The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett
Steph Cosway | Saturday, 16 May 2009
According to Mikel Jollett, the Devil serves pretty good sushi. Oh, and he also lives in a rather dashing Soho flat (Mikel, not the devil).
But Jollett isn't talking about the man downstairs, but rather his band, The Airborne Toxic Event. Signing to Mercury Records has been a move which has allowed the band to release the dream of releasing their self-titled debut album internationally, including here in the UK.
"The deal with Mercury was that they didn't change anything on the record, and if they did we would have said no. It was clear that they weren't going to change any of the songs or the artwork or anything like that."
The band has found it pretty natural moving from an indie label to a major player. "The deal was that they have to take care of our original indie label Majordomo, so they're still kinda like our partners. It ended up a good deal for everyone." Especially for fans, it seems. With the backing of Mercury Records the band can now tour the world, with shows planned as far as Australia and Japan. Mikel also hints at UK tour and festival appearances.
Not that The Airborne Toxic Event haven't graced our shores before. In their first year as a touring rock band they played over 200 shows – around 50 of those were here in the UK. So how did a band who toured so extensively in their first year get together? Rather obscurely, by all accounts. Jollet, you see, never had any ambition to be a musician – he didn't think he had the talent.
"I was a writer first and foremost and that's all I ever wanted to be. When I was a kid all I did was write stories. My uncles or my parents or whoever would be like 'Aw Mikel has the writing going on again'. It was my thing."
Yet Jollett ended up being the frontman of one of America's most promising rock bands. When did writing become music? It all started a few years ago, when Jollett took a year out to write a novel. But by the end of the year he realised he hadn't been writing a novel; instead he had created a series of songs.
"I wasn't really writing anymore – I was a little, but mostly I was writing music so I thought 'hey, I should start a band'. I used to have these happenings at my house where everyone would come around and play an instrument. So there'd be a flute or viola or guitar or whatever and we'd have a bottle of whiskey in the middle of the room. We'd play for a couple of hours trying to write and record a song before the night was up. I think everyone in the band was at one point apart of one of those happenings."
Before forming all the band members were friends - something which has really helped them when it came to making music. Each member of the band comes from a different musical background - rock, jazz, classical, all playing a selection of different instruments.
"We mesh well. It gives us a certain flexibility as we're not limited in the scope of what we can do. If we have an idea we can usually just do it 'cause someone in the band knows how to play it. We're also just good friends where everyone just gets along. It's important for us to be friends and to remain friends. It's actually one of out major goals – something we talk about all the time."
Jollett is the only member of The Airborne Toxic Event not to have been musically trained; his background in literature has informed the way he thinks when songwriting. He doesn't want to be known for writing meaningless songs, but rather for writing about reality.
"Pop songs are anonymous platitudes. And yeah, some of it's true but most of it has to do with very teenage understandings of love and stuff. And you know, love is awful, it's terrible and it does terrible things to people. You end up acting in depraved and lonely and horrible desperate ways. But, you know, it can also be really wonderful - that's why you're willing to be desperate and lonely for it, right?"
For Jollet, writers like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald really understood this and reflected it in their writing. "I think that really influenced the choices I wanted to make as a songwriter. It also put a lot of perspective into songs." Good stories come from being real and relational. People can see themselves as the fool in the story. Jollett seems to understand this concept impeccably.
But Jollett is still interested in writing his fiction: he still wants to try and finish his first book before the second Airborne Toxic Event record is released. But it's something he isn't sure is possible due to the band's hectic schedule. Right now the band are busy every day – not that Jollett would ever change this. But like everyone he enjoys a little time off: "The other day we had some time off. There were all these sights I could have went and seen but instead I got a hotel room and some beers and locked myself in there for 36 hours. It was the best day I'd had in months!"
Not that Jollett spent those 36 hours doing nothing – he's been working on some new songs. One of which is called 'All I Ever Wanted' that even has a chorus - something which is almost unheard of with The Airborne Toxic Event as Jollett says: "I don't write a lot of choruses, but it fitted."
You see this is a band that'shard to predict. They don't tend to fit precisely into any genre. And it seems to be something Mikel's happy with: "Society want a certain type of band and you're supposed to become it. But we're not like that. A lot of what we do is honest and genuine. We just play music. We're not really hipsters, we're not rock'n'roll or punks. We're just like a group of travelling gypsies."
No matter how unpredictable this band's music is, it's easy to predict they are destined for big things here in the UK. And for many years to come.