Airborne Toxic Event
Every postmodernist worth his or her salt knows Don DeLillo’s award-winning novel White Noise, and its chief technological horror. But a merry band of dark indie poppers from Los Angeles’ fertile Silver Lake hood has adopted The Airborne Toxic Event as its own, in order to communicate bleeding-heart narratives of love, death and Dylar.
Squeezed somewhere between mainstreamers Echo and the Bunnymen, U2 and Heavenly States on the post-punk music map, The Airborne Toxic Event boasts some nice resumes. Front man Mikel Jollett has worked either side of the sonic divide, as a journo for National Public Radio, Los Angeles Times and Men’s Health; he’s even published a shorty in McSweeney’s. Other members of the band are classically trained and credentialed in music. The post-doc work has piled up nicely: The Airborne Toxic Event has lately caught the Silverlake comet tail in Rolling Stone, on Conan and beyond.
In other words, It’s a good time to be terrified.
Wired.com When did you first read White Noise? Are you a disciple, or did you just like the name?
Mike Jollett: I first read the book about three years ago, and was completely blown away. It’s just so funny and sad and absurd and odd. I think the fear-of-death theme hit me. Everything in the book changed when Jack thought he was going to die; he was already obsessed, but it made him think about his life differently. I also dig the random bits of static and advertising; it’s the medium through which our stupid lives flow. It’s sort of pathetic and funny and sloppy and human.
Wired.com: Do your fans get the name?
MJ: Some of our fans get it, and those people are always very excited. Some don’t and they wonder what the hell? But the name is also kind of a big middle finger to the idea of names. Like, who cares what your name is? Let’s call ourselves this odd thing.
Wired.com: Talk about the Silver Lake hood. How has it nurtured your band’s creativity?
MJ: Silver Lake is an amazing place to live right now. Missy, this Christian girl I met that some of our songs are about, once said that moving here from the South was like moving to Greenwich village in the mid-’60s. There’s just music everywhere, an electricity in the air that you can feel. I think such things reach a critical mass and Silver Lake is there. There are so many great artists doing amazing things.
Wired.com: It’s reached a fever pitch for sure.
MJ: I think maybe it started with Elliott Smith dying. That was a big watershed event for everyone. It kind of brought the neighborhood together, because it was so tragic. And the Silversun Pickups deserve a lot of credit, showing everyone that you can be on a small label and tour and tour and tour, and still have a real shot.
Wired.com: How are you feeling about the debut?
MJ: My personal feeling is that I don’t know how to do anything better than this record. I just don’t know how. Whether it’s good or bad isn’t really for us to say, since we have no perspective on it, but it’s certainly something upon which we took zero shortcuts. It took almost a year to make and we made it ourselves and, you know, we spent hundreds and hundreds of hours listening and re-listening and trying to get it all right.
Wired.com: Does it rock correctly?
MJ: It’s a live record. Meaning, we recorded everything live and went to analog, so the mixes are live. We were interested in capturing the energy of our live set. So much of it was about getting the right take. One that felt right. We felt maybe we were onto something with the live shows we’ve been playing, and our goal from the start was to try to get it on tape.
Wired.com: How has the internet helped you do your job?
MJ: The internet is great because it’s been so disruptive to the music industry. We’re in favor of it, because what it has essentially taken away the distribution channels from these insane corporations. You can now find a large audience without them. Which is good because insane corporations don’t care about art, only profit.
Wired.com: It’s definitely proven that they’re not fully needed.
MJ: The new model that’s emerging has been a real boon to indies. I think it’s because they are generally better, but just could never convince multinationals of that. I mean, Wolf Parade is a better band than Limp Bizkit. The National is way better than 500 crap rock bands that have come out in the past ten years. So blogs and peer-to-peer networks and the viral nature of song-swapping programs all benefit bands that are good, and disadvantage the lowest-common denominator bands with deep pockets.
Wired.com: OK, let’s get to the tech. Microsoft or Macs?
MJ: We all have MacBooks. I iChat with our guitarist Steven almost every morning. It’s kind of comforting. I feel like I’m in The Jetsons.
Wired.com: Pro Tools or analog?
MJ: Analog, but not for any moralistic reason. That’s just the equipment that we had at Pete Min’s studio, and he made the record with us). All these user-friendly recording programs are great too, because it means that you no longer need a ton of cash to make a record. Any twelve-year-old can record a song. And that’s good because there have always been talented people without money, and the need to get money first has always been in the way. Like, it used to be you needed $50,000 or more to make a record. Now you can do it on Garage Band.
Wired.com: The irony is it’s killing the traditional labels.
MJ: A lot of major labels are crumbling, but that’s partly because so many of their artists sucked. They were signed to take advantage of a trend or because some guy in a suit thought he could make a buck by churning it out. And now these tiny bands that those labels would have never signed are finding audiences on their own. That’s called karma. And hell yeah, we’re in favor of it.