The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett Talks Touring, Chain-Smoking and Bottles of Scotch
Photos courtesy of Big Hassle Media
Mikel Jollett understands what it's like to have a no-good, very bad week.
As the front man for L.A.'s The Airborne Toxic Event, he's known for his serious-man's lyrics and moody, oft-brooding subject matter. The heaviness of his lyrics have roots in reality, though.
In his former life, Jollett was a writer and novelist, taking the leap into musical mastermind only after a series of life fuck-yous hit him one after the other. From learning of his mom's cancer diagnosis to facing his own health crisis in the same week -- a diagnosis of an immune disorder that sparked a struggle with alopecia and vitiligo, coupled with the demise of a relationship -- Jollett found himself facing one struggle after another, and feeling totally alone during the process.
He learned to confront those struggles in the form of his lyrical musings; through his music, he has created a world in which he confronts the demons head-on, set to the tune of Airborne's symphonic melodies and wicked violas.
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Fortunately for us, the sparkling synth, orchestral aspects, and echoing guitars that play among the band's melodramatic, angsty anthems keeps the seriousness of the subject matter from jumping ship into uber-depressing territory. Their unique collaboration of upbeat instrumentation laced in with Jollet's bitter crooning leaves listeners feeling like they've peeked into a collection of thoughtful poetry rather than a mad man's cynical rants, no matter how heavy the subject matter may be.
"When you write songs, you sit down and communicate, and present your struggle," says Jollet. "You write because you feel weird about yourself, and then you write and feel less strange, and you're not so weird to yourself."
'I've had that experience," he continues. "Hearing an album or a song and going, 'Wait -- what the fuck? Someone else knows what it's like to feel like that?' It's all kind of this big absurd thing, the tragedies in real life that have been shared by so many people."
As cathartic as the experience of purging emotions and turning them into the lyrics was, it wasn't a quick transition for Jollett to make, despite his years as a novelist.
"[The] first album I wrote like 100 songs -- I can't explain it - but it's new," he says.
"As a writer, I'd spent years and years locked in a room and learning steps and following rules," he continues. "Five years and I must have written a million-ass words, like a machine and I'd just read and write and read and write in my tiny, one room apartment with a bed and a desk and a bunch of bottles of scotch, and I'd chain smoke and lay around and write."
Those 100 songs translated into an album, which led quickly into a massive tour; the band played nearly 350 shows to promote that first album. They have no plans to slow down now, despite the growing critical acclaim for both of TATE's subsequent albums.
"We're a live band primarily; we stay on the road," he says. "That's who we are. That's just the nature of it. And you're learning every night. You're learning about yourself and your songs and like it's the last night on earth, and you really don't give a fuck that it is."
The persistence of staying on the road for seemingly endless tours has paid off, though. Airborne is currently embarking on easily their biggest tour to date, and they've sold out nearly every seat, much to the amazement of Jollett.
"I don't ever understand what's happening and I understand the idea that you can have one hit and go huge and disappear," says Jollet, "but there's two thousand people singing to all of our songs and all these people singing along -- it's mind-blowing." .
"I don't understand where it's coming from -- who we are, and why," he continues. "There was a show where all the front row was filled with people with Airborne tattoos -- I don't quite get it, or how it happened -- but I'm grateful for it."
Jollett clearly thrives in a life spent onstage, making it clear he craves the high from performing, no matter how heavy his subject matter can be.
"You're sweating, screaming, pounding, and it's fucking rad," he says. "It's the funnest thing."
The Airborne Toxic Event performs tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 7 p.m.