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Great gas altogether
As they release their second album All At Once, The Airborne Toxic Event’s Mikel Jollett talks about the tragedies that have inspired his songwriting, getting politically active, and the band’s very famous fans...
Paul Nolan, 21 Jun 2011
“Gigging, throwing shit at the audience, puking half the night, getting up and doing it again, visiting the radio station, talking to people I don’t know – it’s a whole lifestyle, man.”
The description may have many parallels with the life of a rock hack, but Airborne Toxic Event frontman Mikel Jollett is in fact discussing his current daily routine, with his band having just hit the road to promote their second album of rousing alt. rock anthems, All At Once. I express the hope to Mikel that he isn’t actually puking on the audience.
“No, I got sick the other night after the show,” replies Mikel, who’s speaking from London. “We’re all staying in this house in London, and we got out of the cab and I threw up on the curb. I was like, ‘That was weird.’ And I spent the whole night just throwing up. Then in the morning it was, ‘Okay, time to go to XFM.’”
Somewhat disappointingly, Mikel doesn’t attribute the sickness to Guns N’ Roses/Led Zep-style hellraising, but rather “some kind of flu bug.” Still, the fact that the singer hasn’t taken the plunge into the hedonistic rock lifestyle means that Mikel is in good shape to talk about the powerful All At Once, which he explains was inspired by a period of upheaval in his personal life.
“We got back from two-and-a-half years of touring the first record, and I had four family members die while I was gone,” recalls Mikel. “I was exhausted from the touring as well, and I think I just lost it a little bit. So I sat and wrote about it for a long time – I wrote 50 songs – and took the songs to the band. It’s called All At Once and the record is about how life changes very suddenly. This idea that life changes incrementally, that you go through slow, steady evolutionary phases is not really true; certain things happen and five minutes before you’re one person, and five minutes after you’re another person.”
This would certainly seem to be true in Mikel’s life experience – a talented prose writer (before becoming a full-time musician, he earned a living by contributing to publications including the Los Angeles Times and Filter), he seriously commenced songwriting in March 2006, during a week in which he underwent a break-up, was diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease and also learned that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. This intense period of creativity led to his band’s acclaimed, self-titled debut album, the raw emotion of which earned the band a loyal following and several high profile admirers.