Web Exclusive: A Conversation with Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge

June 25, 2008

Tom DeLonge delighted you for a decade with adolescent pop-punk romps before Blink-182’s heartbreaking dissolution in 2005. He then confused you with grandiose statements about his new creation, which ultimately became ANGELS & AIRWAVES, an arena-destined collective involving former members of Rocket From The Crypt, Box Car Racer and 30 Seconds To Mars. While the band recorded their first album, We Don’t Need To Whisper, they had friend Mark Eaton filming the sessions for what would become a feature-length documentary. Start The Machine is that very documentary, released onto DVD last week. While it certainly chronicles those sessions well with a unique aesthetic and in-depth Q&As featuring the band members, it also quizzes DeLonge a bit about Blink’s breakup and the frontman’s own drug addictions. Brian Shultz spoke with DeLonge last week to talk about the DVD as well as DeLonge’s limitless ambitions and those (very public) personal wars.

Since the recording of your first album was filmed, I'm guessing you had intentions to release a documentary from the outset of the band's formation?
Yeah, we had intentions to do a documentary on the making of the album. What happened was, along the making of the record, it turned into a much larger story where, oddly enough, I was really into this story of trying to change the world as someone sees it through their own perspective and doing the story and coming up with it and making the record. I kind of went through that exact same situation myself with...[sighs]...drug addiction and losing friends and starting up a whole new life. For the documentary of making a record, it was basically catapulted into much more of an odyssey of a story.

It was done by one of my closest friends, Mark Eaton. He was someone that we all grew up with and we were all very comfortable to have him around just film everything. We just said, "Make it true. Make it real." I had nothing to do with it. I didn't even "OK" an edit of it. So it's not like...[I'm] trying to make myself look bad or good or whatever. It was finished without any kind of oversight from the band at all.

In the initial stages of the band's formation, you said how you wanted to change how music was pushed and made and marketed. Now, with the I-Empire film and such, it seems like you're doing that. Did part of the inspiration come from the fact that the music industry is in such terrible shape?
Yeah. I came from a successful band and trying to redo it all over again with a brand new band in an industry that was collapsing, I knew that I wanted to be more ambitous than I've ever been. So, I was thinking, How am I gonna do this with no support...when the record labels have nothing to offer...? So I did a couple things; first was the documentary. We always wanted it to be well-made, but I just explained what happened with that, and that thing grew and grew. Then we started the motion picture for I-Empire, and we're pretty much almost finished filming that and we're in the editing process; there's a few more things to film. And I started creating a thing called Modlife ([as in] modern). Modlife is an operating system that lets a band become more creative, or lets any kind of artist become more creative with their art using all these digital tools that are in one package that allow [them] to basically become [their] own broadcasting network with films, pay-per-view, live broadcasts and selling [their] own album or [their] own movies. So we started that two and a half years ago and we just finished it. It's transferring over to the main serving platform tomorrow actually, and starting next week it's open for business-and Modlife...we expect it to be one of the most exciting things that could happen on the Internet over the next few years.

So when I said I wanted to come out and change all these things and revolution[ize] all these things, people were laughing and they were like, "What the fuck are you talking about?" They didn't know. I couldn't talk about Modlife at the time. Everyone thought I was high and I was never gonna make a movie, but that actually happened. [Laughs.] I'm trying to come through with all my big statements that I said I was gonna do these things. And I understand. It's been hard. I would've laughed like everyone else, I guess. I'm really excited to be able to pull through with all these things.



From your description of Modlife, it sounds like it could be either a recording software or social network... Is it a little bit of both, or...?
An operating system. It's an Internet-based operating system that's built upon a social network-or vice versa, a social network built upon an operating system. In the same way that you would sign up and get a page on MySpace, you would sign up on Modlife and get a page. If you're using the professional set of tools on Modlife, you have to deal with our company. But as a registered user, to interact with the Modlife platforms of different bands or artists, you get your own page as well. But on your page, you'll be able to instant message, and video blog, video comment, video conference, all those types of things, but you won't be able to sell your own content as of right now. But you will be very soon. Modlife is basically a program that protects all your digital content and makes people pay to access it. It's... a digital platform to provide [a] digital business.

In the DVD, you do seem to sort of confirm that there was a hint of facetiousness behind all the hype you were raising for the band. Is that true?
Absolutely. When I talk about Jesus coming down, writing the record or buying the record... To me it was funny. But there's a time where I don't even remember-I was so hopped up on narcotics that entire time-that sometimes I would be speaking with a huge amount of passion and then I would say something. I really envisioned, and was so passionate about, this band giving you some of the same feelings you would have if you were to be in a religious kind of environment where you would feel light and warmth and you would feel good and you would have moments of epiphany. I really envisioned my band supplying some of the ingredients for people to have those type of moments, that's what this band is all about--to try to be a conduit for people to feel good and to interact with each other or with like-minded people that wanted to see the world differently. It was a lot to say and it was a lot to say when you're on drugs, but it was a lot for people to soak in after I was in Blink for 10 years talking about fucking dogs and stuff [Laughs.] Which is still a major part of who I am. I still am the same guy; I'm just showing a different side of myself that's existed this entire time. But now, I get to be in a band where it's more serious rather than more joking.



You also explain in the DVD that all the war imagery is a metaphor for your personal war, but where does all the space imagery come from?
That was meant to resemble, you know, space. People talk about it being this infinite distance, like you cannot define how far it goes. It goes on forever and ever and ever. Well, if that's true, if there is no beginning and no end of space, that means there's no beginning and no end of the possibilities that are out there-and that's a big thing to wrap your head around-but if space is truly infinite, then there's infinite possibility. And that's where scientists start to believe that everything and anything is happening at this exact same moment somewhere in the universe. To me, that's amazing. That's an optimistic approach to what can happen in life.

The idea of juxtaposing war and space was really about infinite hope and [overcoming] your own personal battles. I used World War II imagery because World War II was the last battle we were in that we actually really knew what we were really fighting for. It was like a justified war. Since then it's all been plagued in controversy and nothing's been justified.

The DVD also talks about your substance addiction a little bit, but it doesn't seem to go into too much detail. When did the problems first arise?
Well, my back issues have been around since I was a teenager; [in] my early 20s it just got worse and worse. When I was around 24 or 25, it really started handicapping my everyday functioning. [At] 25, 26 is really where it was [an] ungodly amount of pain, [so] I went to the doctor and he gave me my first bottle of a hundred Vicodin. A hundred. Not even, like, five. Not like when you get surgery or something [like getting] some teeth pulled out and you'll be better in a couple days. What they basically know is the pain's not gonna go away, so here's a bunch of pills because you're gonna be on them for quite a while [laughs]. After a while, narcotics--they wear down, so you gotta keep upping the dosage. Where half a pill would affect you for eight hours, now you're taking 10 every eight hours. Ten narcos...I wouldn't even let myself go to OxyContin, but that's where I should've been...at that level. I was too scared to take one more jump.

So those problems were occurring as recently as 2005, right?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. [Though] it all started in 2000, 2001.

Was it just narcotics?
Yeah, yeah. Which is just pills. Pills, pills, pills.

How did you clean up?
Just decided I didn't want to do it anymore. I called up the doctors and said, "Don't ever give this to me again," and I just sat in a room in my house and twisted and turned a few weeks, just like that movie The Basketball Diaries.

So you basically quit cold turkey?
Yeah, completely cold turkey. It was not very fun.

How did you spend the time?
The only thing that would get rid of certain withdrawals [was] to go on a jog. [You have] no energy because your body collapses because you basically haven't gotten real sleep or real rest in years, so the only way I could actually stop the shakes would be to get natural endorphins going because your natural endorphins [are] like a biological narcotic. It kinda would plug those symptoms--at least for a little bit. I'd go take a jog and I'd come back and just lay in my driveway for hours and hours at night, looking at the stars [and] listening to the Police or something. "Walking On The Moon." [Laughs.] And I would just stare up into space.

For the first week, I couldn't really get out of bed. About seven days into it is when I started going out at night and just laying in my front driveway all night long. I didn't sleep solidly. I didn't sleep for about six days. That was scary. I felt like a Navy SEAL, but, like, a really tortured one.



Do you still believe Angels & Airwaves will one day be the biggest band in the world?
I absolutely think that we have all the potential in the world to be [at] that kind of caliber. I think that I have a lot more I need to get better at. I have categories in my head of things I need to get better at doing. But as far as a band who create music that appeals to a universal kind of demographic... I think that we're one of the only ones out there because we're not just straight rock, or we're not just straight industrial, or goth, or hip-hop. We kinda symbolize a classic style of songwriting that's been around for the past 30-some years...slow songs, heavy songs, fast songs, whatever-it's all about love. I think that's a very universal thing. There's not very many bands that do that. I can't even count them on one hand.

Also the fact that we're doing things like the movie... The motion picture, no one's done that since...shit, I guess U2 did Rattle And Hum but even that wasn't like this because that was more of a documentary. I think that we have every bit of potential in the world to be at the height of what's happening in the music scene.

Hypothetical situation: Mark and Travis call you and tell you they want to do a reunion tour with most of the profits going to charitable organizations to raise awareness and fund medical research towards breast cancer [Ed. note: Several years ago, Tom, who has lost relatives to breast cancer, donated a plaster cast of his wife's breasts for a cancer charity.] They pick out a time in Angels & Airwaves' schedule when the band aren’t recording and they're not on tour. What do you tell them?
I would say no...because I can do that with Angels & Airwaves. We set up Angels & Airwaves--we were trying to set up a charity with it, and it ended up becoming extremely difficult to set up your own charity, so we were gonna attach ourselves to another one where the money can go where you want it to go. So we have really high hopes of doing that ourselves, anyway.

And I think the question is better served, like, is there anything, whether it be charity or money or whatever... Is there anything out there that can cause you to want to do a tour with Blink? And no. I mean, there really isn't, other than memories. I have some good memories, but even to this day, there's problems there. To this day, there's bitterness and fear... And it's not from my side of the fence. I've really moved on and [am] happy where I'm at. There's a lot going on that really, really messed up all those relationships. I hope that one day that it'll be sorted out, but...

I can't think about playing a song like "What’s My Age Again?" or "All The Small Things" when I play a song like "The Adventure." As an artist, I've never felt music that was so completely straight from my heart before. And once I actually did that, just can't go back. Because in Blink... We never really did music I could say was coming directly from my heart. I thought so at the time, but it wasn't until I was really depressed and trying to rebuild my life that I really touched that for the first time.

Do you ever see those things dissipating? The fear, the bitterness?
Yeah, I do. I think it's already going that direction. I think over time... I don't know. I've never had grudges in my life. Well, that's not true. Maybe for a little bit. It just takes too much energy to try and constantly be angry about something. I can't imagine how other people can do that. But some people can, I guess. But yeah, I think it'll dissipate. alt

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