Posts Tagged ‘interview’

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.

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Anna Bulbrook gets high as Mikel Jollett looks on during The Airborne Toxic Event's set at Riot Fest Toronto. Photo by Trish Cassling.

Anna Bulbrook gets high as Mikel Jollett looks on during The Airborne Toxic Event’s set at Riot Fest Toronto. Photo by Trish Cassling.

By Glen

We’re smack dab in the middle of the most action-packed week The Airborne Toxic Event has had in months. After playing four sets in three cities in just over 48 hours last weekend and hitting Buffalo Tuesday night, the band finishes off the first portion of the Whiskey Machine Tour with another four set, three city, 48 hour whirlwind: New York City (last night), Anna Bulbrook’s hometown Boston tonight, and Philadelphia tomorrow. That final stop will include a private set for the winners of the band’s Shazam contest, to be held a couple hours before the main event.

A Close Call

The band’s frenzied performance schedule this week is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Mikel Jollett has been doing it hopped up on painkillers after a recent car crash that could’ve been much worse. He shared the scary details in an interview with CBS Philly:

I hydroplaned on the 10 freeway and spun off and totaled the car. I almost died; like, it was crazy. Went down an embankment, got pinned by a boulder. I just spun off the freeway at a high speed. It was insane. My back’s all messed up… nothing major, just some muscle stuff.

As to playing the shows on meds, he says, “It’s been interesting. We played a show the other night and I forgot the lyrics to a song, then we play another show in Toronto at Riot Fest and I forgot the lyrics to another song, and I put it in the wrong key, because I’m on all these muscle relaxers and pain killers. The show’s been loopy, but fun. I’ve never been that into drugs, more than you’re average wayward rock and roll person in the big city I guess, but man, it’s been a whole nother experience.”

I’m sure I speak for the entire Airborne fan community when I say, thank God it wasn’t worse. Take care of yourself, Mikel, and thanks for keeping the show on the road.

Speaking of God, elsewhere in the interview, Mikel waxes theological as he considers the Pope’s visit to Philly coinciding with the band’s show on Saturday. He also looks back at the reaction to Dope Machines, concluding that he had fretted unnecessarily.

I think I was hand-ringing over nothing. When you make something, you spend so much time on it, you feel like a lot of nervous energy about how it’s going to be received. Early on there were people, like on Facebook that were so mad that we made an electronic record and I wasn’t sure if they were expressing some larger will, and it turns out they weren’t.

A Not So Silent Night

The Airborne Toxic Event has been a regular at holiday shows over the years, and the first announcement in that regard came down recently. The band will return to Denver with Bastille, Cold War Kids and others on Dec. 5, for Channel 93.3’s Not So Silent Night.

Reading Between the Lines

From the department of “I May Be Reading Too Much into This” comes this tweet:

It’s just four little letters that could ultimately mean nothing, but that “hmmm” has me quite optimistic that we will get some kind of official recording of Airborne’s very popular cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” before too long. May it be so!

Road Recaps

Assorted coverage of The Airborne Toxic Event’s most recent road escapades:

Anti Music tagged the band as one of the MVP’s of Riot Fest Chicago.

Music Felon published a photo gallery from TATE’s electrifying gig in Austin.

AXS Entertainment captured the fun at Riot Fest Toronto. So did Riff You. And so did The Reviews Are In.

Buffalo News published a huge collection from Airborne’s visit earlier this week; if you were there, you’ll probably find yourself in their extensive fan shots.

Mulling Over Midnight

As part of their ongoing “What’s THAT Supposed to Mean?” series, Popdose recently covered The Airborne Toxic Event’s best loved song, “Sometime Around Midnight.” The writer, Beau Dure, muses about why he feels so connected to a song that describes experiences he’s never personally had – a sensation that I am very familiar with myself.

The question I’ve wrestled with is this, and the reason I’m writing about this song in this series: What do I get from this song? Why does it resonate with me?

I’ve never been in this situation. I was never a serious drinker — never “lost in the haze of the wine” or stumbling down a street oblivious to everyone’s stares. I haven’t had a breakup I regretted since I started college.

The closest I can come to that feeling would be in college, watching situations in which I didn’t even have a chance to be the ex. I haven’t checked with Duke, but I may still hold the university record for unrequited crushes. I can’t think of a specific situation in which I saw someone I admired from afar walking off with another guy, but if you add up all the times I realized someone was out of my league or just walking in different circles (like frat parties, which I never had the slightest interest in attending), I could probably come up with a pretty good amalgam.

Indie History

Noisy published a compelling retrospective off failed Los Angeles radio station Indie 103.1. With the station’s heyday having coincided with the rise of The Airborne Toxic Event, the band gets an extended spotlight in the story. Mikel recalls what the station’s support meant to his upstart operation:

We had been a band for about a year and I think Mark Sovel had us in to the studio to do a live performance of a song. It was really cool because we were just a local band playing Spaceland and El Cid and places like that.

I had this little clock radio and it was on Indie 103.1 and I heard our song, “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” and was like, “Woah, this is so cool!” It was like that moment in La Bamba.

It’s one thing when you hear something through your speakers or monitor speaks in the studio or something, but hearing something that you’re a part of on your tiny, little fuckin’ digital talk radio—that’s a trip. I think it also followed the song “Push” by the Cure, which is one of my all-time favorite songs. I kind of welled up a bit.

In January of 2008, we played this [Indie-hosted] residency at Spaceland and in the fourth week of the residency—again, we’re still a local band, no manager, no record deal, nothing—and Indie 103.1 added us to their rotation, started playing our song all the time, which was a huge deal for us…We never figured that the radio would play us and then they did. It was this really weird moment because it was embarrassing how exciting it was.

KROQ [added The Airborne Toxic Event] that same week and it was crazy. The audience totally changed. It was bigger. I think 1200 people showed up to that show for our residency and Spaceland has a capacity of 300. There’s a little documentary online about that night. That was kind of weird. The week before, there was 200.

The other thing that changed was the audience. Before that, it was our friends and people in the scene and music fans from the Eastside or wherever. Then suddenly people drove from the Valley or people drove from the South Bay or the Westside to come see a show at Spaceland. It was just a much bigger crowd and it was a different kind of crowd.

Radio is very competitive and there are all kinds of charts that show you the research of how this song is performing…There is detailed research and it’s all tied to ad revenue, right? But, Indie 103.1 didn’t seem to care. They just liked playing what they liked and they had some cool people working there—Sovel being one of them—that just had good taste and liked good music and just sort of believed that if they did that then the rest of it would fall into place.

Toxic Gold

Yep… I’m a little obsessed with “Pursuit of Happiness” at the moment. Here’s the performance from Riot Fest Toronto, courtesy of danielscissorhands.

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 celebrated his 41st birthday on Thursday. Photo by Ryan Macchione, MacPhotographers.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event celebrated his 41st birthday on Thursday. Photo by Ryan Macchione, MacPhotographers.

By Glen

Another week centered around the hospital for my family means a delayed Toxicity this week, dashed off during my Friday lunch break. Let’s get right to it.

Mikel Riffs on Fans, Critics

Earlier this week, music site Riff You published a typically revealing interview with Mikel Jollett, in which the artist opened up about his uneasy relationship with the fame and attention that his songwriting has wrought.

Yeah, I fucking hate it. I do not want to be in the public eye at all. It’s not like I want to, but want to control it…I just do not want to be at all. I just want to make music and then return to my life. I don’t ask for it, I don’t court it, I don’t want it, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to date famous people, I don’t want to be a famous person…I don’t want any part of that shit. I want my own private life with my friends and family and I want to make songs.

That said, he still has a great deal of appreciation for his fans.

For the most part, our fans are very thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive people. Your typical Airborne Toxic Event fan is either a 16-year-old honours English student, a couple in their 30s, or an idealistic college kid who wants to be a novelist. They tend to be smart and thoughtful people, so I really enjoy their company and I’m always amazed that they come to shows. I am always like, ‘wow, you guys are here!’

Likewise, Mikel revealed his mixed feelings about the song insights he has shared through social media over the past year (which, it should be noted, the fans absolutely love).

I find a lot of it vulgar. Like, I don’t want to talk about [the songs like that.] My manager wanted me to put those [explanations] up, so I put them up. People seem to like them and that’s cool. But, I definitely don’t want to be in the position where I am not trying to be grateful to people who are fans of my band…because it’s awesome.

At the same time, it feels vulgar to me. I don’t want to talk about [the songs] in my daytime, analytical self. I don’t like that people discuss and analyze music. I hate fucking critics. I hate people who think that a song can be broken down into its composite parts. It just doesn’t work that way. I hate awards…all of that stuff seems like such bullshit to me. So I don’t want to talk about it. I want the contract to be between artist and listener…just about the song. If you like the song, listen to it – the same way I did with songs that touched me while growing up – like the Velvet Underground. I didn’t care what Lou Reed was doing that day or thought about when [making the song.] I didn’t care if he was a thoughtful person or kind of a prick, or the nicest guy ever. Who cares? I just wanted that moment with the song.

It’s an interesting position Mikel finds himself in. His ability to devote his life to songwriting and performing depends upon that work finding an audience sizable enough to support he, his bandmates, crew and management team. And yet, that audience entails the very fame he wishes to avoid.

Fortunately, by and large, the integrity and depth of the band attracts an audience that is similarly thoughtful and respectful. But the more successful the group becomes, the harder it gets to keep a lid on things. This no doubt gives rise to an internal tension: how big does the band really want to be at the end of the day?

As close followers of the band, we at This Is Nowhere are acutely aware of this dichotomy. We want to engage with Mikel’s work in a meaningful way while always respecting the art of it, knowing full well that the songs stand on their own and that none of our words can do them justice. We analyze in the daytime what poured forth from the soul of the writer in the dead of night, and there are inherent limitations in this endeavor. We trust that Mikel and the band understand the heart behind what we do here.

“California” Video Hits iTunes

After its release last week on YouTube, The Airborne Toxic Event’s latest music video is now available for purchase on iTunes. Speaking of “California,” we learned the identity of the young actress who plays… well… a young actress who finds stardom harder to come by than she expected.

Tara’s performance brings a ton of heart to the video. Well done!

The Bulls (Anna Bulbrook and Marc Sallis) perform in Los Angeles, May 21, 2015. Photo by Kristina.

The Bulls (Anna Bulbrook and Marc Sallis) perform their dreamy shoegaze pop in Fullerton, May 21, 2015. Photo by Kristina.

Outlook for Summer: Bullish

While things have been quiet for The Airborne Toxic Event this week, the same cannot be said for Anna Bulbrook, who has devoted much of her downtime to her fledgling band, The Bulls. Ahead of a Fullerton, CA performance last night, KROQ played The Bulls’ latest song, “Small Problems,” on their “Locals Only” segment. A crunchy bassline underscores Anna’s spacey vocals as she urges her lover to deal with “what you call your small problems,” repeatedly intoning, “You’ve got to change your heart.”

The station also suggested that the band will release their debut EP this summer, so stay tuned for new music coming soon.

Quick Hits

It’s about time for me to be getting back to work, so here are some quick links to things that caught our eye this week.

Mimosas and Tea reflects on TATE’s return to London last month. Airborne Toxic Event is on a very short list of bands that I will drop anything and everything to see if the distance does not require a plane ride, (and even then I may be convinced).

Punks in Vegas provides another solid review of Songs of God and Whiskey. Incidentally, Alternative Buffalo is the first known radio station to air tracks from SOGAW, with both “Poor Isaac” and “California” getting played of late. “I have never been a fan of b-side albums. They always felt like a marketing gimmick, bands saying, ‘here’s some songs we don’t think are good enough for an album, but we still want you to pay for them.’ I was surprised, upon listening to the album, that The Airborne Toxic Event managed to avoid that.”

X96 presents an extensive gallery of photos from Airborne’s acoustic set at the recent BASH pre-party.

Toxic Gold

We’ll close this issue by jumping on the “Goodbye, Letterman” bandwagon and look back fondly on The Airborne Toxic Event’s first appearance on The Late Show back in 2009. The band won themselves many fans with this performance of “Sometime Around Midnight” – not least of all the host himself, who would invite them back four more times, and handpicked them as the musical guest for his 25th anniversary show. Thanks, Dave, for your unflagging support of our band.

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.

Steven Chen and Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event get their licks in at the Radio 104.5 Block Party. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

Steven Chen and Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event get their licks in at the Radio 104.5 Block Party. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

By Glen

This week we present an early edition of Toxicity, due to the fact that I’m tied up with a past love the next two days, in the form of the opening two nights of U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour here in Vancouver.

It’s my first time seeing U2 since the unthinkable happened and The Airborne Toxic Event brought their twenty-year reign as my favorite band obsession to an abrupt halt in 2011. And I have to say, as pumped as I am to see them again, it’s a weird feeling. I feel a bit like Tom Hanks’ fiancé when he returns from years missing on Castaway: “Sooo thrilled to see you, couldn’t be happier, but there’s something I need to tell you. This is… awkward. Um, you see… While you were gone, I met this other band…”

By the way, all that wishful thinking about The Airborne Toxic Event opening for U2? Nope. For the first time in two years, U2 will tour without an opener.

Anyway, back to the band you came here to read about!

“California” Music Video Released

In case you missed it on Monday, for the third consecutive week, The Airborne Toxic Event released a new video, this time dropping the official video for current single “California.”

True confession time: “California” is well down the list of my favorite songs from Dope Machines (off the top of my head, it’s probably ninth out of ten). That says more about how much I adore the rest of the album than how I feel about “California,” but still, it wouldn’t have been my preferred choice as one of the top draws of the record.

BUT… I love this video. A lot. In fact, I would say that it moves me more than any of Airborne’s previous videos. Maybe it’s the father’s heart in me that cracks a little every time I see that poor, desperate girl land in a strip club. But really, everything in this video works perfectly: the tone, the color, the threads of stories, the gorgeous shots of the musicians against beautiful and intriguing backdrops, the see of faces… it’s just a home run from top to bottom. And now, with these images burned in my brain, my enjoyment of the song when it comes up on the stereo has increased immensely as well.

Upon releasing the video, Mikel had this to say:

Filmed all over LA and its outskirts, this video is about drought, nostalgia, hope, regret, longing, and so many other things that make this place feel both like home and a half-remembered dream. This is “California.”

Watch: The Airborne Toxic Event Acoustic Set

Last week, The Airborne Toxic Event performed a short acoustic set the night before their appearance at the X96 Big Ass Show, at a pre-party that marked the 20th anniversary of the one-day festival.

X96 has released pro-shot videos of every song that TATE played. Unfortunately I can’t embed the videos here, but click on the links below to view them. Most notable is the stunning rendition of “One Time Thing,” with the distorted bass line that drives the song replaced by Anna’s mesmerizing viola. It gives the song an entirely different flavor that has me yearning for a Bombastic video. And with Mikel announcing here that this will be the next single off the album, the odds of that seem pretty good.

Changing
One Time Thing
Hell and Back
Sometime Around Midnight
All I Ever Wanted

Meanwhile, Radio 104.5 provided a glimpse into TATE’s other recent festival appearance, the Summer Block Party, in the form of a short highlight video.

Big Ass Interview Promises Big Ass News

Before The Airborne Toxic Event took the stage at the aforementioned Big Ass Show, they sat down for a chat with X96. In that interview, Mikel promised, “We’re about to make a bunch more announcements. We just did a bunch of things, then we’re gonna go home and in a week we’re going to announce a whole bunch of other things.” While playing it coy, he did admit that it will involve “more pieces of videographic content… maybe even more than one.” Anna chimed in, “We have a history of making videos.” And then Mikel added cryptically:

We’ve been known to gather together in places for large celebrations in which we play music on a raised platform while other people purchase a ticket in order to participate in said event while those events happen in succession across many cities (Anna: “Including this exact amphitheatre”); those sorts of things that we may be announcing at some point soon… but like I said, our manager would be really pissed at us if we actually said what it was.

Seeing as though the interview was filmed five days ago, the big news should be hitting just… about… now. Stay tuned.

Charitable Auction Update

Thank you very much to all who participated in our Airborne Fan Art Auction in support of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation – artists, bidders, buyers, donors and, of course, the band. I’m thrilled to announce that the auction raised $1,000, with an additional $400 donated by TATE fans. My family and I are so appreciative of your generous support! There’s still time to donate if you’d like to support the cause.

Toxic Gold

In anticipation of the impending big news, here’s a look back at one of the many highlights of the Fillmore residency that kicked off last year’s fall tour: “The Fifth Day.”

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 multi-talented Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography, https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography.

The multi-talented Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography, https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography.

By Glen

As The Airborne Toxic Event’s European tour comes to a close, a change in plans leads off this week in TATE news.

Freedom Festival Shackled

The members of The Airborne Toxic Event find themselves with some unexpected time on their hands this weekend with the late postponement of South Africa’s Freedom Festival. Though no official reason has been given, one wonders if recent violence against foreigners throughout the nation played a role in the decision to pull the plug on a festival that was heavily hyping its international lineup.

Speculation has the festival being rescheduled for late September, but with strong rumors of a fall tour in the offing, it remains to be seen if Airborne will still be part of the lineup when the event resurfaces.

Anna Bulbrook, Actress?

Earlier this week, New York’s Tribeca Film Festival hosted the world premiere of the new Zooey Deschanel movie, The Driftless Area. And what exactly does this have to do with The Airborne Toxic Event, you ask?

Julie, our resident sleuth, uncovered the fact that IMDB lists TATE’s own Anna Bulbrook as a performer in the film. Intriguingly, her character is listed simply as “Singer.”

The festival has one more scheduled showing of the film this Saturday. If anyone out there has seen it, we’d love it if you could shed a little light on Ms. Bulbrook’s appearance.

Those 2 a.m. Songs

M Magazine recently published a brief feature on Dope Machines, in which Mikel Jollett discusses the making of the record. He defended his largely solo approach to recording and producing the album:

“The core of Airborne, to me, has always been these 2 a.m. songs,” says Jollett, referencing tunes like “My Childish Bride,” a dreamy Dope Machines synth ballad that’s among the biggest departures for this crew of proven arena rockers. “Those don’t always come from jam sessions. You’ve got to wrestle with an idea, and if you write about it, there’s something very personal. If you’re just jamming, an idea might sound good to a group that doesn’t really capture the essence.”

Later, he jokes, “Every second of this record was poured over. I guess that makes me not Mick Jagger.”

Empty Bottle Smashes Dope Machines

In a vitriolic piece reminiscent of the infamous Pitchfork review (though thankfully with a far smaller audience, one presumes), Empty Bottle Evenings spared no venom in unloading their unflattering opinion of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Dope Machines. I hesitate to draw attention to such a mean-spirited review, but in the interest of providing comprehensive coverage, here’s the most “positive” excerpt I could draw from it:

Ironically (I don’t give a shit if I’m using it correctly and you probably don’t know either) the best song is probably “California” but that just means it doesn’t suck as bad as the others. It’s catchy and fun and it follows the sure-fire plan of mentioning a geographic place so someone in that place will at least care enough to play it once or twice. But the opening track, aptly named “Wrong” is something that only Dennis Reynolds or Buffalo Bill could love.

Road Coverage

As we tie a bow on TATE’s brief but blistering European outing, here’s the latest coverage from the road:

Glasgow Recap: Ruth4Truth puts an entertaining personal spin on her review of the happenings at the tour’s penultimate stop in Glasgow. “On the first song of the encore (I’m sorry, I have completely forgotten what it was. It was a bouncy one.) Mikel jumped off the stage, on to the barrier. He was over to the left of me, then suddenly he was right in front of me. I mean RIGHT in front of me. I got a face full of sweaty t-shirt. I got shoved from behind and had to (yes, I HAD TO!) put a hand up to hold on to him to stop myself suffocating. Although that wouldn’t have been a bad way to go. He was encouraging us all to jump, so I was pogoing along as it would have been rude not to. Also I was clinging to him for dear life. I was mildly sweaty beforehand and extremely sweaty afterwards. He leapt back on to the stage and I could breathe again.”

Manchester Photos: A Music Blog, Yea presents some killer photos of both The Airborne Toxic Event and openers White Eskimo.

Dublin Photos: Closing night, as seen through the lens of Dublin Concerts.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

Rant Lifestyle named The Airborne Toxic Event one of 15 Very Hipster Things You Can Actually Be Okay With Enjoying. Discuss amongst yourselves whether or not TATE is in fact a hipster band; regardless, I think we can all appreciate their commentary: “Pass on this band just because your hipster friend is into them, and you’re an idiot. Airborne is easily the best freakin band in the game right now. Put on literally any one of their songs from any album at any time, and you’ll fall in love. Loving this band will not cause you to grow a beard — relax.”

Remember last month’s Airborne TV taping for Revolt TV? The TATE episode can finally be seen – at least by some. It is available on Time Warner Cable on Demand from now through May 9 (episode title: Revolt Live 2031).

Want to know more about the band’s gear? Steven Chen has a page on EquipBoard with details on some of his equipment, as does Anna. There are lots of blanks still to be filled in, so if you know something about what they use, you can add to the pages.

We declared the Glasgow performance of “Poor Isaac” to be a world premiere, as it’s the first time we’re aware of it having been played in concert; certainly the Songs of God and Whiskey version, in any case. That being said, Julie managed to dig up a 2007 recording of Mikel performing it solo for Liquid Generation.

Toxic Gold:

Throughout the European tour, The Airborne Toxic Event limited themselves to four songs from Dope Machines: singles “Wrong,” “Hell and Back” and “California,” along with “One Time Thing,” as seen here, live from München.

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.

Lady in Pink: Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event unveils her latest look.

Lady in Pink: Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event unveils her latest look.

By Glen

And just like that, we’re a mere weekend away from the end of The Airborne Toxic Event’s European tour. With just a handful of scattered gigs on the calendar after that, it could be that we’re headed for some quiet times in TATEland. On the other hand, a fall tour sounds like a certainty, and last year’s fall tour was announced on May 12 – so perhaps the Next Big News is just around the corner…

A Circus of Music

With The Airborne Toxic Event set to hit South Africa for the first time on their way home from Europe, that country’s music scene has taken a keen interest in the band. Mikel Jollett has spoken with a number of South African media outlets of late, the most recent being So Much Music. The band is was looking forward to the experience. (Ed. Note: after this article was written, word came down that Freedom Festival has been postponed.)

We’ve heard that the crowds go completely nuts in South Africa and we’re so glad that we get to come there and play for you guys. The response we get… it’s special when you feel something when a band plays and it’s something you can’t control. Lots of people from South Africa have been wanting us to play there for a long time and well, we’ll see how it turns out.

Along with the obligatory retelling of the origins of the band and the source of their name, Mikel shared some thoughts on the value of vinyl:

It’s a story, and vinyl invites you to be part of that world for the entirety of the album. You are asked to spend an hour or however long with these people who have written these stories.

One wonders if the band’s recent interest in presenting full albums in sequence on stage stems from the same desire for their work to be absorbed in its intended context.

Meanwhile, the singer also chatted with X96 ahead of TATE’s May 8th appearance at the X96 Big Ass Show. Calling from Europe, he spoke about the oddity of being embraced in Europe before they broke through in their own nation. He also told a story from back in the days when drummer Daren Taylor used to play a car hood on stage.

One of the things we had was Daren, in addition to playing the drums, he used to play a car hood on stage. And every time we played a show, we had this truck and he had to load this big car hood. We got it at a junkyard one day, we went out to a junkyard and we found a car hood – I want to say it was from an RX-7 or some junky-ass car – and we loaded it up, and he had to unload it at every show. And he used to come to me all the time, like, “Listen man, I get the whole art thing, I get that we’re not a traditional rock band or whatever, but can I just play some damn cymbals or something?

The radio hosts offered to bring a hood to the Big Ass Show, so who knows – if you’re attending that party, you might get to experience a throwback with Daren bashing away on it.

Philly Block Party Tickets

For those hoping the catch Airborne at Philly’s 104.5 Block Party next month, it sounds as though securing tickets is easier said than done. However, a few area establishments will be giving away tickets towards the end of the month. In addition, we’re told that Ticketmaster will be offering a ticket download at an unknown date and time. Keep an eye on this link; apparently at the appointed time, it will have what you’re looking for.

“Come Unwound” Remixed

While we await more music from Anna Bulbrook’s new band The Bulls, their first single, “Come Unwound,” has received the remix treatment from Anna’s friend White Sea (Morgan Kibby). Says Anna:

I’ve known Morgan from when we were babies, before the M83 days. She’s one of the first people I ever wrote music with, and she has always encouraged me to keep going. When I heard her remix of this song, with her inimitable orchestration and especially the part where she added her voice to mine, I might have cried a little bit. Her take on it is so beautiful; I only wish I’d thought of it.

The remix is an eclectic mix of strings and synths; sort of a symphony-meets-Dope-Machines piece. Have a listen:

Road Coverage

Not much coverage coming out of Europe this week, but if you happen to be able to read German, here’s a review of the Köln gig. And Getty Images captured TATE’s return to Koko, London.

Toxic Gold:

TATE fan Kenny uploaded a number of videos from the sweatfest that was Manchester. Here’s “Innocence.”

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 delighted the crowd when the Dope Machines Tour hit Boston. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography, https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography.

The Airborne Toxic Event delighted the crowd when the Dope Machines Tour hit Boston. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography, https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography.

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.