With a sort of mashup of characters, an eclectic mix of sounds, and layered melodies Airborne Toxic Event headlined at the House of Blues on October 13 and sat down with Blast to answer a few questions.
On their Beginnings
Mikel Jollett formed Airborne in 2006. Spurred by personal catastrophic events in his life Jollet turned from writing about music and started to make his own.
“I realized I was composing an album instead of a novel” he told the Los Angeles Times in August of 2007.
He recruited some of his friends: Steven Chen on guitar, Noah Harmon on bass, Daren Taylor on drums, and Anna Bulbrook on viola keyboards and tambourine.
Less than a month later the band played its first show in Echo Park. Jollett had been keeping busy contacting bloggers and getting word out their about the band and their first concert. Jollett sent MP3s to blogs, and the bloggers started writing. “When it came to that first show, they were all there” Chen said. Jollett remembers about 200 showing up, which is impressive for a first show.
October 5 is the anniversary of their first show Chen remembers, “and we completely forgot about it this year” he said. Before that first show Chen had only met Harmon one or two times. “He was still on the fence (about joining the band) at that point” Chen said.
“I’m still on the fence now three years later” Harmon interrupted laughing.
On the Band
“We all bring something different, something new to the mix” Chen said. Before turning to writing Jollett was a freelancer for National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times and worked on a few novels. Bulbrook is a classically trained violinist and upon joining the band taught herself to play the viola and the keyboard. Harmon holds a jazz degree in upright bass and worked as a music teacher in LA for a few years. Chen was asked to join as a keyboardist, but petitioned to be lead guitarist.
“Anna and her viola bring something different” Harmon agreed. String instruments are rare and few between in rock bands, and when they do appear it’s nine times out of ten a violin.
“It’s a rock and roll viola” Harmon said, “The poor thing never knew what it was getting into.”
“Our goal, whether it be a slower song like “ËœMidnight’ or a more upbeat song like “ËœGasoline’ is to write a good song and strike some chord” Chen said. “That was the whole idea for the album.”
As for the name, it was all Jollett’s idea. Taken from Don DeLillo’s novel “ËœWhite Noise’ an airborne toxic event was a term coined by the military to reference a poisonous cloud emitted from a chemical spill.
“I had read the book for three classes and wrote two essays on it” Chen said, “as the title it makes a lot of sense.”
“It doesn’t matter at all what you call yourself” Chen said. “It’s what you do with it.”
On the Tour
“We’re just a new band” Jollett said to the audience, “the world’s coming by us at 100 miles a minute and I don’t think any of us can make heads or tails of it.”
Airborne has played more than 250 shows this year, and the year is far from over. The band members cannot remember the last time they were home for more than a month.
“When I go home I don’t even bother putting things away” Chen laughed. Instead he just lives easily out of a suitcase. Harmon sold his car when he realized it was doing little more than gathering dust.
“Your idea of home becomes a bit skewed” Harmon added, “now home is a tour bus.”
Chen cannot even picture home anymore: “I can’t imagine not being in a new place every night.”
Airborne will take a nice long break around the holiday time and then jet off to the UK and beyond.
It will be their sixth time in UK this year.
“I’ve landed in London as many times as I’ve landed in Los Angeles” Harmon laughed.
For Harmon, the UK is one of their favorite destinations, and they’ve been there six times this year. “But in the UK the fridges don’t work” Chen butted in, “but it’s really ok because they know their fridges don’t work. They’re not trying to convince anyone that the refrigerator works.”
On “Sometime Around Midnight”
The viola starts and the crowd screams at its loudest. Everyone knows what songs coming before one bow stroke is over. It may only be 10:58 by my clock, but for Airborne Toxic Event it’s “Sometime Around Midnight.”
An acoustic version of the song was released as a free Starbucks song of the week, and from there it grew popularity on both iTunes and the music charts.
It’s not that big of a deal when your friends know who you are, when your friends-friends know who you are Chen said. “It’s when your parents friends start to notice, it’s like whoa.”
People relate to the emotions in it, Harmon comments. The record became an instant hit. Not only a top radio and music video track, iTunes also named it the “Number 1 Alternative Song of 2008.”
On Boston and the House of Blues
Now that the Red Sox season is officially over, the gem of Landsdowne has moved across the street to House of Blues. And here the players are musicians and they wear red basketball shorts and converse instead of cleats and baseball tights. “We just played the most intense game of basketball ever” bassist Noah Harmon said, pulling his hair back. “I don’t remember the last time I was so winded.”
Two opening bands, and two hours into the night Airborne finally hits the stage. And they hit it running. For a impressive few minutes they all go a bit crazy and show off their raw talent. No vocals, no lights, just Airborne and their respective instruments. Before you know it the first song has started, and you are transfixed in a daze.
On stage they show undeniable togetherness and energy, even as the set pushes upon two hours. They bounce off each other’s backs, Bulbrook wields her viola, Harmon sporadically strokes a bow on his bass strings, Taylor hacks away with his drum sticks, Jollett spasms, and Chen stands tall and unmoving. But somehow it all works.
One of the most impressive parts of the set was an acoustic set. Jollett sat down on the stage and sang to the audience more personally, Chen went to an upright piano, and Harmon picked up a jazz bass. “I feel like we’re getting to know you now” Jollett told the crowd.
“You were the audience, Boston, and we were the band” Jollett ended after a four song encore. “One day, when your dead you’re one wish is gonna be for this hour and a half back, but thank you for it.”
But Jollett’s words were wrong, as the crowd’s one wish was that the night never ended.