In recent years, Tom DeLonge’s been known more for his work studying UFOs than as a rockstar. Founding the government-recognised organisation To the Stars… Academy of Arts & Sciences – a company that both investigates, and creates entertainment (like films and books), about the existence of aliens – in 2017, he’s become a key player in the study of unidentified aerial phenomena. But that’s not to say the Blink-182 co-founder has pressed pause on his musical career.
Returning to music in 2019, when Angels & Airwaves dropped the guitar-driven thrash of ‘Rebel Girl’, in September their sixth album ‘LIFEFORMS’ will finally be released.
Despite the two seemingly different sides to DeLonge’s career, this album is part of an ongoing discussion he’s trying to have about consciousness and the world we live in. “Basically, it’s bigger than you and I,” he tells NME. “It’s always been about making an emotional, spiritual statement that people can interact with and learn from.”
It’s why it was so important for ‘LIFEFORMS’, the band’s first record in seven years, to be worthy of people’s attention. “You’re trying to craft something special. It’s about creating a hallmark for where you are in your career.”
DeLonge’s never been one for standing still, and already the songs released from this project are a big step away from the slow-burning space prog of previous Angels & Airwaves records. ‘Euphoria’ is reminiscent of the urgent, emo punk of Box Car Racer (a project he created with fellow Blink-182 member Travis Barker), while ‘Restless Souls’ is a boisterous stadium rock anthem. According to DeLonge, “all the songs are radically different but it’s a culmination of all the different things I’ve been doing musically over my career.”
For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, DeLonge joins us from his car on the Californian coast to discuss Angels & Airwaves’ sixth album ‘LIFEFORMS’, his upcoming directorial debut Monsters of California and a possible Box Car Racer reunion. Here’s what we learned.
‘LIFEFORMS’ is a return to DeLonge’s punk roots
When DeLonge started making ‘LIFEFORMS’, he asked himself where can Angels & Airwaves go next? “We started out doing soaring, atmospheric rock, so it made sense for us to go more raw and punk, with more guitars.” That pushback against electronics and samples is why he thinks guitar music is becoming popular again.
“Computers have made everything so easy,” he say, but argues that with this ease you lose the rebellion and emotional connection that guitars naturally have. Instead of telling a story, songs are built around a catchy hook, “which is fun when you’re dancing with your friends at a bar, but sometimes you want something to hit you the way punk bands hit us when we were younger.”
Currently there’s a massive pop-punk resurgence going on, driven by artists like Tyler Posey and Machine Gun Kelly; but despite the genre’s revival, DeLonge says he is “yet to hear someone doing something new with the genre”.
“It’s rad if someone can sound exactly like Bad Religion, but we’ve already got Bad Religion…I’m always thinking about how we can take punk music and push it further”.
On ‘LIFEFORMS’ he gets political
While ‘LIFEFORMS’ covers a lot of ground, from toxic masculinity to consciousness, DeLonge explains that on a fundamental level the record is about “the relationships one has with himself, with God, with the person they love and with somebody they disagreed with.”
But with lyrics like “when we feel like the world’s caving in, we will never give in” on recent single ‘Restless Souls’, and with another track named ‘No More Guns’, ‘LIFEFORMS’ does see him getting political.
“I usually stay pretty far away from that [being political]; but how do you truthfully and authentically make art if you’re not really discussing what’s in your head?” he says.
“There’s gun violence in Chicago where all these black families are just dealing with an atrocious environment that’s hard to raise kids and that’s hard to live in…and then there’s all these people in America obsessed with guns saying ‘don’t take away my rights’ and it’s so fucking stupid.”
He’s been talking to Travis about a Box Car Racer tour
Box Car Racer haven’t played a show since 2002, with the band disbanding in 2003 to work on what would become Blink-182’s self-titled record. It’s become common knowledge that DeLonge and Barker are sitting on at least one unreleased Box Car Racer song but despite the 20th anniversary of their self-titled album coming up next year, they’ve “never really talked about doing another album”.
“But we have talked about releasing that one song, as well as what it would be like to play shows, but everyone’s so busy! It’s just how do you do that? Travis has a million things going on, I have a million things going on.”
DeLonge stresses that it’s not that they don’t want to do it, they’re just dealing with contrasting schedules. “It’s just not the priority. It’s an awesome, nostalgic thing but nostalgic things don’t run your life, you have to fit them in.“
His directorial debut is a “coming of age film with dick jokes”
Not a fan of TV, DeLonge has always wanted to make big feature films. He helped produce 2011’s LOVE (an art house film to accompany the Angels & Airwaves album of the same name) but the upcoming Monsters of California, a sci-fi adventure film, will be his directorial debut.
“When I started Angels, I was telling people how we were going to put out books and make movies and everyone said ‘you’re high, you’re crazy and you’re chasing aliens!’ but I’m just doing the stuff I said I was going to do. Monsters of California is the beginning of the mainstream version of what I wanted to do.”
And what will his upcoming film be like? Well, in DeLonge’s own words it’s what would happen “if Spielberg went back and made an r-rated indie paranormal film. It’s a John Hughes coming of age film with dick jokes.”
And he has plenty more films planned
While DeLonge is a dab hand at performing on stage, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be making the switch to the big screen anytime soon. “I have no desire to be on camera, but I like being behind it, creating an experience for somebody else,” he explains. And it turns out Monsters of California isn’t the only cinematic experience he has planned.
Not content with releasing one film, DeLonge explains that he’s got bountiful ideas for further flicks. “I have scripts for another five films in the works. And those ones are much more ambitious. Going forward, my goal is to make big, fun, crazy and thoughtful movies.”
‘LIFEFORMS’ is out September 24