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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.



Live Review: The Airborne Toxic Event with Morning Parade and Sissy and the Blisters at London Heaven – 10th February 2011

By on Tuesday, 22nd February 2011 at 2:00 pm

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for the Airborne Toxic Event over the last two years. They’ve risen from obscurity to playing huge theatres with symphony orchestras, selling out increasingly big concerts along the way. All of this, let’s not forget, was on the back of their debut album that seems so distant now. Their second album is now finished and they’ll be out promoting that then, but tonight, the HMV Next Big Thing festival has called them to London Heaven for one of the biggest shows of the fortnight. You can’t help but think that the name of the event doesn’t quite fit the act on stage, but without anything to promote, this is a real fans’ show.

First though, come two of the brightest sparks on the English music scene. First up are Essex’s Morning Parade. With their mix of mainstream rock influences from electronic through to punk, they light up the stage with the soaring Under the Stars and new single ‘A&E’. They don’t exactly rock the place to its core, but for an act that few assembled know, they do a good job. Which is kind of interesting, comparatively that is. Sissy and the Blisters do things loud, brash and tamely angry, if you can put the two words together. Their lead singer storms around the stage like a bonafide rock star and their music isn’t far from it either. Imagine if the Horrors all suddenly got angry and wrote it all down, and you’ve got something similar to the energy of Sissy and the Blisters. The crowd may not have known either of tonight’s support acts, but with such diversity between them, everyone’s bound to be listening to one of those acts after the night’s done.

The Airborne Toxic Event tonight have nothing to gain or lose. This is the nearest to the calm before the storm they’ll probably get for quite some time when second record ‘All at Once’ is released. Not that anyone’s told them that. They’re going for it as they would every night, with passion and commitment to the brilliant live sound they’re becoming renowned for. New tracks feature heavily, but they’re subsided with their power and the crowd’s dedication to enjoying every minute. ‘All I Ever Wanted’, which features on the band’s live album of the same name, appears to have already been learnt by fans, as is new single ‘Changing’, which brings a smile to the band’s faces.

“Speaking of…little Miss Catherine…” begins the song ‘Happiness is Overrated’, but is continued by frontman Mikel Jollett joking with, “who doesn’t know that thousands of people in London are singing about her right now” before engaging in a huge singalong of “Sorry, I really lost my head…”, really demonstrating the great connection the Airborne Toxic Event share with their fans. They’re hugely appreciative of the fans that gained them such a quick and loyal following, and it really shows. ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ is, as expected, the biggest track of the evening, as the emotions around the venue tonight really sweep me away as if everyone in the room can relate to such a personal track’s soul.

All that said, it’s not a melancholy affair at all. Everyone present’s enjoying themselves, and I can spot bobbing heads and mouthed lyrics all the way to the back bar throughout (I checked). The new tracks demoed tonight don’t show a step away from the sounds of their self-titled record, but they show a maturing in both musicianship and lyric writing. Everything abouttThe Airborne Toxic Event that their followers love is still there, and now it’s even more refined, without losing its edge. Gasoline is a huge way to close the set and night closer All At Once is a real benchmark for their future. Where 2011 will take this band, I’m not sure, but at the current rate, the sky’s the limit.


Live Review: Kassidy with Young the Giant and Kill it Kid at Camden Barfly – 7th February 2011

By on Friday, 18th February 2011 at 2:00 pm

HMV’s Next Big Thing festival took over London’s live venues for a fortnight to showcase the best in new music. Tonight at Camden’s Barfly, three fantastic rock acts are ready to take the stage. The evening starts in high form. The White Stripes announced their split last week, however their spirit and influence lives on in multiple forms. Kill it Kid are one of the brightest sparks out of the embers of the Stripes. Heralding from Bath, England, their mix of rock, blues and musical intelligence is demonstrated by a hugely energetic set which features new single, ‘Pray on Me’ that is out in March, along with the near anthemic ‘Lord Send me an Angel’. The knowledge that they’re the opening and least famous band on stage barely dampens the mood and I wouldn’t be surprised if many left the room with Kill it Kid on their lips and eager for their second album in the coming months.

Not that that’s the only name they’ll be spouting to their friends though. Next in tonight’s proceedings are a Californian band that we at TGTF have been keeping our eye on lately.  Our recent interview with Young the Giant left us with no option but to check them out live in their limited run of London shows before they skipped over to Europe. Young the Giant’s music is full of bold colours and huge amounts of passion mixed with the relaxing sound of California’s finest rock and roll. They’ve got a growing following across the globe right now, so their first shows outside American borders are a big step onto a small stage with everything to gain, and Young the Giant are more than willing to impress. Bouncing through album tracks and some yet unreleased material, the five-piece look more than comfortable swinging the crowd into life. Highlights include ‘Apartment’ and single ‘My Body’ (watch the promo video for this below).  They’ll be returning to the UK when the weather gets warmer, so be sure to catch them then.


The final act at tonight’s sold out show are Kassidy. With an interesting blend of folk and rock forming something that sounds like the cool uncle of recent BRIT winners Mumford and Sons with a strong feel for their acoustic rock roots. Their four part harmonies in some tracks mixed with a strong beat at all times creates an atmosphere that could fit in both tavern and sunny festival stage over a pint of cider. New track ‘I Don’t Know’ (watch the video here) went down a storm, but my highlights aren’t necessarily in each individual track. After a while, the evening sort of gets me a bit carried away and I find myself engulfed in the feeling that Kassidy give off on stage. They’re not out to prove anything, it just looks like they’re here to have a good time. ‘Oh My God’ and ‘Stray Cat’ are both hugely catchy and get great responses from the crowd, whilst the whole set seems to have a similar feel without ever getting boring. With their album out on the 21st of March and having sell out crowds on tour from their first 3 EPs alone, Kassidy are a band I hope to see multiple times through the summer, if just to relive that atmosphere they bring with them.

No one leaves the room without a new name on their lips. And whilst they may not fly off the shelves at HMV stores across the country, they all deserve to.


Live Review: HMV Next Big Thing Featuring James Blake at London Borderline – 4th February 2011

By on Tuesday, 15th February 2011 at 2:00 pm

In a dark, yet endearing Borderline situated between London’s Tottenham Court and Soho, HMV’s Next Big Thing’s most exclusive show is underway. “Next big thing?” asks James Blake. “No pressure then.” As he sits, off centre stage, Blake seems unfazed by the hype cloud that’s surrounding him in the coming weeks, and why would he be? He appears to be doing everything on his own terms, even selecting both of his opening acts. Cloud Boat melted the minds of those who turned up early enough whilst Catherine Okada’s blend of cute music and substance to her songs certainly warmed the crowd of under 300.

Now, with just a few days until the release of his debut album, James Blake is a man in demand. To find such an act in a small venue may seem quite out of place, but as he walks casually onto the stage, cup of tea in hand and jumper on, the man seems to be keeping his cool in intimate surroundings. You’d be hard-pressed to call Blake a commanding stage presence, but it’s his endearing qualities that shine more. Sat on the front of the stage, a few fans are all but entranced by album opener ‘Unluck’ and unavoidable, yet perfect ‘Limit to Your Love’.

Blake is joined on stage by a minimal two artists playing live and himself sits side of stage with his two keyboards and assorted technologies. At times tonight, people are shushed by fellow crowd members as the sound on stage is so beautifully calm. Nodding along, I find myself wrapped up in the world almost taken in by Blake’s music. This music just shouldn’t have such mass appeal, given its non-mainstream sound. Nor should it translate to be anything more than boring live, but as it happens, the music has ambition and honesty and forms an incomparable atmosphere.

Sipping his tea and sheepishly engaging in minimal conversation with those present, Blake is nothing of a frontman, but for some reason, it works. Blake’s transition to solo artist seems to have gone smoothly, and with ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, the seventh and final track of the night, his 50-minute set is over and everyone returns outside to Central London’s bustle. Next big thing? Perhaps, however where the shy man may struggle in the higher reaches, tonight has proved his credentials in intimate venues beyond doubt.


Interview: Young the Giant

By on Friday, 11th February 2011 at 12:00 pm

TGTF are no strangers to Young the Giant. We featured the Californian outfit’s track ‘Strings’ in an In the Post, and I saw them live this week in London on one of their four small shows in the UK. Sameer Gadhia of the band kindly agreed to talk to us about how everything’s coming along for them as they make big steps towards touring their album globally. (P.S. They’re not a surf rock band.)

It’s been a long time since you guys formed as the Jakes and released the ‘Shake My Hand’ EP. How do you think you’ve all changed since then?
We have changed in many, many ways. I was 16 at the creation of the Jakes. Now I’m 21. I’ve travelled a bit, made some royal mistakes, loved, and lost. All of us have. This has shaped the depth of our writing. Lyrically, melodically and structurally.

The album’s been out digitally in America since late October and has just come out physically. How does releasing it in the UK feel different, if at all?
It is quite difficult to process that we are even doing an international release. We were expecting the U.S., but this is some other giant beast. I think none of us really know what to expect. In the U.S., we can analyze. We’ve been a part of that market for so long. But here, I think it’s more of a valiant stab in the dark.

Along with the release has come a selection of tightly packed shows in London which are Young the Giant’s first shows outside America. Have you got any expectations or are you just looking forward to the opportunity?
I think we are trying not to expect anything. This is our first time, and we are attempting to just get our heads wrapped around that. We love playing shows to people that don’t know shit about us. It’s novel and exciting for both parties.

Back home, there seems to have been a real movement for an almost “surf rock” kind of sound. Would you say you’ve been part of that wave or something different?
To a certain extent we could be considered some small appendage of the greater body, but I don’t think we have ever considered ourselves a “surf rock” band. Such associations have been created post-creation.

So what are the plans for the future? Summer festivals, headline shows and a lot of travelling? Any return to the UK planned after February?

We hope to be doing a lot of festivals. Sasquatch (May music festival in Washington State, in America) will be our first, and we are excited for all the craziness that is to come. More than anything, we are excited to see our favourite bands perform on the same stage as us. That is absolutely mind-blowing. We plan to return in May and August for touring, and festival-ing, so there’s much cheers to be had.


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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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