Interview: Mikel Jollett and Daren Taylor of the Airborne Toxic Event

By on Tuesday, 15th March 2011 at 12:00 pm

In the games room somewhere in London’s Heaven, the Airborne Toxic Event’s frontman Mikel Jollett and drummer Daren Taylor join me before their much anticipated live return to the UK.

“We woke up in Hamburg, flew over here and made it to the venue. We’ve got the show and then we’re back on a plane to Europe,” says Jollett, a half smile on his face. “I feel lucky to be doing this. We’re partway through a kind of six country residency at the moment, the travel’s been rough, but I do feel lucky to be here.” Indeed, three weeks into a 6-week residency tour, the band have certainly thrown themselves onto the road pre-album. Even without the release of ‘All at Once’ (out the 25th of April), they’ve noticed the fans knowing the words to new tracks. “Germany feels like the UK did 2 years ago. In Hamburg 2 nights ago, they knew the words to ‘Changing’. It was kind of strange,” Jollet tells me in a strange German accent. “Oh these buckets of rain,” sings Daren.

When a band like touring this much, it’s no surprise the crowds keep coming. From playing to 30 people to selling out Shepherds Bush in the space of 4 months or so, their first album launched them to cult heroes in the UK. Back home in Los Angeles, the same thing happened. Live album ‘All I Ever Wanted’ was recorded at the Walt Disney Hall to over 2,000 fans. “It was sort of stupid. We were asked to do this insane show, so we wanted to put together the biggest thing we could. It was literally us running around getting everything together. We didn’t have a production team or anything. Then this documentary team approached us so we got to have it all filmed,” Mikel recalls. “It was nice to have something like that to look back upon instead of just having the record out,” adds Daren. “Yeah, but it felt a bit silly to do it so early on as far as how many records we’ve had, but it was such a great night to have had.”

Where to go from here then? After playing with two symphony orchestras in the past, they want to be able to play with a full orchestra should anything huge be possible. It’s not the easiest thing to put together though. “It’s a bit like riding a 50 foot wave really. You’re being carried and there’s no way off so you just have to ride it out. It’s really cool to be able to do it though, especially when you notice something you hadn’t heard before,” says Daren. “Yeah, like when you’re playing something, and you’re like, oh wow, that’s a nice bit in the flutes, or something like that.” Possible locations? Madison Square, the Rose Bowl? “We could do it over here at the O2 or somewhere. I don’t know if the size of the venue is a good indication though, I want to see people get wrapped up in the songs and themes like we do.”

There’s definitely a progression through ‘All at Once’. Just like their eponymous debut, it has its themes and main ideas. Jollett’s writing style lends itself to short stories with an almost sonnet like style and after spending a year between writing and recording, they’re glad to be playing the songs to audiences. “It’s refreshing as shit,” states Daren. “To be able to play these new songs is pretty exciting.”

At this point, I should tell you something. The Airborne Toxic Event do not believe in genre, so if this bit gets confusing and list like, that’s why.

‘All at Once’ as a phrase, isn’t, as I originally thought, about how the band went from obscurity to huge shows in half a year. Thank God for that! This is not a record about the pains of the road or any of that junk that unravels a lot of promising bands on their second album. No, this album’s about scenarios that change your life. “You go through life thinking everything’s a kind of evolution, but I think it’s more based around all these major events in your life. You go into somewhere as one person, then something happens and you’re not the person you were five minutes before,” explains Mikel. “Everything changes really quickly and the tracks try to deal with that. When you write a record, you can cut deep or wide. We actually want to do both.”

The band are clearly proud of what they’ve made, but they’re reluctant to state what kind of record it is. “Well, it’s got a foot in a lot of places from folk to classical, as well as rock and roll and electronic. We’re just musicians who follow our instincts. Like, my iPod can go from Johnny Cash to the Knife, Bloc Party, Fleetwood Mac and Sleigh Bells,” says Mikel.  The band don’t really seem to adhere to the labels set about them. They don’t sit down and discuss how something should define their guitar sound or drum pattern. They use their diversity as a factor to arrange their music just to be as good as they can. “The idea that you have to stick to one genre is really dated. Even people who say that hate something will make an exception, because it’s fucking music! It’s rhythm and melody!” Jollett exclaims. They do agree on one thing though. “…but modern country is just shit in a bag.”

‘All at Once’, the second album from the Airborne Toxic Event, is out on the 25 April in the UK. Lead single ‘Changing’ is out now (review on TGTF here). The band goes on tour in the UK in April. Below is the ‘Bombastic’ video performance of ‘All for a Woman’, a track on the new album.


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