Aly & AJ, known briefly as 78violet (pronounced: "seventy-eight violet") are an American pop rock duo that consists of sisters Alyson Michalka and Amanda Joy Michalka. They signed a recording contract with Hollywood Records in 2004. Their debut album, Into the Rush, debuted at number 36 on the US Billboard 200, and was later certified gold by the RIAA. It has sold 839,000 copies domestically and 1 million worldwide. Their second album, Insomniatic, peaked at number 15 on the Billboard 200, selling over 39,000 copies in its first week and becoming Aly & AJ's highest debut to date.
In 2009, Aly & AJ renamed themselves 78violet and officially announced their departure from Hollywood Records the following year. In 2013, the sisters released their first single in five years, "Hothouse". The duo had planned to release a full-length album in 2014, which was later leaked onto the internet during the summer of 2014. On December 9, 2015 the duo announced they have decided to return to their original name, Aly & AJ. Their new music was also announced.
2004–06: Into the Rush and Acoustic Hearts of Winter
Aly & AJ's debut studio album, Into the Rush, was released on August 16, 2005 and certified Gold by the RIAA in March 2006. One of the album's singles, "No One", was featured in the Walt Disney Pictures feature film Ice Princess and its soundtrack. The song "Do You Believe in Magic", written, composed and originally recorded by The Lovin' Spoonful under John Sebastian, added a rock edge to the album. This cover was used in the soundtrack of the made-for-TV Disney Channel original movie, Now You See It..., in which Aly had a starring role as Allyson Henlen. "Do You Believe in Magic" became their first single to enter the top 20 of the Canadian Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 23 and at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Singles Sales. Into the Rush has sold 839,000 copies in the United States and 1 million worldwide.
The album received positive reviews from critics. Fran Grauman from About.com gave the album a four star rating, praising Aly and AJ's "ton of talent" and "experience". Allmusic gave the album a mixed review, saying it "doesn't venture further than offering a few empowering ballads", to hand them 2.5 stars after. AMG does praise them for having a real singing ability, citing "Aly & AJ can actually sing – their vocals have more personality than prefab Disney hopefuls like Hayden Panettiere or Caleigh Peters – and the arrangements are slick without resorting to flashily empty pap." The review finishes by remarking, "Into the Rush is listenable, likeable and more about being memorable than being a Disney product." The album became the 112th best-selling album in the United States in 2006, earning it a place as No. 112 on the Billboard 200 end of the year chart of 2006.
The sisters have been involved in various Walt Disney Records projects. The "Aly & AJ Concert" took place on July 24, 2005 at the Henry Fonda theater in Hollywood, California. The aired concert was cut to five songs and interviews, and included songs from Into the Rush. The sisters opened for The Cheetah Girls in December 2005, on the Cheetah-licious Christmas Tour.
The album was re-released in August 2006 with three new songs, including the chart selection "Chemicals React" and two new versions of "Collapsed" and "Something More". It was also released in the United Kingdom. The sisters released their second studio album, the Christmas-themed Acoustic Hearts of Winter, on September 26, 2006. On the album, Aly & AJ recorded traditional Christmas songs. In late 2007, the sisters recorded three more original Christmas-themed selections. Acoustic Hearts of Winter debuted at No. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling over 19,000 copies in its first week. The album also charted the U.S. Billboard Top Holiday Albums, debuting at No. 14. The holiday album later sold over 110,000 copies in the United States.
The duo's third studio album, Insomniatic, was released on July 10, 2007. The album features a more electropop, electronic rock and dance-pop influenced sound different from their debut, with the use of synthesizers, synth-rock guitars, vocoder and electronic instruments. The album peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200, selling over 39,000 copies in its first week alone, and becoming Aly & AJ's highest debut to date. The album sold 700,000 copies in the United States. The album's electropop lead single, "Potential Breakup Song", had actually preceded their second studio album. Insomniatic, whose selections the Michalka sisters had written and composed themselves, was released on June 25, 2007. "Potential Breakup Song" peaked at No. 17 on Billboard's Hot 100, becoming their first top 20 single in the United States. The single was later also certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales surpassing 1 million copies.
In October 2007, both the single and the album were released in the United Kingdom; "Potential Breakup Song" reached a peak position of No. 22 in the United Kingdom and No. 16 in Ireland. Aly & AJ toured for a short while in the UK, opening for McFly twice and performing at several television shows and nightclubs. Time magazine named "Potential Breakup Song" one of the 10 Best Songs of 2007, ranking it at No. 9. Writer Josh Tyrangiel praised the authenticity of its having been written by the teenage sisters who sing it. The track also went to chart solely on digital download in several countries like the Netherlands, Norway and Canada.
Subsequently after the success of the album's first single, Insomniatic was praised by numerous music critics. USA Today published an article stating, "for Insomniatic, the sisters had a hand in writing every song. The single 'Potential Breakup Song' sounds somewhat like Del Shannon's 'Runaway' run through a processor, but there's a lot more going musically than on your average teen-pop album." Hollywood Records general manager Abbey Konowitch said, "they write their material; they play their instruments. They aren't in any way manufactured. That's very important." Fraser McAlpine of BBC Radio stated, "Aly and AJ's previous album was rock-pop; some of it light and bubbly, some of it bordering on heaviness. Staccato, often angry pop but still definitely pop. Their second offering, 'Insomniatic,' with this as the lead single seems to have kept the staccato and the venom but added more layers of pop, to create something that sounds like My Chemical Romance going through a blender with some soft-hearted Angry Girl Music." McAlpine also added, "don't let the tango at the start fool you, even as the synths and the vocoder cut in, this is a rock song playing with electronics. Chirpy keyboards flag up the growl of their voices as they deliver self-conscious lines like 'it took too long, it took too long, it took too long for you to call back and normally I would just forget that, except for the fact it was my birthday, my stupid birthday,' kicking a guy to the curb for being a forgetful loser amid a glorious barrage of seething rhythms, clicky noises and general madness, as the Michalka sisters swing between honeyed murmurs and psychosis, making for the most danceable mental breakdown I've heard in quite some time."
In December 2007, the news revealed that the band would be replacing the Jonas Brothers as the opening act for the extension of the Best of Both Worlds Tour that Destiny Hope "Miley" Cyrus had been conducting as Hannah Montana from January 11 – January 24. The band also confirmed their second single "Like Whoa", which reached number 63 on the Billboard Hot 100, and charted later in Australia and Canada. In early January 2008, Aly & AJ performed a cover of KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" on Yahoo's Pepsi Smash video site. The cover is also featured on the Japanese re-release of Insomniatic, recorded at the Abbey Road Studios. Also, Aly & AJ covered the song "We're an American Band" for Randy Jackson's Music Club, Vol. 1; their interpretation of the Grand Funk Railroad rock classic served as a bonus track.
2009–11: Departure from Hollywood Records and name change
In early 2008, Billboard confirmed that Aly & AJ were working on a third studio album which was due to be released in late 2009. They mentioned in an interview with Radio Disney on April 23, 2008 that they were going for a "rockier" sound, and that this time they wanted to sing separately, not harmonizing their voices as they had on their previous albums, to let fans identify which Michalka sister was singing. On October 7, 2008, the up-to-then-yet-untitled album had been confirmed for a release in April 2009 by a Hollywood Records representative; however, a month later, the duo revealed in an interview that the album had been delayed until the summer of 2009. In later interviews though, the duo mentioned a release date of fall 2009, and lastly, on September 30, 2009, the duo claimed an early 2010 release of the record.
The duo wrote a song (later confirmed to be titled "The Next Worst Thing") with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. They also worked with Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, AFI, Sum 41) and Rob Cavallo (Green Day, The Goo Goo Dolls, Paramore), both producers in the rock genre. Throughout 2009, various songtitles were added to the database of Broadcast Music Incorporated, written and composed by the duo, and jointly written and composed in collaborations with Daniel James and Leah Haywood. Rumors of Aly & AJ touring in the summer of 2009 surfaced the internet, but Aly Michalka later denied them on the sisters' official website. They stated that they were finalizing the record and wanted to focus on that at the moment. They also revealed that they wanted to tour in early 2010 to promote the new album. On July 8, 2009, the duo announced that they changed the team's name to 78violet. A week later, on July 16, 78violet announced that their third album will be self-titled. On February 19, 2010, 78violet announced on their official Facebook page that they had officially parted ways with Hollywood Records, and their new self-titled album, 78violet, probably would not be released. However, the duo stated that they were continuing to write and record for a new album.
On December 1, 2010, 78violet's first song under the name of 78violet was released with the Hellcats soundtrack EP. 78violet recorded the theme song to Hellcats, titled "Belong Here". On January 24, 2011, a video of 78violet in the studio was released where a clip of a new song, titled "Suspended", was played. Some of the titles being considered for 78violet's fourth album were 8 Hours and 53rd floor. Aly mentioned that they had joined forces with a new production company.
On June 18, 2012, 78violet announced that they were "Off to NY to start cutting instrumentals for the record." On June 19, 2012, they announced that they had started the first day of production for the album, saying, "Officially the first day starting the album production:) it's taken 5 years but we are here!" On June 22, they announced that the "Album track list is officially set:)", calling it "not what you expect". On October 15, 2012, they tweeted that their album is complete and expected sometime 2013, with the possibility of a single in summer of the same year. Aly & AJ later confirmed that the lead single would be "Hothouse".
On May 2, 2013, Aly & AJ signed to Red Light Management which will be the music management company of all their future music. The single would be released on July 8, with an album to follow. The duo also performed live for the first time in five years when they took the stage for special shows at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles on June 26 and the Gramercy Theater in New York on July 9. "We couldn't be more ready or excited to introduce our amazing fans to the new and evolved sound behind 78Violet," said Aly and AJ Michalka in a press statement, June 5, 2013. "These two upcoming shows will allow us to share a small taste of the alternative pop vibe that you'll hear on the album in an organic and up close and personal setting." New original songs performed on the first show include: "Hothouse", "Boy", "53rd Floor", "Heart", "Hole in the Earth", and "8 Hours". The group announced that they would be releasing an EP in early 2014, however, this never materialized.
2015–present: Comeback and upcoming fourth studio album
On December 9, 2015, the sisters came back to music and changed their name back to Aly & AJ. On April 5, 2016, they had a Q&A on their official Twitter page where they confirmed they would start working on the new album in April. They planned to write and record the new album together with Mike Elizondo and Ryan Spraker. As of October 18, 2016, the duo have written 20+ songs.
Acting and other work
Aly's earliest television role was in Disney's Phil of the Future in 2004. The pair have also appeared in two made-for-television films; the Disney Channel film Cow Belles in 2006 and the MTV special Super Sweet 16: The Movie in 2007. In 2010, Aly starred in the comedy-drama Hellcats; she appeared in the films Bandslam, Easy A and The Roommate. Aly appeared in a recurring role on Two and a Half Men and iZombie. Aly had cameo appearance in Grown Ups 2; she also starred in the independent films: Crazy Kind of Love as character Janine, Killing Winston Jones as Cookie, and Sequoia National Park as Reilly.
In 2009, AJ filmed the The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Mark Wahlberg and Saoirse Ronan; AJ had a small role as the best friend of the main character Susie Salmon. In 2010, AJ appeared as Kate Tweedy in Secretariat, a Disney historical live-action film based on a true story about America's most famous horse, Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 1973. She recorded the song "It's Who You Are" for the film. In 2011, AJ appeared in the J. J. Abrams film, Super 8; she had a recurring role on Hellcats with Aly. In 2013, AJ starred in the films, Grace Unplugged and Angels in Stardust. In 2014, AJ began a recurring role on "The Goldbergs" as Lainey Lewis.
In May 2014, the duo announced to fans via their official Twitter account that production had begun on an independent film, starring the sisters and directed by Stephen Pierce Ringer, who previously directed and produced their music video, "Hothouse". The sisters were involved in the casting process and script development for the movie. Filming for the untitled "dramedy" concluded in early June 2014. The movie follows two sisters on the cusp of adulthood who spend one week together in their hometown of L.A. before their next tour. The film is co-produced by Violet House Productions, the sisters production company. In May 2015, the film, now titled, Weepah Way for Now, was revealed as one of the selections for the Los Angeles Film Festival. It premiered on June 16, 2015.
Huckleberry Toys released Limited Edition Hello Kitty Aly & AJ dolls to selected Target stores. Toys R Us sold a line of the dolls beginning on November 15, 2007. On November 20, 2007, The Aly & AJ Adventure game was released for the Nintendo DS. In the game, the player plays as their assistant, who helps them record songs and direct a music video.
In June 2008, the duo released their own paperback adventure books, called Aly & AJ's Rock 'n' Roll Mysteries, each part describing Aly & AJ on tour, every book describing a mystery in a different city. The drawings in the books were done by Aly. The first two (First Stop, New York and Mayhem in Miami) were released on June 12, the third installment (Singing in Seattle) on September 2, and the last (Nashville Nights) went to stores on October 4, 2008.
Performance Designed Products released Aly & AJ-designed guitars on November 10, 2008. Aly's guitar features a heart-and-crossbones print in pink (PlayStation 2) and AJ's guitar is in the shape of the Aly & AJ heart logo featuring bright pink and purple zebra print (Wii, PS2). The duo launched the guitars on October 11, 2008 during event at Universal Studios CityWalk in California. The duo also had clothing, accessories, jewelry, and cosmetics lines. According to Forbes and AOL, they were one of Hollywood's highest earning singers under the age of 30 in 2008.
The sisters were the spokeswomen for Samsung's Hope for Education, which provides technology products to needy schools, and were the co-chairpersons for the Children's Advisory Board of the AmberWatch Foundation; they performed at a benefit concert to raise money for the charity. The song "I Am One of Them", which was featured in the debut album, Into the Rush, is dedicated to work with AmberWatch. The duo also walked a fashion show for the Race to Erase MS show in early May 2008.
On June 26, 2008, an Ohio man named Rex Mettler was arrested for stalking the duo. The Lancaster man "obtained contact information for the acting and singing duo and made threats online, by phone and handwritten notes" as stated by the police. The duo was scheduled to perform June 27, 2008 in Cincinnati, where the man was present, after which the police couldn't confirm that any of the threats involved the Ohio show. The police later stated that "the charge against Mettler stems from incidents that began Dec. 15, 2007" and that "Rex displayed a pattern of activity over that time that reflected multiple attempts, if not numerous attempts, at stalking these females."
Two years later, on June 17, 2010, Caesar Brantley was arrested on suspicion of stalking the duo. He pleaded not guilty. Aly claimed Brantley is an "obsessed fan" who is determined to marry her "no matter what" in filings for the restraining order. Another court hearing was scheduled on June 30.
Along with making music for the mainstream audience, Aly & AJ, who are both very open about their faith, were significant in the Christian music rock scene. "Never Far Behind" was only released on Christian rock radio. It went to No. 1 on Radio & Records (R&R) Christian CHR. The duo does not wish to be labeled as Christian music artists. In an interview with Blender magazine in June 2006, Aly & AJ said that their music comes from a Christian perspective. "We don't ever wanna preach or shove anything down people's throats, but we want our music to be inspiring." AJ added, "If we have a Muslim fan or an atheist fan, that's their thing – I'm gonna love them no matter what."
In an interview with Blender magazine, the two expressed their disbelief in evolution, with the interviewer asking what their thoughts were. When asked if they accepted evolution, AJ responded, "No," and Aly responded, "Are they teaching that in schools now?" When told that it had been taught for the better part of a century, she replied, "I think that's kind of disrespectful, anything that has to do with anybody's beliefs on religion, that should stay out of the classroom. I mean, I think people should be able to pray in school, if people were into that. Everybody should just do their own gig", and AJ added "Evolution is silly. Monkeys? Um, no."
In 2010, Aly Michalka stated in an interview with Seventeen magazine, "My faith is definitely a big part of my life, but not part of my career. It is something that guides me. But I feel like when you make a declaration of your religion, people automatically go after you when that purity ring comes off. So I don't want to set myself up for that kind of judgment."