In their first year as a traveling band, the Airborne Toxic Event played more than 200 shows. During one stint in November, 2008, they played 30 shows in 30 days in the United Kingdom, managing to visit just about every corner of the England, Wales and Scotland—even tiny towns like Stoke-on-Trent, Yeovil, Barrow-in-Furnace and Fife—places that most British bands don’t go. Word of their raucous show spread, and when the record came out in the UK in February 2009, it debuted in the top 40 of the UK pop charts.
This was an unheard-of feat for a band that was self-releasing a record in the UK (since Majordomo didn’t have a UK division). Every single show of its follow-up UK tour in the spring was sold out. (As were future shows: one infamous London show in a 900-capacity venue sold out in 15 minutes). Back in the United States, the single “Sometime Around Midnight” continued to climb the radio charts, eventually cracking the top five. It was the first time a band on an independent label had done so in 20 years.
Around the same time, the song was named the number-one Alternative song of the year by iTunes (a list that included Band of Horses, Glasvegas, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend and Coldplay). This was followed by a notorious appearance on David Letterman (the band had previously played Conan O’Brien), featuring their friends the Calder Quartet and one flabbergasted outburst by the usually indifferent David Letterman.
Throughout the spring, as records sold out in stores in the States and demand grew overseas, the band was pursued by major labels, but it wasn’t until Island-Def Jam offered the band the right deal (including the prerequisite that they remain partners with Majordomo and the record would not be changed) that they accepted. It was a unique record deal in the modern music industry, allowing the largest record label in the world to put out what is essentially a home recording.
Such things happen every now and then. An idea takes hold, or a piece of music strikes a resonant chord and suddenly it seems the world is infinite, that something real can exist among the mindnumbing fray.
The Airborne Toxic Event are neither icons, nor saviors (they would say “there’s nothing to save, it saved us,”), nor pop stars, nor disinterested hipsters… They’re just a group of friends traveling from place to place, playing oddly redemptive songs, written during some oddly painful times.
Maybe the world is changing around them. Or maybe nothing ever changes and all anybody ever wanted was to hear was an honest song.