Who: The Airborne Toxic Event, The Henry Clay People and Red Cortez
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Boulder Theater
Times were tough for Mikel Jollett. The artist had been working on his novel, dealing with his mother’s illness and facing a genetic autoimmune disease.
Jollett could’ve played the hand he was dealt, but in 2006 he turned all his energy into forming a band. The group was aptly dubbed The Airborne Toxic Event and, according to iTunes and national records charts, it’s now one of the hottest new acts on the planet.
The Airborne Toxic Event, also known as T.A.T.E., has one of the top songs on contemporary radio and TV video stations with the band’s best-selling single “Sometime Around Midnight.”
Jollett is bringing his group to the Boulder Theater on Thursday, so locals can get a taste of The Airborne Toxic Event.
“This band is really an art project disguised as a rock band — and people got it,” he said. “We’ve been very lucky that radio and fans have embraced us.
“I was just going to finish my novel and I never expected this to all happen. We’ve done this all by hook and by crook for the past 14 months. We started out playing for 30 people — and now we sell out 3,000-seat concerts!”
For all intents and purposes, The Airborne Toxic Event is Jollett’s band.
The performer is the group’s founder and he writes all the tunes. It’s Jollett’s vision and experiences that have quickly propelled this L.A. group from obscurity to mainstream pop culture.
“I started my writing career a few years before I began the band,” Jollett said. “Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted to do was write. I started writing short stories as a hobby, because I knew I wanted to be a writer.
“I wrote for NPR and the L.A. Times as a freelancer, but I was more interested in the literary aspects of writing. The Times was shocked when I left after a year.”
Life has a strange way of throwing curveballs, and Jollett’s health issues forced him to look at his creative life.
“I have this autoimmune disorder that’s not terribly rare,” Jollett explained. “I started losing patches of my hair and eyebrows. That was weird, and then I started to lose all my body hair.
“My splotchy skin started to freak me out and I started to feel self-conscious. That same week, my mom got cancer. It was just too much, so I decided to stop writing and start playing music.”
Jollett pulled together a group of musical friends he’d met at his home jam sessions. The rapport was instantaneous, and The Airborne Toxic Event played its first show in 2006, when the band was barely a month old.
From the start, The Airborne Toxic Event showcased Jollett’s emotive lyrics and the band’s lush layered melodies.
The artsier aspects of the group quickly caught on, and The Airborne Toxic Event became the must-have band for music festivals and late-night TV shows.
“We sent some MP3s to blogs and the bloggers started writing about us,” Jollett said. “By the time we did our first show, over 200 people showed up. It was becoming something bigger than anything I could dream up.
“We just got in our cars and started playing shows. There was a buzz about the band before we even got signed to a record deal.”
The Airborne Toxic Event signed with Majordomo Records and the band’s self-titled CD came out in 2008. Jollett wrote all the album’s songs and based the material on his personal experiences.
“The songs I write happen to be real,” Jollett explained. “It’s the emotions that are important in our songs. By the end of our shows, the audiences are usually screaming out the lyrics — and we wanted to capture that energy on our record.”
Modern music fans latched onto the band’s emotive songs and the record became an instant hit. The Airborne Toxic Events’ dramatic single, “Sometime Around Midnight” became a top radio and video track, and iTunes named the tune its “No. 1 Alternative Song of 2008.”
“We’re like the little band that could — no one expected this to take off like it did,” Jollett said. “Our goal has always been to have our live show really be an experience. The record is secondary.
“Our live shows are really this big, visceral experience. The shows are like events and anything can happen. You’ll dance, you’ll cry and you’ll get swept up emotionally at an Airborne Toxic Event concert.”
Jollett is really looking forward to getting Boulder audiences on their feet, because the band had to cancel several Australian tour dates this month.
“I had a autoimmune attack, so we weren’t able to play Australia,” Jollett said. “I’m finally able to sing again and that prospect is exciting.
“We’re going to play new material and some covers in Boulder. Some songs are really big and loud — and others are quiet. This isn’t going to be your typical concert experience.”