Mikel the Chagrined meets Megan the Shy

Mikel the Chagrined meets Megan the Shy

Los Toxicos is a monthly feature where we get to know a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event. To nominate a fan (or yourself) for a future month, e-mail us.

Megan with Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event

Megan with Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event

Name: Megan the Shy

Where are you from?

I was born in Chico, CA; we moved to SoCal when I was 3.

Tell us about yourself (who you are, what grade you are in, hobbies, etc.).

In March I’ll be 12 and in August I’ll be in 7th grade. I’m a competitive gymnast; last year I took 2nd all around at worlds for my age and division. I love gymnastics, running and basketball. I love music. TATE is my number one band and on my way to gymnastics competitions we blast Queen. I used to surf but then I saw Shark Week so now I snowboard, my dad and I have been going up to Big Bear for the last few years. And I like to sleep.

The Airborne Toxic Event does not have a lot of fans your age. How did you discover them, and what do you like about them?

My mom was streaming TATE at Peavey Hollywood so we watched it together. But my dad introduced my mom after he saw them on Letterman. I like that they cuss and they are the coolest people ever.

What does your Airborne Toxic Event collection include?

We went to the Visalia show and afterwards my dad talked to the manager who mailed us a huge banner; it’s like 3′ wide by about 7′ of the band and it’s hanging in my room. I have countless picks. One time I stepped on a lady’s hand to get a pick (sorry lady). Daren has gifted me drum sticks and multiple setlists that are hanging in my room. My dad bought me signed vinyl and cd’s. I went to every show in San Francisco at the Fillmore so I have posters from all three nights. T shirts, a bag, sweatshirts. I’m a walking billboard.

The Airborne Toxic Event's Biggest Littlest Fan

The Airborne Toxic Event’s Biggest Littlest Fan

What’s your favorite TATE song and album, and why?

“A Certain Type of Girl.” I like the line “Us big city boys, we don’t think about it much, it’s all whiskey, wine and messin’ around with drugs.” I like that it’s a shock to people when I sing it. It feels rock ‘n’ roll. My favorite album is Songs of God and Whiskey. I like all those songs.

Have you ever had a special experience at a TATE concert? Tell us about it.

I was picked to go backstage and I got to meet everyone; that’s where I got my nickname Megan the Shy. Anna was the coolest person I have ever met. We stay after concerts so I can see the band and wave; I want to say hi and take pictures but I get shy. We went to see them in Sacramento and the next day we flew home and saw the band at the airport. Mikel told me to keep giving my parents hell, best advice ever! In Los Angeles at the Wiltern, Mikel poured champagne over the crowd we were drenched, it was so cool. I smelled like booze for a week. Plus I’ve met some cool people at each show.

Megan with Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event

Megan with Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event

What’s on your Airborne Toxic Event bucket list?

What’s left? Roadie (hint hint, Bill tour manager dude).

What would you tell other kids your age to get them to check out The Airborne Toxic Event?

I’ve already started talking to my friends about them years ago. In third grade I taped the band picture to my folder. Most of my friends listen to pop music but I’m trying to tell my friends TATE is what cool people listen to. Enough of that F-ing Taylor Swift. (My mom and dad are laughing.) My 75-year-old grandma saw a picture of TATE and said Adrian is sexy and Mikel has nice teeth; even grandmas like the band.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event performs in Boston in the fall of 2014. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography: https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event performs in Boston in the fall of 2014. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography: https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography.

By Glen

I am a dreamer. 

Not so much in the daytime, where infinite possibility is so often drowned out by cold, hard reality, and fantastical notions of what-could-be are subsumed by the mundanities of what-actually-is.

However, in the dead of night, as my natural pessimism drifts away and the synapses of my brain are finally free to fire unencumbered by the constraints of responsibility, wild things happen.

My dreams are vivid. On any given night I’ll be cast as the lead in a multi-act film, with cameos from any number of unlikely characters from across my lifespan. Though some themes replay themselves repeatedly (at least once a week I find myself back in school, having completely forgotten about a critical assignment), from one sleep to the next there is no telling what twist the plot will take.

Sometimes the next morning I’ll try to describe it to my wife. Unfortunately, what seemed so clear and profound when my eyes were closed is now just barely, frustratingly out of reach. In that netherworld, the pieces – disparate as they may be – somehow fit together. But with the rising of the sun, they become a senseless jumble. As a non-dreamer, she has little patience for my confused attempts at retelling.


“The Thing About Dreams” is a unique entry in The Airborne Toxic Event canon, in more ways than one. It experiments with sounds that were previously foreign to the band, creating an evocative aural landscape that sounds very, well, dreamlike. Mikel Jollett, a natural baritone if there ever was one, pushes well past the presumed upper limits of his register to deliver a falsetto chorus that transports the listener beyond the atmosphere of TATE World, into another dimension entirely.

Perhaps most strikingly, the consummate storyteller abandons his usual straightforward narrative approach to songwriting in favor of dropping a series of disconnected thoughts; snatches of visions that lack a connecting thread, just as dreams are prone to jumping from one scene to the next with neither warning nor apparent purpose. The result is not just a song about dreams – it is a dream.

It leaves even the writer himself scratching his head wondering, “What is this thing I’ve created?”

I have no idea what the deal is with this song. I wrote it a year ago and never planned to put it on a record. I liked the Wurlitzer and the beat and that moment when the beat stopped and the piano came in.

Dreams don’t follow any sort of logical pattern (it’s more of an attempt by your brain to create something logical out of your spinning stream of unconscious emotions and images, short and long term memories — or so I’m told by the New York Times).

I had a recurring dream when I was kid about flying. I would be standing on the sidewalk with huge ears, like an elephant— and simply flap them and I’d be airborne. I remember thinking “Why do I keep forgetting that I can fly? This is so easy. I have to remember this when I wake up.” As if the only thing stopping me from flying in reality was a mental block I’d acquired from living too long on a planet that told me I couldn’t.

So many dreams are like that: memories of a time when you didn’t so thoroughly know the limitations that life imposes on you. That’s probably why they’re important. Because unlike flying, many of those limitations don’t actually exist.

This song was just a way to wave across the abyss to a memory of something that once made me feel limitless.

Jollett has said that the most important meaning to be found in any song is the one that is produced between the ears of any given listener. If that’s true of his more typical songs, which are thoroughly grounded in specific times and spaces and deal with real events that happened to real people, how much more so for this piece that by design defies definitive interpretation?

“The Thing About Dreams” entices the listener to swim about in their own consciousness, to grab bits and pieces of Jollett’s stream of thought and connect the invisible dots to their own lives.

With Jollett positing that many of life’s limitations may in fact be a mirage, it’s ironic that, for me, the points of strongest connection are those lines that jolt me back to reality.

The thing about love: it’s never enough. Circumstance changes and life’s always calling your bluff. Enough is enough.

And now I’ve said too much and I’m not giving up. I can’t carry the weight of this over-filled cup. I just close my eyes like you’re close to the touch and I dream: You’re not what you seem.

I have clung to these words like a lifeline this past year: a year of changing circumstances and over-filled cups, in which life has gotten scarier than any nightmare and I might well have gotten “Enough is enough” tattooed on my forehead.

When it all gets to be too much and that heavy cup seems on the verge of slipping from my hands, sometimes the only way out is to close my eyes and slide back into that world where things are not what they seem: where the present and the future can be rewritten however I see fit, and it all seems close enough to touch.

It’s a happy place.

Video by Monica Lara

GlenGlen 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.

Mikel Jollett and Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ryan Tuttle.

Mikel Jollett and Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ryan Tuttle.

By Glen

Stop the press – there was an actual sighting of The Airborne Toxic Event this week!

Live from Ohio

The band emerged from hibernation just long enough to announce that a live performance would be airing after last weekend’s Saturday Night Live, on the Ohio-only television program PromoWest Live. The announcement gave the impression that it would be an extended feature; as it turns out, the show only aired one song, amongst performances from a variety of other bands.

Nevertheless, for parched Airborne fans, the sight of our favorite band belting out “Changing” was welcome indeed. Jump to the 48-second mark of the video below.

A quick perusal of the video playlist also revealed that the show had also aired “Gasoline” and “Happiness is Overrated) a couple months ago (starting at the 4:07 and 17:40 marks of the video below, respectively). All songs were recorded at the band’s gig in Columbus last spring – a performance that Colleen and Andy reviewed for us.

While it would have been nice to see some of the newer material get some exposure, beggars can’t be choosers!

Small Problems, Big Video

After slacking off for like, an entire day, Anna Bulbrook was back in the spotlight this week with the release of the Bulls’ long-awaited video for “Small Problems,” which was shot way back in June in 115F temperatures. The video is described by the band’s publicity company as follows:

Directed by Evan Mathis, the video is one long tracking shot of Anna and bandmate Marc Sallis strutting through Joshua Tree that anyone from one of the colder parts of the country will yearn for this time of year. Special shout out to Sallis’ “November Rain” power stance during the guitar solo.

Said Anna to Flood Magazine, which premiered the video: “Evan (our director) came up with the visual of eternally walking through different desert moonscapes in different washes of transitional sunlight to illustrate the song’s lyrical themes—which are endlessly, cyclically, desiring a change that isn’t going to come and wishing for a chance to go back and do things over again.”

Speaking of Anna, Vinyl District posted another extensive photo set of her in action at the recent Girlschool Festival.

Toxic Gold

Speaking of under-exposed newer TATE songs, here’s a rare live performance of “Strangers” from last fall’s Shazam contest pre-show in Philadelphia, courtesy of Rick.

GlenGlen 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.

Toxicity 93

Posted: February 12, 2016 in Toxicity
Tags: , , , ,
Anna Bulbrook's Girlschool artist portrait, by Jen Rosenstein.

Anna Bulbrook’s Girlschool artist portrait, by Jen Rosenstein.

By Glen

It’s the dead of winter – literally and figuratively, as the tumbleweeds blow across The Airborne Toxic Event landscape. Even the ever-trusty Anna Bulbrook has gone quiet of late – though we do have a bit more Girlschool coverage to catch up on. But first, my 15-seconds of fame…

TIN Hits the Radio Waves

A couple weeks ago, my fellow British Columbian (represent!) Tim de Monkey gave me the heads up that CBC Radio was looking for stories about bands that are tragically underrated. One thing led to another and before I knew it, my letter was being read on air, as a lead-in to “Sometime Around Midnight.”

If nothing else, I think we converted Stephen Quinn, the program’s host, who tweeted: “The letter was brilliant. Thank you! I know them but will now dig deeper.” And on having to cut the song short: “So pissed we had to fade it under. My note for the early fade outcue was, ‘No! Don’t do it!'” Agreed, Stephen!

Anna Bulbrook’s Girlschool: Smashing Barriers, Smashing Success

Anna Bulbrook’s little festival grew into quite a big news event, generating an impressive amount of coverage – universally positive. There is clearly a thirst for what she is doing for the female music community.

As the festival opened, Dazed published an insightful interview with the founder. I had to laugh at her response to the question of whether it’s harder to collaborate with women than men; I assume she had her Airborne bandmates in mind when she said:

I think I semi-expected that to be true, because it’s a stereotype that exists. But I have found collaborating with women on writing music for the Bulls, or working with my crackerjack team at Girlschool, to actually be a far more free and direct process than some of my recent collaborations with men. Men have their own dynamics, egos, emotions, and politics as well. Everyone does! Making art is emotional, whatever gender you are, and bands are emotionally supercharged environments.

On the subject of the sadly still sexist music industry, Anna had some pointed comments, but also an inspiring vision.

Why aren’t there more women artists graduating from their local scenes to the next level? We supposedly “handled” this back in the 90s!

I think that music should be a safe space for everyone. Period. So I think standing up for what’s right – whether it’s standing up for yourself or someone else – is a good place to start. I also think creating intentionally positive pathways or environments for music, which is what we are trying to do with Girlschool, is another answer. And by the way, these pathways don’t have to be “female-themed” to be positive, either. There are myriad ways we can increase consciousness in our art form and the industry that surrounds it, and to make the world a more safe and free space for everyone.

I say: if the world doesn’t reach its arms out to you, then make your own, better one! And after a while, your new world will maybe grow to become the real one.

Anna also sat down with Take Part, with whom she shared a disheartening but unfortunately unsurprising truth about what she’s faced at times as a member of The Airborne Toxic Event:

“In the alternative rock world, there are very few female voices… There are also very few female side members in bands… People would think I was a girlfriend, or they would think I was the singer,” Bulbrook said, noting that as a classical  violinist who began playing at the age of four, she has the most professional music training of any of the members of the Airborne Toxic Event.

“I’ve been in the position where I was sort of asked to dress a little more provocatively to get a label executive to consider us more seriously,” Bulbrook added.

Like she said to Dazed, you would like to think we’d gotten past this kind of garbage, but clearly there is a long way to go – which makes her efforts all the more important.

“I call this the vitamin gummy approach to feminism,” Bulbrook said of creating an event stacked with a lineup of talented female musicians. “You make something that looks delicious, tastes delicious, but it also just happens to be really good for you.”

Live Nation TV combined their own interview with Anna with coverage from the first night of the festival. Asked about the future of the collective, Anna says there is definitely more to come.

We couldn’t plan this weekend without talking about all the other things we want to do. Unless lightening strikes, there will be a future for Girlschool. What that exactly entails, we’ll probably start planning it 24 hours after this weekend.

Finally, to tie a bow on our Girlschool coverage, here are a couple photo galleries worth checking out. LA Record provides a glimpse inside the event, while Jen Rosenstein took striking portraits of each Girlschool artist.

Toxic Gold

Missing Mikel? Us too. Remember that time he took the encore out to the street behind the venue?

GlenGlen 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.

Matt with Daren Taylor of The Airborne Toxic Event

Matt with Daren Taylor of The Airborne Toxic Event

Los Toxicos is a monthly feature where we get to know a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event. To nominate a fan (or yourself) for a future month, e-mail us.

Name: Matt Jameson (@mattjameson91)

Where are you from?

Stockton, CA

Tell us about yourself (who you are, what you do for a living, hobbies, etc.).

I’m 24 and I work in a dispatch office for a gasoline company that delivers to stations all over California. For fun, I mostly read or play guitar. These days most of my friends are spread out pretty far so I spend most of my time at home or driving for several hours to see them. As for concerts, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what most Airborne fans have done. I attend about 5 concerts a year, and have yet to go very far to attend one. Which I really have no excuse for since my schedule is so open. Perhaps it’s time for a late new year’s resolution?

How did you become a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event?

This calls for a story, and it began sometime around midnight. Many years ago I went through a pretty bad breakup with the girl who, at the time, was my whole world (oh youth). The situation had been mostly my fault and I had a very difficult time forgiving myself for that. So about a year later, I was still feeling penitent and still struggling with my frequent encounters with her. Since it had been so long, I kind of had this belief that I didn’t have the right to be heartbroken about it anymore. So I mostly kept my remorse to myself, while shaming myself for not having gotten over it yet.

Well, one day, I was driving a few friends of mine out of town with my friend Gage riding shot gun and playing DJ. Since he is originally from L.A. and returned there every summer, he always had amazing music to share. This time, none of it really caught my attention. I was just mindlessly driving and ignoring the conversation. That is, until something caught my attention. An explosive violin melody, paving the way for some of the greatest lyrics I have ever heard. From the moment it began till long after it ended, I was completely captivated by this story of a man, a woman, a bar, and that internal war we all go through when in the vague company of someone who once loved us back. He was telling me a story I had lived so many times, I almost felt like I knew this singer personally. Since that day, I have been completely in love with this band. And they have touched my life in more ways than I can ever fit on a page.

Do any of your family or friends like The Airborne Toxic Event? Did you convert them, or did they convert you?

Aside from Gage, no one else knew who they were. And I haven’t had much success converting anyone since. My girlfriend enjoys “Changing” and my best friend enjoys “All I Ever Wanted,” but I haven’t turned anyone into a fan yet. Though I did encounter someone who I believe to be the only other fan in my town. Hi Katie!

What does your Airborne Toxic Event collection include?

Oh boy. It would be easier to show you. I mostly collect posters and vinyl’s. I have limited wall space so I have to be picky. I don’t get to hang up the posters from individual concerts. I also have a stack of limited/signed CD’s that I’ve gathered from Ebay, and a framed collection of picks that only contains 4 so far. I am always on the lookout for more, so if you have an extra of any of your picks, contact me!

Airborne Toxic Event memorabilia

And here is my prized possession. A custom art piece made by my friend and girlfriend as an anniversary gift. I had it signed by the band and gave Mikel his own copy. He told me it was “really rad.” I wish I knew what he did with it.

Airborne Toxic Event artwork

What’s your favorite TATE song, and why?

That award goes to “Bride and Groom.” Along with being wonderful to listen to, “Bride and Groom” is another song that tells me a story I’ve already lived. That feeling of being comfortable in a situation that you know has an expiration. And the frustration of knowing that sometimes, things just don’t work out. The lyrics are beautiful and Mikel manages to open up a bit about something very personal, while weaving his confessions into metaphors and creative phrasing. It’s as if he sings in a language you can only understand if you’ve travel down certain roads in life. Or perhaps I’m completely wrong and just interpreting his music my own way. But that’s the beauty of music, isn’t it?

Have you ever had a special experience at a TATE concert? Tell us about it.

I’ve had my share of high fives, selfies and conversations with the band. But those aren’t the memories that really stick with me as much. What I find out satisfying about Airborne shows is seeing how much the band loves what they do when they are on stage. Their passion for their music and their fans is contagious. It doesn’t seem like they are just doing a job. They play every show like it’s a party to celebrate the end of the world. I wish everyone had a chance to experience how incredible it is to be a part of that.

What’s on your Airborne Toxic Event bucket list?

I am hoping for another Fillmore. The tickets sold out before I got any, and I didn’t watch the stream. So to me that show is a legend. I have daydreams about a five night show with every album. I would trade my car for that.

Are there any other bands you would recommend that Airborne fans check out?

Lately I’ve been hooked on Little May and Falls, the latter of which I discovered at my most recent Airborne show. If you haven’t heard them yet, do yourself a favor and check them out. They are so charming.

And as a bonus, here is a couple of pictures from the 2014 Ace of Spades show in Sacramento.

Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event, 2015

Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event, 2014


Mikel Jollett and Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event, 2015

Mikel Jollett and Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event, 2014

Anna Bulbrook is ready for #GIRLSCHOOL. From Anna's Facebook page.

Anna Bulbrook is ready for #GIRLSCHOOL. From Anna’s Facebook page.

By Glen

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!

Toxic Gold

Finally, because we could all use an Airborne fix, here’s an acoustic “Changing” – back when it was known as “Something You Own.”

GlenGlen 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.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

As we were in the throes of writing our upcoming Toxic History chapter on The Airborne Toxic Event’s third album Such Hot Blood (watch for that next week), we were contacted by our friend Steven Fein. In 2013, just prior to the release of the album, Steve had a chance to sit down with Mikel Jollett to discuss the making of the record. Last year we published a portion of that conversation, in which the pair discussed Bruce Springsteen and his influence on Jollett’s writing. Now, in a This Is Nowhere exclusive, Steve has graciously given us the opportunity to publish more of the interview. 

Steve Fein: First of all, “Timeless” is just a fantastic song. But I read I think in an interview with Billboard where you said something like, “Don’t write like you’re an indie rock artist or an art rock band, don’t write like you’re trying to write an Airborne song that’s gonna be huge, just write what’s in your heart.” And when I read that I was like what the hell is he talking about, cause to me the song sounds quintessential you.

Mikel: I feel like it’s a little more hopeful than I would normally try to write. I think some of the earlier stuff like “Wishing Well” or something there’s a lot of like desperation. I mean I guess that’s how I was feeling. But there’s a lot of desperation, there’s a lot of actual darkness. A lot of references to like claustrophobia and drug use and things like that which is very different than “I hope I don’t die, and I hope that in the meantime I can spend my time with a true love,” or something.

S: I mean it sounded like part of almost a triple set with “All at Once” and “Graveyard,” because they also have that defiance in the face of death and connection with people being what—

M: Yeah, “All I Ever Wanted.” That’s true it’s definitely a motif I guess, isn’t it. I hadn’t thought about that. Well I had written the lyrics to that song about ten different times and I couldn’t find it. The song just, you know, a song presents itself to you. And sometimes it does it on the first try and you’re psyched. It’s like, “Yeah.” But that’s rare. Only a couple songs have ever done that. And then sometimes you just chase it. And “Wishing Well” I chased. “Midnight” I actually wrote all at once, in like a day or two. “All I Ever Wanted” I chased. “All at Once” I chased. Most songs I chase.

S: You had that great line about 25 years chasing a song.

M: Oh yeah, in “The Storm?” Yeah. It’s definitely been a motif. I think that the difference with this song is that it’s not just an acknowledgement of it, there’s a desire to just want to do something about it. And I don’t know why that’s true now, but that wasn’t what was in my… when I sat down to write, I was in Cincinnati and I was running across some bridge, cause I like to go running on tour just to get the fuck away from everything. And I was just like singing the song, cause I’ll just sing all day long in my head trying to get it down. And I was singing all these different lines, and I was like “She disappeared alone in the dark…” and I was like “Ah!” and I stopped, and I borrowed like a pen from someone and a piece of paper and I wrote down the opening line. And I knew once I wrote that line that the rest of the song would present itself. It was like, you gotta start with one true thing. Phillip Roth talks about this, he’ll write when he starts a novel he’ll write a hundred pages in like three months until something feels alive. And he’s just searching for something that’s alive. And then he’ll write one paragraph and that one paragraph is alive. And he goes “There’s my book.” In this one paragraph. And then you take that, and it may not be the first paragraph of the book, but that’s when the book presents itself, that’s when the story presents itself. And with that line, that’s when the whole song, I got it. And then it was just a matter of the craft of creating a song about that idea, which is a whole other thing. Like, songwriting craft is whole other discussion. But just having craft isn’t enough, cause you have to have your imagination captured by an idea large enough to write about.

S: In his VH1 Storytellers session, Bruce Springsteen told telling the story about “Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street?” from his first album, and he said basically the exact same thing about it’s one line, and you know you have the song. And in that song it was, “Man the dopes that there’s still hope.” And the whole song was crafted around that line. So it’s interesting that you say that.

M: It would be interesting to kinda think about each song and think what was the one line when you knew. Like, “Bride and Groom” it was actually the opening line: “The city is haunted by the ghosts of failure.” That one made sense to me.

S: What I love about that song is the last part….. the writing of that song is just fantastic.

M: Thank you very much. That’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written.

S: It’s amazing and you know when I first heard it, actually the back half of the album, the songs didn’t sound quite as loud and boisterous. It’s a different type.

M: Right, it’s a different type. I did that on purpose. It’s almost like there’s a hot side and a cool side like they used to have. The second half is like the hand clap and finger snap, orchestral, it’s a little quirkier. The song writing structure, the first half except for “Safe,” is pretty strict in its structure and the second half is just wide open.

S: Yeah, it’s just fantastic. And you know, playing around with the vocals with Anna. And to me, like “Elizabeth” when I first heard it, it’s like “Oh that’s sweet and clever,” but then I listened to it a couple times and I’m like “Oh my god!” like that last verse—

M: It’s a killer right?

S: That last verse is, oh my god.

M: And then it’s just over! And…

S: And that last line…

M: And that last line, is the gnarliest line on the entire record.

S: But it just sums up everything doesn’t it!

M: And then it just ends! It doesn’t even resolve, you know, cause it ends on the 5. It just hangs there. And I was like oh my god, that’s gotta be the last line.

S: Yeah, that last line just does it. And it seems like in a way it’s a response to the previous song “The Fifth Day.” You know, here’s what you learned that you have to say…maybe that the person couldn’t say.

M: I was also trying to break the tension. “The Fifth Day” is such a big, imagined song and I was hoping people would go on that journey with me. I mean we’ll see if they do or not, I’m not sure. Because it requires a certain commitment to the journey and what that song’s about which is sort of like the re-imagining of kind of sadness. Like the majesty of sadness, this whole second half. And there are the two voices at the start, and they’re both almost like two bubbles saying kind of the same thing but from different perspectives, and then the end is the kind of imagined dream-life that they share. And that song makes a lot of sense at like three in the morning. When I wrote that song actually there was a lot of time spent just blaring it at three in the morning. Like the whole neighborhood’s asleep and I’m pacing around my house with that song, I’m writing parts. I wrote that song over the course of a week. And that whole latter half just arranging it and just blaring it in the middle of the night. It makes sense, but I wasn’t sure if it would make sense in the day like if people hear it if they’d be like “What the fuck is this?”

S: At least for me it took two or three listens but it was so much more rewarding going through that journey. Is the wordless outro because it just sounded good to you or was it because it’s sort of a comment on the fact that you were saying earlier in the song “words don’t matter” or “you can’t find the words” or something along those lines?

M: Oh that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. But that—”Yes”, let’s just go with “Yes.” I love that. No, but, maybe that’s how you know it’s honest. I didn’t have to mean it. I didn’t have to intend it. It just happened that way. The wordless outro was…something about this music spoke to me and it felt like you get these two characters and they’re so sad. And this song, it’s not bleak, like “Innocence” or something is, it’s just sad. They’re just sad. And then by the end there’s almost this childlike fascination of, you know, the majesty of their own sadness. You know what I mean? And I was really trying to go for that, bring that idea to life. Because it was definitely like a dreamscape.

S: It sounds to me also, though, that the person in the song is starting to gain some self-awareness by the end that he was lacking before, before that loss.

M: Yeah that’s interesting. This whole record is that I think.

S: Yeah! And that brings that last line from “Elizabeth” back. You know, you’re sort of guessing what love is, whether love is real.

M: Yeah, because you don’t know. You don’t really know what anything is. And you know the irony of writing all these songs about love and you’re not really sure you really know at all. I guess I was trying to break the tension a little bit too. That song’s a hair tongue-in-cheek. You know that line about being uptight for a Mexican girl. I love that line. And so I didn’t want it to be too serious. “The Fifth Day” it’s like this big song and by the end you’re just like weeping. I wanted there to be a little bit of light, light-heartedness. Even if that lightheartedness is still kind of gnarly.

S: Well yeah when it switches, these are all love songs and sometimes love makes you feel shitty. I just love that you know it turns like that in that last verse.

M: Thanks.

S: Anyway going back to the mortality kind of thing from “All at Once” and “Graveyard” and “Timeless,” I know that part of the origin story of the band and your week from hell where you sort of pumped some gas and were exposed to the toxic cloud. So that obviously was a seminal turning point, but did you think about that kind of stuff much before that at all?

M: Yeah for sure. I wrote a novel about it. I wrote two novels about it.

S: So do you feel when you do that that you’re gaining insight or that it’s cathartic or just you have to do it so you do it even if it doesn’t necessarily help you work things through…

M: Yeah I think writing, actually writing is more like that where it’s like you want to know what you think about something so you write about it, cause you have to organize your own thoughts. This is a little bit more like, yeah you’re estranged to yourself, and I guess there’s a reckoning there. Like are you asking what’s the impetus to write? And whether or not that’s like catharsis?

S: Well, yeah. That’s more the consequence of writing rather than just the impetus. I understand the impetus as in you just feel like you need to get this out and explore it. But does it help other than to get it out, in terms of gaining awareness or feeling like somehow you’re cheating death or anything along those lines?

M: Well a little bit of cheating death ’cause you’re creating something you hope someone will hear in 100 years and they’ll be like “Oh, I thought that. Alright.” And it’s like you’re winking at him, or waving to him from the grave like, “Hey guy, I thought this.” And the guy’s like “Hey, that guy’s dead but he thought this. Cool.” It’s sort of like, there’s a desire to communicate, because you’re really, really, really alone. And you don’t want to be so alone with your weird thoughts and your fucking weird, strange feelings that you have that you find weird. It’s not like I don’t find them weird too. I do.

And so then you write a song, and something about the idea of communicating, it’s a way of, without having to write a whole book, or without, or maybe even more intensely so, really getting your point across. And the desire to communicate that, is a desire to be less alone with it. And for someone else to hear it and hopefully relate to it and if they do, then it’s just—you’re just part of this big tragic comedy of life. You’re part of it and they’re part of it, and then it’s like okay, because you relate it, and then you’re like “Yeah!” and then something that felt so strange, and so isolating, and so weird suddenly becomes like “eh.” And that’s one of the great things about life is no matter what your trials are, no matter what you’re going through that seems so horrific in your own mind at 2 AM, you talk to someone about it, you communicate it out in the world. The idea of “The Secret,” like once the secret’s out, once it’s done, there’s a real freedom because then everyone kind of just goes “fuck it.”

And that’s one of the great things about mankind. It’s like propensity for violence, for hatred of others, hatred of ourselves, whatever. But then there’s such incredible desire for grace and for kindness and for acceptance or just to kind of commune. And I guess something about music is that, and that’s why I love playing shows, cause that sense of communing with others is kind of what you’re at at the moment of writing. And everything else in the middle is kind of horse shit, right? The production and the record and the marketing, all that bullshit. Like there’s a moment where you have the impetus to write, and then you write, cause you don’t want to be alone. And then there’s a moment where somebody hears it, and whatever goes on in their own heads, which is different from what’s in your head, and you have to respect that, happens. And there’s this yawning, fucking gulf between those two things, right? Of arrangements and production and producers and fucking Twitter and all this press and all the record labels and marketing and bookface and all this shit. And then on the other side of it somebody hearing it and something becomes sort of a light in their own mind, and those two moments are the important ones.

And the goal is to make all this stuff go away as much as possible so that there’s just this moment. And the place where that happens most purely and spontaneously is at a show, and that’s why I love playing shows. You look out in the crowd and everyone’s singing your song that you wrote because you didn’t want to be alone and you are literally not alone because they’re singing it too, and you know they had a moment with it, it may be different from your moment but that’s fine, you know you had a moment and you’re all there together. Sometimes I feel like you can see it from space, like we emanated some kind of light that in this room would be the brightest room in the whole world. Cause everybody’s emanating this light of sort of wanting to commune with one another and they’re caught up in the music, and I’m caught up in it too. And you can’t fake something like that. You can’t. Honesty just sounds different. I don’t know why that’s true, but it’s true. Honesty just sounds different so you can’t fake it. People know if you’re full of shit, people are way smarter than you think. Cause people want that moment of communion.

S: Yeah, maybe that’s part of why they call it concert, you know. There’s this union there.

M: I like that.

Steven Fein is a Williams College Professor of Psychology by day, published Springsteen writer by night.