ly and AJ are parked outside their recording studio in Los Angeles, joining a video call from their car as early afternoon sunlight spills across the dashboard. Aly—the older half of the eponymous musical duo she helms with her sister AJ—is fresh-faced and freckled, her tousled hair peeking over a relaxed white tee. She looks over often at AJ, who sits in the driver’s seat and sports an ocean blue sweater with a daisy stitched into its center. Birds are, quite literally, chirping in the distance.
It’s the first Monday of spring, so it’s only fitting that the sisters have embodied their city’s vernal energy. They also happen to be on the precipice of a new season in their own lives: A yet-to-be-announced album is officially on the way. “The songs are done. And we knew exactly what the songs were going to be,” AJ says, sharing that she and Aly picked 11 tracks for the new record. (Admittedly? “It might turn into 10.”)
" Music is
Finishing touches are already well underway as the sisters speak from the parking lot. In fact, moments after our call, Aly, 33, and AJ, 31, would head into the studio for their penultimate day of post-production on their new LP before embarking on the North American leg of their tour in support of “A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun,” their fourth studio album released in May 2021. The record, which marked their first full-length project in 14 years, landed just in time for what turned out to be one of the most sumptuous summers on record—before the dawn of the Delta variant sent us back, bewildered, into our homes. Yet for a time, “A Touch of the Beat” mirrored our joyous, if bumbling, return to the world.
Much of the record was set to the sprawling, sun-soaked landscape of Aly and AJ’s Southern California youth, with lyrics exalting the pleasures—and pitfalls—of human connection. On lead single “Slow Dancing,” the sisters relish in a familiar sense of longing after a period of solitude: “I don't need anything fancy/ I just need me and you slow dancing/ Hell's bending, keeping me captive/ Heaven's here, it's right where you're standing,” goes the chorus. On the other hand, there are songs like “Personal Cathedrals”—a rollicking Americana-tinged track about landing at a lame Hollywood party only to leave early, capturing the jaded spirit of pandemic wallflowers everywhere.
A deluxe version of “A Touch of the Beat” arrived nine months after its initial release, giving the original record, the majority of which was written in 2019, a rare extended life of its own. This languid rollout was both a symptom and a gift of the stunted times we’re living in; but for Aly and AJ, touring finally brings this album’s enduring chapter to a close. “It doesn't feel like it's stale by any means to AJ and I, because we've only gotten to perform these songs maybe a half a dozen times in front of crowds over the last couple of years,” Aly says. “It does feel really exciting to us to be able to bring this out on the road.” First stop? Their very own California, of course.
Showing up to their photoshoot with wool coats and acoustic guitars in tow, Aly and AJ could almost blend in with our hipsters then, if not for the overwhelmingly chill energy they exude. All the New Yorkers flit about anxiously, far too worried about our waning daylight hours as the sisters thoughtfully float their fingers over racks of pantsuits, denim and knitwear. They settle on pieces fit for a life of endless summer, though it’s early March and near-freezing on this coast. But the day holds a small miracle: when we step out onto the street, it’s as if the sisters brought the sun with them.
Watching Aly and AJ pose together is like having a front-row seat to a pair of freestyle dancers who already know each other’s every step. There’s no routine; just intuition, courtesy of over three decades of sisterhood. Back in their studio’s parking lot, Aly reflects on their intense bond. “We have days where we’re able to assert our individuality better than others. And then there are days where we don’t really need to be individual,” she says. “We’re just thinking like one amoeba.”
ALY- Dress: Zadig & Voltaire. Belt: Free People. Earrings: Monbouquette. Watch: Hermès. Ring: Lela Sophia. Shoes: Ranch Road. Hat: Free People
AJ- Top & Skirt: Nanushka. Watch: Hermès. Shoes: Ranch Road. Hat: Free People
ALY- Suit & Top: Sandro. Earrings: Monbouquette. Watch: Hermès. Rings: Lady Grey, Ginette NY. Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti
AJ- Suit & Top: Brandon Maxwell. Earrings & Rings: David Yurman. Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti
ALY- Vest, Dress & Bag: Coach. Earrings: Monbouquette. Rings: Pamela Love, Lady Grey. Shoes: Cult Gaia
AJ- Vest: Maje. Shirt, Pants & Bag: Coach. Earrings: Pamela Love. Watch: Hermès. Rings: Fade To Black, Lela Sophia, David Yurman. Shoes: Cult Gaia
Suffice to say, a lot happened in that period: Aly and AJ lived together; AJ booked a recurring role on the ABC sitcom, “The Goldbergs;” Aly got married, moved out and became a dog mom to her Puerto Rican rescue, Bixby, among countless other personal and professional milestones. Mostly though, this time ushered in a new period of self-discovery for the sisters, raising the big questions about who they are together as artists, and apart as women navigating the world today. “We really found who we are as separate people,” AJ reflects, divulging that the greatest takeaway from their break was a renewed sense of “confidence.” She adds, “In that period of time, we found out that music really is what we’re supposed to be doing.” Aly agrees: “It gave us the assurance that music is our calling.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that Aly and AJ had no reservations about releasing new work. Much of their fanbase was older now; and, more than likely, busy wading through an increasingly congested pool of music among the rising tide of streaming services. “We were wary of coming back to music,” Aly admits. “But then, when we did make that jump to release ‘Ten Years’ and people were so excited for us to be back, it showed us that there is still an audience here. There are people that enjoy this music, and there is a space for us in the industry.”
After the release of their comeback EP in 2017, Aly and AJ spent the next three years pumping out a series of juicy synthpop projects and consistently touring between releases. While the sisters could have easily continued along this path, something shifted when they realized their return didn’t have to be as that of “classic pop girls,” says Aly. “We thought that we could fit into that genre, and we always tried to kind of mold ourselves to it. And then we realized we don't need to ever do that,” she explains. “Like, let's just make music that makes us feel good, and whatever genre it falls in, we'll be fine with. That was really freeing for us.”
For any artist, it takes a certain level of gusto to drop what works in favor of growth; for Aly and AJ especially, the pressures of a “comeback” and the distinct pop palate of their original audience would seem to present an even greater risk. But this is what sets the sisters apart from many of the acts in their orbit: Aly and AJ aren’t afraid to change things up. As independent artists, the sisters now answer first to their own passions—industry formulas and marketing schemes be damned. “There’s a freedom to just following your gut,” AJ says. “I think we’ve had that for a long time. It’s just that now, we’re allowed it more so than ever.”
AJ- Suit & Shirt: Gucci. Rings: David Yurman. Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti
ALY- Suit, Rings, Shoes: Gucci. Earrings: David Yurman. Watch: Hermès
IF I WASN'T A MUSICIAN, I WOULD BE:
THE CELEBRITY CLOSET I WOULD RAID:
MY FAVORITE ALY & AJ SONG:
MY ZODIAC SIGN AND IF I RELATE TO IT:
IF I COULD LISTEN TO ONE ALBUM FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, IT WOULD BE"
Skin: Luzern Laboratories. Makeup: Armani
Aly and AJ’s new album, their follow-up to 2021’s “A Touch of the Beat,” was recorded in a flurry of sessions over the holidays the same year. “We were in a really good creative headspace when we finished ‘A Touch of the Beat.’ And then when the record came out, we felt inspired to keep writing,” Aly says, noting that their new album came about “much quicker” than its predecessor, after about six months of songwriting that wrapped in November 2021.
Like “A Touch of the Beat,” their fifth studio album was recorded at Sunset Sound—the legendary recording studio on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, which has hosted sessions for the likes of Prince, Janis Joplin and The Rolling Stones throughout the years. AJ describes the new record as being more “raw” than the last, with vocal recordings cut straight from the studio. “There's even more of a live feel to this album that the last album at Sunset Sound definitely delivered, but I think this takes that to another level,” she shares. “We didn't do many vocal takes. It's very much in the room with the guys all playing at once, which is incredibly special. Not every record is made like that—especially pop records these days are never made that way.”
Somewhat shockingly, the forthcoming release also marks the first time in Aly and AJ’s nearly two-decade career that the sisters will receive production credits on an album. “We've always kind of produced stuff in the past together, but for whatever reason, we just felt like, 'Oh, we don't deserve that title or we shouldn't take on that responsibility,'” Aly reveals. “But we've really been producing our records with the help of our producers since we were teens. We just didn't know how to maybe say it.”
“When you give yourself a credit like that, to the outside world, you're immediately inviting doubt,” AJ adds. “Aly and I have always felt like if we give ourselves too much credit on a record and we have too much of a footprint—”
“No one will believe it,” Aly chimes in.
“No one will believe it's authentic,” AJ continues, “So there's this push and pull of like, 'What do I deserve? But what are people going to think?'”
But Aly and AJ have grown a lot since getting their start in the industry, and after years of being sidelined, they’re finally ready to step into their full power. Alongside their producer, Yves Rothman—who, AJ makes sure to note, “does an incredible amount of work” and is “wildly talented” in his own right—the sisters can officially add “co-producer” to their resumes. “It's nice to finally step into that title and own it, and know that if people have their doubts, that's totally cool,” AJ observes. “But we know what we did, and that's what matters.”
Click a circle to begin shopping
It’s on the west coast where Aly and AJ feel most at home. Born Alyson and Amanda Joy Michalka in Torrance, California, the sisters now live in Laurel Canyon—an artsy enclave that famously served as a hub for the hippie counterculture movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The neighborhood, which is nestled into the Santa Monica Mountains away from the hustle and bustle of central L.A., was once home to songwriting foremothers Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt, among many others. Aly and AJ carry the soul of this place wherever they go—even when it’s to a different side of the country, like StyleCaster’s stomping grounds of New York City.
A month before kicking off their tour in Sacramento, the sisters set their heeled boots to busted concrete in Brooklyn, where a different kind of artistic community thrives. Here, the creatives are always a little too wired, tired and almost certainly struggling to get their Vitamin D intake for the day. But Aly and AJ understand their hustle as their own: “In L.A., there’s such a daily grind—especially when you’re focusing on music and acting and finishing a record and rehearsing,” AJ shares later from their city. “In a way, the tour will give us a reprieve from that.”
If there’s one thing Aly and AJ could always bank on, it’s each other. Their relationship has buoyed them through the pressures of youth in the spotlight, as they came of age under the early-aughts grip of Radio Disney and peak Y2K frenzy. At just 16 and 14 years old respectively, Aly and AJ were already signed to Hollywood Records, an imprint of Disney Music Group known for catapulting the careers of Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers, to name a few.
Unlike many of their contemporaries at the time, Aly and AJ
received lead co-writing credits on their music—a rare feat at the
label, let alone for two teenage girls anywhere in the music industry.
“Aly and I,” AJ says, “we really found our voices at a young age, and
that’s carried us into adulthood. We’re very clear about our
decision-making. We don’t self-doubt too much. We check in with
each other, and that’s about it.” It was this same confidence that drove
the sisters to make a major choice in 2009, one that would change
the trajectory of their careers forever.
Right at the peak of their commercial success, Aly and AJ asked to be released from their contract with Hollywood Records. Speaking to “Rolling Stone” years later, AJ intimated that she and her sister were met with doubt by record executives when they shared their plans to forgo the label’s cookie-cutter pop stylings and lean into a more rock-influenced sound for their third record, “Insomniatic.” The bold move to part ways with their label after the record’s release coincided with a brief stint performing as 78violet, a name they’d eventually drop in favor of their titular act once again—but not before they took a decade-long hiatus from music altogether.
“We really found our voices at a young age, and I think that’s carried us into adulthood.”
Thematically, AJ says their fifth studio album “definitely feels like a continuation” of the story “A Touch of the Beat” introduced to listeners. “It feels like the next chapter that our career is going musically,” she says, highlighting that there’s a heightened level of “intimacy” and “purity” on this LP. “There are some sad, maybe more somber moments on this record,” AJ continues, to which Aly adds, “But it still feels really hopeful.”
Holding true to form as the work of two pop chameleons, Aly and AJ’s forthcoming record also eschews the barriers of genre—it’s a “little bit folk, a little bit country, a little bit pop, a little bit alt and rock,” Aly shares. Mostly? “It's just music that makes people feel good,” she says.
“It takes me back to music that made people feel great in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I'm not saying that we're at the same level as those bands,” Aly adds, humbly. “But I do think that our music is bringing a hopefulness and a joyfulness that is really needed in these dark times. If we can be a little bit of sunshine in someone's life, then we've done our duty.”
By the time Aly and AJ return to New York, our coast has finally caught up to spring: the streets are slick from late night showers, tulips peek out from sidewalk flower beds and people everywhere are peeling off layers as they bustle about town. The sisters are back for their own show, and after five weeks on tour, their time zipping between cities is nearly coming to a close. But so far, being on the road has turned out to be less of a reprieve than they hoped.
On the first night of their tour, the sisters’ tour bus was “caught in the crossfire” of a mass shooting which left six dead and 12 others injured outside their concert in Sacramento—an experience they described on social media as having left them “distraught” and shaken. Less than two weeks later, AJ and other members of the band contracted COVID-19. Soon after that, they all ended up stranded on the side of the road when their tour bus broke down in Canada. (It wouldn’t be the last time, either.) “We went through a lot of shit,” as AJ puts it, rather frankly, at one point during their set at Webster Hall in Manhattan’s East Village. Yet for an evening, none of the “rough” times of the last few weeks, let alone the last few years, can touch them—or their fans.
It’s a sold-out show, and the venue is already packed before Aly and AJ’s openers—fellow independent act, The Brummies—take the stage. The crowd is a sweaty mix of mostly twentysomethings, all giddy on nostalgia and the city’s recently legalized substance of choice. “You don’t understand,” says Alex, a fan from Williamsburg. “I have wanted to see them since I was, like, 12.” His boyfriend, who already has his shirt off, interjects: “This is his early birthday present. But, like, secretly it’s a present for me, too.” Alex quips, “Secretly? Please.”
One fan, Nicole, drove all the way from Connecticut for the show. “I moved back home with my parents during, you know,” she says, gesturing wildly at her face mask, “and my Aly and AJ poster is still up in my childhood bedroom. I wasn’t gonna miss this.” Another concertgoer, Cam from Crown Heights, is most looking forward to hearing Aly and AJ’s new songs on stage. “This will be my second time seeing them live,” they shared. “I just feel so proud of them. ‘Cause really, how many artists can you say you’ve basically ‘grown up’ with, you know?”
When Aly and AJ finally emerge on stage, they aren’t the versions of themselves still pasted up on childhood bedroom walls, or stuck in collective memories of a simpler time. But that’s OK; the crowd knows this. We’ve all grown up—and Aly and AJ have, too. They’re an entire era away from where we met them, having traded the dreaded early-2000s trend of dresses layered over jeans for custom suits by Giuliva Heritage, an Italian brand handcrafted by close friends of the sisters based out of Rome. Tonight’s selection is a folksy, matching brown set of fitted vests and pleated pants; Aly sports a smart blue dress shirt, while AJ wears one in a deep olive green. They look like they mean business. For the next hour and a half, their set goes on to prove as much.
Armed with their guitars, Aly and AJ cycle through a mix of songs old and new, with “A Touch of the Beat” leading the charge. There are some somber moments, like when Aly rests her head on AJ’s shoulder as she sings “Dead on the Beach,” a song she wrote after going through a “life-threatening incident” in 2020 without her older sister by her side. There are magical moments, too, like when the sisters introduce an unreleased song from their upcoming album, and everyone in the crowd hushes to hang on to every word. At their core, though, Aly and AJ are rockstars. Their concert shines when it goes electric, as seen with their headbanging breakdown on “Insomniatic” or their excursions into psychedelia on “Listen!!!”
The night ends where it all began for the Michalka sisters. Fifteen years after its initial release, Aly and AJ close their show with an encore performance of “Potential Breakup Song.” Purple lights pulse, guitars shred and the crowd cheers so hard that the sticky floor of the venue begins to shake. Whether you’re Cam from Crown Heights championing every new track, or Nicole from Connecticut singing to her inner child, it’s the moment everyone has been waiting for.
“That was a very specific time in music, and the early 2000s were so integral to many people's childhoods,” Aly shared over Zoom, weeks before their New York concert. “I get why there is that attachment to it, just like I'm attached to certain songs from that era.” One day, however, Aly and AJ hope to eclipse these memories and realize new ones altogether.
As Aly explained, “I do think that hopefully, we one up ourselves every time with a new record. I hope that we're raising the bar on the songwriting, on the production, on the vocals and that every time it just gets a little bit better, even if it's like five percent. So that hopefully by the end of our career, you know, when we're in our seventies—”
“Seventies!” AJ squealed.
“Or sixties, whatever,” Aly said. “I mean look at Mick Jagger, he's still going, you know?”
AJ nodded. “It’s true.”
“It's just amazing to think of all of the other songs that have yet to be written, that have yet to be recorded and toured. We're still really young. We just happen to have been doing it for so long,” Aly continued, wistfully. “There's still a lot ahead of us.” Including, of course, their next “holy grail” hit. Only this time around, the world will finally hear it on Aly and AJ’s terms.
THE FESTIVAL ISSUE
Photographer: Vincenzo Dimino
Stylist: Jasmine Fontaina
Makeup Artist: Emma Strachman
Hairstylist: Caitlin Boland
Photography Assistant: Jenna Gardner
Stylist Assistant: Anna McFillin
Press play for a sneak peak of the concert
Courtesy: @alyandaj on Instagram
Courtesy: @iamaj and @alyandaj on Instagram
Courtesy: @iamaly and @alyandaj on Instagram
Courtesy: @alyandaj on Instagram