12 years ago, Tom DeLonge quit one of the biggest bands in the world to create an art project to tell stories through multiple formats. He has since executively-produced Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigations for The History Channel, which airs at the end of May. He co-founded a company, To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, which is up and running, and even works with US government officials with a view to “changing the world” through science, aerospace and entertainment. There have been films, novels, comics, and there’s even a kids’ TV show on the way. As well as all of that, Angels & Airwaves are back with new music and their first tour in seven years. And that’s just the start.
A lot of artists dabble in different mediums, but DeLonge dives in head-first. We caught up with the former Blink-182 frontman to find out how he’s keeping his head above the water.
NME: It seems like an exciting time to be a fan of Angels & Airwaves?
“Oh my gosh, yeah. We have something explosive happening. I’m so excited. I’m honoured people care.”
What inspired your new song, ‘Rebel Girl’?
“I really wanted to channel my love of new wave music. I am a child of the ’80s, I grew up on Joy Division, New Order and The Cure. Mowing my lawn in San Diego as a seventh grader, listening to Depeche Mode records over and over again, that was my life. I built ‘Rebel Girl’ like a very simple punk band that had just discovered electronics.”
Lyrically, what story did you want to tell?
“When people fall in love, they have a tendency to have a lot of heartbreak. It could be from coming out of a prior relationship, it could be from being vulnerable and giving your heart to somebody else, it could be because it’s not working out, even though you truly love each other. What this song is really saying is, ‘Do you want to go back to the point where all of this started?’ and the answer is: ‘Even with the heartbreak, the torture, the vulnerability, I would do it all over the exact same way because love is that important.’”
It feels like a return to your roots, without neglecting any of the journey that you’ve been on.
“You’re going to love the next song then, it’s really in-your-face. In many ways, what Angels is doing on this next record is kinda what my vision for where I wanted Blink to go in the future was. Not that it was created yet, but I started Blink so I had a vision in my head for what it should be in the beginning and then where it should go. But I don’t own the band. I have partners and everyone’s voice was equal. It was like three guys trying to drive the car at the same time and that’s what made it great.”
“What Angels is doing on this next record is kinda what my vision for where I wanted Blink to go in the future was”
“What people will see on this next record is a return to my roots, but doing it in a progressive way. It’s going to have angst, loud guitars and electronic elements. It’s going to have soaring parts and explosive moments that make you wanna break something. Angels was always after that but we were really in a whole different ball game once IIan [Rubin] joined the band. He plays in Nine Inch Nails as well, and he’s a really interesting guy. He’s an infinitely better guitar player than I am. He’s a drummer that can play as well as Travis Barker, and that’s saying a lot ‘cos I think Travis is the best in the world. He plays piano better than anyone I’ve ever seen. And then on top of that, he knows how to build electronic elements the same way Trent Reznor or Radiohead does but his favourite bands in the world are Queen, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. You bring all that to my melodic sensibility and my simplicity and holy shit, now this band can compete on the biggest levels.”
And you always wanted that, right?
“I did. I don’t think we had that ability years ago, but we have it now. You need a songwriting partner, someone to argue with and fight over. Ilan and I figured that out on our last record ‘The Dream Walker’. That was really difficult but right at the end, we figured out how to communicate and things clicked magically. Now we work together so well. It’s an explosive combination.”
So, how much new music are you sitting on?
“I have a lot of music. We started this album nine months ago and I’ve been working on it piece by piece. We have about half the record laid out right now and then I’ll be going into production of the movie that goes with the album. Then when I come back, I’ll finish the other half of the record, and the movie and the album will come out together.
Quite different from the methods of the past, then?
“Yeah, you’ve got bands like Muse who put out a song a month for like a year, which was really cool and that’s something we talked about but, for us, this is a 24 month plan. We launch a song, then the tour, then the movie and the album, then another, bigger tour. Then all the film projects from the past five years will come to life. That’ll include multiple TV series, multiple films and a bunch of stuff people haven’t even seen. It’ll also include the UFO videos that I brought out with The New York Times that were declassified. This is what I’ve been building over the last 10 years.”
You’ve got to have faith in people to stay invested? There’s a lot of waiting for the pieces to come together.
“I am not somebody that will ever choose the easy way. I am very different. I will never be complacent and I will never be jaded with my art. I will never do something for money or for quick gratification or fame. I will do things that are ambitious and difficult, that can hopefully inspire people to think better about themselves and the world that they live in. That’s really what I’m after. If that takes a decade, I will do it.”
“12 years ago I told people I was going to be doing books, movies, albums altogether as an art project with Angels & Airwaves. No one believed me“
“One of the things I’m really proud of is, 12 years ago I told people I was going to be doing books, movies, albums altogether as an art project with Angels & Airwaves. No one believed me. People were really mad that I had creative differences with Blink. People didn’t understand who I was or what I’m after, because I’m not after the fame. I couldn’t care less about people clapping for me. I want people to like what I do but I don’t do it for gratification or for people chanting my band name. That feeling is amazing, trust me, you get the goosebumps, you get the adrenaline and you feel like a God on stage but that doesn’t move me spiritually.”
“And so here I am, 12 years later, doing everything I said I would do. People are finally realising I do what I say I’m going to do. I think people are finally respecting my creative process and my creative ambitions. I don’t think everyone likes what I do by any means, but I do think people respect artists who really put their heart out there. And I want to be one of them.”
Is it tough balancing all these different projects? Because they don’t seem like complimentary worlds…
“It is tough. You have to have a really, really long trajectory. You have to have patience, you have to have endurance. It’s taken so long and it’s so hard but I’ve finally got it all up and running.”
And what do you want people to take away from the project as a whole?
“When you listen to Angels & Airwaves, everything is very inspirational. A lot of our songs are about love but the totality of what we’ve got is about inner awareness, the evolution of your spirit and our view of human beings. We want to get to the core of why you act the way you do, what your insecurities are, why certain things are a trigger or who you blame for everything. Those questions are things you have to overcome as a soul. Angels & Airwaves is a vehicle to explore those things. Hopefully it raises consciousness in someway.”
Do you feel like you’ve still got something to prove?
“Most artists never express themselves enough to walk away and say ‘I finally feel validated for what I did’. As soon as you finish something, you realise you could have done better. ‘Let me try it one more time.’ That’s an insecurity that lives within each creative. Our purpose was to live a pretty fucked-up life with a troubled beginning but we were determined to let other people know there was a way out. That’s why people cling to rock ‘n’ roll, because it’s a truth. Rock ‘n’ roll is built on the truth of what people have experienced and what they want to project. That’s why the ’60s were so important. It really showed a face when the world needed it to. I like to carry that torch as best I can.”
The other day you gave a shout out to the new Blink-182 song and the idea that punk rock was seeping through. You grew up on punk-rock, you then helped shape punk-rock: how do you feel about that world at the moment?
“People have to lose this idea that punk sounds a certain way. People get it confused with what it’s supposed to be. Punk-rock was a point of view, it was never a sound of view. The music was just a vehicle to share that point of view with other people. I know those bands are still here, they still have that point of view and those messages are still seeping through.
“I’m excited for my brothers in Blink to evolve, do what they want to do and create art the way they want to create it. And I’m not in the way of that, in any way, shape or form. I completely support them. The better they do, the better it is for all of us. People can see the creative differences when they listen to the Blink stuff and they listen to what I’m doing with Angels & Airwaves. They can start to understand why I didn’t fit as well with the things they want to do. I just have a lot to say. I have a lot of emotions I want to get out. It’s really hard for me to do that in that specific arrangement but it doesn’t mean I don’t care about them, love them and want them to succeed. It just means I want my own canvas to paint on. There’s something that’s burning inside of me that’s so big, I’m going to explode if I don’t get it out.”
‘Rebel Girl’ is out now on Rise Records.