First Night Sold Out! Second Night Added!
The Airborne Toxic Event
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
The Airborne Toxic Event
When the Airborne Toxic Event took the stage at Spaceland in Silver
Lake on January 31
of 2008, the 400-capacity venue was a
madhouse. In the entryway, patrons squeezed in and pled their cases
to the door girl. Another 400 people queued impatiently along the
sidewalk outside, forming a massive line of a thousand people that
snaked down Silver Lake Boulevard, surrounding the venue on all
It was the final night of the band’s five-week residency at the
legendary Eastside venue, and all that month, when they weren’t
rehearsing or performing, they were busy self-recording their first fulllength album at a friend’s home studio in Eagle Rock. For the past week their song, “Sometime Around Midnight,” had unexpectedly been
played again and again on KROQ, the biggest rock radio station in the
world. The highly respected Indie 103.1 had suddenly started playing
It quickly became the most requested song on both stations, despite
the fact that it had no “chorus” or “hook.” The song was essentially a
poem set to music describing the desperate inner monologue of a man
seeing a lost love at a bar with someone else. One critic described it as
Leonard Cohen backed by the Jesus and Mary Chain.
At the time, the band had no label, no manager, no publicist, no radio
promoter, and no distribution. In fact, both stations were spinning an
un-mastered mp3 of the song, barely three weeks after it had been
It was an odd moment, one in which it seemed that whatever rules
had been established in the music world suddenly didn’t apply and all
the connections, money, favors and advertisements faded in the face
of music people wanted to hear.
That night onstage, the conversation between singer Mikel Jollett and
guitarist Steven Chen went something like this:
Chen: “This is really fucking strange.”
Jollett: “Yes. It is.”
Two years earlier, Jollett was a writer working on his first novel when
he experienced the worst week of his life. In a span of seven days, his
mother was diagnosed with cancer, he in turn was diagnosed with a
genetic autoimmune disease, he and his long-term girlfriend broke up,
and after camping out in the hospital for several days for his mother’s
surgery, he came down with pneumonia.
“Something in me snapped,” Jollett says. “Like, I literally just lost my
mind and didn’t care about anything. Except music.” Emerging from a
month-long haze (in which he also went through nicotine withdrawal,
quitting a two-pack-a-day habit), the published author suddenly found
himself with a mad desire to do nothing but play music. Which is what
he did, alone in his apartment, every day for the next year.
Though he continued to write prose (a section of his novel is excerpted
as a short story in the June 2008 McSweeney’s), at some point he realized that he was writing a rock and roll record instead of a book.
Daren Taylor had recently moved back to Los Angeles from Fresno and
was looking for something to do. The 26-year-old former punk
drummer met Jollett through a friend, and after briefly quizzing one
another on rock trivia and playing some songs together, the two
promptly locked themselves in a small room in a warehouse in
downtown L.A. and for the next four months, worked out beats and
breaks, screaming into microphones, stomping, drinking, dancing and
wailing into the night.
They felt perhaps they were on to something.
Months went by, during which the two flirted with the idea of becoming
a two-piece. Then they met Noah Harmon. Also a former punk rock
acolyte, Harmon had recently earned a degree in jazz double bass
from the California Institute of the Arts. He taught music to kids in
East L.A. and was the rare melding of punk, jazz and baroque—
somewhere between Brahms, Charlie Parker, and the Misfits. Jollett
asked him one day if he could play electric bass. He could, in fact.
Anna Bulbrook was next. A classically trained violinist from Boston, she
met Jollett at a taco stand at two in the morning one night. They were
both a tad drunk and he asked her if she could play some viola for his
band. A versatile musician who had spent 10 of her 23 years playing in
symphonies, it was discovered on a whim one night, that she could
also sing and play piano.
Finally, Steven Chen, who knew Jollett from halcyon days in San
Francisco when they were both part of the same clique of writers, was
asked to come by the warehouse one afternoon and play something on
the keyboard. He insisted instead on guitar. After escaping to Tokyo
for a few weeks, he returned to Los Angeles and joined the band
Having discovered the postmodern writer Don DeLillo’s novel White
Noise, the band took its name from a section of that book in which the
main character is exposed to an enormous chemical explosion—
dubbed by the media in Orwellian double-speak: “the Airborne Toxic
As a result of being exposed to the cloud, he is told he is going to die.
This realization changes him, making his life, his relationships, his
desires, more vital, more real, more alive. The cloud becomes a living metaphor for the fear of death and how this fear transforms him. The
band thought it might make an appropriate band name.
Airborne quickly developed a reputation for cathartic, wailing live
shows, reaching the usually stoic East Side L.A. indie rock crowd on a
gut level. Many danced. Some cried. Sing-alongs became the norm.
Harmon played his bass with bow like a cello while Taylor pounded
away on a car hood taken from a junkyard one afternoon. It was not
uncommon for the band to throw thirty tambourines into the crowd or
for Harmon or Bulbrook to jump into the ruckus among a chorus of
handclaps as Jollett screamed from the stage while the audience
“Everyone’s got to sweat,” Jollett says. “Something, as opposed to
nothing, has to happen. You’ve got to wonder if a riot is going to break
out or if the whole place is going to burn down. That’s what makes it
rock and roll. Otherwise it’s just folk with a back-beat.”
It was this feeling of catharsis—the live energy created by the soaring,
jagged songs—that the band set out to capture in the studio. Teaming
up with friend Pete Min in his home studio in the mountainous Los
Angeles neighborhood Eagle Rock, the band spent six months
recording and mixing, remixing and obsessing over reverb. They made
the album themselves, having turned down offers from major
Soon the upstart West Coast indie imprint Majordomo offered the band
a partnership indie deal (structured very much like Radiohead’s
progressive deal with TBD), so they took it. At the time, they had
exactly one label mate (the local Silver Lake band, Earlimart).
In their first year as a traveling band, the Airborne Toxic Event played
more than 200 shows. During one stint in November, 2008, they
played 30 shows in 30 days in the United Kingdom, managing to visit
just about every corner of the England, Wales and Scotland—even tiny
towns like Stoke-on-Trent, Yeovil, Barrow-in-Furnace and Fife—places
that most British bands don’t go. Word of their raucous show spread,
and when the record came out in the UK in February 2009, it debuted
in the top 40 of the UK pop charts.
This was an unheard-of feat for a band that was self-releasing a record
in the UK (since Majordomo didn’t have a UK division). Every single
show of its follow-up UK tour in the spring was sold out. (As were
future shows: one infamous London show in a 900-capacity venue sold out in 15 minutes)…
Back in the United States, the single “Sometime Around Midnight”
continued to climb the radio charts, eventually cracking the top five. It
was the first time a band on an independent label had done so in 20
Around the same time, the song was named the number-one
Alternative song of the year by iTunes (a list that included Band of
Horses, Glasvegas, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend and Coldplay). This
was followed by a notorious appearance on David Letterman (the band
had previously played Conan O’Brien), featuring their friends the
Calder Quartet and one flabbergasted outburst by the usually
indifferent David Letterman.
Throughout the spring, as records sold out in stores in the States and
demand grew overseas, the band was pursued by major labels, but it
wasn’t until Island-Def Jam offered the band the right deal (including
the prerequisite that they remain partners with Majordomo and the
record would not be changed) that they accepted. It was a unique
record deal in the modern music industry, allowing the largest record
label in the world to put out what is essentially a home recording.
Such things happen every now and then. An idea takes hold, or a
piece of music strikes a resonant chord and suddenly it seems the
world is infinite, that something real can exist among the mindnumbing fray.
The Airborne Toxic Event are neither icons, nor saviors (they would
say “there’s nothing to save, it saved us,”), nor pop stars, nor
disinterested hipsters… They’re just a group of friends traveling from
place to place, playing oddly redemptive songs, written during some
oddly painful times.
Maybe the world is changing around them. Or maybe nothing ever
changes and all anybody ever wanted was to hear was an honest song.
Two years ago, Steve and his childhood friend Mark Prendergast helped each other through respective recent break-ups by shaping their thoughts into songs about love and loss. “Break-ups make it really easy to write,” laughs blonde-haired Steve. “When we write music, the first thing we think of is, it’s therapy for us. Then we think of how we can use that feeling to touch as many people as possible.”
Teaching each other the principles of songcraft, the music they came up with isn’t wan or introspective or self-serving. Currently maintaining an air of understated mystery (their Facebook bio states, merely, “we’re four lads in a band”), Kodaline are soon set to unveil themselves to the world with the four track The Kodaline EP - recorded with Steve Harris (producer for Dave Matthews band, mixer for U2); four tracks that are bold, epic and stirring and the perfect introduction to a band who aren’t afraid of grand gestures.
Steve and Mark met aged eight, when they were the only boys in the school choir. “We were there to pick up girls, of course,” jokes Mark. The pair though grew up in houses just two minutes away from each other in Swords, a working class town near Dublin airport.
Six years later, at a youth retreat, Mark and Steve were placed in the same house and both took guitars. A musical bond was formed over late night singalongs. Returning to Swords, they recruited another childhood friend Vinny. “Swords is a small place, for a big town,” says Steve, and the three of them set about forming the first of myriad bands.
It is with Kodaline though that Steve, Mark and Vinny – all aged 22 and 23 – have been working towards for much of their young lives, with the line-up being recently completed by bassist Jason Boland. Having spent two years doing nothing but writing, with just a belief in their talent keeping them afloat, Kodaline is their be-all and end-all. “I dropped out of college and my parents were just freaking out saying, What the fuck are you doing?” says Steve. “There was no deal in place and no money, we just thought, Fuck it, let’s have a crack at it.”
The band’s name, incidentally, means absolutely nothing for the moment – they wanted something they could take ownership of. “We made it up ourselves, but we later found out it’s a character on fuckin’ World Of Warcraft,” says Mark. “I promise you, we’ve never even played the game. It’s just a bizarre coincidence.”
Mark and Steve clearly have a strong friendship. “We can basically read each other’s mind at this point because we’ve known each other so long,” says Steve.
Music isn’t the only thing that unites the foursome. “We also like cliff jumping and pier jumping,” says Mark. “I don’t know, each to their own I suppose.”
Currently planning another EP for early next year, plus live dates in November/December and – further down the line – a debut album, Kodaline are now hoping their music will provide therapy for others too. “Music should have a purpose, you know,” says Steve, “Our purpose is honesty”
Wed, December 11
Fri, December 13
Fri, December 13
Fri, December 13
Sat, December 14
Sun, December 15
Thu, December 19
Fri, December 20
Sat, December 21
Thu, December 26