Bowie, Crack, and Sudafed, an Interview with Mikel Jollett


Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 2/12/09 / Photo Credit: Henry Ruiz

I was given the opportunity to interview Mikel Jollett, the lead singer of The Airborne Toxic Event about David Bowie, their debut album and how it has been on the tour. The Airborne Toxic Event’s current album can be found on iTunes and at your local record store. If you want to see the band live, the US tour dates are listed on their site

Ryan- This is Ryan from Lost In Reviews,  I’m here with Mikel Jollett from Airborne Toxic Event, so how’s it going, man?

Mikel- I’m good, How are you?

Ryan- I’m Good. You had to cancel part of your tour due to bronchitis, how are you feeling now?

Mikel- we only had to cancel 4 dates over there, I was taking a lot of Sudafed and with the bronchitis, the doctor told me I couldn’t fly but, I’m better now.

Ryan- So are you ready to get back on the road?

Mikel- Yeah, actually we are back on the road now, we are playing our first date, got in a day early so we got to go over to the national park ranger station and hike around and with all of the views and the forest and the mountains, its just really beautiful.

Ryan- Yeah, I bet you wish you could start every show like that?

Mikel- Yeah, it’s a lot better than just coming in and seeing a dirty city.

Ryan- It’s a lot better than seeing the inside of a bar and a dirty back alley?

Mikel- Yeah, I gotta stop smoking that crack and stay out of those back alleys. (laugh)

Ryan- (laugh) Your band consist of everything from classically trained musicians, writers, to just fans of rock music, how do you all work together to add a piece of yourselves into your music?

Mikel- Well its not really like that, it’s just rock in roll, you know we just get together and play the songs…

Ryan- So when you are writing, you just get together and jam?

Mikel- No, not really, I compose the songs, and I bring it to the band, and there might be some changes here or there, but mostly its what I compose. We are really a live band, we get together and when we are writing, we aim for the live show and think of the recording as a secondary.

Ryan- As  a critic, I really enjoyed your open letter to Pitchfork, have you wanted to respond to any other slanted critics?

Mikel- No, not really. That whole thing got blown out of proportion, I guess now, I should just buy the guy a beer.

Ryan- Well as a critic, I really got a kick out of it. Before the band, you used to supplement your income with some freelance writing and even being published in McSweeney’s issue 27 with a short story. Have you given any thought to continuing your writing now and possibly publishing something else down the road??

Mikel- Yeah, I plan on it. The piece I did for McSweeney’s was just this start of something I want to put out. When I went out on the road, I thought I would be able to do a lot of writing but nothing has really worked out, because I really haven’t found the time. Well you know, because your a writer, right?

Ryan- Yeah

Mikel- You know, If you don’t have to do it, you usually don’t get around to doing something until the last minute when you have to do it.

Ryan- Yeah your right, it’s usually like that, the push of needing to get it done, that makes you write it.

It seems like your album came from a really dark point in your life. Any new experiences that we can expect to hear about on the next album?

Mikel- Yeah, there are some things that have happened, I mean, maybe one day we will do a concept album on one certain point in time, but I can tell you right now, its not going to be about just a girl.

Ryan- So since things are going so well for Airborne right now, can we expect a happy Airborne album?

Mikel- Oh, no no no. (laugh) I think you have to have a little bit of melancholy now a days, it can’t be all like (He sings) “Oh I’m happy, I’m gonna write a song” – Well I guess the Beatles did that.

Ryan- Yeah you have to have some drama to keep it interesting.

Mikel- Yeah it has to have that with anything: a TV show, a novel a, movie, there has to be something going on, there has to be some kind of experience that makes it interesting.

Ryan- in the UK, you recorded three bonus tracks, can fans expect anything else to surface?

Mikel- No, I think that’s it off this album. We had two other tracks that never got released, maybe we will do something with that.

Ryan- So maybe they will show up on a b-side of a single?

Mikel- Yeah, maybe. But I do get a lot of emails about the intro to the song “Innocence”, and if we are going to re-release that.

Ryan- (laugh) Oh yeah, that’s kinda funny, because we asked fans on our site what we should ask you and we got a lot of responses about that song.

Mikel- (laughs) That’s actually part of another song, and we noticed it’s in the same key, so we just used it as an intro into that song and I guess it works.

Ryan- Ok, The band played a “30 Shows in 30 Days” U.K. tour in November last year, which included a month-long residency at the Dublin Castle, how was that?

Mikel- Yeah, that was great. We went out there and we were playing shows from anywhere from dirty pubs to tents with 50 people, and we had a song on the radio out there and people would ask me since your so successful, how do you humble yourself? we may have a song on the radio, but were still hauling base cabs up on stage.

Ryan- Yeah that’s always pretty humbling. From all the festivals and all the shows you’ve played, what band has been the real highlight to play with?

Mikel- Oh, good question! Right now, off the top of my head, I’m gonna say “Passion Pit”. We played a lot  of our shows with them. I sat out on the side of the stage and watched them every night. They just do a lot of cool things, like they have bells in their songs. I really like their album and when I met the lead singer, Michael, I was like, (in a Fanboy voice) “I really really like your album man!”, and then he said, “I really like your album too.”

Ryan- Well that kinda answers my next question, I have read that you have been influenced by David Bowie, The Smiths, Television, The Velvet Underground, and the Cure. Is there anyone you have discovered recently that is starting to grow on you?

Mikel- Yeah, Passion Pit is a really cool band.

Ryan- What’s been your stand out show so far?

Mikel- I don’t know, that’s kind of hard you know, they’re all different in a way. The Wiltern or The Fonda were really cool, but it could be a show of only 5 people and as long as there is that vibe in the room, it makes it a good show. It doesn’t really matter where it’s at. So saying that, I really dont have one stand out show.

Ryan- Since you were once a critic, has it been strange playing with bands you might have bashed?

Mikel- No, not really. Because I wasn’t a very well known critic, and I wasn’t a very good critic either. I listen to these guys now, and I am like Wow, I was really bad, these guys really know their music. When I was a critic, I only did it, to  sit down and ask these people the questions that I wanted to know. You know I would sit down and ask Lou Reed 50 questions about his music.

Ryan- Yeah, you know, you really aren’t doing it for anyone else but yourself, its just the questions that you want to ask.

Mikel- I just did it to meet people and ask the people I liked, what I wanted to know. One time I got to sit down with Bowie, and we were just sitting down talking about Niche and he comes out and asks me, “Is it hard for people in your generation to care about anything?”  I was like, you know Bowie, you’re right. You guys ruined everything for us and we are just a sad generation (laugh).

Ryan- (laugh), you know that was going to be my next question. So I read that in another interview, did you find the answer?

Mikel- Yeah, actually, I wrote a thousand words on it.

Ryan- Oh that would be a great title for a book, Answering the question by David Bowie.

Mikel- Yeah, that would really good, Questions by Bowie, the book. (laugh)

Ryan- Well thanks for doing the interview man, can’t wait to see you at the show on the 28th here in KC, and anybody else outside the Kansas City area can go to their website, for more show dates, thanks for doing the interview.

Mikel- Hey it was really fun, I look forward to seeing you out there. Thank you.

Ryan- Good talking to you, bye.

Mikel- You too, bye.

By Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

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