The Airborne Toxic Event
The next time youÃ‚Â’re at your local bookstore, thumb through a 2008 edition of whatever dictionary is handy, and look up the term Ã‚Â‘meteoric.Ã‚Â’ Next to the definition you should be able to make out one of those quaint, faux-woodcut style illustrations Miriam-Webster has such a soft spot for, a pseudo-etching of five L.A. musicians: fig. 1: The Airborne Toxic Event.
Originally a cathartic outlet for Mikel Jollett (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Airborne began as a two-piece with Darren Taylor (drums, adrenaline) before, like Don DeLilloÃ‚Â’s billowing cloud from which the band takes its name, it grew to absorb Anna Bulbrook (viola, keyboard, tambourine), Steven Chen (guitar, keyboard), and Noah Harmon (bass, high kicks). On the strength of their songs (which careen from the hipgrip sway of dancing, footstomping indie to whirling, brutally catchy assaults of epic rock) and raucous live shows, the band has grown from an unsigned indie group with a small, devoted following into a label magnet with a much, much larger, still devoted following. What hasnÃ‚Â’t changed is the band itselfÃ‚Â—the members remain alternately humble and bemused by the outside worldÃ‚Â’s increased focus on them and their music, deeply appreciative for their loyal fans, and intensely focused on making music that remains true to their own vision.
All of which are reasons why we chose the Airborne Toxic Event to be our first Featured Artist(s) on Web in Front. Oh, and one otherÃ‚Â—they have written some of the most cathartic and catchy songs weÃ‚Â’ve heard this side of the Boss (cÃ‚Â’mon, you know you love Nebraska). Jollett once told me, Ã‚Â“I wanna sing, I wanna jump around. WeÃ‚Â’re all gonna dieÃ‚Â… so letÃ‚Â’s get drunk and dance. LifeÃ‚Â’s sad, itÃ‚Â’s beautiful, it sucks, itÃ‚Â’s awe-inspiring, all at the same time, and we just try to reflect that or capture that in our musicÃ‚Â…Ã‚Â” ThatÃ‚Â’s why this music means something to usÃ‚Â—we can hear some melancholy song of theirs and forget ourselves for awhile, and then chase it with a track that reminds us of why we listen to music in the first place: to dance our asses off.
Web in Front: The last time I interviewed you (September 2007), we met at a small bar in Chinatown, and you were an unsigned band that had just debuted the song Ã‚Â“Sometime Around MidnightÃ‚Â” at the Sunset Junction Street Fair and were planning to record an album.Fast-forward eight months: weÃ‚Â’re meeting at a photo shoot, Ã‚Â“Sometime Around Midnight is a hit on both KROQ and Indie 103.1, the album is complete, and youÃ‚Â’ve just signed to a label. So, what happened? HowÃ‚Â’d you get from one to other so (relatively) quickly?
Mikel Jollett: The list of asses we had to kiss is long and distinguished. (laughs)
Steven Chen: We hunkered down after we talked, and locked ourselves away at Pete MinÃ‚Â’s studio in Eagle Rock, recording several tracks to go on the album.
Noah Harmon: Our plan was to release it in January of 2008Ã‚Â…
Steven: We didnÃ‚Â’t have a label, but we just decided that it was in us, and it was the right timeÃ‚Â—everyone was ready to do this. We were doing our Spaceland residency, and everything was going very much according to plan until KROQ added us into regular rotation right before the final night of our residency. After that, it was like being on a different world.
Darren Taylor: More people started to pay attention; we got picked up by a lot of other stations after that.
Steven: People started singing along to Ã‚Â“Sometime Around Midnight,Ã‚Â” which was incredibly surreal.
WiF: What was that like, the final night of the Spaceland residency? IÃ‚Â’ve never seen a line wrapped around Spaceland like that, with the room packed so tightly, and everyone there knew the lyrics to every single song, more than half of which are unreleased.
Mikel: It was great, it was so great just to have people show up. We knew that the last Spaceland night was going to be a big night because Castledoor and the Deadly Syndrome were playingÃ‚Â—we thought that it would be a little crazy. But the fact that that Ã‚Â“MidnightÃ‚Â” got picked up the week before, it just became a perfect storm. We saw how many people were there and it became, Ã‚Â“What the fuck is going on?Ã‚Â” Very hectic. It was sort of like that scene at the beginning of The Graduate where it goes from face to face to face to face, really quick edits. The whole night was like that for us: all our friends were there and all these fuckers from labels, plus journalists and everyone else, all of this at once. And then it became, Ã‚Â“Ok, time to play a show. Ok, set up your gear. Ok, take your gear down. OK, go shake hands with the president of this label, now go shake hands with this other president over here.Ã‚Â”
Steven: And former President Jimmy Carter, he was there. (laughs)
Mikel: I want to believe the ghost of Richard Nixon was there as well.
So it was a veryÃ‚Â—bam bam bamÃ‚Â—hectic, blurry night.
Anna Bulbrook: That was one of the best, most fun shows, though. That was a real top-of-the-world show.
WiF: Was it intimidating to go on stage that night?
Noah: It was amazing!
Anna: It was perfectly calm.
Steven: I think, as a band, we play better when thereÃ‚Â’s more at stake. We all like rising to a challenge, that always seems to lock us into what weÃ‚Â’re doing even more.
Darren: Musicians always say this, itÃ‚Â’s a clichÃƒÂ© but itÃ‚Â’s true: you feed off the energy of the crowd. Being on that stage and looking out and seeing literally no place to stand, and everyoneÃ‚Â’s waiting to hear us play, it just gives you an amazing feeling and energy to work with. You just explode.
Noah: More than anything, the crowd made it seem like an event. The crowd, the huge line of people, they were twice as amped as the crowd youÃ‚Â’d see on a standard Thursday night for some local band putting on our little rock show.
Steven: Yeah, there were people there whoÃ‚Â’d never been to Spaceland.
Anna: We even saw some people showing up in limosÃ‚Â—who goes to Spaceland in a limo?
Mikel: President of Warner Brothers.
There were a lot of label fuckers. All along the back of the room, there were a lot of fuckers. They were the fuckers who were trying to figure out if we were really any good, it was the first time theyÃ‚Â’d seen us. They only knew about us because of KROQ, they really had no idea who we were.
I donÃ‚Â’t know about you guys, but my attitude towards them was very much, Ã‚Â“Alright, watch this!Ã‚Â” and then just playing to the crowd. That whole thing, it used to be a dream for us about a year ago, to have those fuckers come and see you only to cross you off later. This night it was much more like, Ã‚Â“hereÃ‚Â’s your fucking show.Ã‚Â”
Noah: Fuck! Fuck fuck! Fuck! (laughs)
We were very excited to feel like we were be on the other end of things.
WiF: How do you mean?
Noah: Well, instead of Ã‚Â‘kissing the ringÃ‚Â’ as it were, when that set of label people saw all of their contemporaries in the room as well, there was a little bit of jockeying for our attention, which was something weÃ‚Â’d never experienced before. It was very exciting. Again, a very surreal experience. Weird, fucking weird!
Steven: WeÃ‚Â’re saying fuck a lot.
WiF: This will come out after you announce it, so I think we can talk about who youÃ‚Â’ve just signed withÃ‚Â…
WiF: What led you to that label?
Mikel: They offered us a really great deal. A partnership. TheyÃ‚Â’re very, say, Ã‚Â‘band-centric.Ã‚Â’ We just hand them the music. ThereÃ‚Â’s no conversations like Ã‚Â“Well, you should change the mix, or add guitars hereÃ‚Â…Ã‚Â” We just handed them the finished record, and theyÃ‚Â’re going to get it out there. ItÃ‚Â’s very much like a partnershipÃ‚Â—itÃ‚Â’s not like they bought our music, we get it back after seven years. WeÃ‚Â’re going in with a partner.
WiF: Full creative control?
Mikel: Oh yeah! That wasnÃ‚Â’t even an issue. They were just stoked on our band, on our music. TheyÃ‚Â’re all real fans of music, theyÃ‚Â’re smart people, they come from many different labelsÃ‚Â—Warner Brothers, Rhino, Nettwork, Mute, MatadorÃ‚Â—all these cool people who have all ended up in this very new, progressive company thatÃ‚Â’s growing tremendously. ItÃ‚Â’s a very modern music-world deal. TheyÃ‚Â’re distributing through Sony, so as far as the public is concerned, youÃ‚Â’ll be able to pick the album up anywhereÃ‚Â—Wal-Mart, Amoeba, it doesnÃ‚Â’t matter.
Our theory is that the indie vs. major label shit doesnÃ‚Â’t matter. In this day and age, distribution channels are open. We made it onto KROQ and Indie 103.1, and we did it unsigned. We just wanted a partnership with people who think the same way, who are interested in putting out good music and not concerned with being too indie or too major. And we know if we get dropped off the radio, theyÃ‚Â’re not going to give up on us. TheyÃ‚Â’re going to keep pushing for us. They believe in our live show, they believe in the record. ThatÃ‚Â’s why it made sense to sign with them: itÃ‚Â’s the kind of deal that doesnÃ‚Â’t make us feel dirty at all. We feel great about it.
Noah: And theyÃ‚Â’ve made it to every show weÃ‚Â’ve played for the past yearÃ‚Â…
Steven: They get where weÃ‚Â’re coming from, and where we want to go.
Darren: Without getting too specific, we talked to many labels, we got a lot of offers. But this deal is closer to what we ultimately wanted. A very D.I.Y. approach. Essentially, with the major labels, they take control, whereas with Majordomo, weÃ‚Â’re all in this together. TheyÃ‚Â’re in it for us, weÃ‚Â’re in it for them. ItÃ‚Â’s extremely close-knit. It feels like something we can grow with.
Mikel: The distribution on this deal is pretty amazing. The distribution is, as I said, by Sony/BMG, so, hypothetically, thereÃ‚Â’s nothing to prevent us from selling a million records, if that many people actually wanted to buy it. At the same time, itÃ‚Â’s not this impersonal thing where they just hand you a check and say Ã‚Â“go tour, weÃ‚Â’ll see you in a year when itÃ‚Â’s time for the new record,Ã‚Â” and they try to control everything.
WiF: IÃ‚Â’ve been really curious to see who youÃ‚Â’d sign with, knowing how protective all of you are of your music and the band.
Mikel: It took a while. A lot of labels spent a lot of money wining and dining us. One label in particular, they literally spent $5000 on us, just for food and drinks. And Majordomo didnÃ‚Â’t spend a dime.
Darren: What they did that made an impression was this: when we went to their offices for the first time, the entire staff showed up and packed into the room for the meeting.
Anna: We saw that they were really serious about us.
Mikel: ItÃ‚Â’s not just that, itÃ‚Â’s the fact that they didnÃ‚Â’t spend money on us. That meant a lot to us. The first thing that we thought after the dinners with all those labels who spent money on us was, Ã‚Â“wow, weÃ‚Â’re going to have to recoup that later through album and ticket sales. ThatÃ‚Â’s how they do business.Ã‚Â” Some bands on those labels are having to pay for the horribly decadent meals that we ate.
Majordomo, they donÃ‚Â’t do business like that at all. TheyÃ‚Â’re like us, theyÃ‚Â’re lean and scrappyÃ‚Â—though theyÃ‚Â’re armed with a fair amount of resources. And they offered us an extremely fair and generous deal. We get to be on a hybrid label that is simultaneously a major in terms of distribution and an indie in that theyÃ‚Â’re serious music fans who are in it with us for the long haul.
WiF: During that last interview of ours, Steven, you mentioned that the industry has become like the Wild West now, and everyoneÃ‚Â’s fighting for their piece of land and trying to build something new upon it.
Mikel: DarrenÃ‚Â’s moustache is very Wild West. (laughs)
WiF: Being as you are an indie band, who went for so long just doing everything on your own, do feel that the industryÃ‚Â’s current condition, shaky as it is, actually helps bands such as Airborne? Does it, out of necessity, foster a more D.I.Y. approach for some bands who might not do so otherwise, or does it still hurt more bands? IÃ‚Â’m thinking of how the Little Ones just got dropped before their debut LP was to be releasedÃ‚Â…
Mikel: No, the Little Ones are the opposite of this. They were signed by a major, and then they got dropped. TheyÃ‚Â’re an example of why thatÃ‚Â’s not necessarily the best way to go. ThatÃ‚Â’s an example of why that system doesnÃ‚Â’t work: theyÃ‚Â’re a great band and they got screwed by their major label.
Steven: I think itÃ‚Â’s better, at least for our band, that we did it on our own and didnÃ‚Â’t get involved with this inflated machine thatÃ‚Â’s been bound to crumble for a long time.
Mikel: Everyone knows the system is tanking. Really, the problem is a combination of too much overhead in a business that canÃ‚Â’t afford it and, obviously, the internet and downloading. And what was the peak of sales? 2001? When everyone was literally paying $18 a disc? That couldnÃ‚Â’t last!
WiF: But in terms of music and a bandÃ‚Â’s approachÃ‚Â—
Mikel: No, see weÃ‚Â’re talking about the business aspect, and thatÃ‚Â’s all it isÃ‚Â—business. It has nothing to do with music or the creative process, not really. Bands are bands, some are good, some are bad.
Noah: Look, if someoneÃ‚Â’s songs are good, theyÃ‚Â’ll get out, regardless of the bandÃ‚Â’s approach, whether itÃ‚Â’s their Myspace page or the biggest label in the world. If youÃ‚Â’ve got a great album, a really great album, youÃ‚Â’ll find a way to get it heard.
WiF: LetÃ‚Â’s talk about your album, The Airborne Toxic Event.
Mikel: ItÃ‚Â’s done. ItÃ‚Â’sÃ‚Â—
Darren (smiles): ItÃ‚Â’s fucking great! (laughs)
Mikel: We spent a lot of time on it. Literally hundreds of hours locked in the studio, just getting it right. ItÃ‚Â’s the pinnacle of what weÃ‚Â’ve done so far. You know, in total, IÃ‚Â’ve written about a hundred songs, of which I brought 40 to Darren when we formed the band, of that we brought 25 to the whole group, of that we recorded 16, and of those songs ten made it onto the record. WeÃ‚Â’ve played it live so many times, adjusted everything until itÃ‚Â’s just right for us, shaping it. We feel good about it.
Darren: It took a while. We wanted to take the songs to a live audience, see which ones worked better than others, road-testing everything. Our set is so completely different than it was a year ago. A lot of songs we donÃ‚Â’t play anymore, because they just donÃ‚Â’t gel. But these songs, on the recordÃ‚Â… they work.
Mikel: A lot of songs got relegated to the J.V.
WiF: Rock critic question: what do hope to achieve with the album?
Mikel: We wanted it to feel like our live show. All the rhythm tracks are live, itÃ‚Â’s the sound of us playing live to each other in a room, with that great energyÃ‚Â—we play off of each otherÃ‚Â’s energy live. ThereÃ‚Â’s a certain chemistry to this group, and we wanted to capture that.
Noah: And we wanted to run a longer emotional gauntlet than Ã‚Â“hereÃ‚Â’s ten punk songs,Ã‚Â” or Ã‚Â“hereÃ‚Â’s ten indie rock songs.Ã‚Â”
Steven: We feel like weÃ‚Â’ve really covered a lot of ground on this record.
WiF: Like the mixtape conversation we had in the last interviewÃ‚Â… the emotional peaks and valleys of a mixtape.
Mikel: Exactly. ItÃ‚Â’s ten songs long and it covers everything we do.
And itÃ‚Â’s self-titled because our damn name is long enough already. (laughs)
WiF: Did you achieve what you wanted? The last few times IÃ‚Â’ve seen you, youÃ‚Â’ve spoken about it like it was a labor of love, so IÃ‚Â’m guessing that you did.
Mikel: Well, itÃ‚Â’s hard to have a lot of perspective on that, because weÃ‚Â’re the ones who made it. I will say that we didnÃ‚Â’t cut any corners, you know, in terms of how much time and effort we were willing to give it. We just did take after take after take and mix after mixÃ‚Â… Honestly, I donÃ‚Â’t know how to do a better record.
Noah: ItÃ‚Â’s impossible for me to say. The way I look at it, over ten or twelve years, my musical tastes will change, IÃ‚Â’ll be listening and playing different stuffÃ‚Â… But this album, I donÃ‚Â’t think ten years from now that it will be something weÃ‚Â’re ashamed of or disappointed in. After everything that we put into it, I think weÃ‚Â’ll be very satisfied with it for a long time.
Mikel: Whether other people like it or not, who knows? WeÃ‚Â’re just going to keep our heads down, work hard, and tourÃ‚Â—a lotÃ‚Â—to support it. ThatÃ‚Â’s really all we can control: what our attitude is about it, how hard weÃ‚Â’re willing to work, making sure we can keep it together and not lose the plot artistically, thatÃ‚Â’s all we can focus on. All that other stuff, it remains to be seenÃ‚Â—after all, this is only our first record.
WiF: What kind of tour do you have lined up?
Mikel: WeÃ‚Â’ll have a full tour. The albumÃ‚Â’s release date is July 15th, so weÃ‚Â’ll have two different tours: one will be on the west coast and the southwest before the albumÃ‚Â’s release, and the other tourÃ‚Â… well, our booking agent told us to be prepared to be gone for a year.
WiF: Will it be a headlining tour, or will you be opening for others? Will it be a shared bill?
Mikel: WeÃ‚Â’re still in the process of working that out.
Noah: Yes! Yes to all! (laughs)
Mikel: I donÃ‚Â’t knowÃ‚Â… I mean, we only signed the deal two days ago. (laughs) But weÃ‚Â’re working on it. That and just concentrating on playing good music, writing as many good songs as we can.
WiF: WhatÃ‚Â’s the songwriting process for the band? Mikel, I remember speaking to you in January, and you were saying that you had all the songs for the record lined up, and then a new one just Ã‚Â“hit you,Ã‚Â” and you had to record it last-minute for the album (Ã‚Â“GasolineÃ‚Â”). Is it always that sudden? And how does a song evolve from something you experience in your personal life to being something in which the whole band contributes to and creates?
Mikel: In the beginning of the band, the songs were things I had written on my ownÃ‚Â—the words, the basic arrangementsÃ‚Â—and had brought to the others to see how we could make it ours as a whole. Lately, though, Noah and I have become the songwriting team, which I would have never expected. We have this weirdly complimentary relationship; he does a lot of things really, really well that I certainly couldnÃ‚Â’t do on my own. So the last few songs that we added to the record were songs that Noah and I had tossed back and forth, just developing emotional arcs and arrangementsÃ‚Â—
Noah: When he and I disagree is when the cool stuff comes out. When weÃ‚Â’re pulling in the opposite directions, and then we come back to the middle, thatÃ‚Â’s when we do our best writing.
Mikel: After he and I finish rolling around on the floor, kicking each other and pulling hair and biting, IÃ‚Â’ll go home for a few days or weeks, depending on the song, and try and figure out the lyrical arc for the song, and then I bring it back to the band. ThatÃ‚Â’s when everyone starts to put their own stamp on it, after which we take out and play it for an audience, which is where it continues to evolve.
WiF: That being said, is a song for you ever Ã‚Â“done,Ã‚Â” even after itÃ‚Â’s recorded? Or do you allow it to keep changing or growing?
Mikel: There are always little live tweaks and alterations that take place, sure.
Noah: Playing live lately, weÃ‚Â’ve been doing this thing to our song endings where someone will call out hitsÃ‚Â—five!Ã‚Â—and weÃ‚Â’ll end the song together with a bashing bam bam bam bam bam bam bam!
Steven: That was seven.
Noah: I did seven?
Steven: See, thatÃ‚Â’s the thing. Sometimes someone will say Ã‚Â“three!Ã‚Â” and weÃ‚Â’ll do five, or someone says Ã‚Â“one!Ã‚Â” and weÃ‚Â’ll do three. Or sometimes weÃ‚Â’ll do math problems: three times two divided by, you know, the square root of sixty-fourÃ‚Â—
Noah: Abandon joke! Abandon joke! (laughs)
Mikel: That was pretty good, Chen.
WiF: Performing live, what has it been like to see the fan base grow the way it has? ThereÃ‚Â’s always the same core audience, I always see the same fifteen or twenty superfans at L.A. shows, but then thereÃ‚Â’s also this growing, avid fan base. Last week when I was talking to Mikel at the Echo, two girls came running up after and kept asking me Ã‚Â“I saw you talking to Airborne just now!Ã‚Â” and Ã‚Â“how do you know Airborne?Ã‚Â” Is that weird or flattering or both?
Noah: ItÃ‚Â’s awesome! ItÃ‚Â’s extremely gratifying. The more we can be your band, the better. Please come talk to us at shows, you know? We want to communicate with anyone who has any interest in our music and our band.
WiF: Are any of you at all surprised at how quickly things seem to have moved, or does it even seem as if itÃ‚Â’s gone quickly at all?
Mikel: Sometimes it feels very fast, other times it seems like itÃ‚Â’s going to take foreverÃ‚Â—IÃ‚Â’m sitting at home, just wanting to get the record out and go on tour.
As far as what youÃ‚Â’re talking about, the growing number of fans, thatÃ‚Â’s just amazing. ThatÃ‚Â’s one of the coolest parts of this. I donÃ‚Â’t know about the rest of you, but I spent a lot of years sitting alone at home playing my songs and thinking, Ã‚Â“no oneÃ‚Â’s ever heard this song. Ever.Ã‚Â” So the fact that people now really do want to hear them, thatÃ‚Â’s amazing.
Anna: Talking about things moving quickly, I feel like the entire music scene in L.A. is moving extremely fast and itÃ‚Â’s really exciting, but then weÃ‚Â’ll travel outside the city and we have to start at ground zero with people. We have to win people over again, which I think helps give us a nice perspective.
Mikel: ItÃ‚Â’s incredible, though, the fans we do have. Like when we played at PianoÃ‚Â’s in New York, it sold out. We do really well in San Francisco. And to see people we donÃ‚Â’t know at showsÃ‚Â—because, you know, when you first start a band, the only people who show up are your friendsÃ‚Â—especially the shows outside of L.A., it can be extremely gratifying.
Steven: Hearing New Yorkers sing along to Ã‚Â“Sometime Around MidnightÃ‚Â” was pretty surprising.
Darren: To me, itÃ‚Â’s been a very steady progression, going from seeing all your friends in the audience, to the audience being a group of complete strangers.
Steven: The weird stuff is when people ask for autographs, especially when theyÃ‚Â’re kids! Fourteen year olds! We donÃ‚Â’t play a lot of all-ages shows, so when we played the (Indie 103.1 Rockcycle) show in Culver City, which was all-ages, we had all these young kids who knew all of our songs. That was really interesting and bizarre.
Mikel: I found myself being oddly avuncular with them: Ã‚Â“Stay in school! You can rebel against your parentsÃ‚Â—but they love you! Brush your teeth, do your homework, hereÃ‚Â’s your shoe.Ã‚Â”
Noah: Put it this way: itÃ‚Â’s simply fucking awesome to see anyone cheering for you when youÃ‚Â’re onstage, or waiting to see you after. It means a lot.
WiF: What happens to you as a group, and as individuals, when youÃ‚Â’re onstage?
Steven: You never know what your bandÃ‚Â’s dynamic will be until you become really comfortable with one another. EveryoneÃ‚Â’s personality begins to magnify once on stage. At the same time, sometimes IÃ‚Â’ll be in my own world and since NoahÃ‚Â’s on the other side of the stage, IÃ‚Â’ll have no idea what heÃ‚Â’s doing for most of the show.
Noah: Yeah, I didnÃ‚Â’t even notice Steven was in the band for the first six months. (laughs)
Steven: Now, I feel like our personalities are coming out on stage, weÃ‚Â’re getting really comfortable. It took a while forge our chemistry, I guess you could say.
Darren: The cool thing for me, being in the back on drums, is that I get the perfect perspective on what everyoneÃ‚Â’s doing and how theyÃ‚Â’re behaving and playing, so I get to feed of off what everyone else is doing, rhythmically and stylistically as a result. The way our band is set up, I take a lot of cues from each member of the band, whether itÃ‚Â’s something AnnaÃ‚Â’s doing on the viola, StevenÃ‚Â’s doing on guitar, or even MikelÃ‚Â’s vocals. Typically, as a drummer, I should be feeding off of Noah, as heÃ‚Â’s the bassist and thatÃ‚Â’s the typical rhythmic foundation for a band; with our band, though, I respond to each of themÃ‚Â—itÃ‚Â’s a really organic, collaborative musical chemistry, and itÃ‚Â’s based on how comfortable we are together, as a group and as friends, onstage.
Mikel: It helps that we do a lot of drugs together before a set. (laughs)
Darren: ThereÃ‚Â’s a lot of heavy drinking and shooting up, for sure.
Mikel: WeÃ‚Â’re all very different people, but we seem to find similarities that we all share when we play live together.
Noah: Mikel and I have been kicking each other a lot lately, though, during our sets.
Mikel: IÃ‚Â’m not sure what that is. Sometimes I see him on stage and I just want to kick him. ItÃ‚Â’s fun. (laughs)
Darren: The crowd is what really pushes us, though.
Noah: Yeah, usually the fifth song into a set, weÃ‚Â’ll decide to be not quite as frantic on that particular songÃ‚Â… but then itÃ‚Â’ll be a song everyone likes, so we end up taking it at 100 mph.
Darren: Even if youÃ‚Â’re having an off night or a lot of personal problems, when you see people really reacting to the songs, to the music, itÃ‚Â’s one of the best feelingsÃ‚Â… It really validates, for me, what we do as a band.
WiF: What was playing at South by Southwest like? Everyone I spoke to (since I missed it this year) said it was like Silver Lake essentially crash landed in Texas.
Darren: We literally ran into Division Day everywhere we went. ItÃ‚Â’s hard not to run into people you know now at SXSW.
Mikel: All the bands we love from L.A., or most of them, were there.
WiF: Do you feel that something particularly special is happening in the L.A. music scene right now, as Anna was saying earlier? You guys, the Movies, Happy Hollows, Henry Clay People, Radars to the Sky, The Deadly Syndrome, Castledoor, etcÃ‚Â… Do you see it as growing into a pop-culturally huge scene, or remaining more of a beloved niche?
Mikel: I think it gets a bad rep outside of L.A. Like in New YorkÃ‚Â—thereÃ‚Â’s a lot of stuck-up people there that think of L.A. as just Hollywood. They donÃ‚Â’t understand that Silver Lake is not Hollywood. ThereÃ‚Â’s a lot of really special musicians there making really serious music, and these assholes will go nuts about some band from Brooklyn that wouldnÃ‚Â’t last ten seconds in Silver Lake. You canÃ‚Â’t blame them, in a way, because theyÃ‚Â’re probably used to hearing only about the Sunset Strip and all that kind of shit, so they assume any band from L.A. will carry that vibe.
But there is an incredible amount of talent here, yeah.
Noah: I think thereÃ‚Â’s something going on. IÃ‚Â’d venture to say that thereÃ‚Â’s something unique happening right now, especially in the past few years since IÃ‚Â’ve been living here. The quality of bands and shows, every night now you can find a fantastic show somewhere in L.A. by a local act.
WiF: When I first moved to the area, that was the first thing that struck me, was the variety and talent of all the bands here. The amazing creative well of music happening here right now is staggering. But then, I moved here from the cultural armpit of America, soÃ‚Â…
Mikel: Crawford Ranch? (laughs)
Well, there are a lot of shit bands here also, just like anywhere. But I know what youÃ‚Â’re getting at.
WiF: ThereÃ‚Â’s just such a rich collection of artists right now, if you look for themÃ‚Â… and you donÃ‚Â’t even have to look that hard. Show up on just about any night at the Echo or Spaceland, and youÃ‚Â’ll find two or three ridiculously good acts playing.
Steven: ThatÃ‚Â’s true. ItÃ‚Â’s a really cool time to be a band in L.A. right now.
WiF: Rock critic question #2: Where do you want Airborne, as a band, to go?
Mikel: We have our very strong ambitions. But, that being said, I feel like we shouldnÃ‚Â’t focus too much on those but to do what I said earlier, and simply focus on what we can controlÃ‚Â—keeping ourselves grounded and focused on being creative artists, being good friends to one another. And to stay creative and productive in the very busy year ahead.
Noah: And be as tight with our fans as possible.
Steven: WeÃ‚Â’re a live band. We donÃ‚Â’t want to cheat our way into a huge following, we want to do it one fan at a time. Do it honestly and do it right, to really connect with people.
Mikel: Exactly. We just want to play in front of people. ThatÃ‚Â’s all really, just have a good time with people who love music. At one point, we as band decided that whatever was considered to be aloof rock star bullshit was something we wanted nothing to do with. WeÃ‚Â’re wide openÃ‚Â—we want to know people. We want to reach people and we want them to reach usÃ‚Â—thatÃ‚Â’s the whole point, I think, of being a musician. I mean, weÃ‚Â’re mortgaging our lives on this, weÃ‚Â’re going away for a year, because we love it so much and because we just want to connect with everyone that we can, and to be changed by them.
Steven: Ã‚Â“Happiness is OverratedÃ‚Â”
I love doing this one. Mikel and I start out with a jazzy intro, and then the whole song kicks in. I grew up listening to a lot of Britpop as well as dance rock (but not in the lame sense), and this song really taps into those styles that I love. It, for me, is really a personal wink back to the music I grew up with, danced to in clubs, or used to meet cute girls. (laughs)
ItÃ‚Â’s hard to say which is a favorite, really. TheyÃ‚Â’re like kids, I love all of them. Sometimes you love the song, other times you just want to get through playing it and get it right.
ItÃ‚Â’s like asking, which is your favorite finger? Ã‚Â“Well, I like my pinky a lotÃ‚Â… but then again my thumbÃ‚Â’s pretty opposable, so thatÃ‚Â’s cool. But how can I flip people off without a middle finger, and now I realize I need my third finger to get married, so itÃ‚Â’s really hard to say.Ã‚Â” (laughs)
I like playing Ã‚Â“MissyÃ‚Â” because I like screaming at the end. (laughs) I like what the song means, it reallyÃ‚Â… it sums up exactly how I felt at the time I wrote it. ItÃ‚Â’s very important to me for that reason, I think.
It takes me back to the inception of the band, just me and Mikel in that hot rehearsal space downtown. I feel like thatÃ‚Â’s the song that he and I bonded over. I donÃ‚Â’t remember who was the chicken and who was the egg on that song, who started playing it first. This beat just came out of me at the same time that this great riff came out of him. It literally came out of nowhere.
It was weirdÃ‚Â—as soon as we began to play it that first time, I knew exactly how I was going to play the entire song. On a lot of songs, it takes me a bit to figure out what IÃ‚Â’m going to do with them. But on Ã‚Â“Innocence,Ã‚Â” I just knew how to play it, what it needed to be.
I also like it because itÃ‚Â’s the ultimate closer for us. ItÃ‚Â’s the culmination of everything that has happened throughout the show, everything comes out at the end of the song, it builds and builds and builds into this massive, bubbling explosion of what we doÃ‚Â…
Mikel: YouÃ‚Â’re kind of turning me on. (laughs)
Anna: Ã‚Â“Sometime Around MidnightÃ‚Â”/ Ã‚Â“GasolineÃ‚Â” (tie)
ItÃ‚Â’s always changing for me, because we keep playing songs differently. For instance, between takes at the video shoot for Ã‚Â“Midnight,Ã‚Â” we didnÃ‚Â’t have our keyboard and so I was playing all of our songs on viola, which I donÃ‚Â’t normally do, so I discovered new things to enjoy in each oneÃ‚Â…
That being said, Ã‚Â“MidnightÃ‚Â” is always fun to play live, and Ã‚Â“GasolineÃ‚Â” is even betterÃ‚Â… itÃ‚Â’s always revolving for me, but right now, those two are the most satisfying for me to play.
Though I do like Ã‚Â“MissyÃ‚Â” as well, because it gives me a chance to jump into the crowd. (laughs)
Noah: Ã‚Â“This is NowhereÃ‚Â”
I like this one mainly because when we play it live, Steven and I try to outdo each other on jump-kicks. (laughs) In the past few shows I fucking kill him because I leap off of the drum riser. ItÃ‚Â’s great. (laughs)
Airborne was gracious enough to allow Web in Front to host two seldom heard songs from their growing collection of angular earphoria. The first, Ã‚Â“I DonÃ‚Â’t Want to Be on TV,Ã‚Â” is a loping, desperately funny/sad portrait of a city living under television skies, replete with multiple mini-solos and an irresistibly rhythmic ebb and flow that lulls you into the songÃ‚Â’s riptide center. The second, Ã‚Â“The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,Ã‚Â” is an adaptation of the Irwin Shaw short story that follows a New York couple through the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue and the interpersonal tripwires of truth and fidelity. A windswept slice of jangley pop and witty lyrical heartache, Ã‚Â“Summer DressesÃ‚Â” was on the original pressing of AirborneÃ‚Â’s debut EP and still makes the occasional setlist on lucky nights.