Airborne Toxic Event plays Aspen, readies new album
If You Go …
What: Airborne Toxic Event
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, Nov. 5, 9 p.m.
Tickets and more info: www.bellyupaspen.com
The Airborne Toxic Event is on the road this fall, in advance of the release of its fourth album, “Dope Machines,” planned for early next year.
Fans should expect something different from the Los Angeles-based rock band on the new record, and a sampling of it when Airborne Toxic Event stops at Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday, Nov. 5 on its three-show run through Colorado.
The five-piece band’s last record, 2013’s “Such Hot Blood,” was a highly collaborative product recorded in Nashville. The band did two months of pre-production rehearsals, then played the tracks live in the studio together.
For what became “Dope Machines,” frontman and songwriter Mikel Jollett isolated himself and wrote more than 40 songs during 12-hour days of writing and recording. He also produced the album himself.
“I basically just locked myself in a house in Silverlake for a year and wrote and wrote and recorded and recorded,” Jollett said from a recent one-night tour break in northern California. “I used a lot of different sounds and a different approach – a lot of keyboards and destroyed sounds and beats.”
The catalyst, he said, was hearing David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s a capella take on “Under Pressure” for the first time.
“I was listening to that and I said, ‘I’ve got to switch up my approach,’” he explained. “And I did. It’s highly rhythmic, and parts of it are just weird.”
The new album’s recently released single, “Wrong,” offers a glimpse at what’s coming from the band. It’s a soaring, dance-friendly and keyboard-driven track with electronic flourishes. Jollet points to albums like The Cure’s “The Head on the Door” and Radiohead’s “OK Computer” as rock models for the band’s shift in sound texture and approach.
“I’ve been thinking about it in terms of scoring – almost like scoring a film – where things come in and out and nothing makes sense in any chronological way, but that makes sense in terms of the sound,” said Jollett.
The band came through Aspen once before, in 2012, when it played a free outdoor show on Aspen Mountain during Spring Jam, followed that night by a concert at Belly Up which Jollet called “the drunkest show I’ve ever played.” He and his bandmates have earned a reputation as an unpredictable and enthralling live act – a reputation that propelled them out of the L.A. indie scene and onto the national stage in 2008. Their self-titled first album included “Sometime Around Midnight,” the first in a string of hits that, in the years since, has included “Numb,” “Changing” and “Timeless.” Their songs have leaned toward an anthemic, violin-tinged sound, with cathartic, complex lyrics from Jollett.
Asked whether that’s evolving with the new sounds on the new album, he said, “I wouldn’t say that’s changed, I’d say it’s more aesthetics. I was interested in expanding our musical vocabulary to include things beyond two guitars, a bass, a violin and some drums.”
Before becoming a songwriter and starting the band, Jollett wrote fiction – the band’s name is lifted from the second section of Don DeLillo novel “White Noise” – and he still approaches pop music from a literary perspective. Talking about the emotional response he aims for from his listeners, he borrows a phrase from Vladmir Nabokov: “the sob in the spine.”
“I’m trying to find truth in some area, like, ‘What is love?’ or ‘What is loss?’ – these kinds of questions are infinitely complex,” he said. “Then you hear a song that just says, ‘Ooh, baby’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah, okay, what else you got?’” he said. “Unpacking those details is generally a novelist’s trade, but that’s the approach I’m interested in as a songwriter.”
The emotional precision of Jollett’s lyrics might be one of the factors that has contributed to the band’s fervent cult following of hardcore fans.
“It’s insane to be playing a show where everyone knows every word to every song and people have all these [Airborne Toxic Event] tattoos and everyone knows the culture of the band,” Jollett said. “It’s great.”
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