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SparkNotes: Rock and Roll style
The Airborne Toxic Event write rock-and-roll SparkNotes.
The Los Angeles (er...Los Feliz) five piece, takes its name from a Don DeLillo book and has songs like "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," based on a short story by Irwin Shaw. While writing rock songs, two of the members are busy writing novels.
But they're no literary snobs, just a rock-and-roll band looking to have a sweaty good time. Singer Mikel Jollett and drummer Daren Taylor talk about the band, playing Fresno and how the best dancing comes when you realize you're going to die.
FF: OK, so, The Airborne Toxic Event...Give me the lowdown? How/when/where did the band start? Who's in the band? What's up with name?
Mikel: The band started when Daren and I met through a friend. I was looking for a drummer, he'd just moved back from Fresno and was looking for something to get involved in. We met and just immediately hit it off. I played him some songs, we practiced together. There was an immediate chemistry. Like, "Cool, so I got that drummer/singer thing covered."
We then locked ourselves in a warehouse for about four months and practiced. 20 hours a week. Just playing, drinking, stomping, screaming...
After awhile Noah Harmon came along. He was a friend of mine and just a great musician. He has a degree in jazz bass, can play anything. He fit right in.
Steven Chen was also a friend. He'd played guitar and keyboard, and was working on a novel.
Anna Bulbrook was a violin player and a friend. I asked her to play on a couple songs. She agreed. She was so good though, we kept trying to find more stuff for her to do: on keyboard, tambourine, singing, whatever...
The name is a reference to the book "White Noise," by Don DeLillo. In this chapter, an enormous chemical cloud falls over the city and as a result of the main character's exposure to it, he realizes (or thinks) he's going to die. I started writing all this music at a similar moment in my life (that holy-shit-I'm-totally-going-to-die-someday moment).
FF: Daren knows about Fresno. What about the rest of you? Are you Fresno virgins? Because that could be dangerous.
Mikel: Mostly, yes. I was in Fresno once before a hiking trip in the Sequoia National Forest. After the trip, we went to some bar and got really drunk. That's all I remember of Fresno: the mountains to the East, and whiskey.
FF: This is for Daren: What's the difference between playing in bands in Fresno and in LA?
Daren: When you ask me that question, my first thought was, getting to gigs is more difficult because there are so many more freeways. Obviously in Los Angeles, there's a bigger crowd, though people are doing the same things here as in Fresno, just on a larger scale. Audiences in Fresno seem to pay attention more because there isn't an over-abundance of bands. Crowds are more appreciative. People go to listen to music, not to be seen. Nobody's looking over their shoulder to see who's looking at them in Fresno.
FF: You guys were one of Rolling Stone's Top 25 Bands on MySpace. That seems like a big deal. Are you turning away record companies now? Seriously, has it affected you guys at all?
Mikel: That thing was flattering, but I don't know how big a deal it actually was. You kind of have to take those things with a grain of salt. Both praise and criticism. Though we do get a lot of e-mails these days.
FF: Say I decide to go to the show, what can I expect?
Mikel: It's rather loud. Anna's viola has a lovely reverb quality. We're a rock-and-roll band, so there are dance songs, some ballads, big rock songs. We like to dance and scream. People in the audience tend to do the same.
FF: The out-of-nowhere question...Does fashion have its place in music?
Mikel: It seems to. It's another grain-of-salt thing. But, it's rock and roll so, you know, put on your mother's dress and dance around the stage and all that.
FF: Worst gig you ever played?
Mikel: Honestly, we've enjoyed every one so far. I think we'd have fun together even if we were playing to the bar.
Mikel: It was an odd Monday at the Echo (in LA). We were playing late after the Parson Redhead's Residency. Daren fell asleep at the merch table. We were all really tired. But then we took the stage and some people stuck around. And it was just one of those synergy nights where we could feel the audience and I guess they could feel us. By the end of our set (at 1 a.m. on a Monday night) there were about forty people dancing. We got a big encore. It felt like we were the only people awake in the world and it didn't matter.
FF: The Airborne Toxic Event is to rock and roll as (blank) is to (blank)?
Mikel: Betty Ford is to rehab.
FF: Describe your band in 5 words or less.
Mikel: Stomping, screaming, dancing, singing.
FF: Your music makes me want to dance. I don't have a question for that one. But if you have any thoughts...
Mikel: Part of life, man. You know, there's this embarassment about it. Like, you want to be cool and not do it. But then when you let go of that, and you really feel like, "Fuck it, we're all going to be dust someday, let's just take this moment and live it." That's dancing. That's when you mean it.
FF: Free space. Tell me whatever you want about the band, music, life, etc.
Mikel: Well, we're very excited about the show. We really want to see Rademacher and Western States Motel. Both great bands. There's also this weird enthusiasm for the Central Valley. So much great music has come out of it (Pavement, Grandaddy, etc...). It's people who know how to just take whatever's given to them and make something cool of it. We think it's going to be a special show. We, uh, are going to play a song we wrote about Fresno...