Q&A: The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett
On death, george bush and getting his ass kicked
You played 350 shows touring your first album. Do you really want to put yourself through all that again?
What? Completely losing my mind, screaming at fans that are screaming back at me? It's a little nerve wracking to be honest. You go from being alone working on songs and the next thing you know you're at some rock'n'roll venue and all these people are yelling. It's a little disorientating, but nothing you can really complain about.
Your debut chronicled a time of upheaval in your life. Your girlfriend dumped you, your mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and you developed a potentially fatal auto-immune disorder. How do you follow that?
I had four family members die when I was on tour. It wasn't tragic or anything. They lived long lives and died in their beds, surrounded by people who loved them. But stuff like that changes your perspective. You see life from a longer view maybe. It's like you can see it from space. At the end of the day, writing is mostly about loneliness. People have something inside they can't help but say. And something about expressing it makes it not so overwhelming, you can handle it.
The Airborne Toxic Event have never been a protest band -- but there's a song on your new record called The Kids Are Ready To Die, which seems to have a political subtext.
In the last decade, the Bush administration sent a bunch of kids out to die for a lie. They were just straight-up lies. How much disrespect do you have to have for somebody's life to send them to die for something you know isn't true? There was a point in my life when I was so pissed off at the world, if you'd put a gun in my hand and told me to charge up a hill, I would have done it.
In a previous life you worked as a music journalist. Talk about switching sides !
It's fun to write about music. But in terms of the process of being in a band, it has nothing to do with it. I will say that, doing what I'm doing now, it makes me have more faith in music journalists than some artists do. I am forever impressed by certain people's insights and also by other people's incredible lack of insight.
Your first record chronicles the break-up of a long-term relationship. It must have been a bummer singing those songs every night. Or do you simply start to switch off after a while?
A little bit of both to be honest. If you really want to perform a song you have to revisit it. So there was a sense of living in that moment for a very long time. I got many letters from people who'd been through similar experiences -- the music helped them understand. So much of what you do in life... it's always about some girl.
So, you were diagnosed with auto-immune disorder. We're no experts but surely being in a band is the worst possible thing someone in your condition could do for a living?
It was a real big issue when I started the group. It freaked me out -- I lost all my hair and thought things were going to get worse. They didn't. My beard and my eyebrows grew back. I didn't get any of the very bad shit you get from auto-immune. I tour with my band, I drink too much. For the moment, it's great.
The last time you played Dublin, you pulled the classic American rock band trick of saying, 'it's great to be in the UK'. What's wrong with the US education system?
We do our UK tour at the same time as doing Ireland. We're on the same label. You know, I got so much shit about that from my Irish friends. I thought someone was going to take me in the alley and kick my ass.
The album All At Once is out now
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