The following summary of The Airborne Toxic Event’s Dope Machines/Songs of God and Whiskey Reddit AMA 0n February 24, 2015 was compiled for This Is Nowhere by TATE’s most legendary primate fan, Tim de Monkey.
Featuring Steven Chen, Anna Bulbrook, and Mikel Jollett
AMA generated 300+comments.
Over 50 questions were answered.
The inevitable Noah question was addressed.
Questions from fans who pre-ordered Dope Machines from other sources & ended up missing out on The Songs of God and Whiskey bundle were not addressed by the band.
3 band members participated but the majority of questions were answered by Mikel.
The session closed with a nod to TIN’s own Julie.
The AMA got off to a late start but the happy reason was explained by Steven.
Hey guys, this is Steven Chen. Unfortunately, Mikel is at his niece’s adoption ceremony at this very moment (she’s officially becoming a Jollett). Evidently, everything got delayed today, so they are literally in the courthouse right now. He promises to jump on as soon as he possibly can. In the meantime, I will do my best.
ZestyDragon: Hey guys. First of all, thank you for all of your wonderful music. I first started listening to you guys the summer before I started high school, and you were one of the defining bands of those four years of my life. My girlfriend and I actually first bonded over talking about your music, and we’ve been together for exactly three years as of today.
Anyway, I was just wondering what inspired you guys to release an acoustic album at the exact same time you released your most electronic record to date? It’s definitely something unique, releasing two albums with nearly polar opposite sounds at the same time, and I’m curious as to where the idea came from.
Steven: There were a few reasons for this. Some of these songs have been kicking around for a long time, and Mikel had been waiting for the right time to put them out in the world. Some of them are brand new. We also wanted to give something back to the fans that no one would be expecting and that was an interesting contrast to the songs on Dope Machines.
dragons1252: My friends! Longtime fan here but you already know that– I’ve had the privilege/luck of meeting you out on the road many times (in an airport, after a show, randomly before a show) and awkwardly rambling on and on about how much I love you so I’ll leave that part out for now. Thank for always being gracious during my rambling.
Bottom line– Do you plan on releasing any US tour dates soon? I would love to hear your new tunes how I like them best… Live, in a sweaty, boozy venue. Preferably in the Midwest. But anywhere in the US will do, really. Just say yes.
Much love and thank you for the inspiring art and music that you create. Oh, and I can’t believe your Lollapalooza set wasn’t your #1 memory last year! Maybe you should come back and give us another shot :)
Steven: Some U.S. dates coming soon… With an added twist. ;)
Achtungbaby91: Hi all! So, imagine you spend a lot of time traveling on buses during tours. When you’re not sleeping, is there a common activity that goes on in the bus or does everyone relax and keep to themselves?
Steven: Over the years, we’ve developed lots of different activities. At one point, late night rapping was popular. We’d plug in a computer, make some beats, and our jaws would drop open listening to Anna bust out some of the dirtiest rhymes imaginable.
Lt_Meowkovich: What was it like for the band when you first started out? Anything you think someone who’s interested in writing music should know?
Will you guys do another commentary like you did with Such Hot Blood?
You guys are seriously one of, if not my most favorite band ever. I got to see you in Milwaukee in October, kick ass show and my first concert I ever got to see, too!
Steven: Steven here. This is my first real band (same with Anna). When we first started playing shows, there were so many “holy shit!” moments. The first year and a half was such a blur. I remember carrying a lot of equipment, driving around Los Angeles, getting lost. Then suddenly two big stations in L.A. added us, and then the rest is even more of a blur.
Mikel joins the session
Mikel here now. I’m a proud uncle. Picture of new Jollett baby (my niece) coming soon.. Let’s do this, Reddit.
ProjectMayhem92: Hey guys! I’m a huge fan of your music, and have seen you guys several times live now between Toronto and Montreal(Osheaga with that awesome storm clearing up during Sometime Around Midnight). Every performance is amazing and somehow you keep getting better! I just ordered both records and can’t wait to see you guys again soon. It was also an awesome surprise to see that you guys are doing a dual release and continuing with both elec/rock and roll styles again simultaneously! I was a huge fan of the Bombastic series of acoustic videos and a whole new record is just an amazing one-up on that, so thank you! I also love that you guys change up your style between records, please continue that creativity and change! Its fantastic and I love seeing your potential shine through different styles.
Question: Given that a lot of your tracks/albums are great with narratives, and lyrically and thematically fantastic, would you guys ever consider making a rock opera? I mean it could easily be said that there are stories throughout each of your albums, but would you ever consider making a full narrative styled rock opera with a cohesive story? I for one would love to see what you guys could do with it!
Anywho, thanks for doing this and thank you for your incredible work and gift of music!
Mikel: No, musical theater makes me wish for nuclear holocaust. – mikel
_marky: Hi y’all! Mikel, what you’ve done in your songwriting has recently inspired me to not be afraid of expressing my feelings and thoughts and I decided that the best way to do that is to write it down into songs. So, I was wondering, what is the hardest part about songwriting for you guys? What’s the best part about it?
Mikel: The best part about songwriting is the sense that you’re bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before. Early on in the process, it’s as if a song reveals itself to you like it already existed, and it’s your job just to write it down. I don’t know if there’s a worst part. I kind of just love it and feel like it’s a blessing. – mikel
andrewvanbo: Hey all, just wanted to say thanks for all the awesome music over the years! It has really resonated with me especially Hell and Back. Looking forward to getting my physical copy of Dope Machines. What is your favorite song or songs to play live and why? Also, any chance at some new Bombastic videos? Really enjoy watching them as you all seem so happy to be playing the music.
Thanks again for doing this!
Mikel: Yes for sure on the Bombastic videos. My favorite songs to play live are always the ones where I feel the recordings didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to be. So playing them live, you get to reinvent them. – mikel
Mikel: For example, I love playing our song, “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing.” The song is just about my parents’ hippie-ass wedding. And I always wanted it to be more of a folk song. And the recording is more of a punk song.
RavenclawSLP: Hi TATE! My husband and I have seen you perform several times and we LOVE your music. We engraved the line “I will carry you with me up every hill” (from “The Graveyard Near the House”) on our wedding rings, because it perfectly summed up our promise to grow old together and support each other. So thank you for that–I really think “The Graveyard Near the House” is the most poetic and beautiful song. Haunting, but beautiful.
I have a question for Mikel–I (obviously) love your lyrics, and I also enjoyed reading the short story you wrote. I know you just wrote a bunch of songs, but do you think you will ever write more short stories/novellas/other types of prose?
Thank you, all of you, for doing what you do! You are amazing!
Mikel: Probably. I miss literature sometimes. My favorite writers (Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Milan Kundera, Nabokov) are all ones that entertain with their brains. It’s as if they’re jugglers and they’re going to throw 12 flaming ideas into the air at once, and you get to sit there in awe, watching them perform. – mikel
Kotakia: Hey guys, it’s honestly great to get to talk to you! You’re absolutely one of my favorite bands and a major aspect to my relationship because of how your music intertwines with our lives. I am beyond ecstatic that you continue to not only put out more music, but put on some of the best performances I’ve seen. I don’t know which was better, Summer Stage in the pouring rain or in New Orleans in the tiny little theater that looks like a chapel as you created almost a mosh pit on the floor in the dark. Every time I see you there’s such a wonderful electricity in the air! While I haven’t gotten too into Dope Machines yet, the electronic isn’t as offputting to me as others are saying. You did Tokyo Radio and it was great, so it’s not that much different to me. It’s just a new style!
My question is what lead to the style change? Any major influences? I mean, like I said, you guys have done some electric sounding stuff before so it’s not that new, it’s just very different from what you’ve done before. And what about Something You Lost sounding very similar to Sometime Around Midnight in the background? Is it intentional like how The Fifth Day climax sounded similar in that it’s a unifying sound to your albums?
One last thing, why did you choose the songs you did for Songs of God and Whiskey? I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard a ton through shitty live recordings on YouTube and love them, but there are just so many songs you’ve all done and never released before. *cough* Waves and Radiation. *cough* Just wondering what got to make the cut.
Mikel: First off, this idea that some people in rock and roll have that electronic music isn’t real music, i find silly. It’s also kind of dated. I think people confuse our band as if we’re some kind of archivists, and my idea toward the past is to burn it down. Not that it isn’t to be loved, but the future is always to improve upon the past and tear it down. And anyone who thinks that isn’t the province of electronic music is missing out on something great.
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. Waves and Radiation did make the cut. We just changed the name to “The Lines of the Cars.”
voodoomuse: I have a few questions in here, don’t have to answer all or any but if you do thank you,
what difference’s did you notice with producing the album your self compared to previous albums ? the process as a whole and writing the songs ? did it allow more freedom ? but with that does it come with more nervousness with the releases ?
where you gave a countdown..it seemed like your tweet right before the release it had a nervous vibe.. you lead with “well i guess this is it everyone…” and even the picture was a look of relief but also a look of oh shit what are people, critics, and fans going to say.. you’re releasing your soul with your music, your art.. Are you going to read reviews ? Do you let that affect your life ? Will it affect the process of your songwriting ?
Also “I wish there was some way for you to understand how much went into these records..
just, thank you for letting me be a part of your life ”
is there a way ? any video’s of the recording process ?
I think those that connect with the music / a song do understand..for me I would say to you reversing it,
I wish there was a way you to understand how much your art means to me in my life, to the point where it has kept me alive in my darkest moments and thoughts
Mikel: In terms of production, the process for these two records was very similar to the first record. You know, most of the time with recording, you’ve got a song in your head, and it already sounds done. And you spend hundreds and hundreds of hours in the studio just trying to make the air outside your head sound like the air inside your head. – mikel
Mikel: I never read reviews or comments on websites or anything like that. The reason is that I don’t want to invite the world into my brain. There’s too much of a din, and it’s hard to hear the music. Having said that, yes, it was a moment pregnant with meaning. These two records represent anywhere between a year and 10 years of my life, so it’s hard to not have a strong reaction when you know that suddenly all these people are going to hear your innermost thoughts, longings, fears, frustrations, joys, and loves.
Jintz31: Steven!! I saw you across the street in Houston before y’all went on in the house of blues but I didn’t run over to say hi. And I’ve regretted it ever since. Anyways if I ever see you again in person would you be cool if I meet you!?
Steven: Yes, it would be cool to meet you too! –steven
asdfcasdf: Thanks for doing this AMA! I’ve been a big fan for years; The Graveyard Near the House, All at Once, and The Fifth Day are just a few of my favorites. Anyway, I came up with the one question I would ask you guys given the chance a long time ago:
What the hell are the lyrics to the high-pitched part of your cover of Wishing Song from The Muppets? No matter how many times I try to make it out, I’m never sure, and Google hasn’t even helped.
Mikel: Those lyrics were written as a sort of message I would’ve wanted to hear when I was eight years old from someone who’s been on the planet a little longer. I think it’s like a dog whistle. You just have to be a kid to get it.
awkwardaquarium: you guys are my absolute favorite band and I’ll try not to get too dorky, but thank you so much for your music. truly beautiful and honest and inspiring. My question is about the songs that were hardest to write. Which songs were they, and what were the biggest obstacles for you? also, not a question, but if you guys do a music video for One Time Thing I think some slow motion trampoline jumping would look pretty rad. thanks again, love you guys!
Mikel: The hardest song to write was “Wishing Well,” and it’s because it’s the first song I ever wrote and it was the moment I realized I wanted to quit literature and start music. It took me 20 drafts and eight months to get it right.
dodgeball224: You guys are great! Your last album was one of only 3 albums I have actually purchased in the last few years and I will be definitely purchasing this one!
My question is, how have the events in your lives effected the tones of your last few albums and how has it changed in this album?
Thanks for all the amazing music and keep up the great work!
Mikel: I think it’s fair to say that records two and three were about life on the road, or that exact issue—i.e. how distance and so much rapid change make you long for a home. And these two records are closer to the original idea for the band, which is songwriting + musicianship + a commitment to our fans.
noneofyourbiness: Did you purposely make two different records to put out “feelers” and see which direction would make you more money in the future? Do you plan to go that direction?
Mikel: yes, we’re all about making that coin baby.
Hannah_JaneTATE: Hey guys ! Thank you so much for releasing the second album. I’ve been a fan since the beginning so I was pumped for Dope Machines, but was nervous it’d be too different from your previous rock albums. But now I get the best of both worlds ! One album that is totally new with a completely different sound and then another album that has some great old songs I love (and a few I don’t immediately recognize) that I can really rock out to. That was a great decision. The fans thank you.
I get nervous so the only question(s) I can think of are the following: 1. If it was up to you, which band would you want to tour with in the future? 2. Should we expect any acoustic/bombastic videos of songs from Dope Machines?
Can’t wait to see you live again, come to upstate NY!
Mikel: I’d love to tour with someone like Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen… Maybe Jack White. Those people are national treasures as artists and it would be an incredible privilege.
Kallen00: First, let me say that you guys are by far my favorite band of all time.
Second, I hope you guys would indulge me three questions instead of just one:
1) I’ve found that I love your covers as much as I love your original music. Do you think you’d ever release a covers album with Boys Don’t Cry, Book of Love, and American Girl making an appearance, or are those going to stay a treat for the fans lucky enough to see you live?
2) What’s your group dynamic like off-stage and away from music? Do you guys think you’d be close friends even if you weren’t all bandmates?
3) I’m from Los Angeles, so a lot of your earlier songs like Missy and This is Nowhere had a kind of geographical relevance to my life. Now that you guys have traveled all over the country and even out of it, do you guys still feel like, and I’d hate to put it this way, an “LA band?” Or, better yet, did you guys ever feel like one?
Sorry for the lengthy questions, but dear God keep on making killer music!
Mikel: We love the covers too. Steven and I were just talking yesterday about how we’d like to do an EP of covers of songs from 90s. That decade seems somewhat neglected at the moment.
Offstage, we’re sort of like a group of shipwrecked siblings — trying to navigate our tiny metaphorical island — looking for food and water and something to do before soundcheck.
I don’t know what an LA Band is. There are so many cliches about this place that are simply false. It’s because of Hollywood. The only culture California really exports is that of privileged white people who moved here to make it in film. That covers maybe half a million people in a 10 square mile area in the center of Los Angeles.
The other 35 million Californians go about there lives, generally struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families. People think we’re simple and white. And we’re not. We’re complicated (and Mexican. ha) And Taiwanese and Ethiopian and Laotian and Armenian and Korean and African American and… you get the idea.
theirishmuse: I just wanna say I’m loving “Dope Machines” right now! A lot of people will bitch about how “it’s not like the older records,” but I think it’s important for a band to make the music they want to make, not the music fans think they should make. Sort of on this note, where do you guys see TATE going stylistically from here? Sticking with the electronic sound, or something completely different?
Edit: Also, my download file for SoGaW is a dud :( Any other way to get a copy of that album?
Mikel: It’s hard to say because I just don’t think about it in those terms. We’ve made punk songs, folk songs, dance songs, heavy rock songs, indie-rock songs (whatever that is) — we’d do a polka if we thought it fit the moment.
The best I can say is I hope to continue to write and I hope to be blessed to be able to collaborate with such talented musicians.. And yeah, genre. Who cares?
Legion-of-BOOM: Hello! My dad and I are huge fans and we appreciate the time you take to talk with fans after your shows, and also the awesome performances you put on.
My question – What do you guys enjoy doing in your free time when you’re not touring or recording new songs?
(PS – Thanks again for the grey hoody Mikel, it fits nicely)
Mikel: Take care of that hoody, man! Um, I love meeting people. I feel like a show is always a celebration of something, no matter the genre, the band, a dj, hip-hop, metal, Lillith Fair… whatever. And sometimes it’s celebrating something universal like “togetherness,” and sometimes it’s celebrating narcissism, sometimes “anger” or “sadness” — but the thing about music is that as a group (those of us onstage and those in the audience) we all get to live in that moment as one — to be somewhat enveloped by the stories and emotions.. So yeah, meeting people afterward is often amazing because connecting over some lonely, arcane thought was often the point of writing the song in the first place.
Oh and when not recording I like to stay up late, listening to Morrissey, drinking Pernot, dripping wax on my skin and crying over the misery of existence.
christinalynne1227: Hey guys, it’s Christina–thank you so much for Dope Machines and Songs of God and Whiskey! I love them both so much already! The first time I heard Something You Lost I cried. Such a punch in the gut. Mikel, these are some of the best lyrics you’ve published to date, in my opinion. Thank you so much!
Anyway, my question(s): if you were stranded alone on a deserted island, what one thing would you want with you? (Let’s pretend that there’s wi-fi and a generator that ran on solar energy there if you need a dope machine with you!)
Or alternate: if all 5 of you were stuck on a deserted island with little food and water, who would die first? Who would be the first to suggest cannibalism and who would be the tastiest to eat?
Mikel: If we were stranded on an island for reals, Steven would definitely die first. (He’s telling me he disagrees. He thinks it’s Adrian).. Both are products of the modern world incapable of existing too far from a wifi connection and the corner bar.
Steven protests. He claims he’s getting more “nature-oriented” (is that racist to say?) as he gets older. I think this means he gets the LL Bean catalog. I’m not sure.
stingypurkinje: Hey guys, thank you for doing this AMA!
Anna, any interesting stories from being on the SNL set (any awkward run-ins in the hall? does Kenneth the page still wander 30 rock? etc). You killed it (as always) with Sia but I would love to see the entire band on SNL soon
Anna: As soon as we got there to perform with Sia, they asked us to put on our show clothes… So I went to Wardrobe to get a lint roller, and ran smack into Tina Fey—who is a pretty dainty babe, by the way. – anna
sofaloafofbread: Which place/ city is your favorite venue for concerts?
Mikel: Playing the Greek a few months ago was amazing. I wrote the entire first record five blocks from that place living in a one bedroom apartment, and I remember seeing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the White Stripes. Also Bright Eyes and Belle and Sebastian. So to get to play there with our band felt like we were on the verge of something.
Bike_in_Pink: The Bowie/Queen vocal performance. What spoke to you most about it? How did it inspire Dope Machines? You’ve said you felt you had to step up your game. How? What did you feel was lacking?
Mikel: I just thought it was weird and rhythmic and amazing for reasons that had nothing to do with Leonard Cohen, who’s been my idol since forever. And I think it just struck a nerve, something like “here is a whole world to learn, explore and inhabit.” Plus Freddy Mercury was just such a fucking genius.
Makes me want to put on a sequined onesie, grow a thick mustache, stand on the front of the stage and just BELT. y’know?
sofaloafofbread: Hello favorite band :) I know you guys are local (for me anyway) so What is the most underestimated/underappreciated part of LA?
p.s. an LA concert of yours is a big reason why my best friend and I are so close
Mikel: The most unappreciated part of Los Angeles (outside of Los Angeles, anyway) is it’s legit cultural diversity. I don’t know why everyone thinks we’re surfers and starlets. We’re not. It’s more like Hong Kong or London — in that it’s a place on the border between many cultures, bustling with activity and the smell of spicy food.
You can go to a liquor store in Little Tokyo and buy Santeria artifacts, a bucket of kim-chi, Jerry curl spray, matzoh ball soup and a side of carne asada. Plus a guy in the back room will do your taxes if you want. That’s L.A.
whoisandrewj1: Steven Chen, what is your favorite song to sing while performing?
I know how much you enjoyed singing at Belly Up in Aspen last year.
Steven: I’d have to go with “All at Once.” Mikel and I worked on that one together and I remember when he first showed me what he was working on, how I loved the build and swell of that song, and wanted to take it to the Nth degree. I still get chills sometimes singing the line, “I feel the water rising around us…” Always a highlight of the show for me.
masonsett: Hello! I’ve listened to you guys since Adam Clayton of U2 praised your first release, and was instantly enamored by the energy every member brought to the effort. From the first time I saw you, front row on the ‘All At Once’ tour in Costa Mesa, CA, to just recently at the Greek Amphitheater, it seems the drive to put on the best show possible hasn’t wavered. Your concerts are always an amazing time for me, every time I see you guys, I can feel you’re having the greatest time.
So my question is, How has the dynamic changed for you in the past 7+ years?
Mikel: It hasn’t much. Once we’re on stage, it’s sort of unconscious. There’s a blur and a buzz and your brain goes silent, and you’re just kind of caught up in the loud guitars and drums, the sweat, the joy of playing music, the cheers from the audience, and the sense that you’re standing next to an abyss staring into it with curiosity and rage. – mikel
Steven: Thinking back to the Greek show, I’m struck by how the years of playing together have allowed us to anticipate each other onstage. There are moments during a show, when I look around, and I feel how far we’ve come as a group moving together onstage. So yes, we are having an awesome time onstage. – steven
liz34: Why do apostates love songs?
Mikel: Good question. “She loved the Lord the way an apostate loves Psalms…” In other words, for the poetry and romance of it — for the idea of it. She wasn’t really interested in what such beliefs might require of her. She just liked the way it all sounded.
Sarajane53: Am really looking forward to new albums! Would you ever consider publishing your poetry? Your lyrics are so wonderful, I would love to read anything else you write. From the first time I heard your first released song on VH1, I have been a great fan. Are your current releases going to be on VH1 or just look on you tube?
Mikel: I don’t know about poetry. I’m not really a fan. I feel like poetry made more sense before recorded music came into being since lyricism had to find a way to be reproduced. These days, you just record a version of the poem with a melody and a rhythm and people can hear it.
I do like the idea in poetry (and music) that something you made takes on a new life without you. It goes out into the world and wends its way into people’s daily lives. It accompanies them in the shower, it’s there on the drive to work — it’s the soundtrack to moments big and small. As the creator, you’re just another person in another place living another life and it has nothing to do with you anymore.
But it lives. Even after you die. I find that comforting.
bhopppp: how long did you had the idea to change your direction to a more electronic album. also do you have an idea of what direction your next album will be?
Mikel: I’m thinking polka..
OrbitingKillerWhale: Hey! Love your band’s music! Whats your guys’ favorite band? (Besides your own of course!)
Mikel: My favorite modern musicians are the National, Jack White, LCD Soundsystem — also been really into Twin Shadow lately, Kindness, Phedre and The XX. – Mikel
Steven: War on Drugs, Sharon van Etten, Black Angels, Tame Impala and of course I grew up listening to Pavement and Nirvana. – Steven
I_BUILD_ARKS: Hi guys! Big fan here. I wanted to ask what inspired the style change in your music? Your sound has changed drastically from your self titled album to your new release with Dope Machines and I would love to know what inspired the change.
I would also be delighted if you guys came down to play more shows in Las Vegas!
Thank you and keep making awesome music!
Mikel: I think it was Isis, Obamacare, Fox News, Edward Snowden, the tensions on the Ukrainian border, the nuclear deal with Iran, Kim Kardashian’s new perfume, the fact that I can totally rock out a Cuban cigar these days and of course, El Nino.
I don’t know, man. Bury the past. Bury the future. Bury yourself. Live in the song.
ifyouknowwhatImeme: Hey Steven, does anyone ever mistaken you for Glen from The Walking Dead?
Steven: I hear this one a lot, which makes me wonder if Glen ever gets mistaken for the Asian guy in Airborne. Funny story, I was in a town on tour once, I think it was somewhere in Texas? I was on my way into a Whole Foods, and I overheard some people by a parked car in front of me suddenly mention the Walking Dead. I could only catch bits of the conversation, but I’m huge fan of the show, and I was like, “Oh cool, I wonder what new thing about the show they’re talking about.” And then I recognized the look they had, like they had just seen a famous person. And then I thought, “Oh, they think I’m Glen. Well shit.”
Mouserat_forever: I know it’s a touchy subject, but why did Noah leave? I don’t mean any disrespect, but he was there from the first record and played a large role in the band’s sound (boy, does he shred). Hopefully the fans can get some light shed on the whole thing. Much love and appreciation for all of the wonderful tunes. Thank you!
Mikel: We decided not to give Noah’s departure from the band a public airing. Obviously there’s a reason. We’re just not going to talk about it. Seems disrespectful to him. We wish him well of course and he’s a talented dude. He’s fine. It was all very amicable and agreeable..
skihist: Thank you so much for doing this. It’s a great opportunity to connect with my favorite band since I live in a corner of the world where we have no hope you’ll ever come to visit us.
Q: I notice you don’t really do the social part of social media – which is fine, it’s not for everyone – yet every so often you’ll pose a question, seeming to invite dialogue, but your involvement ceases right there. What are the questions for? Are you just musing out loud and not really expecting an answer?
Mikel: I’m just bad at it. I don’t understand the modern world where we’re all supposed to be these weird techy, online people all the time. I just want to live a private life and be a songwriter and have that be it. I enjoy talking to people about issues of the day (The whole crimingwhilewhite thing was my favorite actually, ’cause this country is hella racist and god damn right I agree with that shit).
I often ask myself, what would Tom Waits tweet?
Then I just go back to writing.
annashaz: Do you prefer for fans to stow their dope machines and just live the moment at your shows?
Mikel: For sure. That shit is distracting.
campinonnile: Well, I just want to say THANK YOU. You all are the best! So talented and gracious. I am glad I’m not the only fan who is so into you! I really have never been so into a band that I arrange my travel plans around to going see you all live. Your music just speaks to me in an unparalleled way. Just wanted you to know that and say I can’t wait to see you guys LIVE again!
Mikel: Aw thanks. It’s a privilege for us.
meeanpendal: Have you ever considered releasing karaoke CD’s for some of your songs? I would love love love to be able to sing any of my favorite songs on karaoke night.
Also: Songs of God and Whiskey just made my year, so thank you!
Mikel: So glad you like the record. How kind. Sure. Karaoke that shit. Why not?
geekz26: hey guys ive been listening to you guys since my freshmen year in high school(2009) and your music just made my life a bit better in the bad,weird and amazing moments i just have to say thank you i hope i get to meet you guys someday and see you guys perform live because every time you guys have been in san diego something has gotten in the way of me going unfortunately so now the question : are will you guys be touring the us anytime soon? and would you guys do a performance like when you were at the walt disney concert hall?
Mikel: Yes and yes. And thanks.
What’s cool about all those bad, weird and amazing moments is that we all hide them from each other and pretend they don’t exist as we venture through life with these public faces masking our private worlds which are weirder and deeper and more complex than what we show others. I think it’s a relief to find (through art, music, literature, movies, etc…) that others feel just as twisted and strange and alone at times. Because then it all seems like some cosmic joke — like you can see the Earth from space or something and there are 7 billion people walking around thinking the same thing and never telling each other.
MrGiraffe261: Hey guys! I am a HUGE fan of all your stuff. Looking forward to getting my copy of Songs of God and Whiskey :D
This question is for Mikel. You might have already answered this, but I remember in a previous ama you mentioned that one time you got into a fight with a professor at Stanford over thr Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Can you explain why the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle caused you so much angst? Thanks!
Mikel: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (expressed mathematically through Planck’s constant) essentially means that at some point, the universe is unknowable. There used to be a school of thought (put forth by a guy named Lemark) called scientific determinism that said that at some point we would be able to know the position and energy states of all atoms in the universe and thus be able to predict the future — as if it all stemmed from inevitable chain of circumstances.
It was then discovered that sub-atomic particles were somewhat unknowable. Meaning that upon observing quanta (very small things), you could know a position very well but then not a speed or you could know a speed very well but then not a position. This killed Lemarkian determinism because it meant that at it’s core, the universe had a mystery to it.
I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.
So I was sitting in O-Chem lecture at Stanford and we were talking about resonance structures and the prof said “well the electrons are somewhere in this cloud.” And I raised my hand and asked, “yeah but where in the cloud?”
“We don’t know.” he said and turned back to the board.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Heisenberg.” He rattled this off as if I knew what he meant. Which of course, I didn’t at the time.
I didn’t let up: “We could find out right? Like if we built an enormous machine and we could observe every electron and every force acting on it. We could find out!?”
I just sort of gasped “What?!” I’d been studying for five hours a night, playing with those dumb 3d atom toys and god damnit I wanted to know where those fucking electrons were. So I walked out and never went back.
I started a band instead and here we are.
PoorIsaac224: The female backing vocals on Time to Be a Man sound like Esme Patterson. Is it her or a synthesized Anna?
Mikel: It’s actually a man. A very talented singer named Kenny Soto. He also sang on a few other tracks. Love that dude! –Mikel
mbehrensster: Congrats on the new albums and to Mikel and his family on their new addition! Is there anything behind the titles to the new albums or the release date? What has been your favorite venue to play at/stage to play on? Any plans to play in Chicago this year? P.S. Thank you all for sending a ticket angel my way outside of the Vic! Made my whole year! ;)
Mikel: yes. Dope Machines. The song itself is about a particular kind of fling: so many pictures and texts — the digital detritus of attraction and flirtation in the modern world. Camera phones. Social media—we’ve taken all these things that are central to what it means to be human and digitized them into simple binary equations, algorithms and questions. Things like: Who do I like? Who likes me? What group(s) do I belong to? All these buggy little programs create a digital self that is a (mostly) polished reflection of our actual selves. And they’re addictive because they take the important questions, the ones we obsess over as humans, and quantify them into digestible bytes. Our social instincts, insecurities, and ambitions are primed and we are all over that shit.
On balance it’s all pretty stupid, because we know that we are far more complex than these silly little brands we turn ourselves into online. But if you consider for a moment how this entire thing is just a metaphor that we’ve agreed upon: that websites are “places” (which they absolutely are not, they’re programs), that these pictures and quotes are “people” (which they’re not, they’re like little magazine ABOUT people) — it’s fascinating. Two billion (or some number) people have all agreed upon one system of metaphors, these images on screens that we decipher in our brains and codify into massively complex virtual societies. What a bunch of brainy schmucks.
And if you happen to be reading this on some such device, in a metaphorical “space,”, well then allow me to simply say “hello and I hope your life brings you joy and that we can meet some day and have a coffee perhaps, or a pint.” Since that was the point of this whole thing anyway: to make us feel connected when we are in the lonely metaphorical spaces of our minds.
fuckin_hippie: Mikel, I touched your sweaty back at a Philly show before. I just wanted to let you know.
qe132: Hey guys, congratulations on releasing two new albums today! I think it’s awesome you released 2 albums that sound quite a bit different musically. Was either of the albums more challenging to make than the other?
By the way, you guys played an AWESOME show at the Troubadour last month and I’m fortunate to have been there. One Time Thing stuck with me after the show. Can’t wait to see you again in the future when the US tour happens!
Mikel: They were different kinds of challenges. Dope Machines took a year to produce. There’s so much detail, so many scored sections that are distinct from one another — it was like creating an electronic symphony or something.
Songs of God and Whiskey was three weeks in a studio on a hill, plug in the mic’s and just WAAAAAAAIL!
lethalweapon5: You guys have a lot of fun on stage together, how much do you guys hangout when you’re not working on the music?
Mikel: We hang out a lot on tour since the tour bus is basically a huge mobile apartment. We always joke that we’ve seen more of the world together than with our families. We’ll take day trips sometimes to museums or shops or take our crew to dinner or go camping or something.. You get to know people very well that way and I think it’s fair to say that we appreciate one another’s company and generally have a good time.
pinklady0426: Hi! I love you guys and you are my ultimate favorite band. I listen to your music everyday and your music picks me up. I’m dying to know any upcoming tour dates back to Milwaukee? I would love to know!!
Mikel: Yes. and thanks.
Snoopy_Hates_Germans: Love the songs “This Losing,” “All I Ever Wanted” and “Innocence” – me and my mates often cover them when we play sets (rare as that is).
One thing I’ve noticed is that live or “session” versions of your songs (Disney Concert Hall notably) often have noticeably different lyrics throughout. Do you actively “rewrite” all your songs whenever you think you have a better lyric, are these instances of “demo” lyrics being substituted, or what exactly is going on there?
p.s. just ordered the vinyl+double album set. Can’t wait to hear all the new material.
Mikel: I’m always re-writing lyrics: sometimes to improve them, sometimes I’m trying to make the song work in a different context or just feel new to me. Sometimes we do it together as a joke — making silly lyrics for songs or whatever: “Something New” becomes “Something Jew” et cetera.
“and the funny thing is you have no friends…”
“like fuckin’ steve mcqueen…”
I can’t say most of them because people would be offended. But we love those people. Which is why we offend them. Because it’s funny.
highonthelemontree: Was she really uptight for a Mexican girl?
akav8r: Saw you guys in Anchorage a few years back. Got a life long fan after that one.
Mikel: That show was one of my favorites. I went out into the crowd during a song and some huge Alaskan bro fuckin dead-lifted me off the ground, one foot in each hand and lifted me over his head. Some cornfed motherfuckers in Alaska…
capnhayden: I have a tattoo of Steven’s bird on my wrist. Am I more likely to get a high-five from you guys at the next show I go to?
Steven: Wow, awesome! Yes, I would love to see it. I’ve never designed a tattoo before, so I think this is a first for me. Thank you! – steven
MikePinkney: Who would you say your biggest influences are? Love your music too! I was hooked since I heard ‘All I ever wanted’
Mikel: Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, The Cure, The Smiths, Paul Simon, Prince, Philip Roth, James Murphy, Milan Kundera and Heisenberg
jcstoller: Hi Steven, I’m really enjoying Songs of God and Whisky and DM is growing on me. ;) Thank you so very much for all that you do. – Julie
Steven: Thank you Julie!
After patiently answering questions for about 2 hours Mikel closed the AMA.
Mikel: OK Reddit we have to go do things in the three dimensional world now. We hope you have a lovely day.
see you down the road