The Airborne Toxic Event | If It Feels Good

prof airborne 75One time, this really sweet fan baked us a cake with all of our faces on it.



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Photo by DL Hegel


Indie rockers The Airborne Toxic Event make music that speaks to me. It consists of Mikel Jollett (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steven Chen (guitar, keyboards), Noah Harmon (electric bass, upright bass, backing vocals), Daren Taylor (drums), and Anna Bulbrook (violin, keyboard, tambourine, backing vocals). I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to the multitalented and expressive Anna Bulbrook from The Airborne Toxic Event before their show at The Pageant. A little background on Bulbrook: She is a classically trained violinist. She plays violin and keyboards in TATE. She also sings and brings a playful exciting energy to the band. Live, she is kinetic and commands attention.

How is the tour going so far?

It’s great, but it’s getting chillier the further north we go.

Hopefully you brought some sweaters.

We are running away from the storms. [laughs]

What is your favorite thing—or worst thing—to see in the audience while you are performing?

Probably my favorite thing to see is an audience where everybody is invested and having fun and moving around. My least favorite thing to see, every once in a while there’s a kerfuffle and I’m worried a nice member of the audience is going to get hurt.

What is your favorite song to play live or on tour, or the one that gets the biggest audience response?

I kind have two answers to that. One song I really enjoyed playing recently is “Space.” It has some really fun violin parts; it’s just a beautiful song. But a song that never ever fails is “Sometime around Midnight.”

What is your strangest story from on tour?

There’s a lot of things that happened I probably wouldn’t say, but one time this really sweet fan baked us a cake with all of our faces on it. We have gotten a lot of custom baked goods over the years.

How do you feel touring has changed for you guys? I’m sure it’s kind of evolved; you’ve been on the road for a long time.

These guys are good guys and gentlemen, as well as being boys in the band. For us as a band, it’s more comfortable as it’s grown. It’s gotten more relaxing to walk into a big crowded venue, compared to the first time you go to a small venue when you’re worrying about whether anybody’s going to be there. That part is really fun, and I feel that we’ve developed incredible relationships with fans all over. We have a lot of people who follow us around and really take the time to get to know us, know the funny little things about us. And it’s really neat and I’m really grateful for that.

Tell me about your songwriting process as a band.

Mikel [Jollett] is the primary songwriter for the band. He writes all the lyrics and melodies, and he often will go hold up in his house and spend a lot of time alone crafting songs. Sometimes it comes out as folk songs; sometimes they come out as a complete demo with everything thought through. And then he brings it to us and we’ll provide editorial feedback.

How is Such Hot Blood different from your other albums?

Such Hot Blood to me feels like a more natural album than the other two. I don’t know if I can articulate really why; maybe it’s just that the songs are more organic. It was recorded as a bunch of people performing live in a room together. It sounds warmer, and it’s very much about the songwriting and real acoustic instruments. “All at Once” had a bit more electronic influence in it and there’s a lot more studio magic put into that record. It sounds different to me than the first record that we made with chewing gum and shoelaces and some stuff that was just downloaded, as if a garage band made it; also, some stuff was just recorded on lunch breaks back when we had regular jobs.

The song “To Hell and Back” is on the Dallas Buyers Club soundtrack. How did that come about?

Mikel was riding his motorcycle on a little trip back from the Midwest through Utah and he was singing in his helmet the whole way because he had several hours to himself. He started singing that and he came home and wrote it. So one day I said, “Hey, how about some hand claps here?”

What is going on with recording or other future projects?

We’ll be putting some stuff out later on this year, maybe in the spring. Of course, we’ll have to solidify those plans.

What is the most unusual place you recorded, and how did those qualities affect the recording?

Especially for the first record, we really got creative: We recorded that one on a boat where Daren was driving and playing drums. We recorded “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” inside of a car and we had microphones taped to various limbs and parts of the car. You can hear that we were not recording it in a studio, but we were having so much fun.

What responsibility do you feel as a musician to push the creative envelope?

I am of two minds about this because some of my most favorite musical stanzas or songs are really, really simple, just a really catchy melody over really simple instrumentations. But you have to keep yourself interested and engaged, and that is really valid and important. I think it’s important to continue growing, and it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s OK to be simple if it’s good.

If you could meet any musician at any time, who would it be and what would you do?

Can I just go today and meet Robert Smith [of The Cure]? I was going to ask him how he teases his hair so big.

In the old days, it was Aqua Net and Dippity-Do in layers.

That sounds good; I’ll be doing that tonight.


The Airborne Toxic Event played a delightful and energetic show at The Pageant on February 12. For those familiar with their work, it did represent the feeling you get from their albums and videos. They are one of those bands that you have to get up and dance to. Their following is loyal and sings along with them. They bring the audience into their performance with layered and tuneful songs, honest but poetic lyrics, and a winsome stage presence. That kind of connection is not common; it gives you a sense of comradery at their live shows. I highly recommend seeing them if you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed. | DL Hegel

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