Interview with The Airborne Toxic Event

Highlander Radar: What did you think of performing at UC Riverside compared to other venues? How was the crowd?
Mikel Jollett: It was awesome, it was exciting; I like playing for a college audience because a lot of the world events that the songs are about affect kids that are in that age range.
Steven Chen: I went to UC Berkeley and we never had any big festivals like this. I was surprised at how legit it was. Not that I didn’t think it would be legit, but it was like, a proper festival. The crowd was great. I was watching Mac Miller before us, and I was like, that crowd is insane. So we were carefully crafting the drunk crowd set (laughter) and there was a lot of energy when we were up there. It was fun. Everyone seemed like they were having a good time.
Anna Bulbrook: It is awesome to play for a few thousand screaming college students. I mean, it’s the best.
Daren Taylor: The crowd seems to be much wilder here. It was really wild, it was up there. If we’re doing what we’re doing and we don’t get that kind of reaction, we’re doing something wrong. 

Some of the band has a background in fiction writing. How does this influence the songwriting process and lyrics?
Anna Bulbrook: It’s definitely an influence. Mikel is the primary songwriter, and I know one of the first things I noticed when he approached me about joining the band was that his lyrics were above and beyond the other lyrics that I’ve heard. I think he really tells a story in every song.
Stephen Chen: I was a journalist but I did do creative writing also. I always played music as a hobby. Mikel and I met as writers, and he asked if I wanted to play in the band. That definitely influences the songwriting process for Mikel—he’s a storyteller.
Mikel Jollett: I’m not sure. I get asked that question a lot. I don’t really know, to be honest.

Tell us more about the songwriting process.
Noah Harmon: Most of the songs our singer/fearless leader Mikel writes by himself. Some songs Mikel and I will write together and then he’ll do all the lyrics and vocals and stuff like that. And after that there’s a sort of process where we’ll take a song apart and put it back together as a band to get really focused in on how to record it and how to do it live.

How does it feel to be compared to other bands?
Mikel Jollett: Sometimes I feel like the comparisons are lazy. Half the time you feel like people aren’t really listening. And if you asked a typical fan they would know it’s nothing like that.
Anna Bulbrook: It depends if it’s flattering.
Noah Harmon: It’s flattering when it’s bands you like and you’re a little bummed out when it’s bands you don’t like. Like Nickelback.
Steven Chen: That’s probably the band people don’t like to be compared to.

So what would be a flattering comparison?
Noah Harmon: The Beatles. Ella Fitzgerald, maybe.
Steven Chen: Beethoven. Our hair has been compared to Beethoven’s.
Noah Harmon: Getting compared to legendary bands is super flattering. But you really can’t let it get to your head and think you’re like the Beatles when you’ve put out two records.

A couple years ago you switched from an independent record label, Majordomo, to a much larger one, Island Records. Can you tell us a bit about this transition?
Noah Harmon: We were on an independent label and doing well and we moved up to a very major one. Overall it’s been a very positive experience for us. All the horror stories of major labels and how they’re the fucking evil machine and all that kind of stuff, that hasn’t really happened to us, so we’ve been fortunate with that. We have one hundred percent creative control of the music.

The band tends to make political statements through performances and involvement with organizations like Amnesty International. Do you feel that your ability to reach large amounts of people creates an obligation to do this?
Mikel Jollett: Yes. One hundred percent… Just because you can write songs doesn’t mean your opinions matter more. But there’s a lot of things in the world that need people to give a voice to those who don’t have one… Raising awareness is so important.
Daren Taylor: I think because we have a public forum to work from, it gives us a good opportunity to speak out on the issues we feel strongly about.
Steven Chen: I think it just falls into storytelling. Just as a person living in the world there are all these stories around you. Yes, there’s a political side to the statement, but it’s more just these are stories that are happening to people, people are going through shit, and hopefully people can learn about it.  
Noah Harmon: I approve this message.
 

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