Sunday, May 27

Q&A: Singer Mikel Jollett talks about The Airborne Toxic Event’s third studio album

Airborne 1

Autumn DeWilde

The Airborne Toxic Event, the L.A. alternative-rock band, is preparing to release its third studio album since 2008, “Such Hot Blood,” this spring. The band first received critical acclaim for its single, “Sometime Around Midnight,” off its eponymous debut album, and its second album “All at Once.” The Airborne Toxic Event, led by singer-songwriter Mikel Jollett, will start yet another North American tour when the band performs at The Mayan tonight. Jollett talked to the Daily Bruin’s Brendan Hornbostel about the new album, the band’s rampant touring and its taqueria origins.

Daily Bruin: You recorded the first album together live, the second one separately, and now are returning to a live recording for your next album “Such Hot Blood.” What brought this return to a live recording?

Mikel Jollett: I think it was a combination of two things: One, we just spend so much time on the road that we, by nature, are a live band; number two, it’s how Jacquire (King), our producer, works. His whole mindset is trying to capture a band at its best, actually playing. There’s something about doing a live recording. It’s something you can’t fake.

DB: You recorded this new album in Nashville. What drew you to record the album there?

MJ: Have you ever been to Nashville? It’s great. First of all, Jacquire was there. But then we decided we like the idea of being isolated. We rented a big house and we all stayed together at this house. We were just living in Nashville, making a record. There weren’t any distractions. There was nothing to do but make the record, and we were all there for the whole time. It brought us a level of focus . . . that we didn’t have on the second record.

DB: How has the songwriting process changed or stayed the same over the three records?

MJ: There is more of a focus on this record on craft. It comes from writing a lot of stream-of-consciousness songs, or at least songs that seem stream-of-consciousness – they’re not. For this record, there is much more of a focus on songcraft and scoring. The idea was that you could put this record on and almost watch it like it’s a movie. The two things that I thought the most about when writing songs for this record were; one, that I wanted to score my thoughts, score my emotions; and on the other hand, I thought a lot about the idea of presenting the struggle – as opposed to presenting the conclusion of the struggle, present the struggle itself.

DB: In the last record you worked with the Calder Quartet, an orchestral group that has garnered critical acclaim collaborating with acts from various genres and composers, on three songs. Any collaborations on the new album, or is it all Airborne?

MJ: Yeah, there’s a massive, massive string and timpani and brass orchestra playing on an asteroid going over Jupiter. That’s how I like to think about it. It’s the largest orchestra you’ve ever heard, playing on a comet as it passes between Jupiter and the Sun. That’s how we’ll credit it.

DB: And how do these collaborations come about?

MJ: First, you got to get a rocket ship. Find an asteroid. Get a bunch of people who are willing to go to space for the completely wasteful reason of recording a rock ’n’ roll record that you could’ve just done with reverb for Christ’s sake.

DB: And how does this change when you’re playing in a club show with just the five members of the band instead?

MJ: We try to find something, the soul of the song. A good song has a soul to it. You try to find the soul of the song and find a way to translate. Usually you can make out just about any translation when you have five different musicians playing.

DB: Back to the new album, “Such Hot Blood.” Where does it come from and what does it mean to the band?

MJ: It came from a song with the same title. And we just liked the implication that it made. We were trying to figure out what does all this (music) have in common, because Airborne’s been around for six years now. We’ve toured all over the world, and sometimes we play folk, and sometimes we play music that borders on electronic. We’ve even been accused of epic rock ’n’ roll. And sometimes, we’re just these jagged little rock songs . . . And so it’s like: What’s really the thread that holds it together? And what we realized was that it’s all really passionate music. It’s all very hot-blooded music. There’s a lot of emotion and a lot of story.

DB: What’s the difference between playing shows during the time before an album is released versus when fans have the record and know all the songs?

MJ: I don’t know, you’ve got a few songs. We have a lot of crazy die-hard fans. We’ve just spend so much time on the road, and we’ve kind of flown under the radar for a very long time . . . We’ve been at it for a while, and our fans are with us. If you look, there’s a relationship that’s developed at this point. I was playing New Year’s Eve in Chicago and I looked out in the audience, and this guy yells, “Mikel!” And I looked down and he shows me his entire arm is covered in a massive Airborne tattoo. And if you look around at the front row of every Airborne concert, it’s just all Airborne tattoos at this point. And there’s a relationship, so when we play new stuff, the fans want to hear the new songs. There’s such a wanting to release the songs into the world, kind of like the way a bird pushes you out of the nest. Like, “OK, song. Go fly, be free!”

DB: After you tour for so long, all over the world, do the days meld together, or do they individualize more?

MJ: I mean a good rock ’n’ roll show has to flirt with disaster. The whole point of rock ’n’ roll, and certainly of punk rock, is that it might all go horribly wrong, and so you have to flirt with the idea that it might all go horribly wrong. And that spontaneity is part of what makes it exciting in that moment . . . I actually try to look for moments in shows where it looks like it’s all going to fall apart. It’s actually those moments that are the key to having a real sense of catharsis.

DB: You guys have made it sort of a tradition to end your shows with “Missy” off of your first album. With your growing catalogue of songs, do you think this will change or does the tune have a permanent home at the end of an Airborne show?

MJ: Yeah, you’re always looking for room for innovation. I’m sure there’ll be different ways that we’ll play “Timeless,” and the ways we’ll play “The Storm” or “Fifth Day,” the songs on the new record. They’re very dear to me.

DB: But then what has kept “Missy” as the permanent last song?

MJ: It’s the chorus at the end that everyone sings. It’s kind of uplifting. That song encapsulates a lot of what the band is about. So I guess singing it last, in a big room full of people that are all screaming the same thing together feels right. Some traditions are just worth keeping.

DB: Lastly, Airborne’s origins can be traced back to a burrito restaurant in Hollywood. What’s the best time to visit El Gran Burrito?

MJ: One a.m. for sure. After the clubs have let out, and people are lying down, you go and you get everything from like club rats to dudes on motorcycles hanging out. It’s just an exciting place.

Email Hornbostel at [email protected].

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