truly amazing thing is that we get incredible reactions to not only the old music, but also these new EPs we’ve released in the last two years. Fans seem to really connect to these new songs,” said the sisters.
When they take the stage at Upstate Concert Hall on Thursday, they plan to perform one of their first few tracks, “No One,” which they rarely play live.
“We wanted to bring that one out for this tour and we hope to hear many people singing along in the crowd,” the sisters said.
Aly & AJ
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Upstate Concert Hall
MORE INFO: upstateconcerthall.com