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Arts and Entertainment

The Airborne Toxic Event + Happy Hollows Interview

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Mikel of the Airborne Toxic Event (on the right)

One of our favorite magazines, Interview, has this thing where they get actors to interview other actors or singers to interview other singers. We think it's cool, so last week we did it with The Fuxedos and Renfield, and today we get to do it with Mikel of the Airborne Toxic Event and Sara of The Happy Hollows.

The Happy Hollows play tonight at the Santa Monica Women’s Club w/ Earlimart, and the Airborne Toxic Event rock Sunset Junction on Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm, but this morning they are here together, virtually, for your edification.

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Mikel, Airborne Toxic Event: Hi Sara, how are you today?

Sarah Negahdari, Happy Hollows: Great! how are you dearest?

Very good. I just want to start by saying I love your band. You guys are one of my two favorite bands (the other is Radars to the Sky) and we talk about you everywhere we go. It's really an honor to be in the same scene with you...

Oh Thank you so much Mikel! You dont know how wonderful it is to have your support, it really makes my day when I hear you sing my wet tongue, Oh Mikel, thank you SO much!

I've seen you guys live a bunch of times and I always wonder what’s going through your head when you sing at a show...

umm, oh man, I try and be totally know...Its like, the goal is to pretend as if I am singing every song for the very first time, and feeling just the way I felt it the firt time I wrote it. I honestly dont think about the audience or being on stage, it's just the release of emotion, the honesty of that moment. I can't think about how there are people watching.

what about you?

It's basically the same thing. I tend to think about what I was thinking about when I wrote the song, try to connect to that moment. And I'm with you on people watching. I can't make eye contact. I try to look to the back of the room and sing to people I can't see. Also, I'm usually trying not to fuck up the guitar parts...


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Mikel: So, on the songs that you write. I'm so curious how you go about it. Your songs are so original and sort of playful. What makes you want to write a song?

Good question! Seriously, why does anyone write a song? ha ha! Its like, so funny to me that we talk to get about the world, and then a handful of us find it necessary to sit in our rooms and sing! its just so funny to me. I dont know why. that part is mysterious to me. I know that I have to otherwise I feel depressed They are playful because I am a very playful and silly person. My spirit is just very silly, so everything that comes out of me can't help but be sort of funny I think.

Why do you!?

Sorry to just have you answer the same question you asked me, but its a great one!

A lot of reasons, I guess. But I don't quite understand it either. It all started last year when I quit smoking and my mom got cancer. It was like the weirdest thing. I was a writer and working from home on short stories and a novel and suddenly all I wanted to, like, all day long was write and sing songs. I don't why it became so all-consuming. It was just like I'd been struck by lightning. Like I said, I don't quite understand it. Though I do sometimes think it's an absurd thing to do. Start a rock band, you know?

hahaha yeah, right? Wow, Im really sorry to hear about your mom! So the music, it must be healing to you in a lot of ways...Wow, that must be hard.Im curious, who is your biggest inspiration musically? who would you say, has been like a role model. I think every musician has one. What famous musician has most inspired you?

Leonard Cohen. No doubt about it. For a few reasons. First off, he's just an amazing song-writer and I love his songs. He reminds of a more romantic Philip Roth or maybe Milan Kundera. Like, he's a novelist at heart and is totally comfortable being honest about these contradictions he sees in his life. And even so, finding the beauty in them. Plus, he didn't release his first record until after he'd written his first book. And I think he was like 32 too and found it absurd to suddenly be playing music. What about you?

Oh wow, I can totally see the Leonard Cohen connection...oh man, I can see how he is your role model. He is so brilliant, I love him so much. Mine is Tori Amos. Musically, my sound is nothing like hers, but oh man, she is a nut and I love her. I first saw her play when I was 14, and I cried the whole time. There was the powerful women, totally crazy, totally weird, but technically, just amazing. She was the most liberated female I had ever witnesses, and I said "Sarah, thats gonna be you one day, but with a guitar!"

I can totally see that. OK, so what is "Vietnam" about?

Its about many things. Really, its about the government using fear to justify going to war. Its about the parallels between the Iraq war and the Vietnam war. Its a way of making a "statement" in a silly way.

What is your favorite song you have ever written?

wow. really? that's so fucking cool. I had no idea. I love that song.

That's tough, because they're sort of like children and it's hard to choose one over another. In general, my favorite songs are the ones that seem like they were already written and I just wrote them down. Like they already existed in the universe somewhere and I caught glimpse of them and then tried like mad to piece together the rest of it. I'm always thinking, is this the song? how about this? like the words are already there with the right meaning and melody or whatever, and my job is to be a scribe or something.. do you know what I mean?

OMG YEAH!!!!!! OMG. Yes!!! It is the strangest thing!!!! The words, they are seriously, already there!!!! I find the meaning after it all pours out of me..yeah, its like floating there, and it all comes!! I feel odd even saying, I wrote that, because it's like, I was given this song, I don't know where it came from??!!! hah hahaa!! I'm so happy to hear you have that too!! WOW!

Totally, man. It's like, "I didn't write this. I could never write this. I can't even get my head around this."

OH Wow, the magic in this life.....

OK, so i want to ask about what it's been like being part of the east-side scene..

I feel kind of like everybody around here loves your band and knows you guys.

A dream come true. Surreal. I moved here three years ago, and I used to go to the Echo and Spaceland and just think to myself, wow, if I ever played on those stages I will be so ecstatic!

totally, man.

That is so wild!


it's like, surreal. like, we're playing the fucking troubadour? don't real bands do that?

hahahaaha!!! O, man, You guys packed the Troubadour!!!! That was so surreal!! Thank you again for having us that night!!! What has been your favorite live show to date?

I was going to ask you that same question.


Probably either that Troubadour show with you guys and Radars to the Sky or the last night of our UK tour when we played Koko in London.

I think mine was the Viper room Indie 103 show, oh , and this one show with The Pity Party and Eagle and Talon at the Silverlake Lounge was just ecstatic

Both nights, there was just this electricity in the air. I think we all felt it. We didn't know what to expect from Koko and we were standing on the side of this enormous stage before the show and anna kept saying she had to pee and we kept saying there was no time and then the curtain went up and there were 1200 kids standing. It was just so weird because a lot of them knew the lyrics and they were jumping and dancing. We just floated the whole time. Like are feet didn't even touch the ground.

WOW 1200!! Oh what a dream come true!! Did you love London in general? What was the highlight of that tour?

Yeah, i'd say so. That whole things was really cool for different reasons. I think we really gelled as a band on that trip. You know, we've only been together eight months and I think those two weeks was the time when we just finally got each other. Like, "oh yeah. that guy is fucking cool." or whatever.

I want to ask you about what motivates you to do the band. Like, what sacrifices you've made for it and whether it's been worth it...

I have made many sacrifices, and they all dont feel like sacrifices. Its all been worth it. I cant imagine doing anything else. I dont need much. I got rid of my car so I could work less and still make my bills. I have givin every last drop of sweat and blood haaha! I sound so dramatic! but really, ive given all of my focus, heart, energy, thoughts, time. I've given everything, and it feels so wonderful. I am so thankful to have something Im so passionate about. I don't have money, but I'm so full. Yes, worth it.

I love that.

Whats your sign?



Pisces. Do you have two sides to you? Charlie is a Gemini, and he must have two distinct sides otherwise he feels incomplete. One side is a musician, and one side is a student.

that's funny. i totally see that with him. i'll watch you guys perform and he's all energetic and kind of weird and surprising and then i'll talk to him about, you know, history or something and he's just liek this uber-smart cat.



There's this song by Rilo Kiley I've been thinking about a lot lately. I think it's basically about being in a local band on the cusp and the lyric is something like, "and sometimes when you're on, you are really fucking on and your friends all sing along and they love you. but the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap and it teases you for weeks in it's absence.." it so hits home with me

do you ever feel that way?

Wow, thats a brilliant line. yes I feel that way!

like we'll play a show and feel sooo good afterwards and like it's all going to work out and we're going to make our record and go on tour and do all the things we love.. then it's all suddenly gone and we're working jobs and the feeling is like gone, you know?

Yes, I know. It can be the lowest low imaginable.


It is such a courageous path to be an artist. It takes so much patience. but You guys are doing so great!!!

thanks. so are you.. i love your music and everyone I know does too.

Hey Mikel, are you excited to play Sunset Junction!!

yes. very. it's like so weird because it's half a mile from my house and i've gone before and everyone around here just goes. noah and i have decided we're going to just roll our amps and guitars down there. you know, not take a car. just walk through the gate with our stuff. i'm so psyched.

hahahaha!!! I'm so happy for you guys!!!


we've been talking about it for months.

just like so cool to play in the neighborhood like that...

Who are your favorite local bands besides, (thank you again so much!) us and Radars?

hmmm...I really like the Western States Motel because Karl is such a great songwriter. his songs make me sad and wistful and feel a little like how you feel when you wake up from a nap in the afternoon and your life is still kind of like a dream. also, the Parson Redheads. I wrote a song about them a couple weeks ago. they're just pure about what they're doing. such good people, good intentions..

my lost is hecka long Death to Anders, One Trick Pony, Eagle and Talon, the Movies, Pity Party, Anchors for Architects, Transmissions, Airbourne Toxic Event, Lo Fi Sugar, Henry Clay People....OH man, all of my favorite bands are here in LA right now!!!

hell yeah, Parson Red Heads rule!!!!

totally. I love those bands. also the Switch and the Deadly Syndrome fucking rule.

love that song Union Hall by Foreign Born.

There are so many ridiculously good bands right now.....!!

i know. we're spoiled. you can see such great music any night of the week.

it's really unique. it's like being in greenwich village in the 60s or something..

everyone is in a band. so many great songs, performers. I'll see something I didn't know about randomly and just think, "who the hell are these guys? they're awesome."

Totally!!!! It really is. It really is so endlessly inspiring....all of these bands that I am privileged enough to play with. I feel so lucky.

me too.

ok, so......death.

you first.


oh me first?

ummmm...well, most of my relatives have passed away. besides my parents and one aunt. So, Im very comfortable with death. It is all part of life. we all die. Plus, they all come talk to me in my dreams, and call me crazy, but they do!

who talks to you in your dreams? what do they say?

They tell me about what I should do, they give me advice all the time. They make jokes mostly! Seriously, even the most serious of relatives turn into total goofballs on "the other side" OMG people are going to think I'm crazy! should I be saying this......

i love it.

what do they say, like specifically? you know, sara, you should totally play this one show?

Well, I haven't had too many dreams, maybe twice a year I 'll have one...but I always ask them as I'm awake, "should I play this show?" and in my gut I'll feel a "hunch" one way or the other. I swear they are here all the time. They tell me that in my dreams! They show me that to die is to be more alive in this funny way! Its too trippy too explain...what about you and death??

wow. wow. that is fucking cool.


i wish i felt that way about it.

I always picture that there's this line and it goes back like a 10 billion years, and then extends forward another ten billion and right in the middle of it is this tiny little piece that's like 50 years or 80 or something. And that's life. this eye blink. and you're dead for so long and alive for just this tiny time, then dead again. so, it's like the prom, the big dance or whatever. and I just want to dance a lot and spike the punch and request a song from the dj.


i think my mom getting sick and also I got diagnosed with this disease (it's not fatal but it definitely made me feel very mortal) and suddenly it was like, "holy shit. I'm totally going to die." and it scared the shit out of me for a long time. but eventually it made me feel i guess a certain responsibility to live well, live fully, be productive. like the time is finite, so fucking use it.

Yes Yes. Yes, that I think, is why "death" exists. So that we can learn to be fully present. To fully fully live NOW. People who have not confronted or thought about there own time limit in this life seem to take it for granted more than people who have...I'm so sorry to hear bout your diagnosis. Im so proud of you that you can turn it into something that makes you want to fully LIVE, fuck yeah!!! You have ONE life. You are an artist!!! You have something to say!!! It is wonderful!! I'm so inspired by your story. I think it is wonderful that you suddenly formed a band!! You know, why not!? You have one life. Hell yeah!

totally. let's get in a fucking van and play some shows! let's jump around like monkeys. let's sing, man.


i really feel honored to be able to ask you about this stuff. i really am such a fan of your music. please tell charlie and chris the same. and you know, thank you for forming the happy hollows.

Likewise!!!! It is an honor to be your friend and to share these times with you!!

have a great day. i think a couple of us are coming to see you guys on Friday night.

see you then—

Yay!! See you soon Mikel!


And once again, Airborne Toxic Event play Sunday at the Sunset Junction Street Fair

and The Happy Hollows play tonight at the Santa Monica Women’s Club w/ Earlimart