Posts Tagged ‘artwork’

The Airborne Toxic Event delighted the crowd when the Dope Machines Tour hit Boston. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography,

The Airborne Toxic Event delighted the crowd when the Dope Machines Tour hit Boston. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography,

By Glen

Lots of goodies in this week’s Airborne Toxic Event news update, as the band stirs up trouble overseas.

Songs of God and Whiskey Performance

In news that has me (once again) seriously contemplating relocating my family to Southern California, The Airborne Toxic Event have announced a special “one night only” front-to-back performance of Songs of God and Whiskey, their new acoustic rock record. The show, which will take place on May 31 at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA, will also feature a selection of songs from the rest of the TATE catalog. (Excuse me while I wallow in envy. And as an aside – seriously – is there ANY band that goes to the lengths that TATE does to please their fans? Full album shows, acoustic shows, club shows, orchestra shows, residencies… it’s an endless string of special occasions.)

Meanwhile, the band has also been tapped to play Alternative Buffalo’s Kerfuffle, slated for July 25 at Canalside. If you’re interested in attending, take note: though TATE’s announcement and website both list the date as June 25, the one day festival actually takes place a month later.

Mikel Hits the Interview Circuit

Mikel Jollett has been doing a lot of talking of late, sitting down for a chat with whoever cares to listen as The Airborne Toxic Event traipses around the globe. This week alone there were three significant interviews.

In a print Q&A with Mind Equals Blown, the front man addressed the topic of indie rock and whether Airborne qualifies for that label anymore, to which he joked that no one knows what indie even means anymore, “except that perhaps someone is wearing plaid.” He also spelled out the irony at the heart of Dope Machines:

It (the irony) was deliberate. We can’t deny all these buggy little machines have changed our lives: heart monitors and laptops and apps and artificial lungs and smart phones and drones. It’s all so terrifying and exhilarating, like we have one foot in the future and one in the deep past, like a billion cavemen standing around an enormous fire as a big as a mountain, trading stories and singing songs.

So our little tongue-in-cheek commentary on all this was to take these terrifying and exhilarating little machines and use them to make a record.

I was pleased to hear Mikel address this directly, as it brought to mind something I mused back in October:

Mikel has called the album Airborne’s OK Computer. As a long-time U2 fan, another comparison comes to mind: Achtung Baby – not only because it represents a major departure from an established sound, but also in the artistic motivation behind each project.

On the surface, it seems contradictory for the band to make an entire album on machines as a means to comment on humanity’s over-reliance on machines. But that’s exactly what U2 did in the ’90’s, when they wholeheartedly embraced shallow celebrity and the worst of pop culture in order to undermine it (as on Achtung and the Zoo TV Tour), and again when they later clothed the Popmart Tour in crass commercialism to expose the inherent vapidness of consumer culture. Irony is a powerful way to make a point, and it sounds like The Airborne Toxic Event is attempting something akin to that with this new record. Since Achtung Baby is my all-time favorite non-TATE album, I cannot wait to enter into this experience with them.

With the group having landed in Europe a few days ago, a couple of German radio appearances have also become available. The first one found Mikel and Steven Chen in studio with PULS. They discussed life on the road, the perils of listing “black socks” on your rider and the optimal level of onstage drunkenness. Mikel had this to say about touring Dope Machines and the agenda for the rest of the year.

We did the primary leg for Dope Machines in the fall, actually. We split this up quite a bit. And then we’re doing another leg… we’re just in permanent touring. We’re doing another leg this fall, and between now and then we’re doing a bunch of festival stuff. It just kind of feels like you record for awhile, and then you’re just gone for a long period of time.

Later, Mikel was joined by Anna Bulbrook and Daren Taylor for a session with RBB. Mikel did most of the talking, but Anna and Daren got a chance to shine as the trio performed a gorgeous acoustic version of “California,” which gave Anna and her viola a starring role, and, notably, also included a lyric change in the chorus:

Here in California, I was
Just a name and a number, a thirst and a hunger.

Mikel also provided some interesting back story on the album art for Songs of God and Whiskey:

That’s a local artist named Mike Stilkey, who is part of Black Market Collective in Culver City, which is a collective that Shepherd Fairy belonged to, and a bunch of local Los Angeles artists – Shepherd Fairy, who did the big Obama poster that was really famous; almost looks like Russian constructivism. So he’s been part of that scene, and he’s a very prominent artist in Los Angeles, and he’s a friend, and we asked him if he would do a specialty cover for our record, and so he painted that for us.

Stilkey, it should be noted, was invited by the band to display his artwork at the All I Ever Wanted show at Disney Concert Hall in 2009; his work is seen briefly in the film and he gets a shout out during the “Missy” role call. A quick tour through his online gallery reveals a number of pieces that are very close in style to the God and Whiskey artwork (see especially paintings #9, 12, 13, 27, 32 and 33). A deeper dig unearthed this 2008 painting by Stilkey which shows that the cover image was actually adapted from an earlier Stilkey piece:

Mike Stilkey painting circa 2008, later adapted for The Airborne Toxic Event’s Songs of God and Whiskey.

As the interview with RBB progressed, Mikel also explained in more detail how the band was involved in different aspects of the recording of Dope Machines, including Daren providing input on beat programming, and Anna contributing vocals to a number of tracks.

13 Way of Looking at a Black Bird

Cornel Bonca is a Professor of English, an expert on White Noise and an appreciator of fine music. Thus, it’s no surprise that he’s a big fan of The Airborne Toxic Event.

For the third time, Cornel has published a masterpiece that provides a window into the soul of the band, and particularly Mikel. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Bird” is ostensibly a review of Dope Machines and Songs of God and Whiskey, but it’s much more than that. Having had the privilege of sitting with Mikel on a number of occasions, Cornel understands what makes him tick, and brings uncommon insight to his analysis of his work, as he analyzes “the Jollett Guy” with as much precision as he does Jack Gladney in his college courses.

To quote everything that struck me as I read Cornel’s latest article would make this one far too long, so instead I’ll just recommend that you give it a read and select just my favorite passage:

Either album could’ve been called Songs of God and Whiskey. Every album The Airborne Toxic Event has ever done could’ve been called Songs of God and Whiskey. The whiskey part of it’s easy: like every red-meat rock band, Airborne’s songs are peppered with references to intoxicants: mescaline, cocaine, pills, pot, rye whiskey, vodka tonics, beer, “cheap ass wine,” etc. And we all know what “whiskey,” broadly conceived, is for: it’s, to bend a metaphor, another kind of dope machine, a powerful way to drown out fear, and the Jollett Guy is good at that. As for God, well: Mikel Jollett wasn’t raised into a particular faith, but he comes largely from Italian and Jewish stock, and besides guilt, what neither Italian nor Jew can ever completely get rid of is a looming intimidating God. On the two new records, God is cursed, appealed to, challenged and, at one particularly vulnerable point, called “unkind,” and it’s not a stretch to say that Jollett’s romanticism is pretty much “spilt religion,” spiritual aspiration re-directed at heart and flesh. But God is never quite absent in these songs. In DeLillo’s The Falling Man — there’s DeLillo again — “God is the voice that says, ‘I am not here.’” And it’s the uncanny rumble of that voice echoing in the sky that flutters through the black bird’s wings.

Road Coverage

As always, here’s a brief roundup of coverage of the most recent shows from The Airborne Toxic Event:

TuneArt: Photos from the European tour opener in München.

Rare Buzz (CD 102.5 Day Side B Columbus show review): “What a show they put on!  Much like Bleachers at Side A, Airborne is a true professional act – I could see either on a stadium tour, and just as easily at a smaller venue.  These guys genuinely love to perform…  They put on one of those shows where you look down at your watch after the set and realize an hour is passed without realizing it.”

Rachael Barbash: A nice gallery of images from TATE’s appearance at CD 102.5 Day Side B in Columbus.

Toxic Gold:

In honor of the upcoming Songs of God and Whiskey show, here’s “The Fall of Rome” at February’s Dope Machines release celebration at Amoeba Music, courtesy of Henry R.

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.

Bathed in Blue: Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

Bathed in Blue: Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

By Glen

Any week in which we get new music from The Airborne Toxic Event is a good week indeed. So let’s get straight to recapping what was a very good week for TATE fans.

Dope Machines UnChained

The shackles have been released – Dope Machines is on the loose!

Rumors of a Feb. 24 on sale date for The Airborne Toxic Event’s new album turned out to be on point, confirmed by the band late last week. On Tuesday, Dope Machines hit iTunes and other digital retailers for the start of the pre-order period. In the process, eager TATE fans were able to get their grubby hands on an early download of the LP’s closing song, “Chains.”

“Chains,” which was premiered on Monday by VH1 (and for which we posted a snap review and lyrics), is described thusly by Mikel Jollett:

I wrote the song on one of the 400 days I spent locked inside working on the record. It’s sort of Los Angeles, about the idea of sprawl, how the great expanse of interconnectivity (physical, digital, social) can make u feel so alone when there’s no center and no edge and no end.

Fan reaction to the track has been almost universally positive, in contrast to the mixed response that the heavily synthesized “Wrong” has received. Though there have been a few dissenters, the overwhelming consensus would seem to indicate that “Chains” has succeeded in its presumed mission to stoke excitement about the album release and spur pre-orders.

In the highly unlikely event that there is anyone in the world who likes the band enough to be reading this article and yet has somehow not heard the song, here’s the audio:

You’re So American… Or Not

When Dope Machines appeared in the iTunes store late Monday evening (yes, Monday – it pays to live in the Pacific time zone), fans were thrilled to see an unexpected eleventh track on the listing: “You’re So American,” which we had earlier posited would be right at home on Dope Machines. Like many fans, I placed my pre-order immediately.

Yesterday, I poked my head back into the virtual shop, only to discover that my pre-order had disappeared. Upon further investigation, the 11-track version of the album was nowhere to be found in the store; it had been replaced by the 10-track album we had all originally expected.

After doing some digging, we were able to confirm that the original posting was a mistake. The 10-track version of the album is the only one that will be available. All pre-orders for the 11-track version have been cancelled outright; if you ordered your copy within the first day or so of it becoming available, you will need to place a new pre-order for the correct version.

The Airborne Toxic Event Dope Machines Cover ArtNude on White

The other major piece of the puzzle to come into focus this week was the album artwork. The first opportunity to see it came Friday when Shazam users were offered the chance for a sneak peek by Shazaming “Wrong.” By Monday, the cover was all over the internet.

The artwork is striking in its simplicity. After I spent entirely too much time developing my theory on what it means, Mikel ended the suspense by explaining it for us:

The cover image for our new record Dope Machines, features a photograph entitled “Nude on White” by innovative Mid century photographer Paul Himmel. I saw his work and immediately was drawn to his use of grain and high contrast to create images that were simultaneously foreign, clearly altered but unmistakably human. I felt it captured the tone of Dope Machines. Himmel was married to another highly influential mid-century photographer named Lillian Bassman. Her work echoed similar ideas: obscured but iconically human.

Paul died in 2009 after 73 years of marriage to Lillian who followed three years later. We contacted the estate and eventually were put in touch with Paul and Lillian’s children who upon learning about the band and our sincere admiration of their parent’s work, graciously allowed us to use Paul’s photograph for our cover art.

I was honored and elated and remain in their debt.

I was quite surprised to learn that the image is 60-odd years old, as I was certain that the woman in the picture was clutching a phone in her right hand. So much for my theory. Even so, when I consider this image in the context of the subject matter of Dope Machines, it strikes me as saying something about how, as we use our magnificent technology to connect with other human beings, we’re only seeing a fuzzy shadow of the persons they truly are, and they us. It is not at all what I was expecting of the album cover, given the spacey, digital feel of the “Wrong” single artwork, and yet it’s entirely fitting.

Meanwhile, the decision to release the artwork through Shazam, much like the choice last week to reveal the track list through an Instagram pic, is another appropriate tie-in to the Dope Machines theme. Unfortunately, the technology isn’t perfect. Some users, including myself initially, were not able to make the sneak peek link appear in Shazam. I thought perhaps it was only available to American users; however, I was eventually able to get it to work using the iPad app. I never did succeed with my iPhone. Regardless, it wasn’t long before the image had spread far and wide.

TIN’s Julie alerted me to a very informative article that explains the critical role that Shazam plays in the music industry today, which sheds some light on why the band chose to use that particular app for the big reveal. Times sure have changed…

Anna in the News

As reported last week, Anna Bulbrook made an appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend, as a guest musician on Sia’s performance of “Chandelier.” Unfortunately, she was very tough to spot, hidden as she was behind a mime (speaking of changing times). But it sounded lovely.

Meanwhile, axs caught up with Ms. Bulbrook to talk about her new project, The Bulls. Anna says her Airborne bandmates are “being rad” about her new gig, and compares her new role as leading lady to performing with TATE:

Playing songs you have played forever with people you’ve played with forever is like getting on a beloved, familiar train. You get on, the train goes, maybe you have a glass of champagne, then you get off. It’s fun and comfortable and special, all at the same time. But I’ve played with lots of other people and bands over the years, so I’m used to doing things in lots of ways. The giant difference is that in The Bulls, I stand in the middle. Everything is strange and different when you are singing.

Coastline Cancelled

Disappointing news for Florida TATE fans who were looking forward to catching the band in February at the Coastline Festival. The festival has been cancelled due to financial difficulties.

Mikel Named One of Stanford’s Best

Best Paths runs down the top five Stanford alumni in the music industry. Not surprisingly, yer man Mikel cracked the list.

Toxic Gold

When The Airborne Toxic Event hit Coachella in 2013, Baeble Music caught up with Mikel and Daren for a chat, and also captured an intimate private performance of “The Storm” and “Timeless.”

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.

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.