Songwriter Mikel Jollett told This is Fake DIY about this song: "It's very straightforward – that all actually happened. In fact, everything on the record actually happened. I ran into my ex-girlfriend. That song just describes the night. The whole band was there that night."
In America this was named by iTunes as their #1 Alternative Rock Song of 2008.
Unusually for a hit song, this does not have a chorus. "Bohemian Rhapsody
" is possibly the best example of a successful record without a chorus.
The Airborne Toxic Event album was conceived as a novel until songwriter Mikel Jollett realized his writing went better with music. He then set out to recruit a band, which became singer and guitarist Mikel Jollett, guitarist and keyboardist Steven Chen, bassist Noah Harmon, drummer Daren Taylor and keyboardist and violist Anna Bulbrook. The later is a classically trained violinist, who was a resident advisor at Columbia University. Among her charges was Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig.
The Airborne Toxic Event took their name from the post-modern writer Don DeLillo's novel White Noise, which won the National Book Award in 1985. In the story the main character is exposed to an enormous chemical explosion, dubbed "the Airborne Toxic Event," and is forced to confront his fear of death.
MishMashMagazine asked Jollett if when he wrote this song he thought it would become the big smash hit that it did. He replied: "No, I certainly did not. Everything that happened in the song actually happened. I remember writing the song and just locking myself in my room for three days and writing the lyrics and arranging the parts and was just totally consumed by it. I remember finishing it and just thinking 'Holy s--t,' (laughs) but I honestly never expected other people to hear it."
This song would be a bright spot during a dark period for Jollett. He explained: "I had a really bad week. So I was always staying home, working on a novel, which was tedious, and my mom got cancer, my girlfriend and I broke up, and I got diagnosed with this disease that can make you lose your hair or make your skin look patchy, and apparently the condition is made worse by smoking, and I smoked two packs a day. Oh yeah, I got pneumonia, too. So, yes, it was a rough week."
"We actually didn't choose it as a single – it was kind of chosen for us," Jollett explained in an Unrescuable Schizo
blog interview. "I brought it to the band, we started playing it and we recorded it. And then people just started sharing it on the web; it got posted on blogs and played on local radio stations. We didn't have a record label at the time. We didn't have a manager. It was just the five of us, and the radio station in town called me up and said, 'We're gonna start playing this song.' It was [LA alt-rock station] KROQ. I was like, Really? [laughs]."