According to the singer and lyricist, the band might be new to the rest of the world, but they’ve been around Southern California for a few years now. Jollett, along with co-conspirators Noah Harmon (bass), Daren Taylor (drums), Anna Bulbrook (multi-instrumentalist) and Steven Chen (keys), worked hard to develop an avid local following that now feels pride in seeing the band take off around the globe.
“You know, I would come to these shows if I weren’t playing them,” laughs Jollett. “Even if it’s not your type of music, the shows are a good time with everyone acting mad and crazy. We played the Glass House last time, and it’s one of my favorite shows we’d ever done.”
The Airborne Toxic Event came together in 2006 when Jollett, a budding novelist and occasional music journalist, turned his narrative talents toward songwriting. The band soon self-recorded its eponymous debut, solicited the music to local music bloggers and promoted the songs heavily on the Internet. The results even surprised the band as their debut show in Los Angeles was packed, and they quickly ignited a buzz for stirring the crowds into a frenzy.
Describing the antics, the singer recalls, “Anne would crowd surf with her tambourine, we’d hang from the rafters and I’d sing from the middle of the floor as the audience sings back from the stage. We got a reputation for having this big, crazy, sweaty, screaming, jumping, sing-a-long affair, and soon we even had radio DJs coming to the show. We just thought they were being supportive of the local scene.”
Whatever their motivation, the radio DJs played a major role in what happened next. The band sent music to all the jocks with local music shows, but when stations like KROQ and Indie 103 started playing the three-week-old “Sometime Around Midnight,” it was in regular rotation.
“We were amazed,” admits Jollett, who didn’t have a manager, publicist or distribution at the time. “We thought you had to be rich to get played on regular radio.”
This is a rare feat for an unsigned band, but it’s also a surprise considering “Midnight” is not structured like a typical hit. In fact, the song doesn’t even have a chorus. Instead, the five minute-plus track offers a straightforward, honest narrative of the singer seeing his ex-girlfriend at a bar and experiencing a race of emotions as she leaves with a random guy. Feelings are laid bare with vivid imagery of the singer’s passion, jealousy and sorrow sending him into a downward spiral. This real-life story ends with a three-day crash where several scotch-filled hours ultimately birthed the band’s breakthrough hit. What the song lacks in poppy hooks it makes up for in a gripping narrative.
Jollett, who loves authors like Milan Kundera and Philip Roth, has clearly made the most of his literary experience. He reflects, “You read these stories about horrible people doing horrible things, but they’re still sympathetic characters. Everyone does things that are depraved or motivated by base emotions like loneliness or jealousy, and it’s because we all long for the same things like happiness that we’re willing do some horrible acts to find fulfillment. That’s Literature 101—everything revolves around the gutter and the grave. For me, it’s writing about things that are true but unpopular as opposed to things that are popular but untrue.”
Jollett admits there are great pop songs like the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” but he seems to think many pop artists put what’s popular before what’s real. He concludes, “You have Sheryl Crow saying if it makes you happy it can’t be that bad. Okay, maybe, but what does that say about your life? You read a book like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and see these terrible people, but there’s a sense of freedom knowing you’re not the only person. You recognize yourself in there because it’s closer to how you live your life.”
The Airborne Toxic Event at the Fox Theater at 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona, www.foxpomona.com, www.theairbornetoxicevent.com, Thurs, Sept. 17, 8PM; $18. All ages.