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February 19-25, 2009

• Legends of the fall
CU students follow the music wherever it leads them
by Adam Trask

• Toxic avengers
Mikel Jollett wanted to publish a novel but he ended up writing a smash album instead
by Alan Sculley

Legends of the fall
CU students follow the music wherever it leads them
by Adam Trask

Local rock quartet Almost Legends has a collective itching problem when it comes to pigeonholing themselves. “We felt, like right from the beginning, that we were going to play music that we enjoy regardless of what that ‘us’ sound may be,” bassist and CU student Zachary Flower says. “We’re not sticking to one specific genre. If we happen to write a metal song that sounds good, we’ll play that metal song, or if we happen to write a country song, which is horribly unlikely, we will play it if we like it.”

Far from country, one of the genres that the band has explored and wholeheartedly embraced is classic progressive rock as heard on standout tune “Act I Worth This” from their about-to-be-released debut EP. Along with its counterpart, “Act IV What I Have To,” the reference point is undeniable.

“Yeah, it’s definitely very Rush,” Flower admits with pride. “Rush is probably one of our top three influences.”

“Act I Worth It” contains segments of complex drumming and an overall off-kilter rhythmic feel, with the crowning jewel residing in the shimmery, chorus-laden guitar tones, à la 1982. “One of [Dustin Reed’s] favorite [guitar effect] pedals is his chorus pedal,” Flower points out. “I think a lot of people get a sour taste in it because nobody uses it properly anymore.”

“Back to the Blues,” while not as alluring as “Act I Worth This,” is another successful genre-swinging experiment that is structured nicely, with just the right amount of dance-inspiring energy and a memorable chorus. “We were just jamming some blues,” Flower explains. “As a joke, Dustin started singing, ‘the blues,’ as the chorus. We got a kick out of it and thought it was fantastic. If we’re going to write a blues song, that’s what it will be. It’ll be just back to the blues.”

What’s next on the foursome’s ever-changing musical output? Will it be back to the blues or shimmery guitar-laden prog rock?

Certainly not. After all, that would be too limiting for their joint artistic expression. “We just recently wrote a song that has a really, really indie feel to it,” Flower mentions. “Again it really doesn’t match with anything else we’ve written. It’s fun to always have something new to play. I think that’s the direction we’ll probably keep going and having something fresh, something new, something we haven’t quite played yet.”
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On the Bill
On the Bill
Almost Legends performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, at Club 156, CU campus, Boulder, 303-492-7704.

Toxic avengers
Mikel Jollett wanted to publish a novel but he ended up
writing a smash album instead
by Alan Sculley

It appears nothing can stop the Airborne Toxic Event — even a drunk headbanger. Lead singer Mikel Jollett, calling as the band drove from London to Scotland for a show on its tour of the United Kingdom, has watched the band’s burgeoning popularity take hold in recent weeks.

“Sometime Around Midnight,” the lead single from the group’s self-titled first CD, has just cracked the top 10 on Billboard magazine’s Hot Modern Rock chart, and the current American tour represents a very quick ascent to headlining status, considering the Airborne Toxic Event CD has only been out since August.

The crowds and the band seem to be swept up in the spirit of Airborne Toxic Event and its sometimes-unhinged live shows. Jollett told the story of the encore at an especially spirited show in Leeds on the UK tour.

“We decided during the encore it was a good idea to invite people on stage,” the singer said, obviously relishing the next part of the story. “So there were like 30 people on stage for our last song, singing the lyrics with us. One guy was kind of headbanging particularly hard. I guess he was really into it. He kind of rammed the back of his head into my face, pow! Like, I felt this impact, and I was, like, ‘Ow!’ And I kind of looked at him and he looked back and he smiled and I smiled. Then I started bleeding. I finished the set with this blood running down my face. I now have this shiner on my right eye.”

Jollett has every reason to be undeterred by a simple bruise — and excited about Airborne Toxic Event’s recent successes. Not long ago, Jollet, an aspiring author, endured one of the most difficult weeks anyone could experience. Over the course of one week in 2006, Jollett broke up with a long-time girlfriend, learned that he had a genetic autoimmune disease and got the news that his mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A short time before that, Jollett had decided to really buckle down, finish the novel he had started and make a full-on attempt to get it published. Then everything changed.

“Two weeks into it, that whole week happened and I couldn’t write,” Jollett recalled. “So I started picking up this old guitar I had been playing and started sitting down every day and writing songs. Six months went by, and I had barely touched the novel. All I had done is sit in this one-room apartment, play songs and sing all day, like six hours a day, eight hours a day… After about a year, I found that I had written a ton of songs.”

Then one day a friend introduced Jollett to Daren Taylor, a drummer. The two quickly clicked as musical partners and briefly considered becoming a two-piece group. But one by one, three other musicians — bassist Noah Harmon,  Anna Bulbrook and guitarist Steven Chen — joined and Airborne Toxic Event was ready to roll. The group recorded a demo on MySpace that drew a huge response and established a reputation for ecstatic live shows with residency gigs at Echo and Spaceland, two highly regarded Los Angeles clubs.

Then things really accelerated when the influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ put an early recording of “Sometime Around Midnight” into rotation — a major coup for a group that still at the time had no record deal or management.

Not surprisingly, record companies were soon courting Airborne Toxic Event. But the band resisted the overtures because the labels voiced ideas for how to change the band’s sound and make it more marketable. Not wanting to cede creative control, the band members recorded the debut CD on their own dime, using a friend’s studio for the sessions and then signed with the independent label Majordomo.

“Our deal with Majordomo was they liked [the CD] and they wanted to put it out,” he said. “We said, ‘Great,’ and that was the deal.”
Since then, lots of people have agreed that the Airborne Toxic Event CD sounded just fine as it was. The CD has received enthusiastic reviews from publications ranging from Spin to Newsweek, and obviously the album is gaining traction with record buyers.

The praise and popularity is justified. The band uses time-honored ingredients — a stirring guitar-driven sound, sharp melodic hooks and, on many songs, a downright snappy beat — to create an entertaining, hook-filled sound that at times evokes everyone from the Velvet Underground to Pavement (two of Jollett’s favorite groups) to Franz Ferdinand to the Strokes.

The band is already well into writing a second album, and Jollett said, in addition to playing songs from the debut CD, the group will debut a few new tunes each night on the American tour.

“We already have three songs lined up that are new that we’re going to be playing as part of our set,” he said. “Our goal is to have played the entire second record by the time the first tour is over.”

On the Bill
Airborne Toxic Event performs with The Henry Clay People at 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 23, at the Bluebird Theatre, 3317 E Colfax Ave., Denver,

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