The Airborne Toxic Event is soaring

Group came together in serendipity, is growing in artistic adventure



What: The Airborne Toxic Event, in concert.

When: 8 p.m. June 9.

Where: Wonder Ballroom, 128 N.E. Russell St., Portland.

Cost: $22.20 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or

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What: The Airborne Toxic Event, in concert.

When: 8 p.m. June 9.

Where: Wonder Ballroom, 128 N.E. Russell St., Portland.

Cost: $22.20 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or


One rock and roll mystery that will probably never be solved is how the world of music was lucky enough that the likes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon crossed paths to form the Beatles.

Some bands just come together out of a magical series of circumstances. The Airborne Toxic Event is one of those groups, and singer/guitarist Mikel Jollett says he’s actually heard people compare the magical union of McCartney, Lennon and the Beatles to the beginnings of his own band.

“A lot of fans say that about us, and I always think it’s this wildly ridiculous analogy,” Jollett said, before acknowledging that members of The Airborne Toxic Event were very fortunate to find each other. Sort of like the Beatles.

“Now all we have to do is go sell 250 million records and it can be exactly the same thing,” Jollett said.

OK, so maybe The Airborne Toxic Event will never sell as many records as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. But the group’s career is off to a promising start.

The band’s 2009 self-titled debut CD became one of the year’s most popular debut albums behind its top-five alternative rock hit, “Sometime Around Midnight.”

And even Jollett knows that whatever was at work — fate, luck, a higher power — the band’s combination of talent and personalities produces something greater than the sum of its individual parts.

“It’s something we sensed, I think, early on, although we’re all such different personalities,” Jollett said. “I don’t think we originally knew why, but from the first time we ever played, it really, really worked.”

One thing that may help explain the chemistry within the group, Jollett said, is that all five band members (the others are drummer Daren Taylor, bassist Noah Harmon, violinist Anna Bulbrook and guitarist Steven Chen) grew up in families that were open to letting their children follow artistic pursuits and tried to instill strong values in how to live life.

“We really are part of this really big interconnected network of family and friends, all of whom have this sort of similar take and philosophy of life, which is just to get out there and do your thing and try to be good to people,” Jollett said.

In Jollett’s case, his upbringing was particularly unconventional. He spent some of his childhood living in communes as his parents traveled up and down the West Coast.

“My parents were big leftist, passionate, loving, smart, funny, naïve leftists, you know what I mean,” Jollett said.

“(They had) that hippie mentality of ‘Well, here’s the world, kid. Go out and do whatever you’re going to do. Here are some of the rules. Try to follow them as best you can. Here are some of the struggles you’re probably going to face. You have our love and support. Go do whatever you’re going to do,’” he said. “That’s kind of who they were as parents in a nutshell.”

Being artistic was certainly an ideal the members of The Airborne Toxic Event pursued in making “All at Once.” They shut out expectations for the kind of music they were supposed to make and tried simply to follow their instincts throughout the year of work that went into writing and recording their second CD.

“Musically, we found that we just weren’t interested in genre,” Jollett said. “I think if there’s a criticism that gets levied at this band, it’s that we’re all over the place, that we’re spinning in five different directions at once. And we decided that’s the point. That’s really what we want to be.”

Growing, reaching out

Time will tell if the public at large shares Jollett’s enthusiasm for “All at Once.” But the CD retains the stirring and melodic guitar-driven rock signature of the first album, particularly on anthems like the title song, “Numb,” and “Half of Something Else.”

The music, though, branches out on songs like “All for a Woman” (a slow-building track that takes flight behind a shimmering guitar solo), the dancy ’80s-ish pop of “Strange Girl” and the rollicking Irish-inflected “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing.”

And unlike the first CD, the new songs don’t evoke comparisons as easily to bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Pavement or the Strokes.

The growing diversity of the band’s music will be reflected in its live shows.

“We’re going to do, I think, an unplugged acoustic set and then a plugged-in electric set,” Jollett said.

“The new record has a lot of softer, quieter songs. In addition to rock and roll and a little bit of electronic music and classical music, it dabbles in some quieter folk songs.

“There are some things you can say really well with a huge arrangement and guitars and keyboards and all kinds of screaming verses or whatever. And then some things are best served quietly, and we wanted to be able to get both into the set. So I think we’re going to be doing two sets a night.”