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- Posted on Apr 28th 2011 4:00PM by Dan Reilly
The L.A. quintet's second album, 'All at Once,' deals with this inevitably through a varied set of anthemic rockers, acoustic ballads and, as frontman Mikel Jollett puts it, "f---ing jams." Spinner spoke with him about what inspired the album, how their fans helped shape the new songs and what he learned while getting drunk in a hotel room with Cure frontman Robert Smith.
Why did you title the record 'All at Once'?
A lot of the songs seem to be centering around the theme of how quickly life turns on these events that happen. There's this idea of evolution and incremental change, but for the most part, we really have this punctuated equilibrium. You have your life and then some event happens to you and it changes you in some important way.
I had a lot of family members pass away in the past couple years, since the last record came about: three grandparents, plus my uncle. You start to see your life from a long view and some of the things that maybe seemed really important before don't seem quite as important, and some of the things that you didn't think were as important seem way more important. The birth of a child, the death of a parent, the financial meltdown -- it changes things very, very quickly. Suddenly everything is different. A lot of the songs are dealing with that theme in different ways. So, we figured it made sense to call the record that.
It can be a very difficult thing to cope with.
I got drunk with Robert Smith in a hotel room once -- just sat there for three hours drinking beers and chatting -- and he told me at 26 that he realized he was going to die, you know, someday. That was true for me probably around the time my mom got sick and all that stuff happened to me [before the first album]. You suddenly realize that your time is finite, and that the choices you make in life end up revolving around how much time you think you have left. That can be monstrously disfiguring. That can really f--- you up. It's terrifying. That fear and sense of diminishing and dwindling is eventually really redemptive because it's humbling. You realize like "I need to be a person of merit." I want to be a certain type of man in the world. You set about that task. This record deals with that idea a lot. I was struggling with that a lot these last years.
Is this album your way of fulfilling the desire to do something great with your life?
I don't know about great. Time has this way of making your day-to-day exuberances and failures just seem trivial and almost charming. Being on tour the last couple years, I've met a lot of people and I get a lot of long letters from people that are touched by the songs. I've met people who've died that were fans, where we spent time with their families and [I've had] everybody and their mother telling me "That was our breakup song" about one or another Airborne songs.
What happens is you start to feel like your stories are just part of this larger human narrative. You're just one of a million stories. But that's cool. Your failures don't seem so bad. Your successes don't seem so great. There's room to just be alive and part of this grand narrative. I felt that a lot when I went to write this record and I think that had to do with just a couple of years spent on the road. Every day, you meet 100 people and you hear their stories. The Airborne fans are very much a part of this record in that way because we were touched by their collective presence and all their stories.
So it's almost like the first album was more autobiographical and insular and 'All at Once' is more about you experiencing the world.
Yeah, there's some of that. It's autobiographical but there's a change in perspective. I feel like writing has a lot to do with loneliness. You write because you have something in your head that you want to express, that you want someone else to feel. In doing so, you feel less lonely about it. There's something about being a writer or a reader, a songwriter or a listener where you recognize yourself in someone else. When you hear that line or you hear that song, you're like, "God, that's totally me." It's almost shocking to see your own life in someone else's.
I feel that very, very strongly -- a desire to connect. That loneliness is not just some thought trapped in your head: good, bad or indifferent; some horrible, shameful thing or something you're terrified or something you're so f---ing happy about. Instead, it's something people share. Other people have felt, too. Then it doesn't seem so bad. You bring it out before the light and yeah, it's OK.
Is that what 'Changing,' the first single, is about?
No, 'Changing' is just a f---ing jam. I pounded that out on a guitar. I had written this song and the original version had all these falsettos and harmonies. It felt like Grizzly Bear or something, and it had this cool Walkmen-esque beat. We were playing it and I was like, "Oh, that's cool." Then I had this guitar one day and I was like, "What if it was like this?" and I started stomping it out and it just became a f---ing jam. It felt like it was 1962 and I had a dirty amp plugged in and we were like, "F--- yeah!" Suddenly the song became more like a rant and took on this other energy. It's just fun -- fun to play, fun to sing, fun to perform. There's a lot of clapping.
I didn't know what to expect when we released it. There's a lot of people who told us it sounds like the Clash or the Stones or a little Modest Mouse. I think people were like, "Where's the big epic string park?" for the first single. I guess I could say that it's about some highfalutin idea -- and some songs on this record definitely are -- but this is just a f---ing jam.