Posts Tagged ‘Timeless’

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.

Advertisements
Mikel Jollett, Steven Chen and The Airborne Toxic Event thrilled an intimate audience of 80 at the Keswick Theater before hitting the same stage again for a full house a few hours later. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

Mikel Jollett, Steven Chen and The Airborne Toxic Event thrilled an intimate audience of 80 at the Keswick Theater before hitting the same stage again for a full house a few hours later. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

On Saturday, The Airborne Toxic Event hosted an invitation-only pre-show gig for fans who won the band’s Philadelphia Shazam contest. Grand prize winner Bill Barrish was given the chance to choose the setlist, an opportunity he generously shared with the other fans who won their way into the party. Below are some post-show reflections from Bill and others who partook in the fun.

Bill:

I think I speak for everyone who was involved in the private Philly Shazam concert when I say, WOW! This was truly a unique, amazing experience for the fans. An opportunity like this is so far beyond what any fan of a band could expect. I am not going to attempt to write a full review of the show, partly because that is something I’ve never done before, and also because those who are more experienced and eloquent than I will be posting a review shortly.

What I would like to do is pass along some special moments and observations from the night and the entire experience, both for myself as well as some of the other winners. We all spent a great deal of time and effort with the Shazam contest, and it definitely paid off in the end. Many of the other winners helped me pick the setlist, and it was definitely different than a normal TATE show. We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we also knew that a full TATE concert, with many of the often played favorites, was coming later that night. So we certainly challenged the band with some of our choices, and Mikel made sure to point out that fact early in the show, saying, “I’m not even going to pretend we didn’t have to practice these songs.”

The wishlist of songs was put together rather quickly. Mikel wanted some rehearsal time (probably anticipating a few zingers), so we needed to submit our choices within a few hours of learning the details of the private show. The band’s manager, a very personable and obliging man named Pete, told me that when he first suggested to Mikel the notion that the top Shazamer would pick the set list for the private show, Mikel’s response was, “Really? Maybe they would prefer a signed poster or something.”

Saturday evening at the Keswick Theater – there was very little time from when they opened the doors for the private show and when the band came onstage. All of the winners and our guests were seated in the first four rows of the theater. So, 80 people in all – with the band, the stage, and full equipment ready to perform.

The start was very odd and different than any other TATE show I’ve been to before. The first words out of Mikel’s mouth before even starting the first song were, “Well this is pretty fucking weird.” Indeed it was pretty weird at the beginning. Everyone was seated politely, probably not wanting to block the view of those behind them. I was seated in the fourth row (back) with my wife, sister and brother-in-law (all new TATE fans). The band started to play “The Secret” – one of my add-on choices. I didn’t want to be the one weird guy dancing. About a minute into the song, my wife suggested we go ahead and stand up anyway. And almost in sync, row three, then row two, and then row one stood up, and normalcy was restored to a TATE concert. At one point Mikel said this is “the smallest big rock and roll set we’ve ever played.”

So, the wishlist we submitted had my top choice, nine choices from other winners, and five other songs that I added in as the deadline rapidly approached. I didn’t want the band to think we only wanted to hear 9 or 10 songs! They ended up playing 12 of the 15 songs, including the “Missy” medley that I requested – which was of course 3 songs in one.

Mikel was more talkative than usual, probably because of the intimacy of the setting, and the fact that we all won a contest to be at the private show. At one point in the show, Mikel compared me to Dr. Evil, suggesting that I was standing in the back, stroking a cat, and saying – “One miiiillion songs you don’t know!” A few songs (“Tokyo Radio,” “Strangers”) ended with Mikel letting out a sigh of relief, or mockingly brushing dust from his shoulders, thankful they made it through the song successfully. He lamented, “Thanks Bill. Couldn’t have done like… fucking ‘Midnight’ or ‘All I Ever Wanted?’”

I felt obliged to let him know that we all had a role in picking the set list. This was in part to give other people credit, but also to share the blame for forcing the band brush up on songs they rarely play! Mikel said that he thought that was an “awfully democratic” thing to do. He then said that he was proud to be in a band that has fans that would share. Other than the songs themselves, that was probably my highlight of the show.

So, since this is a concert review, I guess I should mention some of the songs. Firstly, I gained a new appreciation for some of the songs submitted by the other winners. Great choices! Asking devoted TATE fans to try to choose their one top song – that is a tall order. So obviously the songs submitted have a great deal of meaning, and I was grateful that the band was able to accommodate so many of the requests.

Of the songs that I personally submitted, my highlights came at the end of the show – “The Fifth Day,” “Timeless,” and the “Missy” medley. I’ve loved “Fifth Day” ever since I first heard it on Such Hot Blood. I have never seen it performed live before. I’ll have to say I was totally blown away. We really need to hear this more at future shows! Next up, after Mikel asked the tour manager how they were doing on time, ironically they went right into a great performance of “Timeless.”

At the end of “Timeless,” Mikel asked, “Y’all havin’ fun?” We, of cours,e responded enthusiastically. He joked, “That’d be funny if everyone was like – nah, it’s alright, ok I guess.” He then thanked us, the fans, for “supporting the band in so many different ways, and we love you for it.” And then he said, “Ok, this is the whole thing, the whole thing Bill.” So I knew what was coming…

“Missy” was a great end to the show. Some of the songs that we picked were more on the mellow side – in fact, at one point Mikel commented to the audience, “You’re all such nice people listening to such sad music.” So a full, high energy rendition of Missy/Folsom Prison Blues/Born in the USA/Missy was a perfect way to wrap things up.

I’m not sure how the band and tour manager pulled it off. A private show, followed by a full concert in Philly after being in New York City and Boston the two previous nights. And throw in some rehearsal time for the challenging song list we gave them. Hopefully this wasn’t too big of a burden for everyone in the band. From Mikel’s comments during the show, I think they all accepted the challenge graciously, and delivered flawlessly.

So in the end I did not get the signed poster that Mikel originally suggested. What I and all of the other fans got was so much more. A private show performed by an extraordinary band with a very unique set list. Many of us had a chance to meet members of the band, and get autographs and photos. The band made sure to give me a signed copy of the setlist. I was fortunate to be in the front row for the full concert that followed later that evening, and Mikel came over at the end to hand me a setlist for that show as well, and shake my hand one more time. I can’t thank Mikel, Anna, Steven, Daren, Adrian and everyone else involved enough for all their efforts making this happen for us. I wish every TATE fan could have this type of experience at least once.

Lalena:

I am so glad people enjoyed “A Letter to Georgia!” It’s always been my favorite song, but is often overlooked. In fact, in 16 shows I had never heard it played live. To see it TWO TIMES in one night was more than I could have ever dreamed.

In fact, that song making the request list is what inspired me to Periscope the show. The only other time I’d seen the song played live was on the San Francisco Fillmore broadcast last year, and it moved me to tears. I wanted to share that with some of the fans who couldn’t be there, but were with all of us in spirit.

I originally planned to just broadcast snippets of the show, maybe one or two songs. After so many people joined in, and were so enthusiastic in commenting, we just couldn’t leave them hanging. But I wanted to dance! So my 12-year-old Sam took over the camera and kept checking in with how positive everyone was in commenting.

But that’s what I’ve come to learn about TATE fans: we’re a friendly group. In fact, my favorite part of the night was getting to know some really cool people and hear stories about shows they’ve been to or how far they traveled to get there. Everyone was incredibly nice to my family; encouraging Ben to get his hat signed by the entire band and helping him walk away with 5 guitar picks. I’ve never managed to get hold of one!

And of course the band couldn’t have been nicer. Daren is always so much fun, and Steven even took time to chat with our exchange student about China. Mikel, Anna and Adrian you can tell are just cool people all around – and incredibly gracious. I know they must have all been tired, but you’d never know it.

I hope you all know the joy of introducing TATE to someone and having them appreciate the band as much as you. This weekend I got to share this happiness with my family; I don’t know how we can ever top this!

Sarah M.:

Of course, hearing the more rarely-played songs was amazing, but what really moved me was the actual, raw emotion I could see on Mikel’s face as he sang. I’ve been front row at their shows before, but I’ve never seen so much of this as I did on Saturday. I could see him close his eyes as words poured out of him that clearly have lots of heavy meaning, just as they do to all of us hearing them. Perhaps this was also due to how emotionally moved I was by the performance as well, but there was definitely something in his demeanor that I hadn’t seen before. I even caught an eyeroll as he sang the words “desperately wondering” in “Something New!” At the end of the night I briefly spoke to Mikel about the private show, which he admitted he had initially been dreading because of the extra effort and pressure of having to play less-played songs in front of such die-hard fans. He said he ended up having a ton of fun though, and I know I sure as hell did. It was an incredible, beautiful experience and I thank Bill so much for being so generous with his prize. I hope [he] had as much fun as I did!

Sarah K.:

The one thing I can take away from [this experience] that made every Shazam worth it, was the chance to be at a show that felt like we were in someone’s living room and they were just jamming away for fun. I finally got the chance to speak to a few of the band members and they were just as down to earth, chill and most appreciative as one would expect. They exude a family vibe amongst each other on stage and it pours over into their interactions with fans. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Sean:

My wife Veronica and I planned a trip to celebrate our 15 year wedding anniversary to fly in from California for the shows starting in Buffalo. When they announced the contest, I decided to go for it. I’ve been dying to hear “Tokyo” for years. The entire time I was Shazaming “One Time Thing,” I was dreaming of “Tokyo Radio.” The private show was the icing on the cake to a very memorable week!

Setlist

The Airborne Toxic Event, MissyBy Yules

How did it all begin?

It seems like I haven’t got much of a story to tell you all, really – I’m a relatively young fan. I’ve not lived enough of life to know that much about it. I only have a few, if any, truly profound experiences in my life up to now, but still, I’d like to share this with you.

My story is a story about imagination. And, well, music. Being that you’re reading this here.

Music, I found, was a way of pretty much losing myself, of celebrating little things in life and telling short stories in just a few minutes. Aged 12, I’d boldly claimed that I hated all music. Five years later, armed with an iPod, I was a changed woman.

Aged 17 – insert “Gasoline” jokes here – I discovered Airborne.

It began in a bizarre way; somewhere I’d glimpsed a strange name belonging to a strangely named band, and found myself on iTunes listening to the preview of Track 1. I liked Track 1 and bought that and loved it even more after listening in full – but the rest was untouched. It was only towards the end of that year that I returned for a few more tracks.

I turned 18 in early 2015, and within a week, I had bought my first two complete, physical albums. Ever. I’d never found a reason to before – digital albums on iTunes were in themselves a rarity for me – but this time, the whole thing was damn worth it. Something clicked and that was all I listened to for weeks.

It was insane.

What began with “Wishing Well” became a mad cascade. Mad, but absolutely beautiful.

**********

How did that all begin?

The first cut was probably made some years ago; the first time I learned to hold a craft scalpel in school and felt that strange plastic handle press firm into my fingertips. I wondered how sharp the blade itself was, if only pressing on a bit of plastic was already causing such discomfort. My fingers were numbed quickly.

I wasn’t very good at this… paper-cutting lark. The first cuts were probably a mess, to the point where I’m glad I’ve forgotten them. But… it was all a sort of beginning, way back then. I wasn’t much good, but that was only the start.

But now, let’s fast forward. It’s 2015. Tour announcement.

The one thing I was sure of was that I had to go and see this damn band; the tickets came out and the ticket was bought within the hour.

I was already repeating tracks and albums and shamelessly humming and whistling sections of melodies. From the introduction of that very first song, to the extravagance of “All At Once” and “The Fifth Day” and the simple beauty of “Graveyard…” (Confession: I genuinely cried the first couple of times I listened to “The Graveyard Near The House.”) Even the new release hasn’t failed in my books; far from it, and Songs of God and Whiskey is also a delight.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Graveyard Near the House

With everything, I loved whatever the band threw at me. Lyrics, vibes, string-section flourishes.

And that’s how the images came.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Strangers

**********

How did this all begin?

Have you ever listened to a song and felt like there was a cinema in the back of your head?

That’s what it felt like to me. Airborne wasn’t the first band to play their ‘five minute feature’ to me, but they were definitely significant.

I imagined strange scenes, like animations. Silhouettes, black-and-white dances, rising and falling in and out of nowhere, flowers and storms and dreams and broken glass… Take “The Fifth Day” and imagine strangeness and darkness for hours and hours; then a pause, then move the curtain, and let everything be light. Take “All I Ever Wanted” and picture it: a steely firearm in your hands, and clutch your weapon tighter, and be brave, and oust your demons from existence.

It sounds cliché, but it’s all there.

I was bored in class one day, and began to draw, and realised what I was seeing on paper. I realised that the things I could not animate could come alive in another way.

I thought of the artists I’d Googled years ago, in search of art class inspiration. I thought of the simple images I needed to show and the words that came with them, soft and beautiful and sharp and twisting and fantastic.

I had a paper knife and a cutting mat.

Perfect.

**********

I posted my first piece on Twitter in March. It was an impulsive image, one that had emerged in my head in the middle of that day. What had begun as a pair of birds doodled in a moment of boredom had grown and developed into a small piece of lyric art.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Chains"

The song was “Chains.” Why? It just happened to be in my head at the time, I guess. It took a few hours to complete, from planning to rough sketch to execution. I was rusty, having not cut paper for a while, but I was proud of what I’d achieved.

That same evening, I logged on to read the next post about the songs of Dope Machines.

I did not realise how significant Mikel’s final paragraph about ‘Something You Lost’ was until I saw an isolated sentence again the following day.

It justhit me.

I dreamt. That evening, I realised that the quote needed to be cut out.

The following day, on Friday evening, work began. Work ended on Sunday, and after some conflict with the scanner – ‘dope machines’ indeed – it was ready. I posted on Sunday night.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Something You Lost"

24 hours later, it had received what to me was significant attention. I’d been a nobody.

I was in shock.

This messy, imperfect thing had been seen. And there were compliments. Even the band had retweeted.

I couldn’t believe it.

**********

I took up the knife again the day after. From the conception of the twin birds of “Chains” to the frustration behind cutting out the letter ‘S’ multiple times, the letters had all passed through my head. I had more images inside.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Storm

I was in personal awe of the things I was doing. I was putting blade to paper to cutting mat, dreaming and for once, realising these strange, silhouetted visions. There was hope yet of me expressing the strange fantasies that circled around my head as I heard a song play.

I’d had the words and now I had the pictures. It was delightful. Perfect, imperfect, I was getting things out. Dreaming on paper. Realising those dreams. Being on fire inside; somehow enjoying the numb, calloused fingertips and harsh plastic in my hands.

There’s something about expressing yourself. It’s a feeling of happiness.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Time to be a Man

What began as something small grew into an intense but amusing project.

I decided to challenge myself; I thought I’d do as many papercuts as I could before I saw TATE for the first time in mid-April. Weeks of work later, and an ugly callus staining my finger, I settled for 10 images. There were far more mental images and far more songs to portray, but for now, it was all I could do.

The final image, unlike the others, lacked words and incorporated a shocking burst of colour. It was posted at the appropriate time of 12am, on the day of the show I was to attend.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Sometime Around Midnight"

**********

The show itself. I was nervous about it for weeks; nervous to the minute. Nervous about anything and everything. I went with it.

Hours later, after the end, I came away smiling like a fool (also sweaty as hell – but with two autographs and some conversations!) having learned three things:

  1. The band is fantastic live.
  2. Do not be afraid – everything is definitely worth it.
  3. The fans I met are proof that I am part of a family of sorts.

…and of course, I wasn’t an ‘Airborne virgin’ any more. The stupid, awkward fears I’d had before now lay slain behind me.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Timeless

Through showing my art and jumping into the full experience, I am definitely reassured. I am one of thousands of fans, many of whom attend shows, and a number of whom contribute to this blog. I seriously don’t know how I’d feel about showing my work to the online world without all of this wonderful company and the knowledge that there are other enthusiasts out there. Others mad and much, much madder.

And you know what? It’s great to be mad.

So thank you for giving me the courage to create and submit my work and to share it all with you. Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement. Thank you to the concertgoers and the blog writers and the reviewers and the photographers and all of the rest. Thank you all.

Is this true love? Well, I don’t know. It’s just my best guess.

What I do know is that the first show, just like the first cut and the first song, is only the beginning.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Fall of Rome

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.

Photo courtesy of Noah Harmon’s Instagram account: http://instagram.com/p/l8tkplE_uJ/#

By Glen

As the door closed on the month of March, the news that fans of The Airborne Toxic Event have been eagerly anticipating for months on end finally broke. A new album? No, not that. A fresh slate of tour dates? Not exactly. Mikel got a new tattoo? Nope. Well, maybe he did; I really couldn’t tell you.

No, this news came in a very small package…

Baby Harmon Takes the Stage

About two and a half months after announcing a temporary leave of absence, Noah Harmon and his wife welcomed their first child into the world. Electing to share this special time quietly, as a family, there has been no official announcement, nor has the baby’s name been released, so we will respect their wish for privacy. But Noah did announce the news on Instagram, dropping this photo with but one word: “Boom!” (I believe that was the sound of all his female fans’ hearts spontaneously bursting from their chests.)

Our deepest congratulations to Noah and his family, and a hearty welcome to the tiny TATEr tot!

Summer Fun

After about a month and a half out of the public eye, the Noah-less TATE returns to the stage tonight in New Orleans! (Incidentally, if you’re attending the show, feel free to drop us a note with the setlist.)

After that, the live sched consists of a number of summer festivals. A few more appearances have been announced of late, including the Fort Worth Music Festival, Boonstocks and the granddaddy of them all, Lollapalooza. Here’s everything we know at this time, keeping in mind that there are still a few festivals that have yet to release their lineups:

May 9 – Shaky Knees Festival, Atlanta, GA
May 10 – Pointfest, Maryland Heights, MO
May 17 – Fort Worth Music Festival, Fort Worth, TX
Jun. 19-22 – Firefly Festival, Dover, DE
Jun. 25-29; Jul. 1-6 – Summerfest, Milwaukee, WI
Aug. 1-2 – Boonstocks, Penticton, BC*
Aug. 3 – Lollapalooza, Chicago, IL

Where you will be partying with TATE this summer?

*This writer is particularly enthused about this addition to the schedule!

Boston Calling

The general dearth of Airborne news of late means that we’ll share some extra videos this week. Julie Stoller has kept TATE fans entertained on YouTube for countless hours. Earlier this week, she uploaded a couple more clips shot at last summer’s Boston Calling Festival: “Timeless” and “All I Ever Wanted.” A brief reminder of what the summer throngs have to look forward to…

Toxic Gold

And finally, not that I ever need an excuse to listen to “Safe” yet again, but this video gives us a roadie’s-eye-view: a unique, seldom-seen, side-stage perspective, shot by Kevin O’Connor at The Social in Orlando on TATE’s February tour. Everything, everything, it’s everything!

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 played the ALTimate Christmas Party in Dec.

By Glen

We’ve entered 2014, and for the first time in, well, maybe ever, no one seems to know quite what to expect from The Airborne Toxic Event in the year ahead. Of course, the lucky ones among us are counting the days until one of 11 gigs scheduled for late January/early February, but after that, we’re looking at one big question mark. More tour dates? Another swing through Europe? Time off to write the next album? Side projects? No one can say for certain, but there’s two things you can bank on: tons of Io Instagrams from Anna Bulbrook, and This Is Nowhere keeping you in the know about any news as it breaks.

In the meantime, we’ve got a few loose ends to tie up from 2013…

The Holiday Shows: One Last Look

If you weren’t fortunate enough to catch one of TATE’s trio of holiday shows in southern California, a number of photo galleries provide a taste of what you missed. NBC San Diego and Alan Hess were both on hand for the 91x Holiday Bonus Show in San Diego, with the latter in particular catching some remarkable perspectives, not just of TATE but also the other artists with whom they shared the bill. But the most extensive collection comes courtesy of the 91X flickr account, which features not only some incredible concert photography, but also a number of unique shots including Mikel with his friends from Fitz and the Tantrums, Steven setting up in a sea of empty seats, and perhaps the best Daren action picture I’ve ever seen.

Of course, if a picture’s worth a thousand words, a video is worth ten thousand. 98.7’s ALTimate Christmas Party was a tough ticket to put it mildly, but now we can enjoy half of Airborne’s set, as “Hell and Back” and “Sometime Around Midnight” are available for our online viewing pleasure.

Hell and Back Again

If that performance of “Hell and Back” doesn’t satisfy your thirst, there’s more. Remember that JBTV performance from back in the fall, which can only be viewed by paid subscription? Well, you still have to pay to see the whole show (which I recommend), but they’ve thrown us a bone and you can now view “Hell and Back” and “Timeless” in full, at no charge.

I’ll just wait here while you soak up all this goodness…

Okay, you’re back now? Then we’ll continue.

End of Year Countdowns

It’s a staple of every blog and music column: the year-end countdown, recapping the best of the previous 365 days. In fact, in case you missed it in your holiday revelry, This Is Nowhere released not just one, but two looks back on 2013: A Year in TATE, and The Best of This Is Nowhere 2013.

Meanwhile, around the interwebs…

Our good friend Julie ran down her top six live musical highlights of 2013, featuring a pair of appearances by the best band going.

The Boston Herald proved themselves to be of impeccable taste, naming the Boston Calling festival (featuring TATE) the year’s best concert, and Such Hot Blood the fourth best album of the year.

“Sometime Around Midnight” clocked in at #36 on the ALTimate 98 countdown, a fan-voted ranking of the top 98 songs of all time.

At The Buzz of Miche Bee, blogger Heather named Such Hot Blood her second favorite album of the year.

The Fresno Beehive selected TATE’s June show with the Tulare County Symphony in Daren’s hometown of Visalia as the year’s 10th best concert in the region.

The Dented Fretboard blog named “Timeless” the seventh best song of 2013.

And last but certainly not least, Philly.com awarded Nick Hassel 34th place on its list of “Real-Life Heroes Who Won the Internet in 2013.” Who is Nick Hassel, you ask? Just some dude who answered a Craigslist ad seeking a wedding date, and pretended to be the drummer from The Airborne Toxic Event at said wedding.

Anna on the Side

While we’re not exactly sure what Mikel, Steven, Noah and Daren have been up to of late, at least one member of the band has been keeping busy. Anna recently guested with The Cold and Lovely when they shot a scene for the new ABC Family series Chasing Life.

Then, early in the New Year, she joined some other friends to record some strings for a soundtrack of some kind.

More details on both projects if/when we get them.

Toxic Gold

And finally, perhaps the shortest Toxic Gold clip we’ll ever feature. Here’s TATE performing the NBC chime, bombastic-style, with Noah’s stand-up bass in the starring role.

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.

By Glen

2013 was quite the year for The Airborne Toxic Event: 92 live shows, 1 album released in 3 stages, an EP, multiple TV appearances, 4 video releases and a single featured on a film soundtrack kept the band busy and gave fans plenty to talk about through the past 365 days. In case you missed any of it, we’ve got you covered with our interactive recap.

Jan.1: The Airborne Toxic Event rings in the New Year by breaking into “Auld Lang Syne” in the midst of “Missy” at Chicago’s Metro

Jan. 14: Announcement of “Timeless” as the first single from new album Such Hot Blood; album to be released in spring 2013

Jan. 15: New song “Timeless” premieres on billboard.com

Jan. 15/16: TATE plays a pair of shows at New York’s Webster Hall (Night 1 | Night 2)

Jan. 22: “Timeless” single released

Feb. 21: Announcement that Such Hot Blood will be preceded by the release of The Secret EP, featuring four songs from the upcoming album

Feb. 28: TATE plays a one-off show at London’s KOKO; the lone European gig until October

Mar. 1: New song “The Storm” premieres on spinner.com

Mar. 6: New song “Safe” premieres on diffuser.fm

Mar. 8: New song “The Secret” premieres on rollingstone.com

Mar. 11: The Secret EP released

Mar. 11: Live performance and interview streamed on KCRW.com; marks the first time most TATE fans have heard new song “True Love” (recorded a few weeks previous)

Mar. 16: “Timeless” bombastic video released

Mar. 20: “Timeless” official video released

Mar. 20: “Timeless” performed on The Late Show with David Letterman

Mar. 30: Such Hot Blood tour kicks off in San Diego, CA

Apr. 10: Announcement of an Apr. 30 North American release of Such Hot Blood; album art released

Apr. 12: “Timeless” performed on the Jay Leno Show

Apr. 14/21: TATE plays Coachella; the first performance is live streamed online, though technical difficulties cause the first song and a half to be missed

Apr. 22: Full album stream of Such Hot Blood released on spinner.com

Apr. 23: “The Storm” bombastic video released

Apr. 30: Such Hot Blood released in North America

May 1: Live performance and interview streamed online for Peavey, Hollywood

May 2: TATE plays Jimmy Kimmel Live; “The Storm” airs on TV while “The Secret” is broadcast online

May 4: “True Love” bombastic video released

Jun. 1: New song “Dublin” premiered in Visalia, CA with the Tulare County Symphony

Jun. 18: Free show at New York’s Central Park SummerStage, featuring The Calder Quartet and the Ensemble LPR

Aug. 23: Performance with the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa, CA

Sept. 4: Fall tour kicks off in Columbia, SC

Sept. 13: Such Hot Blood released in mainland Europe; includes new bonus tracks “Dublin” and “The Way Home”

Sept. 13: New song “Hell and Back” premieres on Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5, with the live premiere a day later

Sept. 18: Live set and interview filmed for JBTV in Chicago, IL

Sept. 30: Such Hot Blood released in the UK

Oct. 1: European tour kicks off in Birmingham, UK

Oct. 7: Live acoustic set and interview filmed for Gin in Tea Cups in London, UK

Oct. 15: “Hell and Back” released as a single and on the Dallas Buyers Club soundtrack

Dec. 9: Final live performance of the year at 98.7’s ALTimate Christmas Party in Hollywood, CA

So, what was your personal TATE highlight of 2013? Was it one of the events listed here, or something else entirely? Comment below!

For a complete listing of 2013 tour dates, including setlists for almost all the shows, visit our TATE setlist archive.

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.