”It was the first time I slept in my own bed since last July and I woke up at like 7 in the morning, I looked around and I was like “Where the fuck am I?!” I didn’t have any idea and it took a few minutes and then I was like ‘Oh fuck, I’m home! Oh, alright.”
After nine months on the road that has propelled them all around the world, it is hardly surprising that the travelling circus that The Airborne Toxic Event have become has left lead singer and guitarist, Mikel Jollett, more disorientated than an insomniac on a Ferris Wheel.
The bands whirlwind existence was perhaps paved by its formation and the romantically alternative way that Mikel turned to music. With his DNA undoubtedly laced with an innate creativity, Jollett began with dreams of being a writer. With his dedication to achieve his ambition set in stone, it wasn’t until an unfortunate turn of fate that led Mikel to find escapism and solace within music and song-writing:
“I’d been kind of locked in a room for five years just reading and writing and I never had anywhere to be. Like, ever. I would go a week or two without seeing another person. My gas had been turned off most the year and I had to do all this weird shit to try and afford groceries. I hadn’t paid taxes in like 7 years, I defaulted on my student loan, my credit was shot to hell and I just didn’t care.
“I was just writing all the time and I suddenly picked up a guitar, I had no ambition to be a musician, I just wanted to be a writer. I started playing music, I think almost just cause I couldn’t write for a while. I’d gone through some shit and it was hard to concentrate, so I would just play guitar every day and one day became a week, and one week became a month, and a month became a year. And I’d taken this year out to write a novel and after about a year id written about 100 songs, but only about 1500 words of the novel. So at that point I was like ‘Well I guess I’d better form a band, it’s all I’m ever gonna do.’”
This dark time that forced Mikel to re-evaluate his passions (the news that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer and that Jollett himself had developed two genetic diseases) appears to have almost honed his talent for writing lyrics that speak the words you’d wanted to say but had not known how to articulate.
And it seems to have paid off; the band’s new album came out early this year and has already received prestigious reviews from some of the most renowned music press. Yet the album, largely inspired by a bad break up and ex-novelist Mikel’s love of all things erudite, is as genuine and close to the bone as the thirteen tracks of refreshingly un-self indulgent rock would lead you to believe:
“A lot of the stuff I was thinking about was stuff I guess I learnt as a writer. I think if you’re any kind of writer, your job is to write stuff that is unpopular but is true - whereas a politician’s job is to say things that are popular but untrue. So for me, I kinda got off on saying things from the perspective of what was actually real or what was actually true. ‘Cause I’d always felt relieved reading about that. I’d actually feel relief when I was reading Phillip Roth or something, and be like ‘Wow look how depraved this is’ it made me feel like ‘Oh good, it’s not just me.’
So having toured all over the world (“We’re like a group of gypsies or something. We just write songs, travel around and play them.”), The Airborne Toxic Event are beginning to taste the rewards of their hard work, particularly over the last year. This is something truly embodied by the difference in experiences at 2008’s SXSW, to this year’s:
“Last year [at SXSW] we played a few shows, I think we were what was called a ‘buzz band’, you know like a lot of industry people with their fucking arms crossed watching from the back of the room, trying to figure out whether or not they should write about us. With the press, I think for us in particular they didn’t really understand us at first because every band is supposed to be trying to do a ‘thing’ and there’s just no fucking irony in our band.
”This year, we played in a place that held about 500 and they turned away 1500 people. The show was crazy, loud and fun; we were up dancing on the bar and jumping around. I stole some vodka and I was pouring people drinks and stuff during the show. After the show I saw the bouncer in the hallway and he had his head in his lap, and I was like ‘You alright, man?’ and he was like ‘That was the worst fucking show I’ve ever worked in my whole life!’ So yeah, it was pretty different from last year.”
Having taken their name from a section of ‘White Noise’, a Don Delillo novel, it was clear from the outset that The Airborne Toxic Event were not just another band. They personify a refreshing sort of 60’s ethos to rock and roll, not one that has become so self indulgent and refined by skinny jeans, a side parting and wearing your little brothers t-shirts. They appear to have a depth that in many ways set them apart from a lot of modern-day alternative bands and without a doubt, echoes the reality that they are destined for great things.
“It’s definitely fun to play shows and it’s good that people kinda know who we are. But we haven’t really done anything yet….”