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Posted at 01:09 PM ET, 11/16/2011

Airborne Toxic Event on war, touring and blowing things up


Mike Jollett, center, tackles some serious topics in Airborne Toxic Event’s songs. (Photo by Autumn DeWilde)
For reasons that remain mystifying, LA-based five-piece the Airborne Toxic Event don't get much blog love. Their second studio album, “All At Once,” which came out in April, is Big and Smart and Grand, like U2 and the Strokes made an album with Don DeLillo (and yes, we know this would never happen, although DeLillo's novel "White Noise" did birth the band's name).

It’s the sort of album made to be performed in stadiums, and despite the ATE's lack of It Band status anywhere but their home turf, we wouldn’t bet against them. Despite its ridiculous catchiness, "All At Once" is gorgeous and difficult (its best track, "Welcome to Your Wedding Day," is about the 2008 U.S. bombing of the Deh Bala wedding party in Afghanistan, which reportedly killed 47 civilians). In advance of the band's Thursday night show at Rams Head Live, freelance writer turned frontman Mikel Jollett talked about the track, his band's ambitions and their fondness for explosives, which occasionally gets them into trouble, for some reason.

One review of your new album said that it was so sweeping and ambitious that for your next disc they could only see you going smaller.

We're on a rocketship to Mars! [Or we'll do it] from our studio on Jupiter. I don't know. I can't begin to think about the next one. I've been writing songs, some of which I'm very confident will make the next record. Probably it'll be more organic. It's just that all at once there were so many ideas for this record, and that was by design. But our next record, we may decide it needs to be nothing but ukuleles. Or that we'll become a drum 'n' bass outfit. I've been listening to a lot of Das Racist lately. So maybe it'll be nothing but Billy Joel samples.

What's the reaction been to "Welcome To Your Wedding Day"?

That song has been one of our biggest songs at shows, and it's never been a single. The reaction at shows, people are [expletive] into that song. Before I wrote it I was [upset] about the war and about the people whod been killed and wanted to write a really political anti-war song. But I kind of kept it under wraps, and somewhere between bringing the troops home from Iraq and seeing that we're like 10 generations into the war in Afghanistan, some of the [more political aspects of the song] are now just day to day fact. War just sucks and ... it's never a choice. It's the most idiotic decision a country can make, and I think that's becoming more obvious.

Between that and the Arab Spring, [there was] this idea of finding your voice, because this is the song of the killing ofan innocent wedding party, including 24 children in 2008. It also happened in Iraq in 2002. And terror drones have been responsible for many incidents of friendly fire, of killing our own soldiers. And I think that's symbolic of what war does, it destroys victims, it destroys perpetrators and in some ways taints even the bystanders. It's not anti-America at all. We didn't have a particular point of view, it's just tongue firmly planted in cheek, denouncing the machine of war.

And by the time came out, you weren’t in any danger of having a Dixie Chicks type of moment.

[Laughs] I wouldn’t care. Our crowd — nobody would’ve cared.

On an unrelated note, you guys like to blow stuff up. Have you blown up anything interesting lately?

Not on this tour, though we have recently acquired the means to do so. This tour, there's only been a couple run-ins with the law, in Seattle and Vancouver. We've been doing a lot of theaters on this tour, and there's been some really drunken shows and drunken crazy experiences and fights. But when you're playing for 2,500 people in a theater there's a sense of responsibility to the fans to [not be wasted].

When another interviewer went on your message boards looking for questions to ask you, your fans wanted to know how many times you've been arrested. Obviously there's a mythology springing up there.
I have a tendency to get into it with cops. And it's not like I don't like cops, I have some cops in my family. I just don't like the [expletive] power trip ... We're very polite people. Some bands try to be rock and roll types, but we're not at all. We would never be rude to a waitress. We would never have a harsh word for a dog. But some redneck cop trying to tell me to do something I don't want to do? I can't handle it.

By Allison Stewart  |  01:09 PM ET, 11/16/2011

Categories:  Interview | Tags:  Airborne Toxic Event

 
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