Something in the Air
Frontman Mikel Jollett, inspired by the commitment of fans, takes his effort on the latest Airborne Toxic Event album even higher
Mikel Jollett didn't get into music thinking he was going to change the world.
"I wanted five fans. I wanted five people who were not related to me to like the songs," he said. "I would have been happy with that."
Jollett, frontman and chief songwriter of the band The Airborne Toxic Event, has gotten far more than he ever bargained for. For one thing, the band quickly attracted quite a few more than five fans.
Its first self-titled CD became one of 2009's most popular debut albums behind its top-five alternative rock hit, "Sometime Around Midnight."
Its second album, 2011's "All at Once," gave the band another top-10 alternative rock hit with the song "Numb."
But where Jollett is even more surprised is in the unusually deep way his band's songs have connected with fans.
"If you got to an Airborne show, the whole front row is Airborne tattoos," Jollett said. "We meet people, and they have lyrics tattooed on their sides or on their arms or whatever. Whenever I see that, which is on a nightly basis now, I'm a little bit taken aback, because it feels like something you want to live up to."
Jollett's level of commitment to his music, his band and the fans has never been more apparent than in the making of the group's newly released album, "Such Hot Blood."
Jollett wasn't phoning things in by any means on "All at Once," but he came out of that project realizing he could put even more of himself into his music.
"I learned that doing something that is evocative for people really requires your absolute, utmost attention," he said. "I'm all in. That's probably the thing I learned with ‘All at Once.' There are no tricks. You really have to mean it body and soul."
After writing 100 songs for the band's 2008 self-titled debut album and 60 songs for "All At Once," Jollett only wrote the 10 songs that appear on "Such Hot Blood." But the effort and depth in which he immersed himself in those 10 songs is telling. Jollett and his bandmates — drummer Daren Taylor, violinist Anna Bulbrook, standup bassist Noah Harmon and guitarist Steven Chen — spent a full year writing and recording the new album.
"Most of these songs went through 10 or 11 drafts in different forms," Jollett said. "At the end of this long process, I felt as if I'd made 10 things I wanted to share with the world."
Once Jollett and his bandmates had the songs written, refined, rehearsed and knew their parts down cold, the band shifted its focus to capturing the energy of a live performance. To that end, the songs were recorded by the band playing together in the studio — not by recording tracks instrument by instrument.
"The idea was to have music that was really alive in the room, where we'd finish and say ‘Yeah, man, that was happening,' " Jollett said.
The result of that year's worth work and inspiration that went into "Such Hot Blood" is The Airborne Toxic Event's richest, most musically varied album. After a debut effort that was consistently up-tempo and catchy, the group began to expand its range of tempos and musical settings on "All at Once." But "Such Hot Blood" takes things to a new level. There are a couple of brisk tunes ("What's in a Name?" and "The Secret") that recall the first album, and "True Love" adds a rollicking folk dimension to the mix, while "Bride & Groom" has some Irish lilt in its folk-rock sound. The ballad "The Fifth Day" brings a bit of intimacy to the collection, while "Safe" and "The Storm" have an epic feel that could fit in on a Coldplay or Arcade Fire album. The closing track, "Timeless," is one of the band's finest songs yet, with its gentle melody building to an anthemic peak.
Fans can expect four or five songs from "Such Hot Blood" to be in The Airborne Toxic Event's shows on its summer tour.
"What's important is flirting with danger. You have to feel like it might all completely fucking fail," he said. "That's the idea of punk rock. It's visceral."