By Mark Guarino
When punk bands grow up, they stop singing songs about A.D.D. and start pondering the universe. That is the case of Tom DeLonge, who sold 25 million albums when he sang and played guitar for the Southern California punk rock trio Blink-182.
For a band that titled their biggest album “Enema of the State,” Blink-182 seemed destined to be disposed of once their fans grew up. DeLonge, 30, got their first. When Blink broke up in 2005, he set out to launch Angels & Airwaves, a space rock band that includes bassist Ryan Sinn of The Distillers and drummer Atom Willard of The Offspring. The project is not just limited to music; DeLonge is working on a feature-length film to follow many of the album’s themes. Whether “We Don’t Need To Whisper” (Geffen) is a new generation’s take on “The Wall” is yet to be seen. This month, he’s debuting the band across the nation on dates with Taking Back Sunday.
We talked last week about Angels and Blink. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: Space rock was not something I was expecting to hear from the leader of Blink-182. How did you arrive there?
A: The breakup of my last band was quite devastating for me. It was a band that I started and they were my closest friends and I couldn’t imagine being depressed for the next 30 years of my life. So I decided to make an experiment and the experiment was, if I can create a band and if I can create an album that symbolized somebody viewing themselves differently and viewing the world differently and if that record can contain those emotions and that arc of someone’s life, it can be something extremely epic and can translate and communicate to a lot of different people. So as soon as I knew that’s what I was going for, the sound was in my head. I knew it had to be something that was pleasing to the ear but made you feel you were flying. Something that made you feel like a battle just ended … So it became this very heroic kind of endeavor.
Q: Was it also because Blink was musically limited and now was a chance to do something different?
A: It was definitely a blank canvas. I understand what you’re saying: are you doing these things because for the first time you can? Well, yes and no. In Blink … I definitely was the captain of the ship and I was able to do whatever I wanted to do. But what seemed to make sense to me with this kind of music was to create an environment where the songs pull you out of yourself, take you somewhere and then send you back slowly. To do that, the songs had to have these long introductions and these epic crescendos … but at the same time I don’t get bored.
Q: How is the writing process different from three-chord punk?
A: Usually in a studio you write a song, practice a song, do drums and guitars and do them in an assembly line fashion. With this band, we created it in a studio so we did drums last. Just because everything about this band was very so futuristic so we were able to assemble it in a very futuristic way … With computers, we were able to create and modify our thinking in the studio in real time. We kept it extremely creative, very fast paced and it was like Tetris with a bunch of different ideas. And we placed the drums at the very end for the final touch. So it was completely opposite. We wanted everything to represent the future of rock and roll because rock and roll needs a burst of adrenaline these days.
Q: The album’s artwork and videos have a World War II theme — why make a war that your audience never lived through the backdrop of this project?
A: World War II seemed to be last war that was not plagued in controversy and was built on a noble idea. I created this band specifically because I wanted to be a better father and husband for my family. So it really became a metaphor for where I was and where I wanted to go. The whole record is a metaphor for the past two years of my life, breakup of my last band and the creation of this one. I used the poetic analogies of the conflicts between love and war to tell the story … I think our job is to create music that inspires people to think and the other fifty percent of equation to let people to take it and do something with it. And I wanted to leave it open to interpretation because that’s what music should be.
Q: What did you find inspiring about that war?
A: What an interesting time it must have been. We had no idea we were going to win the war, we had no idea if the world was going to be around … Everyone thought this would be last war and we’ve been creating all wars since. This was very much a patriotic endeavor to get people to stand up and know … they don’t have to sit by and watch (our country) do the things we were doing. We’re landing satellites on Mars and we’re mapping the human genome and we’re curing cancer. Are we truthfully saying to ourselves that there’s no other way to stop the problem in the Mideast than war? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe the debate has been there. I think with all the amazing feats of the human imagination, there’s a better way to come up with a solution than killing 100,000 innocent people.
Q: You campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, yet a song like “The War” is purposely vague.
A: There’s a lyric (in that song) that says, “And the families, now useless bodies/they laid still black and blue/a gift from us to you.” When I wrote that lyric I was thinking America is doing that to people. We’re creating so much hate by doing this. Because if you try to fix violence with violence, it doesn’t do anything.
Q: This is a side of you we never heard when you were in Blink.
A: I think my band hated the fact I always brought it up. They were interested to a degree but when all the interviewers asked us about John Kerry, I think it got on their nerves. And I don’t blame them. Blink was built on keeping politics out of music.
Q: I don’t think of the Blink-182 audience as very political. Am I wrong?
A: I think I’m shifting my audience and I think I’m gaining a whole new one. Since this band was coming about, I really felt it would be in the middle where Blink was and where Coldplay and U2 is. I think if it’s done right, it can track those demographics. I don’t go into it like a business decision … it just ended up that way. But what I do think what this band is doing is that it’s speaking a message to a gigantic young audience that never had a message like this. I think you and I grew up listening to bands like U2 but I think it’s refreshingly new to an audience I helped create with the past 13 years of Blink. But also: the fans that liked Blink are as old as I am, too. I started when I was 16, so they’re all in their late twenties or thirties. So I think I’m going to get a lot of them back that kind of went away and started families.
Q: Green Day, another California punk band, reinvented their career and won a lot of Grammys with an album that spoke about Bush and Iraq. Was that an inspiration?
A: No, not at all. But I love the band and I think they did a great job, but they were never a big influence of mine. In the very beginning, right when I got out of high school, they were starting to crack with their first couple of records. Then “Dookie” came out and I was really stoked. Because they were changing music geared to what I liked. They just never appealed to me after that because when I got into Blink, I started getting having an obsession learning how to be big rock band even though it took me ten years to do it! I started listening to The Cure and Peter Gabriel. I never wanted to sound like three chord punk rock. I always wanted to follow in the path of bands like U2 and The Police, bands that started out punk rock and knew how to write songs in a totally different way.
Q: You have a four-year old daughter and a son due in August. Did that change your perspective?
A: It was so funny because in Blink … we were so concerned with staying young and full of anarchy would say, “oh no (fatherhood) doesn’t change us.” And now I think, (expletive) yeah, it changed us. It makes me want to be better human being and it makes you realize you’re responsible for creating another human being. So I definitely became a different type of person because of that.
Q: How did your label respond when you told them you wanted to reinvent your sound?
A: When Blink first broke up they were really bummed and they tried to stop it as much as they could. And they knew that they couldn’t. And then I showed up and told them I was going to deliver something that would wildly exceed their expectations and help usher in a new era for rock and roll, in the way its marketed and presented. And they got really inspired and after I gave them the record, they lost it. It’s really been a great escalation of events. And just like with you, exceeding people’s expectations.