Anna Bulbrook is ready for #GIRLSCHOOL. From Anna’s Facebook page.
So, I had an interesting discussion with a reader on Facebook yesterday, and I thought it would be worth bringing up in Toxicity, as I suspect there are other fans of The Airborne Toxic Event with similar questions.
If I may paraphrase my conversation partner, he is worried that Anna Bulbrook’s focus on The Bulls may jeopardize the future of The Airborne Toxic Event, and wondered why I am covering Anna’s band on a site that is dedicated to all things Airborne.
They are fair questions, fueled no doubt by a number of ominous-sounding posts from Mikel Jollett and other band members back in the fall when the Whiskey Machine tour came to a close.
I’ve written before that I firmly believe there is more to come from this band; no need to rehash my reasons why. While it’s entirely possible that I’ll be the Last Naive Man Standing (it would hardly be the first time), in the absence of any solid evidence to the contrary, I see no reason to believe that the break is anything other than what they have said it is: a temporary reprieve.
More to the point, I also don’t believe that Anna’s dedication to The Bulls precludes her from continuing to be a vital part of Airborne for a long time to come. It is exceedingly common these days for musicians to have multiple projects on the go aside from their primary gig. Just looking at some other artists that I follow: Arcade Fire fans recently flocked to support Will Butler as he embarked on a between-albums solo career; Killers fans do the same for Brandon Flowers; and Gaslight Anthem fans are currently packing clubs for Brian Fallon’s solo jaunt. Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band actually had his own winter tour booked, and then had to cancel it when The Boss abruptly announced that he was calling the gang back together for the River Tour. All of these artists and countless others manage to juggle a double career, and with Anna’s ridiculous work ethic, I have little doubt she can do the same.
Artists have a drive to create and to perform, and sometimes their art leads them to places that just don’t fit well within the context of their “day job.” It gives them a chance to show off a different side that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
Mikel has said that 75% of the music he writes, he doesn’t bring to the band because it’s not in Airborne’s wheelhouse. What if he were to come out later this year and announce that he’s putting out a moody solo album, and embarking on an intimate tour with nothing but his voice, a guitar and a bar stool? I for one would love to see it. Of course I would desperately miss the full Airborne experience in the meantime, and I would hope to hell that they would all be back after he got that bug out of his system. But it would be spectacular in a different way, and you can bet your ass I would cover it closely here.
It’s the same with Anna. Airborne Anna is my favorite Anna, and that’s never going to change. But for now, I’m enjoying seeing her shine in a different way than she does with the guys. And we can hardly hold it against her for following her artistic instincts and her heart’s passion – as much as it would devastate me if doing so ever led her away from Airborne.
Artistry aside, as a working class band, the members of The Airborne Toxic Event are not rich. If Mikel needs a year off the road and out of the spotlight to focus on writing new material (not to mention his own life), the others need to stay busy, and to continue to put food on their respective tables. Having irons in other fires is not only natural – it’s essential.
As to why I’m covering The Bulls, I guess I would ask, “Why not?” I’m a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event, obviously, and to me that means supporting each of the band members individually. I am inspired by their art in all its forms, and I want to cheer them on in whatever they choose to do. As a father of three girls, I find what Anna is doing with #GIRLSCHOOL to be particularly important and well worth trumpeting with whatever meager voice I’ve gained through This Is Nowhere.
And really, what’s the alternative? Things with TATE are so deadly quiet right now, I’ve essentially got two choices at the moment: cover Anna and The Bulls, or shutter TIN until whenever The Airborne Toxic Event emerges from their cave. I totally understand that there are fans who may tune out until Airborne takes center stage again, but I’d prefer to keep things rolling here for those who are interested.
Make no mistake: The Airborne Toxic Event is and will always be the raison d’être of This Is Nowhere. As I told a friend the other day, when Airborne is out, I am out. But until that day comes, I’ll be behind each member of the band, wherever their muse takes them.
If you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around!
Anna really is the only game in town these days as it pertains to Airborne-related news. With her #GIRLSCHOOL residency beginning tonight in L.A., she has garnered lots of media attention of late. In the past week alone, she has been featured in four major articles, from Impose Magazine, Lenny, Spur and Goad, and buzzbands.la. All four interviews cover similar territory, so I’ll pick and choose from them as Anna explains how #GIRLSCHOOL came to be, and why it means so much to her.
When we were planning the [August 2015] residency, I had just visited Rock Camp and experienced the mind-altering force of a 9-year-old confidently asking me who my feminist icons were in rock music. The idea to make the residency female-fronted was originally a dare to myself and the team managing the Bulls at the time. I’m ashamed of this now, but we actually posed the question: Will we be able to find enough quality female artists to make this residency great? And the answer was a resounding yes, and then some! I didn’t have enough hours to program all the artists I wanted to include. So, while the idea pushed me to take risks on new artists and new genres of music, I was also blown away by the quality of every single band. All of these projects were excellent, on or above par with most of the male-fronted bands in the local scene. And the feeling in the room felt completely right — like the beginnings of something worthwhile. So, during the course of that month, the idea started to take on a life of its own.
No one put a gun to my head and said hey you have to make GIRLSCHOOL happen. It came out of a desire to do it and after we did the test run in August with the residency, it really took a life of its own. It’s been nothing but fun and inspiring.
When the residency wrapped up in August, I felt so much positivity from the artists and so much love from everyone and I felt I wanted to do it again and people were interested in doing it again. The residency was an idea I had and I put it together with the people who were managing the Bulls at the time. From there I was fantasizing about this festival and I started working on it with Kyle and then these two girls Jasmine and Adrien just started showing up. Talk about force multipliers, they’re insane, they’re amazing. So we were able to do a lot more. As we started talking about it we went from seeing what we could do for a day to two days to, screw it, let’s add Friday, let’s add a second stage too. We could have kept going with adding bands but we wanted to bite off something we could chew, make sure the bands could all get soundchecks and have a good experience because everyone is volunteering. I’m hoping that it’s great.
Rock in particular is pretty gendered still. One of the reasons I love GIRLSCHOOL is because at the local level there are so many incredible female artists and bandleaders and songwriters and performers. Every project at the residency was really high quality, and I was blown away by that. But then once you get beyond the local level, the bands that graduate tend to be male-fronted bands. As someone who is a woman on stage as a “sideman” for my job, I can’t answer the question as to why it’s so, but I have noticed that it is so, and I would like to be able to be part of creating critical mass to push more women out beyond the local level.
I personally feel incredibly lucky to be part of this connective nest that is arising. So. I want to know: how can women support each other? What are the shared experiences (or disparate experiences) in our professional lives? And most important: how can we make positive changes together to influence culture and legitimately shift the needle for the next generations of women? How can we show young women a variety of ways to be successful in the music industry, or in their professional lives? What things did we have, or wish we had, supporting us in our paths?
When you have a nine-year-old look you in the eye and talk to you about feminism and ask you questions about what it’s like to be a woman further down the road, it really makes you think. In fact, it inspired me to participate and create and not just sit back and be just a random person in a band. I mean, I love playing music, and music is really meaningful to me, but I want other people to feel empowered to do what they want to do in life, whatever it is!
Notice that Anna referred to herself as a “sideman” for her job. We all know she’s much more than that, but still – we can take comfort in the fact that she was speaking in the present tense about being part of Airborne!
Finally, because we could all use an Airborne fix, here’s an acoustic “Changing” – back when it was known as “Something You Own.”
Glen 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.