The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett Flexes Creative Muscles on Two New Albums

Concert Preview

The Airborne Toxic Event frontman Mikel Jollett admits the execs at the band’s record label were a bit taken aback when the group announced it wanted to release two new albums, Dope Machines and Songs of God and Whiskey, on the same day.

“They were like, ‘What the fuck!’” Jollett says in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.

The two albums are quite different from one another. Dope Machines makes use of synthesizers and pre-recorded beats while Songs of God and Whiskey is a stripped down affair.

Dope Machines was like making a symphony,” says Jollett. “You write all the parts from the oboes and the violins. Then, you have the big day and play it all together as several different movements. Songs of God and Whiskey was more like, ‘Let’s get a bottle of wine and sit around and play.’"

The band’s evolution can be tracked back nearly a decade. Jollett originally set out to write the Great American Novel. He ended up writing a collection of songs that would eventually form the band's debut. The band initially formed as a stripped-down two-piece featuring Jollett and drummer Daren Taylor. The group would eventually grow and add guitarist Steven Chen, bassist Noah Harmon (since replaced by Adrian Rodriguez) and viola player Anna Bulbrook. Its self-released debut, the 2007 EP Does This Mean You're Moving On?, immediately caught the attention of local rock writers in its native Los Angeles who christened the band one of L.A.'s best up-and-coming acts. And the band's full-length debut, 2008's The Airborne Toxic Event, confirmed those early suspicions that the band was one to watch. The single "Sometimes Around Midnight" picked up enough steam to crack the Billboard Charts. When the band set out to record Dope Machines, Jollett put himself back in the producer’s chair simply because he wanted a challenge.

Turns out, it was a big challenge.

“It was really hard,” he says of the experience. “It was enormously fun and creative and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I think the songs end up being about the influence of machines and the isolating effects that modern machines and electronics have on your life. It’s about the weird way in which you’re more interconnected and in some ways further apart. People live double lives and they live secret lives. They live half lives. The record tries to explore those things.”

You can find the song “California” on both albums. It’s a song that Jollett says is like his version of “Born in the U.S.A.”

“’Born in the USA’ is like a huge pop song but If you have ever seen [Springsteen] play it live, it’s like a protest song with two chords,” he says. “’California’ meant something similar to me. It’s a song about this destination where people come and have come for years now., usually to escape something or try to find something. They hope to find something different and better. It’s a place that doesn’t have a memory of itself. Every year, everyone is surprised when it starts raining. There’s mudslides and canyons that fall apart and some dog gets swept up in the L.A. river and it’s all very sad. Then everyone forgets.”

For the current tour, the band will play Dope Machines in its entirety and then dip into its back catalog.

“We have a digital presentation that goes along with [Dope Machines songs],” Jollett says. “There’s a visual component too. The concert's first half is playing the record with this visual element. The second half is playing songs from throughout the different records and getting down the the crwod. The idea was to get out and play. We just did a huge tour. We’ll probably do a huge tour. We wanted to create a movie and audiovisual like The Wall or Tommy or all those huge '70s rock concepts. It’s a similar idea but not as narrative driven.”

The Airborne Toxic Event, 8 p.m. Friday, March 13, Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave. Tickets: $39.50,
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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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