Frontman Tom DeLonge dishes on everything from I-Empire, his past addiction to painkillers and religion, to Modlife, science fiction and Blink-182.
You’ve been playing music for a long time in the L.A. area. What are your favorite venues to play around here?
I don’t know, you know? Let me think. House of Blues venues are always really nice. Arenas are always nice. Some of my favorite shows have been at clubs and at giant places. I think, to be honest, some of my favorite places to play aren’t necessarily in Southern California. A lot of times it’s in places that don’t get a lot of shows and people are really passionate, you know? Maybe it’s in the Midwest, or in various places on Mars and in Europe. But here in Southern California, specifically, I think the shows have always been good anywhere, really. That’s not a good answer, but it’s a lot of words.
This is your first full U.S. tour since the Taking Back Sunday one, right?
Yeah, and that wasn’t even really a proper tour for us because we only played like an hour. This show is like an hour 30, an hour 40 minutes, and it’s much more involved and very thought out. We worked quite a long time on it. So this is pretty much our first real U.S. tour, I think.
You guys are going to be playing Warped Tour this summer. How does it feel to be going back down that route again?
Isn’t that weird? I know I haven’t been on Warped Tour in like a decade or something, maybe longer. I’m kind of interested to see how it is now. I hear it’s a lot different, you know? I hear the crowd’s kind of different. I mean when we did it, it was a very punk rock crowd. We would play, and depending on what day it was, you would have bands like the Saints or the Exploited – crazy, old punk rock bands, as well as the staples that are still around. Now it’s such a diverse, eclectic mix. I’m excited to see how the crowd’s changed. It’s a lot bigger now too, I think, than it was when we were on it a long time ago.
I-Empire came out back in November and you’ve described it as the sequel to We Don’t Need to Whisper. What do you mean by that?
Well, they were meant to go together. The first record, Whisper, was about a philosophical idea that to overcome a war within yourself, you have to believe in infinite possibility, kind of a science fiction take on what the universe is all about. I-Empire was about the inaction of that idea within your own life.
So when you put the records together, it’s about the change in an individual, and a change in the way that individual sees the world. Lyrically, it’s an autobiographical story from the breakup of my last band into the inaction of that change in my life. So, the two records go together and were very personal.
What did you want to do differently with the second record that you weren’t able to do on the first record?
I think the second record, because it’s about the personification of an idea, wasn’t meant to be as ethereal. It was meant to be epic and feel grandiose, but it was meant to be a little stripped down and be more earthly. Even the artwork suggested that of a guy traveling on these highways, planting flags and making the world his own. So in context, I think the music wasn’t meant to be as dreamlike.
Is there going to be a third installment to the story?
No, but I think I just came up with what my next album is going to be all about last night. I was up until six in the morning planning it out. I can’t tell you, though.
When initially did the idea for Angels & Airwaves come to you?
Within a couple weeks after the breakup of the band, I had to plan out the next part of my life. I think in putting together all the elements of what I wanted to be surrounded by, we came up with this great kind of idea for the beginnings of a movement of the way we think and the way we play and who comes to be a part of the play. That’s what someone said last night: “The people that come to the shows – it’s like they’re coming to a play that they’re a part of.” That’s what’s really cool about it. That is what Angels & Airwaves is, and that took quite a while for that to take shape. That took about a year while we were making the record.
With the band, do you have any specific mission or goal that you’re trying to accomplish?
The biggest band in the world. Or one of the biggest bands [laughs]. We’re going to try and take this as far as it can possibly go, and in our minds it’s stadiums.
On the last record, I-Empire, one of my favorite songs is “Rite Of Spring,” which seems to be one of your more personal songs. Where did that come from?
I was listening to a song where somebody was writing about the passing of his father, and I thought that was the most personal thing that someone could put in a song. I was like maybe that’s the next step I need to do, is to become very truthful and personal.
The song itself is nostalgic. It’s recorded like an old Joy Division or New Order song. Lyrically, it was meant to have a rhyme schedule in the wording as though I was 16 years old writing my first song. Oddly enough, I wasn’t that jazzed on it, but it seems to be everyone’s favorite song because it has that kind of folk element, like storytelling, and I think people just connect to it.
I’ve read where you’ve said that in the past you’ve battled an addiction to painkillers and stuff. How were you able to overcome that and what does it feel like to be sober now?
I think at least for me when I was in the middle of all that, I wanted out of it so bad, I just needed a reason. I needed for someone to push me off the edge to get off it. It’s interesting because now that I look back, I feel the same as I did, I just communicate differently now. I’m not on this euphoric roller coaster ride where I can’t express my thoughts to the best of my ability. I think I’m a little bit more tame with what I say sometimes, but the passion’s still there.
You feel invincible when you’re on drugs, which is one of the great things about them [laughs], but the bad thing is that it’s all kind of fake. One of the big reasons why I needed to switch things around was I needed to practice the message that I was putting there. That was always tearing away at me, that I was saying that people can do all these things if they really believe, but then I couldn’t conquer my own.
I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so I love how you interweave those elements into the band. Even on your first video for “The Adventure,” it was kind of a spin-off of THX-1138, and then on the new record, you got the guy who did the artwork for Star Wars. What’s your philosophy behind incorporating those elements into the band?
The reality that if space is truly infinite, like if you were to leave earth and just head out into the blackness, if it truly just goes on forever with no beginning and no end, then that means that there’s infinite possibility. That means that you cannot define what is happening because there’s no end. If there’s no end that means it incorporates any possibility that you can possibly dream up. It’s happening somewhere, somehow. To me, that’s pretty exciting, that you’re wildest dreams are happening somewhere and you just got to see them. That’s why the band is centered around that kind of philosophy.
Now you’re also working on a documentary and feature-length film. What are those about?
The documentary we just finished. We’d been filming for two years and submitted it to some film festivals. It’s all shot on film. It’s got these CGI war scenes and epic performances. It’s really good. It’s a very wealthy documentary. It’s not just a hand-held thing. It’s really beautifully produced. And the movie is done filming. We’re in the editing process right now.
Is the movie CG or live-action?
The movie is live-action but there are CG elements in it. It’s largely got science-fiction elements to it, but it’s comprised mostly of human experience. We were just watching parts of it last night on this bus because the director’s up in L.A., and it’s going to be really good. It’s really exciting and extremely ambitious, and for people who are fans of the band, I think they’re really going to love it.
Do you have any idea on when those are going to come out?
The documentary’s done, so we’re just waiting to see what happens with some of these film festivals. We hope to have them both out by fall, I think, is the idea.
For the first album, you had made some comments about how this was going to be the best band ever and the best album in the last twenty years.
I was on drugs.
Right. Were you surprised how that seemed to get completely blown out of proportion?
Well yeah, I couldn’t believe people were like… I mean, I spent 10 years saying I fucked dogs, and then all of a sudden I say one thing and everyone… It really blew my mind how much people listen to me [laughs]. I couldn’t believe that that many people really care about what I say. That’s what blew my mind the most because I feel just like a normal dude. I got the same friends I’ve always had for the most part, so when people take something I say and really print it and go after it, it just trips me out.
You have a family now, and that’s obviously a huge part of your life. How are you able to combine that with doing the band and running your companies like Macbeth?
Well, we don’t tour anywhere near as much as we used to. My family will come on the road. With the companies and stuff, my wife’s office is in the same building, so we just kind of hang out. I don’t really work there, I just kind of hang out. I’m involved, but it’s more or less my friends that are there and I just kind of cruise. So it all kind of works out in a harmonious way because we all do it together.
There seems to be, like especially with Angels & Airwaves, some religious elements to some of the songs. I’m curious as to where that comes from and if as you’ve grown older that stuff has become more important to you.
Not religion, but spirituality. I’m a very spiritual person, but I think religion is a medieval way of defining something that’s much bigger than the name religion. So there are religious undertones to what we do, but I think people like to take them and define them in their own categories.
A lot people come up to me and go, “Are you Christian?” I was raised a Christian, but I’m not, you know? I think I’m a little more educated and traveled to define myself that way. The band is really about a “one world, one love” kind of thing, and I think religion is coming to an end. I think people are going to realize that whatever it is, it’s much bigger and grander and more beautiful than the way they define it in their own country.
I also remember you saying that the song “Lifeline” kind of addresses God and whatnot.
Yeah, when I was a kid there was a little poem called “Footsteps In the Sand.” I think a lot of people know it, at least here in the States. It was the first song I sang when I got off all the narcotics. The idea that someone was going through a troubled time and that there was someone following behind you to take care of you was inspiring to me. It doesn’t have to be God. It could just be someone who loves you, someone taking care of the woman they love, or visa versa. It’s up to the listener to make up the second half of the story.
I imagine that in pretty much every interview you do, you get asked about Blink. Does that ever get old at all?
No, it’s all right. I mean, I started that band.
Is there anything you wanted to carry over from Blink into Angels & Airwaves?
Spontaneity, and the adrenaline, and the rebellion are something that’ll always be a part of me. Those are qualities that I think will never be shed.
Is there anything you wanted to do differently that you had learned coming from that whole experience?
Everything you see with Angels & Airwaves is what I wanted to do differently. I think that’s one of the reasons that this band is moving a lot faster. I mean, Blink took years to catch on, but with Angels & Airwaves it’s like within these past 12 months we’ve really become a band that’s going to be around for a long time.
If Blink had hypothetically kept going, where do you think it would have gone?
It would have sounded like this. But, I mean, it’s hard to say that because in this band Atom’s a totally different drummer than Travis. Matt is trained to play piano and he worships Radiohead, so he can do all that electronic stuff. Those are qualities and elements that you didn’t have in Blink.
David loves hardcore. He grew up in hardcore bands and stuff, and no one in Blink was into that kind of music. We were into punk rock but not that specific sect of it, you know? So the ingredients of Angels & Airwaves are mad different than Blink, but I think that where I wanted to take just the sonic landscapes of music is this direction anyways. So, it would have been somewhere near here.
Do you think Blink will, maybe not get back together, but will at least get back on friendly terms at some point?
I hope so. I mean, I hope we can get on friendly terms. As far as getting back together, no, I don’t see that happening.
In the middle of Blink, you did that Box Car Racer record. Do you ever wish you had made another one of those?
These are those. There’s a lot of Box Car Racer in Angels & Airwaves, for sure.
You just released that whole Modlife thing online a little while ago. What’s the story behind that and how has it been going so far?
Modlife is amazing. It’s blown my mind. It’s an idea I had that took a lot to come to fruition, and we’re going to launch it to the world this summer. It’s an operating system to help kind of revolutionize the music industry at first, but at best it’s for anybody. Any kid, any band, any business or housewife to use a bunch of digital tools in any way, shape or form they choose to use them.
For a band, they can do broadcasts, films and podcasts. Deliver their records digitally. Everything they want to do on a computer. For a housewife, maybe they just want to put up photos of their kids and they don’t have any records. Maybe it’s free. I don’t know, but it’s probably the most futuristic, ingenious thing I’ve seen on the Internet since its inception, I think. I’m really excited about it.
The trend now is kind of leaning less towards labels and more towards other avenues.
Yeah, labels are kind of a thing of the past.
Do you think this is going to team up with that?
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things that are going to happen, but our goal is to be self-sufficient. To not need labels, not need other people, or be able to hire labels for specific duties, like marketing and promotion. But I think with Modlife, we’ll be able to do it all ourselves.
You’ve dropped hints about working with NASA on an upcoming tour or something. Can you shed any light on that?
I can’t talk about that too much. It has to do with Modlife, it has to do with a giant tour, and it has to do with NASA being the first people to sign on.
Is that going to happen this fall?
We were planning for it this fall, but with the rumblings I’m hearing, it might not be this fall because I don’t know if there’s enough time to pull it all off.
What do you think the future is going to hold for AVA and what do you see as the next steps for the band?
I think our next record is going to be incredible. I think that it will hopefully put this band in specific venues to where we’re able to present the show that interacts with every sense of the human body, almost like science fiction. The idea to take people on a journey and to feel wonderful. That’s the idea.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press