Sometime Around Midnight – The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event is an American rock band from Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California comprising Mikel Jollett (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steven Chen (guitar, keyboards), Noah Harmon (bass), Daren Taylor (drums) and Anna Bulbrook (viola, keyboards, tambourine, backing vocals). Named after a section of the book White Noise, by Don DeLillo, the group incorporates string instruments and keyboards, along with a standard rock lineup of guitar, drums, and bass guitar.

The band was formed in 2006 by Mikel Jollett. During a one-week period in March 2006 while working on a novel, Jollett learned that his mother was diagnosed with cancer, experienced a break-up, and was diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease which led Jollett to develop two cosmetic conditions: Alopecia areata and Vitiligo. Spurred by these events in his personal life, Jollett turned from writing prose to writing songs as he realized he was composing an album instead of a novel.

Jollett met drummer Taylor in the summer of 2006 and the two established an immediate rapport. After working on original material together for four months as a two-piece, Jollett asked classically-trained violinist Bulbrook and bassist Harmon to join the band. A situation that Jollett enjoys re-telling with relish, Harmon initially refused. With a background in orchestral and chamber music, Bulbrook since taught herself to play viola and keyboard, while Harmon holds a jazz degree in upright bass performance from the California Institute of the Arts and taught in East Los Angeles as part of the school’s Community Arts Partnership. Jollett had met Chen several years earlier, when both lived in San Francisco. Chen was at first asked to join as a keyboardist, but revealed to Jollett that he in fact, played guitar and filled the role as lead guitarist.

To supplement his fiction writing, Jollett had earned income as a freelance writer, contributing to organizations such as NPR, Los Angeles Times, Filter magazine and Men’s Health. Since the creation of the band, he has continued to write only fiction. Jollett’s short story “The Crack” was published in the Summer 2008 McSweeney’s issue 27 sandwiched between short stories by Liz Mandrell and Stephen King.

The band takes its name from the postmodern novel White Noise, by Don DeLillo, which won the National Book Award in 1985. In the book, a chemical spill from a railcar releases a poisonous cloud, dubbed by the military as an “airborne toxic event”. This serves as a metaphorical device for the novel’s themes of mortality and media consumption, as the protagonist Jack Gladney is forced to confront the prospect of his own death.

Packing literate indie rock with real literary cred and turning it up to eleven, Los Angeles’ The Airborne Toxic Event are a dream for fans of whipsmart lyrics, narrative, and emotive grandiosity in their pop songs.

Sometime Around Midnight

The song is autobiographical, about the night that lead singer Mikel Jollett had a run-in with a former girlfriend while out at a bar, during which he discovers that he still loves her. The entire band was present during this event The lyrics to the song were written in isolation by Jollett over the course of three days.


And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Or at least that’s when you lose yourself
for a minute or two.
As you stand, under the bar lights.
And the band plays some song
about forgetting yourself for a while.
And the piano’s this melancholy soundtrack to her smile.
And that white dress she’s wearing
you haven’t seen her for a while.

But you know, that she’s watching.
She’s laughing, she’s turning.
She’s holding her tonic like a cross*.
The room’s suddenly spinning.
She walks up and asks how you are.
So you can smell her perfume.
You can see her lying naked in your arms.

And so there’s a change, in your emotions.
And all these memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind.
Of the curl of your bodies,
like two perfect circles entwined.
And you feel hopeless and homeless
and lost in the haze of the wine.

Then she leaves, with someone you don’t know.
But she makes sure you saw her.
She looks right at you and bolts.
As she walks out the door,
your blood boiling
your stomach in ropes.
Oh and when your friends say,
“What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Then you walk, under the streetlights.
And you’re too drunk to notice,
that everyone is staring at you.
You just don’t care what you look like,
the world is falling around you.

You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You know that she’ll break you in two

  • Audio from the 2009 album, The Airborne Toxic Event:


About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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