Tom DeLonge on AVA return: “I know how to do things that seem impossible”
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve heard from Tom DeLonge. Just because he hasn’t been rocking your world doesn’t mean he’s been sitting around the house moping with a box of Kleenex after listening to the Mars rover’s final transmissions before its demise. As reported last week, Angels & Airwaves, the band DeLonge started upon leaving blink-182, are not only hitting the road but readying a new album for release this year.
But that’s not even half of the story. Last week’s release of the new single “Rebel Girl” heralded the news of a new AVA album, as well as a brief tour where six dates have already sold out entirely. While DeLonge has been ratcheting up activity on the rock front, he’s also got things happening with his space academy To The Stars, overseeing two TV shows (Unidentified on the History Channel and Strange Times on TBS), as well as the creation of a new feature-length movie.
His goal is to wrap all of these various creative avenues and conscientious obsessions into a unified whole intended to entertain and inform his audiences. Remember this was the guy who was changing the face of a lot of subculture, from skateboarding shoes to website design to the other aspects of culture a rock band wouldn’t dare infiltrate.
You created To The Stars, an art and sciences academy with respected experts in various fields. You’re currently guiding two television properties. You’ve also had your hands in comics, as well as educational literary forays. During that period in your life, were those avenues simply more inspiring to you than music? Or were there other factors at work?
TOM DELONGE: What was more inspiring than just music was communicating things about the human race that I thought deserved a lot more attention and depth than I could do with just traditional songs. When I started Angels & Airwaves 14 years ago, I told the world I was interested in Angels not being thought of as a band but as an art project that would take these themes and communicate them on transmedia. We’ll take a subject, put together an album, a movie, books and animation and all these different things depending on what it was.
I remembered at the time, no one believed me; they thought I was a bit crazy. But I was able to put out our first movie Love, and then I came out with this animated film with Poet Anderson. It did take me a few years to get it all off the ground. I think I did everything I said I would do, but I think this year is coming to fruition in such a beautiful way that I’m just excited by it all. I’ve been working so hard—like a decade—to get this to happen. It’s a good time for me.
What do you want to do as a musician that you haven’t done yet?
I want to be able to have a band and tie together all of these themes, all of these transmedia properties into one performance. That’s really where all this is going: We create all these intellectual properties that are tied together with the themes on the album and all the science and aerospace work we are doing, and it all comes to life during the show. It’s all experiential in the concourse before the show starts, so people get to come and immerse themselves into the subjects and some exotic studies that really redefines what they think is possible and what they think being human is all about. That’s really what ignites a spark in me.
With the release of the new track “Rebel Girl,” the announcement of the tour and the promise of a new album coming out this year, it feels like these are all steps toward some form of personal and/or artistic recalibration. Was it the right time, or was it the only time?
Good question. I’ve had such a crazy life pass that at this point in my career, I’ve got to be the only musician who started a band that were completely immersed in the idea of space and the infinite concepts of consciousness and what’s out there beyond our planet Earth. Then I stopped and created a company that dealt with the biggest themes and studies that deal with aerospace and science.
Now, I have a different view of myself and what I am capable of and what I’m meant to be doing. So the confidence level on my side of the fence as an artist is so much higher than it’s ever been in my career. I feel like I really know I’m capable of most anything I put my heart and mind to, and I know how to do things that seem impossible.
It was totally impossible for me to have a band that exploded: blink-182. That was completely impossible, then that happened. And it was completely impossible for me to start another band that were able to have any success at all after that. And then getting into all this work with the U.S. government. That was a nonstarter—and then that all worked!
I’m really just riding this fast-moving train, but I feel nothing can stop what I put my mind to. It shows in the record we’re making. I think I’m making the best music of my career—or arguably—and I know it’s going to be the best Angels & Airwaves record I’ve ever done. I think it’s just a great time to be in my shoes.
It seems like it would be hard for you to maintain some semblance of a normal work-life balance.
I get up in the morning, and I go over the recordings from the day before. Then I get on a secure email server, and I’m talking to a bunch of people from various institutions associated with various parts of the U.S. government. I go from there and get on a phone call about the tour. [Laughs.] And then I get on another conference call about a new book that we’re writing, and then I sit down and go over the script for the movie I am directing in July that I co-wrote.
It’s crazy, the amount of stuff that I do. It bounces around, but it’s very much like how my mind works. I have ADHD, and I never really knew that until a couple of years ago. Once I found that out, I was like, “Oh, my God, that makes perfect sense.” So I had the ability to juggle infinite projects and be hyper-hyperfocused on specific things like recording the record or doing the film stuff. I can really shut everything out.
What’s my life outside of that? There’s a lot of details that fall outside of the cracks. I’ll have no clue that I said yes to that stuff. And it could have been a few hours before, and I’ll say, “I never said that!” And my assistant’s like, “Yes, you did!” And I’m like, “Dammit! I totally forgot!”
It’s my Achilles’ heel and my greatest strength at the same time.
Not long after announcing the tour dates, six cities have already sold out. Are you feeling like you should backpedal about your stance on not wanting to go out on tour with AVA? That response has to be so fulfilling and humbling.
Oh, it totally is. After 20 years of touring, I absolutely felt that way. In blink, we had a process we stuck to where 99% of the time we played the same setlist for decades. We’d add one or two new songs in, but out of the 15 songs we’d play, 12 of them would never change. And that really wears on a guy like me where I want to create all the time.
When I got out of touring a couple of years ago, I honestly thought I’d never tour again. I honestly thought I was going to keep creating music like I had been doing and I would get into all this other stuff, especially To The Stars Academy. The stuff I’m involved with is insanely fascinating and fun and different and cool and crazy, but I thought touring wasn’t going to happen again. And then everything lined up for this year.
And then I realized, if I don’t go and do a tour right now, my fear is that the band will not be taken seriously, and it just looks like “Tom’s recording every once in a while.” And I really didn’t want that to happen. I looked at everything that was going on, and I said, “Well, this is a perfect time.” And have it come out at the exact same time where we can educate people to some really far-out things. It made all the sense in the world if I could bring Angels back, and if it worked, it would be the top of the sphere for everything I’m doing.
There’s a lot of talk surrounding the History Channel show you have, Unidentified. A lot of people don’t realize the material you’re discussing is pretty crucial and quite frightening.
It was actually leaked in the Wall Street Journal that I had been working with people in government. When John Podesta’s emails leaked, a bunch of people found conversations I was having with [him] when he was Obama’s senior counselor at the time. That’s when people found out for the first time that I had been doing these projects.
My work has been largely unnoticed with my team over the past year. It leaked last week where the U.S. Navy is putting together formal reporting processes through the Department Of Defense for UFOs. Well, To The Stars Academy is the one that set that up. It took us 12 months: We started doing all those briefings. We brought everyone over to Congress and all this different stuff.
What’s exciting about Unidentified is that people are going to see in the next couple of weeks what is really going on, the scope of [the] subject and the beginnings of the U.S. government organizing the power that they have to deal with this appropriately because this is a national security issue. And it does affect everyone.
I’m really excited for this to come out because it’s not a UFO-hunting show: It’s current military and government people who ran the programs that still hold security clearances and dealing with Congress. Very unlike anything people have seen before. But it’s going to come full circle: After these shows come out, you are going to see all of this stuff come to life in Angels & Airwaves performances. I’m really excited for it.
The response to “Rebel Girl” has been pretty positive, and obviously the ticket sales for the shows have people psyched up for you. What’s the plan for the full-length album?
The response to the song really overwhelmed me. This is me living back to New Order and ’80s new-wave music and pop punk blending together. It’s not like I was coming out with some John Lennon song that could change the world. [Laughs.] But you never know when these things happen. When you’re an artist, you always plan to do one thing and by accident, something explodes.
Angels & Airwaves are hitting the road this fall with dates and tickets available here.