The Airborne Toxic Event
By Glen

The Airborne Toxic Event’s fall tour marches on… as does the lead-up to Album #4. Which now has a name.

Cue the Dope Machines

On Monday, a major piece of news was casually dropped by San Diego radio station 91x, who, in introducing their stream of the new single “Wrong,” mentioned almost as an aside that the soon-to-be-released album will be titled Dope Machines. This information was later confirmed by Mikel Jollett, who elucidated the concept behind the name on Cleveland radio WJCU, and explained how the new sound at the heart of the record supports the theme.

It’s a record that, thematically, it’s about being kind of lost in what I like to think of as this agreed upon intellectual space we’ve developed. And we’ve all decided that we’re going to live part of our lives in this place that only exists in our brains. Like, if aliens came down and just looked at us, they’d be like, “What are all these people doing staring at all these boxes all the time? Why are they doing that?” And it’s because there’s something about our identity, something about the way we interact with each other, our curiosity about one another, our curiosity about how other people feel about us – you know, whether or not we’re liked, whether or not we belong to Group A or Group B or no group at all – these are some of the most important and frightening and vital and exciting and stressful questions that we have as human beings, ’cause it’s just who we are. We’re part of groups, or we’re not. So, we have all these little devices that extend that, and enhance that, and in some ways I think actually diminish that. So, the record’s about that. It’s about these machines that turn us into dopes, that are like sort of smoking dope ’cause they’re addictive, and they’re really dope, and they’re just good, cool little things, all kind of at the same time. And here we are sort of living in this modern world that exists kind of just in this agreed upon space between our brains. It’s nowhere that’s any place that you can go to; it’s a place that exists in our imaginations.

So the record’s about that, and so I made the decision to make the record on these machines, these dope little machines. And so it’s tons of keyboards and beats, and lots of effects and effects that have been processed, and little pieces of music that have sort of been run through various types of effects, and then cut up, and then sort of re-presented to the listener as if the broken up piece of music was the original, and that’ll be the basis for a song – which is a very different approach… Up till now we’ve been mostly what you’d consider a ‘proper rock band’ in the vein of the Clash or something like that, or maybe the Smiths or the Cure or something. So, I don’t know if it’ll work, and it might be like, massively rejected by the world, I don’t know. I don’t really care. As an artist, you just kind of have to follow what makes your skin crawl, makes your hair stand up on your neck, and that’s where I was at… It’s a very different sound. 

In another interview with Kansas City’s The Buzz, Mikel emphasized that the album was finished prior to signing with Epic Records, and they are releasing it as is:

We signed a record deal with Epic, and they were like, super psyched. They were just super cool to put it out. We were like, “Here’s the record,” and they were like, “Cool…” They’re putting a whole thing together, it’s kind of cool. They’re awesome… Their input on the record was, “Thanks.” That was it. Like, awesome… And then they handed us a check, and they have all these plans, and they’re super supportive and they come to shows…

Meanwhile, Amanda Keeler of AXS caught up with Mikel in Cleveland, and learned that more than 40 songs were written for Dope Machines, before it was culled to its final tracklist.

As for “Wrong,” 91x released the single artwork, seen here. Rumors persist that the track will go on sale this Tuesday, though we have yet to see an official announcement by The Airborne Toxic Event confirming this date.

Mikel Unplugged

The interview above was just one of three radio appearances by TATE (or Mikel, at least), and the only one that has surfaced online as of yet. It was more than just talk; the show also featured the singer performing two new songs on acoustic guitar. The first was the now familiar “California,” which Mikel warns will sound much different on the album. The second was the band’s latest revelation, “The Fall of Rome,” a sad, regret-soaked piece that is classic Mikel (lyrically), which has only been played once previously – last week in Burlington. If you haven’t heard it yet, we advise you to stop reading and listen up. Best of all, the recording is downloadable, so go ahead and throw it on your iPod.

For the world premiere of “The Fall,” and other acoustic tunes on the tour, Mikel has been strumming a guitar emblazoned with the phrase, “Somewhere they foxtrot madly.” Aside from a loose connection to the TATE song “The Secret,” these words are pregnant with meaning, made all the more poignant when considered alongside the lyrics of “The Fall of Rome.”

This Is Nowhere’s genius-in-residence, Julie, enlightened me to the source of the quote: “It’s from the novel Once A Runner. It’s basically about the lifestyle of a track runner (Mikel used to do this also). It has to do with being so dedicated to something (like sports training) and spending all of one’s time in pursuit of that, while others enjoy their lives.”

There are clear echoes to be found in the closing stanzas of “The Fall:”

I saw a picture of you the other day in your wedding dress
And I wondered why I walked away like I had with the rest
You were the only thing that was worth saving
And I swear that I did my best

And sometimes at night I dream of you now in your wedding dress
And I hope it doesn’t seem somehow like I gave you less
I have nothing to show from these years on the road
But these songs that I wrote for you

It might just be the saddest song Mikel has ever written.

Mikel Jollett's guitar

Photo by Julie. Burlington, VT, Oct. 9, 2014.

Wheels Turning at Epic

The promotional machine at Epic Records, The Airborne Toxic Event’s new record label, had the switch flipped this week, as evidenced by the new promo picture seen at the top of this article – the first official band photo to feature bassist Adrian Rodriguez. Epic has also made available a new TATE bio – well overdue, considering the one currently featured on the TATE website was written circa All At Once. The new piece gives further insight into what’s in store on Dope Machines:

Early in the process, Mikel tapped into a boundless aesthetic, embracing electronic elements as well as pop structures and unbridled rock ‘n’ roll bombast. At the same time, it defied categorization at every turn. “That’s one of the hallmarks of the record,” he affirms. “It doesn’t sound like anything else.”

The first single “Wrong” merges striking synths and an electronic swing with an evocative refrain punctuated by a robust groove. It’s borderline danceable, but always chant-able.

“It’s just about a guy feeling insecure,” explains Mikel. “I wrote it at a time of massive upheaval in my life. We all have that moment. You look over everything and think, ‘I am an idiot!’ It’s not every day, but you wish you could start over. That’s the idea.”

“California” turns a spotlight on a different side of the Golden State from the perspective of a true native. All the while, it still boasts an unshakable refrain and intricate instrumentation.

“I grew up in California,” he goes on. “My parents were hippies, and I was born in the back of a VW bus on the beach. I was around everybody from Beatniks to gang members to kids who just emigrated from Guatemala or Ethiopia. None of this had anything to do with the popular image of what California is—that idea of palm trees and movie stars. As soon as you’ve got an idea of utopia, it begs a dystopia. It’s an idea of apocalypse right around the corner in a place that’s considered ideal.”

Simultaneously, the title track tempers a distinct guitar bounce with entrancing harmonies, making for a provocative and potent dichotomy.

“You can interact with all of these dope hand devices, but they make you sort of dopey an hour later,” he sighs. “You make music with them. They can save you from a heart attack. They’re little extensions of the things that make us fundamentally human, which is the desire to interact with one another. The machines are all of these things at the same time…”

In many ways though, Dope Machines signals something of a rebirth.

“It’s like debuting a new phase,” concludes Mikel. “It was a new approach. We’ve got a new label. We threw out everything we were tired of and moved on to a brand new palette. That was the goal. This isn’t what The Airborne Toxic Event is supposed to be. This is who we are.”

Tour Round-Up

Once again, we present a selection of reviews and photo galleries from TATE’s recent tour dates, starting with Toronto – the most well-covered show of the tour thus far – and working backwards.

  • Panic Manual provided a brief review of the Washington, DC performance.

Jingle Bells (and Guitars, Drums and Violas…)

As per tradition, it looks like TATE will be popping up here, there and everywhere during the holiday season. First on the docket is Holiday Havoc, Dec. 12 in Las Vegas, where the band will join Bush, Meg Myers and others for what promises to be a gig to remember. Then it’s off to Buffalo, where they’ll join pals Fitz and the Tantrums at the well-named Kerfuffle Before Christmas on Dec. 18.

I’ll Take Tox for $1000, Alex

Yeah, so this also happened. You know you’ve made it when…

The Airborne Toxic Event on Jeopardy

The Airborne Toxic Event on Jeopardy

Toxic Gold

And now, live from the back of Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, it’s The Airborne Toxic Event with Numb (video by YouTube user HooperWest).

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic EventGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Comments
  1. Trish says:

    Great piece. Thanks for including my link!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jcstoller says:

    Hi everyone, the line is actually from a short bit of poetry spoken by the book’s protagonist during a particularly difficult run. It is as follows: “Somewhere they fox-trot madly / While in lunar shadows sadly / I keep pace with crickets gladly / And Moon rises with my bile.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. treendabean says:

    You do see that guitar in the Sometime Around Midnight acoustic video although it looks freshly carved there.

    Less than a week until they’re in Vancouver. Bet you’re excited, Glen.

    Liked by 2 people

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