Friday, August 26, 2011

More with Steven Chen of Airborne Toxic Event

Here is more from my interview...

Q: The last two times I saw the band was during acoustic shows - last December at the X103.9 FM Xmas show in San Bernardino and the following month at the NAMM Show in Anaheim. Do you have a preference between doing acoustic and electric performances?
I’m a guitarist; I like plugging in my guitar and having it loud. There’s something about that that you can’t beat. At the same time, with the acoustic shows, you really get to showcase the musicality of the songs...If you can really lay a song bare and play it in an acoustic setting, you can really get to the core of it. “The Graveyard Near the House” lends itself to being an acoustic song. There’s definitely strengths in doing both and we enjoy doing both.

Q: Now that the album has been out for a few months, what feedback have you received from fans about it?
It’s amazing how quick they took to it. We released ‘Changing’ before the album in typical singles fashion. People were singing along to it even before the album came out…'Graveyard' is a really quiet, somber song and people [have been screaming out for that]. Last year, we did that live DVD at Walt Disney Concert Hall and ever since then, ‘All I Ever Wanted’ has been a favorite of the fans. We’ve been seeing more people glom onto that song. After the first album, we played those 10 songs so many times, now [I’m glad] we have these other songs. We’ve spent a lot of time on them.

Q: What was it like working with producer D. Sardy in the studio?
He’s a genius as a producer and so meticulous. He has a reputation and for good reason. Part of that reputation comes with someone with very strong opinions. Mikel particularly has very strong opinions. There were a lot of times where they were trying to hash it out. That only made the album better. I’d heard stories about Dave going in and they all turned out to be true. He knows what he wants. 

Q: Before this album, you had performed live with the Calder Quartet several times. Was getting them to contribute in the studio as well an obvious next step?
Yeah. We started doing stuff with them for various TV shows. Prior to the release of the first album, we did an acoustic series [of video clips] in random locations, just as we did for the second album. So they were involved early on...[For] the first album, on ‘Sometime Around Midnight,’ we basically had Noah and Anna mimic a full orchestra. They went in and played several registers on the upright, violin, viola, cello. We filled it out. We definitely had that in mind. The Calder Quartet are total pros and don’t have to do more than one or two takes. We did a tour with them [including the Disney Hall CD+DVD] and they’re great friends and literally family. Andrew, their second violinist, is Anna’s brother. 

Q: Were there any lessons from making the first album that you applied to making this one?
Mikel is the kind of writer that needs to lock himself away and work on songs by himself for awhile. Then he brings stuff to the band. That’s what happened with ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ and a lot of songs off that album. For the second album, he would go away, then come back and show us what he’d been working on and we’d hash out arrangements. ‘Welcome to Your Wedding Day’ and ‘Strange Girl’ and on the first album - a song like ‘Something New,’ these were songs that Noah brought to the band instrumentally and Mikel worked with those. The process was remarkably similar.

Q: Since you’ve done various video clips for all the songs on both albums, would you say the visual medium is equally important as the music?
Everything should be in the service of the song. For that acoustic series of videos, we just thought it would be good to see the songs in a different context and make them come alive.

Q: When the band started, did being part of the influential Silverlake music scene make it easier to get exposure and gigs?
It’s an awesome community, no doubt. We were all bumming around the scene. Darren and Noah were playing in various bands – more than me, Mikel and Anna. Everyone supports each other. More than that, there’s a friendly competition. People are really supportive. With the bands, there’s not a disaffected, morose [attitude]. Everyone is alive, energetic and giving it everything they have. You can see it in so many bands in the Silverlake scene. When we were first getting started, it was really fun to be a part of it…the blogs were part of it too. The music community there really helped us as we were coming up and were really supportive.

Q: KROQ started playing “Sometime Around Midnight” as a demo. Did that give you a major leg up in the industry?
It was night and day. Right after that happened, it was insane. First, people were like, ‘who the fuck is The Airborne Toxic Event’? And then, it was, ‘oh, they’re not signed?’ There were several calls for meetings. KROQ had added us to the playlist and there were mostly major label bands on it at the time...We sought advice from [industry veteran Phil Costello]. He helped us navigate the waters. The impact of that add on KROQ was immediately evident.

Q: You contributed a song to the new Muppets album. What can you tell me about it?
The Muppets are better than a lot of other things kids are watching today. We were really excited and we started going through which songs were available for us to cover. ‘The Wishing Song’ has dialogue in the middle and we were [hesitant at first]. But you take the core of the song and add your own spin. It freed us up to have fun with it. You take a more playful attitude [toward doing it] and have a good time. You look at some of the other artists [that contributed], like OK Go and people just went for it. Turned out really well.

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