Jonathan Weiner

Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge Puts a Price on Passion (Spoiler: There is None!)

We don’t know exactly how, but Tom DeLonge has always been one step ahead of everyone else – even now, with a record out that specifically had him returning to his musical roots.

Angels & Airwaves’ new album, the 10-track-long Lifeforms, is a ‘spellbinding’ piece of punk rock that addresses the metaphorical basis of humanity and the overarching commonality that comes with existence. Through talking with Tom DeLonge, you learn that there is truth intertwined into both these concepts and the socio-political world at large. Although, this is nothing too new. Since 2005, ΛVΛ have stunned the masses with contemplative pieces of art that dazzle in alternative rock musicality and progressive extraterrestrial themes.

The current four piece consists of DeLonge, David Kennedy, Matt Rubano, and Ilan Rubin who together tackle these (at times) overwhelming sci-fi subjects. It’s still evidently creative and cohesive, especially in the Lifeforms era we are living in.

As the brainchild of the skater boy turned artistic musician turned entrepreneurial educator, ideas of space inhabitants and higher powers are engrained in the band’s entire ethos. You don’t have to hop on a call with DeLonge to find out that all of this otherworldliness is intentional. The band’s founder and frontman is just as open-minded as he is an open book – something we chatted about candidly in our own Zoom meeting.

He doesn’t claim to be an expert in anything – art, science, life – but one could consider him to be an expert in curiosity. Time and time again the singer has crafted music, messages, and mediums that are designed specifically to unveil answers to questions that he himself has. By these means, not just alien and alien-adjacent discoveries have been made, but also eccentric movies, enthralling books, and top-notch music.

Though space rock has always been a sound and style under the rock and roll overhead, Angels & Airwaves push the zany genre’s boundaries with sagacious lyricism, real life action, and various multimedia projects. The latest, Lifeforms, is intimate and practically innate for a punk record; almost circling back to the frontman’s days in Blink-182 and Box Car Racer. Thick layers of rock instrumentation, grand approaches to the metaphysical, and gratifying relatability allow this album to warm your core and spark your mind. With the candid, kind, and not quite crazy DeLonge at the forefront of this band, it makes sense that the supernatural is effortlessly interspersed into the melodic.

This new record, Lifeforms, is quite possibly your most widespread success and critically-acclaimed record to date, yet I want to say that it’s your boldest. On your end of things, what has the response been like and did you really expect it with the subjects and styles at hand?

Oh gosh, what a big question. Let me think about how I am going to answer this…. I don’t know if I had any expectations. I just wanted to challenge myself to write the best record I’ve ever written. I have so little time these days, so if I do anything, I’m really trying to do it the best that I can in a genuine way and understand what that could mean to me.

I’m really trying to explore all the bands that I grew up loving on this particular record and intentionally trying to honor them. In doing that, it basically gave me a pallet of the most diverse songs that I’ve ever had. You can see an intentional direction towards Depeche Mode or towards The Cure or towards what I did with Blink and Box Car and all of these bands that I’ve done myself.

That is all seeping into, obviously, the pandemic and all this stuff that was going on in our country and the world over the couple of years, because I felt like I couldn’t stay silent on it. Now, all of a sudden, I have a little bit of politics in [the music], which is kind of new for me and kind of not new for me. It’s not a new passion of mine. It’s just new for being included in the art. That’s the headspace that I was in and that’s what I was trying to achieve. I didn’t really think about it – getting critical acclaim. I didn’t really think about whether or not people were going to like it or not, because at the end of the day, I’m doing this stuff for myself. I’m not really doing it to get people to like me, follow me, or know me… especially now that I do whatever I want.

That makes a lot of sense. Actually, one of my notes from the first listen I did of Lifeforms was that it is a lot ‘punkier’ than previous releases. Do you think that is because you were influenced by the bands that you grew up with, which were more in that punk sphere?

Absolutely yes. You know, not just for Angels & Airwaves, but in order for a band to grow and take their fans on more of a journey, they have to shift. A lot of times, with a band that is slow, they get faster. If they advanced as a fast band, they get slower again. When everybody was saying we are atmospheric, we got a little bit more raw with bigger guitars, more of an in-your-face kind of edge, and a lot of the sounds and tones that kind of sound like it’s being played in a garage or something. It’s sort of ambient, you know? This one is just more raw again because that punk rock attribute is in my blood. I really do appreciate you noticing that because that is something I did that was intentional.

I’m so glad! That evident punk mindset was one of my first notes on the album – around the song “No More Guns,” because it just fit the bill of what punk could be rather than this idea of punk in the media has.

That’s right. You’re spot on. Punk rock is not really about a sound as much as it’s meant to be about kind of an ethos, but a sound kind of got branded along with it. We tend to think that a certain style of guitars and a certain eye candy describes it, and over time, we’ve all kind of gotten used to that. That is in the songs, yes, but both in its spirit and the musicality of it, as well. We did try to do that and I’m so happy that you felt that.

For sure! That outlook also coincided perfectly with how fans received the songs. Lifeforms had this teasing, puzzle piece build up. What about this particular album and era of Angels & Airwaves do you think suited that release approach?

I think part of it was the ambition of the project and the other part of it was just the pandemic. We were planning on putting this out earlier, so we were releasing a couple songs, like “Kiss & Tell” and “Rebel Girl.” Then the pandemic hit and shut down everything. If you give us like a whole other year-and-a-half to really write, keep working on the album, and do the movie Monsters of California (which comes along next with the album), we’re going to do all of that.

When you’re doing something that has that much scope, it tends to be better released in little bits and pieces along the way so that people can talk about it, digest it, and then talk about it some more, because it’s a lot for people to grasp onto. This is more than just a few songs. It’s like how Angels has always been an art project – we’re trying to get people to come along for the ride, because it’s more than just the music.

Well, I think it worked out very well with these songs in particular and in the day and age that we’re in because of our ability to have this connection through multimedia, through art, and through the Internet.

Yeah. I think this is the time we were preparing for when we started this band so long ago. I always thought that this is where music was headed, where we were going to start becoming a little bit more transmedia with each project. Right now you’re starting to see bands do little short films or extended videos and so on. We started doing that about 15 years ago. I think a lot of people were like, “What are you doing?” and “What did you guys do?” They had direction, though, and we did put out a feature that was like an art house/indie film called Love. Now we’re putting out a much more mainstream and fun film. We are trying to think differently and do things differently – always have.

Because you’re doing things differently, we tried to, too. We had fans submit questions and picked our favorites to have you answer. [Editor’s note: The fans whose questions were chosen won tickets to see ΛVΛ.]

Yeah, let’s do it!

As a Jersey publication, this is a great one we had to ask: Jon Bon Jovi is getting a rest stop named after him.  What would a Tom DeLonge rest stop be called and what amenities would it provide?

My rest stop would be a stargazing rest stop where you pull up a car and maybe there’s an area for you to lay out or set up chairs. There’s a telescope that you could use that’s built into the ground so you can’t steal it. Then there’s a taco stand for fresh tacos. I think that would be a perfect place. We would call it… [Laughs] God, I don’t have a name for it! That stumps me, I don’t know…. Maybe the ‘Rest In Peace Stop.’

I love that so much. Another submitted question that I was inclined to ask you was about how you write songs. Someone who finds your music to be “amazing” was pondering on if you intentionally put in Easter eggs to other songs you’ve written or if it happens accidentally.

Oh, I know I do it on purpose, especially on the first couple of Angels & Airwaves records. On those there are lyrics and certain things that are specifically calling out other songs on purpose. Even now I’ll throw in a couple of things here and there that are dealing with other things I’m doing. In “Losing My Mind,” I might have mentioned about the government and UFO’s, so I actually am always throwing in little things like that.

I appreciate that it all works together cohesively – if you’re in the know.

That’s the goal.

How do you find the confidence to pursue a passion amid a global pandemic?

Well, I think like anyone else, I basically just try to keep my head down and create art. I’m happy when I’m creating things. I’m unhappy if I’m not. I think in a time like now, where it’s been a really difficult year, it makes the most sense for people to create things and do things that make them happy.

That’s what I think, too. Fans also want to know about the music that is inspiring you currently as compared to what inspired you in the past. Are you listening to the same things that you used to when you first wanted to become a musician? Is that still where you look to for inspiration or are there like new bands that you’re gravitating towards?

No. On this record in particular, the thing that really inspired me the most was just going back through all the bands I grew up listening to. I mean, it’s a little bit different than a lot of bands are now. Even if I really like this new band or I saw this new thing that really inspired me to do whatever, for me, it felt good kind of go backwards. I felt like going back to my roots would actually be a welcome change for some of the fans, so that’s what I was counting on.

Something that I, myself, have always admired about you is how you are equally as intriguing as you are intrigued. You publicly let yourself explore and you also let the public explore the inner workings of you. How do you balance all of what you do and want to do with this idea that it’s going to be perceived and seen by many more than most?

I’m a super, super curious guy. It makes me happy to discover things, to learn things, to get immersed in things that I feel can give me a much better kind of life experience, to help people around me that I care about, and so on. That has now transferred into all of my art. Really, you have got to just not care about what people think! We get caught up in what people think of us – not only just amongst our peer groups or who we work with, but if you’re an artist, you get caught up with what everybody out there thinks of your art.

I’ve been around the block so often and I pissed people off cause of Blink or cause they thought I was crazy with To The Stars [DeLonge’s Academy of Arts & Sciences in Las Vegas] because I was working with people in the government. I was crazy because I was going to put out all these books and make movies about aliens and stuff. Some of that was really hard to do. Some of it took longer than I thought. Some of it was a bit of a whirlwind. I do what I say I’m going to in order to make a change, though, and you have got to believe it! If you really love what you’re doing and it’s something for the right reasons, you can’t give a shit about what other people say.

You know, I remember back in the day, someone gave a Blink album a review and said “This sucks!” You can let it bother you, follow these things, and spend all day saying, “Oh my God! This magazine hates us!” Then, if you stop for a second, you realize that it’s just some dude named, like, Kevin who works in some weird city, like Boise, Idaho. Who cares if Kevin doesn’t like our album? You have got to put it all in perspective so you realize that opinions are worthless. Passion, though? Passion is priceless, so I choose to follow passion.