Tom DeLonge: “Every Artist Is Insecure About What They’re Creating”
Tom DeLonge never meant for Angels & Airwaves to take such an extended break from touring. Although the trio – completed by guitarist David Kennedy and drummer Ilan Rubin – haven’t played a show since 2012, Tom’s spent the last four years trying to get back on the road. There was just one problem: he’s been too damn busy.
Even now, the former blink-182 frontman is taking on more jobs than anyone else could even think about being able to handle, simultaneously tackling a paranormal kids’ TV series called Strange Times, a six-part TV show titled Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation, and literally changing the planet with his company To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science.
Last month, though, the endlessly ambitious 43-year-old announced that he had also fully resurrected his beloved Angels & Airwaves – not only with an epic ’80s-inspired new single, Rebel Girl, released via Rise Records, but also a headline tour of the U.S. scheduled for September and October. Having teased that Rebel Girl will feature on an upcoming AVA album and feature film on top of that, it’s safe to say his workload isn’t decreasing anytime soon…
How are you feeling about the fan response to Rebel Girl so far, Tom?
“You know what, I was just explaining this to somebody: I kind of expected that the fanbase would like it, but that some people would think it was too commercial and some people would complain that it’s not blink (laughs), but what I didn’t expect was that it seemed like, across the board, people really, really like it – way more than I thought they would! And I think people are kind of really getting what I’m after. I grew up with punk rock music and new wave, and new wave was really a bunch of punk bands discovering electronics. And what happened over the years with the synth pop and alt.pop music that has come out, it doesn’t have that edge, it doesn’t have that simplicity, and it doesn’t have the ingredients that new wave music had – which was a lot more angst. I grew up listening to New Order and Depeche Mode and The Cure, so my stuff has always been written from the vantage point of growing up having listened to that. So I’m hoping that shows in the music, and I’m hoping that this song sticks out for that reason, because it’s a bit different to most synth pop that’s out there.”
When the band first started out you very much had a ‘no rules’ mindset. Has that carried on into Rebel Girl, too?
“Oh yeah! I think there’s a lot of people that aren’t familiar with the Angels & Airwaves discography, and when you really dig into all the records, we’ve got about 50 different styles (laughs), and we did that on purpose. You know, one of the issues I had as an artist is that I always wanted to be expressive, and I always wanted to be trying new things, and I wanted to be progressive. When I created Angels & Airwaves, right off the bat anything was open to discussion, and we’ve really tried to create a career for this band that left it open for us to do slow songs, fast songs, punk songs, electronic songs, synth pop songs… everything.”
You’ve always been driven by the art first and foremost, so what are you trying to get across with this song?
“Well, Angels & Airwaves build songs and music and albums based around large themes of human expression. And on this one, it’s going to be part of a motion picture and album combination – just like the Love album  – but it all centres around what’s out there, and that there’s so much more beyond the five senses that we always talk about, and different life forms that exist, and different ways of experiencing life and understanding that there’s so much more than just going to work from nine-to-five and going to a sports game on the weekends. There’s a magic in the way that the universe is built, and a lot of stuff that I’ve been doing with my company and everything on the side is about bringing all that stuff out. All the songs that go on it, and the movie that goes with it, will capitalise on, frankly, a bunch of information that I have that I’ve been amassing over the years working with people from the Central Intelligence Agency.”
So it was always the intention that, when AVA returned, it would be another huge concept and album-and-movie combo?
“Absolutely. This album is with a movie, and the movie – which I co-wrote – is going into production in July. There will be an album-movie combo, but much more commercial and much bigger in scope. It’ll dig into the fact that the universe is a little bit more tricky and unexplainable than we like to admit.”
In a teaser video for the film that was also released recently, you tell the camera: “I thought, ‘Fuck it, maybe now is the time to start playing music again for myself.’” Was the decision really that simple?
“Yeah, it kind of was in some respect. Music is my life and who I am, but I’m a lot more than that as well, and I got sidetracked starting my company because I had an opportunity. I actually created To The Stars as an entertainment company to create the multimedia parts of the Angels & Airwaves albums – it was to bill these movie projects that could be coupled with an album, so we could do these big art projects. One of those stories was about UFOs, and I was going to put out there some stuff that I knew had never been out there, and it would probably ruffle some feathers in a bad way in the U.S. government. I spent the greater part of a year working my way into those places within the U.S. government that manage that subject, making relationships and getting them to understand what I was doing so I wouldn’t get in their way. It’s not some big conspiracy, but it’s just a very difficult subject that they have to deal with, so I didn’t want to come out and create a bunch of uproar by putting out a hundred-million-dollar movie and scare a bunch of people that have hard jobs to do! So when that happened and I started these conversations, this movie and album combo came up when all that stuff started spiralling into something really big that wasn’t even a part of my initial plan. Yet it all tied up so perfectly, and it was so ambitious, that it just made sense. I said, ‘Holy shit, if I don’t jump in and do the music right now, I’ll be missing a massive opportunity to really tie everything that I’m passionate about together in one year.’ (Laughs) So that’s what pushed me to go, ‘Fuck, this is the time and this is the moment.’”
Do you remember that specific point where – pardon the pun – the stars aligned?
“Yeah, I do, and I also remember the conversation of me trying to say, ‘Well, why don’t we just do a little club tour and see how it goes? Maybe release a song…’ (Laughs) And the next thing you know, once you open the door a little bit, there’s about 50 other people who are like, ‘It could be this, and oh my God, people want that!’ And then I started seeing the light coming through the crack of the door and I can see that there is a really strong demand for Angels & Airwaves, because we haven’t toured in seven years. We’ve been putting out music – frankly some of the best music I’ve done in my life – but it’s still not totally real to a lot of people unless you’re out there communicating it, and you’re onstage delivering it with the emotion that you intend. So yeah, the stars did align.”
Were there any nerves in that? With how quickly the world moves now and the way music is consumed, did you worry you would come back and people’s attention might be elsewhere?
“You know, every artist – whether they admit it or not – feels that. ‘Does it still matter that I’m doing stuff? Do people like it? Am I just preaching to the converted here?’ That definitely goes through every artist’s head, because, at the end of the day, every artist is going to be insecure about what they’re creating and putting out for the world to judge! But that’s also the rush. I do remember having feelings like that, but at the end of the day, if you look at everything I’ve done in my life, it’s always been a big ‘fuck you’ to everyone (laughs). I do what I want, you know? I’m gonna do what I do, I’m gonna do what I want, and as long as it moves me and stirs my emotions, and as long as it can help people and the way they feel about themselves, then I’m gonna do it. I’m not gonna do something where I get locked into a situation where I can’t express myself or I can’t be ambitious, or I’m just gonna do the same thing every day because people liked what I did 20 years ago (laughs). That doesn’t serve me at all – it just kind of serves them. So I’ve got to create, and if I don’t I get really depressed.”
Has it been a learning curve for you to get to the point where you can just say, ‘This is the bigger picture and this is the message I want to get out to people’ – whether they like it or not?
“Yeah, it took a while. Breadcrumbs and baby steps got me here, and even when I left blink the first time, I dealt with a lot of losing my identity and people being angry with me. I had to rebuild who I am and what I want to do with my life, and the world didn’t support it, really. I understand why, but then over time, they started to understand who I am and why I need to do the things I do. They go, ‘Okay, this guy is really into these big concepts and this anthemic, triumphant music,’ and all that shit, and then they see me go and start my company and they go, ‘Holy shit, he’s really into space and these themes.’ (Laughs) And I think what’s happened now is people are realising that I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m going after, I know how to do it, and it’s going to be wonderful when it all comes together. I think there’s going to be people that are wanting blink, and I get it – trust me, I love blink and it’s given me everything in my life. And, you know, I plan on doing it in the future. But right now there’s just no way – I have way too much going on because Angels & Airwaves is a part of To The Stars, and that’s why it works.”
How are you feeling about getting back out on the road for the first time in seven years?
“Oh my God, it’s terrifying (laughs). But it’s also who I am. It’s one of those things, like, you haven’t ridden a bike in so many years, but then you get back on and you still know how to ride it – it’s built into you. But I’m excited, and I think that these shows are going to be very powerful, emotionally, for the audience and myself. I mean, Angels & Airwaves is always like that, and it’s a very emotional experience – and a very futuristic experience (laughs). It’s meant to be wild and fun and uplifting, and I’m really excited about being involved in that again.”
Did you miss being onstage, or have you been too busy to even think about that?
“With the touring, I’m so busy but I want to do it. I’ve been trying for, like, four years to get Angels to go on tour, but I never was able to because I was so involved with my company. I have multiple TV series and feature films and a whole science division, and an entire aerospace division; there’s a lot of sensitive contracts with the government and these really important things that I have to focus on and get them all up and running and be present for. I can’t just go off and start touring, and have no care in the world. When you’re in a band it monopolises your time, and you spend all year recording and then you’re touring after that, so it’s totally impossible for me to make it the only thing I do in life.
“My idea, now that the company is up and running, is to do what I originally said I was going to do 12 years ago. If you look up any of the Angels & Airwaves stuff from 12 years ago and all the press, I said, ‘I’m going to do art projects about the human race. It’s going to be multimedia, and there’s going to be movies and albums coming together to tell a story in different ways – but it’s all the same story, and it all centres around who we are, where we’re going and our belief systems about ourselves and each other.’ I said all this and everyone thought I was nuts (laughs) – and I don’t blame them. And then I was like, ‘I have 15 books coming out!’ and everyone goes, ‘Oh my God, he’s lost his mind!’ But I have a lot going on and I’m doing exactly what I said I would do. It’s very hard to do it, but it’s rewarding, and if you look back to 12 years ago, I’m doing exactly what I said I would. Here I am.”
You already had a lot on your plate before you released Rebel Girl and announced the U.S. tour. Do you not get completely overwhelmed by how busy you are?
“Oh, I completely do! A lot of times I question what it means to be happy – I go, ‘Be careful what you wish for – is it really making you happy that you have all these projects?’ I don’t want this much work, and I’m not trying to ask for it, but it’s kind of what’s needed to accomplish some of the things I’m doing. I mean, where I’m going to end up is doing one major motion picture and album a year, and then I would work the next year – that kind of thing.
“I’m supposed to be writing so many books and so many classified government contracts (laughs). I’m the chairman of the board at my company, so I’m involved in those things, but I’m kind of involved in a really cool way, where I go, ‘What’s going on?’ and I get to have those conversations and meet with our partners in the Department of Defense or wherever they’re at, and we get to deal with these subjects and what I’m passionate about, so I’m in the game – the biggest game on Earth! I get to do that, but I still get to be myself, and the company will be financing its own movies and all that stuff. So I get to spearhead an entire massive art piece, and that’s something no rock’n’roll band on Earth has ever been able to do. I mean, Pink Floyd did The Wall, which is the best thing ever, but it was kind of avant-garde and it was a one-off – they didn’t do it again. I’m trying to go, ‘Well, how do we get teams of artists working together on each one of these projects, and we do it over and over again in different ways?’”
Will Angels & Airwaves be taking all this to the UK at some point?
“Oh, absolutely. You’re gonna get plenty of us and me, and you’ll be doing another interview with me and going, ‘When will you stop?!’ (Laughs) Angels & Airwaves will be conquering the world for the next year straight!”
Read this next:
Tom DeLonge on the Angels & Airwaves comeback, lessons learned and discovering UFOs
In a recent interview, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer recalled the moment he found out John Frusciante was returning to the Chili Peppers.