Ed. Note: Longtime readers of This Is Nowhere are no doubt familiar with Julie Stoller, as she has graciously allowed us to republish a number of The Airborne Toxic Event articles she has posted through the years on her own music blog, musingsfromboston.com. We have also shared many of her plentiful YouTube videos, while her behind-the-scenes contributions of in-depth research and detailed knowledge of all things TATE have made us look good on many occasions.
Today we are delighted to introduce Julie as the newest official member of This Is Nowhere’s writing team. Watch for more from this talented writer in the near future, including reviews of several of Airborne’s upcoming east coast shows. Welcome, Julie!
For her first post, Julie has collected seven years’ worth of memories of recently departed bassist Noah Harmon. Noah’s exit from the band has been a tricky issue for us to navigate at This Is Nowhere. Without knowing the details of what transpired, we have tried to stay away from speculation or casting judgment. Though we, like most fans, have struggled to come to grips with this development, our dedication to the band has not changed, and our support for the group (and new bassist Adrian Rodriguez) remains unflagging. We anticipate great things ahead, and we will be here to cover it as it happens.
And yet, we don’t want to pretend like this isn’t a big deal, because it is. Whatever led Noah and the band to part ways, we appreciate everything Noah has contributed to The Airborne Toxic Event in the past, and we wish him well in the future. So, before turning our eyes forward without reservation, today we look back once more, presenting this as our tribute to Noah Harmon.
for Mr. Noah Harmon, bassist (and multi-instrumentalist) extraordinaire
The pressures of being in a band must be enormous. Think of it as a group marriage. The complex dynamics two people experience in a relationship — personality friction, individual growth, changing priorities, unavoidable external factors and legal obligations — are multiplied. Five people create ten separate one-on-one relationships that must be worked at and nurtured. It’s mind boggling.
With The Airborne Toxic Event, what began as five shipwrecked siblings grew into a family business, one in which all the family members lived and worked together in a small enclosed space for several months at a time. That this arrangement could last seven years, with friendship and love enduring, is a tremendous achievement.
This retrospective may read like a eulogy, but it isn’t that at all. The band continues to create music. Noah goes off to raise a family and create music on his own. Like any separation, the possibility lingers, after a period of healing and reflection, for future collaboration and the renewing of old bonds.
In the meantime, I wanted to share my own Noah memories. To give a full account of Mr. Harmon’s enormous contributions to Airborne would be too daunting a task, so instead I’m keeping it personal. Everyone will have their own initial impressions and lasting memories of Noah. Here are some of mine.
My first live sighting of Noah Harmon was while sitting in a booth downstairs at the Mexican-Irish dive bar Jose McIntyre’s in Boston’s financial district. I had learned about this special free performance just that morning. I was now waiting for this new band I had come to see, The Airborne Toxic Event, as they did their soundcheck upstairs. About 20 or so people were milling around until they let people go up.
Noah had come down for a moment, perhaps looking for someone. Our eyes met, and we were like two startled deer caught in each other’s headlights. Me, because I had just set eyes upon a beautiful creature not of my bland Boston world, but a Southern Californian rocker, lithe with long hair and dressed all in black, with handsome features and a presence. Him, perhaps because though I’m no beauty queen, I had come dressed as instructed by our radio hosts, WFNX. The evening was billed as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Guys were to come dressed as Hugh Hefner; ladies were to wear their finest lingerie. Needless to say, it was an interesting first Airborne show.
I assumed he must be Mikel, the lead singer. Let me explain. In the previous seven months, I had been ravaged by their demo EP. Though I would meet Mikel about 20 minutes later, at that time, I had only seen a few band photos on their MySpace page. I knew names and I saw pictures, but nowhere had I seen one matched up with the other. With Noah’s rock star appearance and confident attitude, he had to be the lead singer, right?
The Jazz Man
At a Newbury Comics in-store at Faneuil Hall on October 25, 2008, I witnessed the acoustic side of this ferocious little rock band from Los Feliz. It was my first experience of the magical classical/jazz interplay of Anna’s viola and Noah’s upright bass. His formal jazz background would delightfully poke its head out throughout the years, such as in the meandering introduction for “Something New” and in his mini bass solos in “Missy.”
The Playful Prankster, The Rock Star
If every classroom must have a class clown, then every band must have one too. That was Noah. He was the prankster, the showman and the quintessential rock god, hamming it up and striking those classic Noah Poses. He was the Airborne member most comfortable being on stage, from the get-go. At times it seemed over the top, like he was auditioning to join Spinal Tap, but he always kept the mood bouncy, jovial and so very rock ‘n’ roll. There were his epic amplifier leaps, one of which was immortalized on the “Gasoline” single.
My first memory of Noah’s musical prowess was at that Newbury Comics in-store, but he would go on to amaze me with not only the variety of instruments he picked up and convincingly played on stage, but the myriad of genres he effortlessly glided through. There is his super solid and sophisticated electric rock bass, which along with Daren Taylor’s exquisite drumming, was Airborne’s underlying heartbeat. His bowed electric bass, joined by Anna Bulbrook’s ethereal viola, became the band’s lush and elegant half string quartet on Airborne classics like “Sometime Around Midnight,” “Innocence” and “This Losing.” Noah’s upright bass was a stunning addition to acoustic sets, orchestral collaborations and intimate acoustic interludes during their full-on rock shows.
In 2010, the Moog made its first appearance and was seen at performances, played by Noah. He picked up a banjo for “It Doesn’t Mean A Thing” and then mandolin for “True Love.” At their shows, we were treated to a men’s drumming circle for “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” In “All For A Woman,” Steven and Noah traded instruments, with Noah performing the beautiful and inventive lead guitar lines he wrote for that gorgeous song.
Noah’s adept knowledge of musical styles was amusingly demonstrated in 2012, when Mikel started a little game of having Daren and Noah jam to shouted-out genres.
(Video credit: nesslurpee)
Casual Airborne fans might not realize the huge contribution Noah has made to the sound of the band, in terms of musical composition. Mikel pens all the lyrics and the initial melodies. Anna tackles some of the musical scores for their orchestral collaborations, and the entire band contributes ideas during the writing and recording process. However, only Noah has shared songwriting credits with Mikel on a number of the band’s songs.* The two exceptions, according to Wikipedia, are “All I Ever Wanted,” which credits Mikel and Steven, and “This Is Nowhere,” on which the entire band is credited.
I got my first insightful look into the band’s unique personality and group dynamic with the brilliantly executed All I Ever Wanted behind-the-scenes documentary and performance film. For newer fans not familiar with this revealing and amusing chronicle and the breathtaking production of their legendary extravaganza at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, pick up the DVD immediately. One of the many moments that stayed with me was a brief scene of Mikel and Noah at the computer, working out music for the show, with Noah’s dog Marlon underfoot.
“He’s got a great ear for melodies and stuff like that, but he really relies on me for nuts and bolts kinds of things.” (Noah, speaking about Mikel)
“Typically what happens is Noah and I will sit and work on an arrangement together. Then we write out charts for the players. In this case, the way we divided the labor, Anna’s going to be writing out all of the charts for the quartet.” (Mikel, speaking about Noah and Anna)
Much of what Noah contributed to the band as a composer remained behind the scenes, except for the documentary and a brief glimpse of his scoring work for their orchestral collaboration at SummerStage in Central Park last year.
I had the immense pleasure of personally experiencing the fruits of his labors, along with a smallish though wildly enthusiastic (and soggy) crowd.
*Noah’s co-writing credits with Mikel (as per Wikipedia): Gasoline, Happiness Is Overrated, Something New, Numb, Welcome To Your Wedding Day, Half of Something Else, Strange Girl, The Storm and True Love (bonus tracks and non-album tracks unknown).
I learned so much about the band, and about Noah, from that All I Ever Wanted film. Of all the performers on that magical evening that included The Calder Quartet, the Belmont High School marching band and the Baile Folklorico dancers, the ones who most stole the hearts of the audience had to be those precious little girls from the Lalo Guerrero School of Music children’s choir.
When the band first formed in the late summer/early autumn of 2006, ahead of their first show at The Echo in Los Angeles, Noah was a graduate of the CalArts School of Music and was teaching in two of their special Community Arts Partnership (CAP) programs. Art in the Park is a twenty-week music program of guitar and percussion instruction for teenagers 13-19, culminating in a public performance. Plaza de la Raza is a collaborative program with an East Los Angeles Community Center that offers instruction to middle and high school students in music theory, composition, recording and performance.
For the Disney Hall performance, Noah brought in his young students, and they proceeded to knock everyone’s socks off during a choral version of “Missy.” The girls went on to perform with the band at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in L.A., and they’re featured, along with Noah’s students from Plaza de la Raza, in the bombastic acoustic video for “All At Once.”
My own small glimpse of Noah the music educator was during the Jack Daniels sponsored show in Boston in 2010. In one of the wackiest ever renditions of “Moving On,” he brought a friend up on stage to play bass, giving him an impromptu lesson while he added synth accompaniment. This video also features multi-instrumentalist Noah on an extended drum solo, and is brought to you by the letter “S.”
One of the most endearing aspects of Airborne, for me, is their symbiosis and camaraderie, which attracts like a powerful magnet and brings others into their orbit. Their friendship and their fun create those magical moments of communal catharsis that translates to lifelong fans and sold out shows. It begins with solid friendships within the band and obvious enjoyment of performance and of each other’s company. Noah was a great friend — to his bandmates and to people he had never met before. A few things stand out for me personally. There was the “30 shows in 30 days” video diary, where they told amusing tales of wonder and woe while traveling around the U.K., meeting new fans and performing shows every night.
Then there was their first headlining tour in America, which began with Mikel getting laryngitis. His friend and bandmate Noah assisted in this hilarious, Dylan-inspired apology to fans for shows they had to postpone.
Amazingly, though they spent so much time together as it was, fulfilling their band duties, they often spent time hanging out together in between shows. As a biker chick in a past life, I was delighted to see long motorcycle journeys become a part of Airborne lore (and even happier to see Mikel and Noah trade in their Hondas for Harleys). Their head-clearing road trips while out on tour were as adventurous and inspirational as their music. I mean really, how many people think to pay a visit to Homer, Alaska?
Despite Noah’s on-stage rock star vibe, off-stage he was down-to-earth and extremely approachable. I’ve seen him on many occasions, without fail, take the time to say hello and speak to fans, no matter how tired, stressed or pressed for time he was. That was one of his most endearing qualities, and one I’ll always remember.
My personal story of “Noah the friend” was when they played at Pianos in New York City during their Origins Tour in 2011. After the show, we were hanging out at the bar (where else?). A brief explanation is in order first. For whatever reason unbeknownst to me, it always seems that the Airborne shows I attend are either preceded by or concurrent with some type of clusterf*ck situation in my life. Most often it’s work related, other times family related, but I’m typically arriving at the venue in a sorry state and badly in need of a spiritual cleanse. They always deliver. On this night at Pianos, I was particularly distraught from an ongoing bad work situation.
I was still processing the beautiful performance I had just witnessed, letting their music do its usual magic on restoring my sense of well-being. Suffice it to say I must have looked a wreck. Noah said to me, “You know, you’ve seen us so much. You shouldn’t feel like you always have to come see us. You should only come to a show when it’s convenient.” He was genuinely concerned. I pointed out that for me, an Airborne performance was akin to receiving a full body blood transfusion. He nodded in complete understanding. A friend, indeed.
I thank him for everything, from the bottom of my heart, and wish him well.
Along with writing regularly for This Is Nowhere, Julie publishes musingsfromboston.com, a music blog with the bipolar personality of wannabe philosopher and charlatan music critic, where she is just as likely to review the audience as she is the band. Her first Airborne show was at a lingerie party hosted by WFNX at an Irish-Mexican bar in Boston’s financial district. She does her best to live by the motto “only one who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”