Airborne Toxic Event bringing new songs to Northern Lights

The members of Los Angeles’ The Airborne Toxic Event are looking forward to a more regular touring s

The members of Los Angeles’ The Airborne Toxic Event are looking forward to a more regular touring schedule after being on the road in Europe and the U.S. for the past five months.

The Airborne Toxic Event

with The Drowning Men

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Northern Lights, North Country Commons at routes 146 and 146A, Clifton Park

How Much: $17 (doors); $15 (advance)

More Info: 371-0012,

Then again, when your band is known to play up to 12 shows a week, regular is relative.

“We don’t have a regular schedule — we have a manager who’s trying to kill us,” said lead guitarist Steven Chen from his home in L.A., during a rare break from the road. “Sometimes we’ll look at what’s on the table, and it’s day after day after day after day of shows, and you have to kind of take it in portions. A lot of times we do acoustic sets too, so a lot of weeks we play maybe 12 shows or something.”

“I guess I’m not terribly aware of other bands’ schedules, so I don’t know what normal is,” Chen continued. “People say we tour a lot, and it does seem very intense, but we’re just constantly trying to get into cities. It does feel very rewarding; it is a great feeling. You just have to kind of take it in stride.”

The break from the road was short-lived — on Friday, the band launched back into the final 10 dates of its U.S. summer tour, which includes a stop at Northern Lights on Wednesday night. After that, the group hits the V Festival in the U.K., and then begins another marathon tour in the U.S. in September. This is the first round of what will probably be many more shows to come in support of the band’s sophomore effort, “All at Once,” released in April.

“People have been singing along to ‘Changing’ and the title track — we open shows with that song,” Chen said. “You talk to people after the shows, and they tell you what songs they wanted us to play, and a lot of them are the new songs.”

The album finds the band — Chen, vocalist/guitarist/chief songwriter Mikel Jollett, violist Anna Bulbrook, bassist Noah Harmon and drummer Daren Taylor — expanding upon the dancey indie rock sound found on the 2008 self-titled debut, and gelling more as a cohesive unit.

When the band first formed in 2006, the musicians came together around the songs that Jollett had been writing in the aftermath of a break-up, his mother’s cancer diagnosis and his own diagnosis with an autoimmune disorder. Before that, Jollett had been a writer, contributing to Men’s Health and NPR, among others.

Many of these initial songs made it onto the debut album, and with subsequent touring, the band began to develop more. This is reflected in some ways in the song writing on “All At Once,” although according to Chen, the process behind it wasn’t that much different.

“Mikel writes most of the music — he writes all the songs, actually,” Chen said. “He kind of locks himself — he goes solitary and he just kind of really, really hashes out songs, and then brings them to the rest of the band and we do the arrangements, just kind of hash it out. … There are probably some songs that we formed more, on the second album, as a band in terms of arrangements. On the first album, most of the songs had already been written by the time we came on board.”

The process also helped give the songs on “All At Once” a thematic unity that Chen felt was lacking on the self-titled effort.

“The first album I feel was maybe the greatest hits of the live songs we’d been playing in shows — a collection of the best songs we had,” Chen said. “The second album was centered much more around a theme, much more of a cohesive album thematically.”

Once again, traumatic events surrounded the songwriting process — specifically, the death of three of Jollett’s grandparents while the band was touring the first album. According to Chen, the theme in many of the songs isn’t so much death as it is change — often, violent and traumatic change.

“There’s this misconception that when you change, it’s an evolution, a slow process of gradual change over several years or a lifetime, as you slowly become, grow, evolve as a person,” Chen said. “In actuality, there are some really intense moments in life, and change is sometimes traumatic — one day you’re someone, and the next day you’re someone else. … That’s where the title of the album came from — sudden change.”

As with the debut album, the band has been releasing videos featuring acoustic versions of the songs on “All At Once.”

“You can do a great song punk, or polka — and every song is a great song,” Chen said. “We just wanted to showcase a song in a different light, a different setting, and it’s really interesting to see the song in a different context and a have a little fun with it too.”

The versions often feature radically different arrangements, particularly where Chen and Bulbrook’s parts are concerned.

“What works acoustically informs the song differently,” Chen said. “A lot of the guitar parts become viola parts, because on an acoustic guitar you’re not playing long, sustaining notes. Anna and I will trade parts a lot of the times.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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