The Airborne Toxic Event frontman Mikel Jollett hasn’t been slacking during the five years since the group’s last album.
Jollett — who also serves as a journalist and commentator with a variety of outlets — spent the time writing a revealing and personal memoir Hollywood Park; Publishing May 26, it offers an in-depth examination about climbing out of a youth spent partly in the Synanon cult and in an orphanage, as well as his complex relationship with his father, whose 2015 death inspired the project. On May 22, Jollett and TATE also created a companion album of the same name, whose title track is premiering exclusively below.
“I actually started writing the songs first, after my dad died,” Jollett tells Billboard. “I had no intention of really doing anything in particular; I was writing songs because I was sad my dad died, and I played them for the band and sort of talked them through ’em. When I knew I was going to write the book, we kind of came to the conclusion we wanted to make a concept record and wanted it to be the soundtrack to the book I was writing. Every song on the record is a scene from the book; The different characters in the book are given voice in the songs.”
In mixing the two projects, Jollett felt a kindred spirit to Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and albums such as The Wall and The Final Cut, which were inspired by the death of his father during World War II. “You look at those and they’re this weaving together of public, historical anguish and then private, psychological triumph,” Jollett notes. “He’s writing about an adult man living through childhood trauma.
“That’s what I was seeking on this record — in my case it was Vietnam (his father was a veteran), heroin addiction, incarceration, the cult, all the things that happened when I was a kid and the fallout from that in my adult relationships — and eventually the new conclusions I came to about family and about my role after my dad’s death.”
In song, meanwhile, “Hollywood Park” is a combination theme song and overture for both the album and book. It’s named for the now closed race track in Inglewood, Calif., a “safe place” where Jollett’s father took his two sons for entertainment and bonding.
“It’s a place he took his boys,” Jollett recalls. “He taught us about horse racing; I learned fractions at Hollywood Park before I did in school. And we also talked about stuff. We had chats. It was where he imparted wisdom. It was the place we went together and hung out. Then when he died it became a symbol for, like, family, a place where you felt OK. So I always knew I was going to call the book and the record Hollywood Park.”
Jollett does not consider the two projects to have been particularly cathartic. “I just wanted to write a good book, you know? It wasn’t so much a therapeutic process,” he says. But he says the memoir and songs did help him achieve a better understanding of his family, and the concept of marriage and fatherhood he holds now. “It’s a big question,” Jollett acknowledges. “My father and I related in different ways through the years…and for a long time I was baffled by what my family was. In Synanon we weren’t even allowed to have parents; We were told we were society’s children. But he led me as best as he could. I learned to accept that and, eventually, how alike we actually were. But there’s been a lot to experience and consider.”
Hollywood Park is coming out into an uncertain market next month. But Jollett opines that it might make space for a personal and certainly unique kind of enterprise. “Y’know, when I sat down with the band to talk about it,” Jollett says, “they were all like, ‘Fuck the market! Fuck trying to write a hit! Fuck all that! Let’s do something we love, for the reason we love it, like the music we grew up on.’ We grew upon Radiohead and the Pixies and the Cure and the Smiths and Joy Division and New Order, and later all the great indie rock bands. So the idea was, ‘Let’s just do something for the reasons we love rock n’ roll’ and let people decide for themselves if they like it.”