a long talk

Tom DeLonge Was Never Crazy

The divisive front man on why Angels & Airwaves is still the future, dicking around with Blink-182, and vindication.

Photo: Jonathan Weiner
Photo: Jonathan Weiner

Most interviews with 45-year-olds don’t involve dick jokes or the phrase “terminal velocity.” But Tom DeLonge — one of the most recognizable influences on today’s zoomer guitar pop rush (perhaps only behind Hayley Williams and his own former Blink-182 bandmate Travis Barker), a self-starting expert on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), and now, a pop-punkier Steven Spielberg in training — has never been one to behave like the rest. I wouldn’t expect him to bother doing so now.

“I have two sides to me,” DeLonge says, over the phone from his home in San Diego, with the Zen-like humor of your still-ridiculous high-school friend who’s aged well. “I have this side that’s very focused on kind of New Age concepts, physics, and esoteric studies. I also have this other side of me. This kind of eternal youth that doesn’t ever really want to grow up. Sometimes they fight with each other.”

Though DeLonge sounds more rehearsed discussing his sci-fi entertainment conglomerate To the Stars and its involvement with the government (potentially for security reasons), there’s a sense from talking to him that such a zigzagging career was the master plan all along. We connected to talk about the latest stage of that plan: reviving his art-project-as-band Angels & Airwaves. (In a notorious 2005 statement, DeLonge called his new band which currently includes drummer Ilan Rubin, who also drums for Nine Inch Nails and played on Paramore’s 2013 self-titled LP; guitarist and DeLonge’s fellow Box Car Racer bandmate David Kennedy; and former Taking Back Sunday bassist Matt Rubano — “the greatest rock-and-roll revolution for this generation”; they ended up being a decent impression of Joshua Tree–era U2, and then later, Mogwai.) Fresh off playing their first show in over a year at Lollapalooza in July and prepping for an upcoming tour, DeLonge argues that the first A&A album in three years, LIFEFORMS, is the best version of everything he grew up listening to: Imagine Stranger Things, but with more Peter Hook bass. The LP will be followed by DeLonge’s upcoming directorial debut, Monsters of California (“a very mainstream adventure, comedy, sci-fi thing”).

“I just think that there’s no band even attempting to do what we’re doing,” DeLonge says, boasting his grand and cryptic plans for several more A&A–related multimedia projects long in the works. “It’s hard as hell to do in a short, little time. But it makes me really proud. It was always meant to be different from every other band. I feel like we’re getting there.” DeLonge’s claims are bold as ever, but if he’s been emboldened, it’s the payoff for having successfully become a leader in worlds that have nothing to do with Blink.

Walk me through what was going through your head while playing Lollapalooza.
It’s always nerve-racking playing at a festival. You have so many people watching you. Even if you’re the headliner, you’re very aware that more than half of those people only know one song or something.

When I actually walked out on that stage, because we haven’t played in a year and a half or whatever, I remember it ignited me very much in the way that Blink always felt. I have a very strong desire to just say a lot of stupid shit [laughs] and make people laugh and have a good time. I definitely brought back dick jokes in a way that I haven’t done in a long time. I think someone called it “Angels & Dick Jokes.” They all loved it.

What’s the difference between an Angels & Airwaves dick joke and a Blink dick joke?
Blink started out really, really, really over-the-top offensive, which we thought was the funniest thing. But when you do that for a few years, for many years, it tends not to be that funny anymore. We went the opposite direction, where we started saying dad jokes. I thought that shit was really funny because it just seemed so tame. But with Angels & Airwaves, it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s not too extreme, but it’s not too clean, either.

Did you have a sense of which fans were there just for Angels & Airwaves, instead of the curious Blink fans?
I don’t. It’s weird. Back in the day, you would see the rockers, and you would see the metalheads, and you would see the hip-hop kids. But now they’re all meshed together. They’re all wearing ’90s clothing [laughs]. They all look like they’re out of a Seinfeld episode.

From reading old Angels & Airwaves interviews and watching all your videos, there was a sense of you wanting to completely separate this band from everything you did with Blink. The music video for new song “Losing My Mind” feels like the first time you’re intentionally invoking Blink.
Yeah, no, that was me intentionally being the more complete version of myself.

When Angels first started, I was very much trying to separate it, trying to carve a new path, trying to make it different to find its own fans, to challenge myself to be writing songs and things that I haven’t done before, and to grow as a person and an artist. But we’ve now been around for 13–14 years. The best growth sometimes, in my opinion, is to not run from all the parts of yourself. It’s incorporating all those parts of yourself onto the new path that you’ve carved.

Blink was very much who I am. I just bought a skateboard yesterday, and I send ridiculous photos and jokes to my friends all day long. I’m not all serious. I’m very much a guy that can sit and go very deep with a passion for consciousness and what life is all about, and the things that people tend to overlook when they get older. But I also smoke a lot of pot and make a lot of really stupid jokes and laugh for hours about the dumbest stuff ever. I think what you’re seeing now with this video is a more complete version of me. That’s, what do you call it? I’m unashamedly myself — unapologetically myself.

Any of those old jokes you regret?
Oh my God, there’s so many. Well, I don’t regret them. Because at some point, we all realize we should wear seatbelts. You don’t beat yourself up for being a dumbass for the years before that when it wasn’t even on the radar. You were tackling other things in life. With these jokes, it’s the same thing. I think people get eaten alive for jokes they made in the past. It’s hypocritical, number one. Everyone is acting as [if] they’ve never done something stupid when they were younger. Number two, we’re a product of our time. It’s very easy to look backward and say how fucked up something was, unless you were actually there, and it wasn’t considered fucked up because it wasn’t even discovered that the way you joke or the things you do is potentially hurting somebody or disenfranchising a community. As soon as everyone —at least everyone I know — as soon as we learned that stuff, you stop doing it, like instantly.

These types of things are very, very important for us to acknowledge and to grow and learn with. But to beat yourself up when you were younger doesn’t make any sense to me unless you’re just a mean person that never learned or never grew from it.

I was listening to Mark Hoppus’s recent Apple Music Radio show episode when you were a guest. It sounds like you two are in a good place.
Yeah, we are. This happened before, with Travis, in the sense where he survived his plane crash, and it brought the three of us back together. Same thing with Mark getting sick. It brought the three of us back together again. That’s how brothers are; none of the other stuff really matters. What matters is our health, our families, and our core happiness.

As an artist still releasing music and very much active, does the nostalgia for and revival of the classic era of pop-punk ever get annoying? How do you navigate it?
I don’t ever really pay attention to it. I mean, I pay slight attention, like any artist, making sure that what I’m doing, people are reacting in a cool way. And then I let it go. I get off on what people feel when they would watch a film I made or listen to my songs or whatever. But I never really go around and wonder how important I am to somebody else or how much influence I had. I don’t really have security in my ego [laughs] to think that I’m the one doing that. I can rationally break it apart and say, This band obviously grew up listening to Blink. Their melodies are constructed the same way. I can do that, and I can go through the science of it and break it down. But I don’t assume it. I don’t walk around thinking I’m important. It might be one of the reasons why I’ve been able to keep my head above water all these years and still make music.

I kind of have a general feeling that people just don’t understand me, period. They thought I was crazy when I left Blink. They thought I was crazy when I said I was working with people in the government. Then the people in the government came forward; they thought we were all crazy until we got the government to admit that UFOs are real. Now people are like, “Fuck. Maybe he’s not so crazy.” I’m just used to people thinking that I am because I’m always thinking much further down the line. It takes people a little bit of time to catch up. All I hope is that people start to go, “I really like what this guy does. He’s doing it authentically. He’s always pushing me to open my mind even more, but at a bare minimum, it’s all fucking cool.”

I also watched your recent NME interview where it didn’t sound like you were too crazy about a lot of today’s Gen-Z pop-punk bands, even if it was all flattering. Is there any pop-punk that excites you?
There’s this band called Turnstile.

Oh, yeah!
Turnstile is from Baltimore; they’re a hard-core band. I’m a big fan of them. I’m a big fan of a band called The Story So Far. I’m looking for punk bands that have a reason to be on a stage with a microphone rather than writing catchy songs. I really like when there’s an edge, and they come from the street, and they’ve had trials and tribulations within their own life path. That makes their points of view on things much more palatable for me because they’ve seen things or been through things that are important. That could be somebody addicted to drugs, it could be somebody from a broken family, it could be some type of pain, heartache, or triumph, but just something that gives you a point of view that’s refreshing.

Sometimes it’s hard in punk because punk is a vehicle that’s not overly complicated. It’s meant to be simple because it’s meant to carry emotion, and if it’s not carrying emotion, then it’s just catchy and energetic and it can become hollow very quickly, like pop music. Pop-punk is always a tricky place to live in for me. I’m much more of the punk side than the pop side, but pop-punk — really catchy, simple songs that have a really distinguishable point of view within it and behind it — is something I just love.

That’s the thing: Pop-punk’s not meant to be just catchy and fast. It’s meant to be authentic and genuine to the neighborhood you grew up in, and the problems therein, and what you’re doing about it, and how you feel about it. And mixed in that could be dumb songs, funny songs, simple songs, but the whole of the idea, all the pieces of the pie thrown in, it’s supposed to be much greater than something you sing along to, you know?

It sounds like we need more Descendents.
You speak the truth, my brother.

You mentioned earlier the validation that came from the government acknowledging UAPs and your work with To the Stars. Could you break down where we’re at now with UAPs and what’s being done?
There’s a lot going on [with] the UAP situation; my company and my team, we got the videos out, and they were the first declassified videos ever brought out. Then [there was] the New York Times article. Then the show on the History Channel we did called Unidentified. During that time frame [2019], we were setting up all the briefings for the different committees in the Senate. I was at a few — well, I won’t get into that stuff. But in any case, I had been to places and meeting with people during that time frame as well.

We forced the Department of Defense to acknowledge that UFOs are real. The Navy actually said, “Yes, the videos that Tom DeLonge and his company brought forth, these are real UFOs, UFOs are real, and we don’t know what they are.” We really did do something that has triggered an international conversation.

Where would you like that conversation to go?
Honestly, what I’m focused on is that they create an agency that’s like Homeland Security that manages this stuff, and it’s managed in a way that the world can reap the benefits of a proper system to deal with it, like having the right oversight from our elected leaders, having proper budgets, and having national security law implemented, where they can’t not tell us what’s going on. They can’t not brief the Senate and congressional committees. That’s how other things work. If there’s a terrorist issue going down, they can’t hide that from the Senate Intelligence Committee; they have to sit down and give them the briefing and make sure that everything’s on the up-and-up. I think this issue needs that. I’m really cautiously optimistic that we’re moving in that direction.

How has President Biden been responding to UAPs?
I do know that he’s aware of the issue. I do know that there have been briefings and meetings to his administration on this stuff, at least in the run-up to the election. I don’t have access — I bet you I could find out! But I haven’t really tried to figure out what he’s doing. It’s pretty sensitive work in this area; I tend not to really bug people for information on sensitive things. I did hear a few weeks ago that things are moving almost at terminal velocity, where it can’t be stopped, and some major changes are being made. That’s really literally all I know.

My position here is much more heavily focused on informing the public and creating the resources for us to do things in the private sector that governments used to be the only ones that did. It’s like SpaceX is doing a much better job at being NASA than NASA in some ways. [Laughs.]

If you meet someone who came up to you and said, “I absolutely do not believe anything you’re saying,” what would you say?
People are like that on so many things. People are like that with elections. People are like that on COVID. It’s just how the world is. We put data, evidence, true events right in front of their face, they still will not believe it, because it goes against a fear. When people have walls built because of fear, it’s a much trickier thing — fear that the liberals are taking your country, or fear that the vaccine is gonna turn you into a 5G magnetic cancer-causing antenna, whatever the fuck it is. But with UFOs, people have a fear that it’s going to change their worldview about why we’re here, what it’s all about, their religion that they hold so dear, their belief system.

What I found is that you meet people occasionally who just can’t have that discussion. They’re not ready for it. Part of my job is to create large pieces of art, putting things in a much more powerful way. I’m really passionate about that. It’s not because I’m some pawn of the CIA [like] people say. It’s because I truly believe that this is how we’re going to fix the problems on Earth, the great equalizer. I’m very passionate about getting people to think differently than they do now.

Do you believe that in your lifetime, you’ll tour space?
Oh my gosh. I don’t know if I’ll be doing that. But we did just do our album-announcement release in space. It went up on a satellite. They played the music; they took the vinyl records up there.

My music has been in space twice now. Our first movie, Love, went up to the space station and they watched it up there. The astronauts sent me photos of the DVD up there. I can say my music’s been out there a couple of times and maybe that’s enough for now.

Having now directed Monsters of California, creatively, what do you get out of filmmaking that you can’t get out of making music?
In a film, it’s very challenging artistically, because you’re dealing with moving a camera through three-dimensional space, and human performance, and pacing, and editing and sound design, and music and all this stuff. And then you get to sit somebody down for a couple of hours where you get all of their attention. Music doesn’t always work that way unless it’s a live concert or something. But usually, people are listening to a song on the radio and there’s static or something, or they’re streaming it on a phone, and they’re not really paying attention. With movies, you have an opportunity to grab a lot of artists to work together to make a larger art project that can hit somebody potentially on a different level, or in a different way, than a song can by itself. But the challenge of getting there and directing that symphony is very difficult. It’s very easy to make it bad. And it’s very hard to make it good. I like that challenge. It’s really rewarding. But I couldn’t only do it. I’m a musician. But I don’t want to tour all year, every year. So I definitely am trying to find a balance of a few diverse things in my life.

Would you ever write or release a solo LP of just new Tom DeLonge songs?
I don’t know. I have very little time. I’ve thought about doing some atmospheric Brian Eno–kind of background-music stuff for people’s houses. [Laughs.] Maybe that’s what I would do under my own name: electronic, atmospheric stuff that makes you feel a little inspired and feels great in the background.

“Alexa, play Tom’s music for the house.”
[Laughs.] I guess, yeah. I’m just creating some EPs of really cool music that makes you feel like you’re in a day spa, but it’s not cheesy. Like a hipster day spa, where all the men are naked. And they all just play volleyball, and we listen to really great music, and we talk about war and tattoos and motorcycles.

That would go over very well in Williamsburg.
Right? That’s my idea. That’s all I got.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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The members of Blink-182 were between 20 and 23 when they released their debut LP in 1995. Their literal dicking around was noted and criticized at the time, and it landed them on MTV’s Total Request Live. Ann Powers’s 1999 New York Times review of Enema of the State sums up the mood at the time: “Girls may find this band icky, and parents may wish it had some manners, but Blink 182 showers its fans with laddish love.” Featuring TikTokker Rampage dancing with Disco, the “hello, fellow teens” DeLonge alter ego and relative to “First Date”’s Boomer. In 2019, the U.S. Navy confirmed that a series of mysterious and widely shared videos supposedly showing UAPs were real. Those videos were originally published by DeLonge’s company, To the Stars, with the New York Times. This past summer, the Pentagon released its highly anticipated report regarding UAPs to Congress. The Times article and History Channel show were released in 2019 and feature both DeLonge and Luis Elizondo, To the Stars’ director of global security and special programs, recapping the current state of UAP research. Elizondo left To the Stars in 2020, citing the company’s focus on entertainment. “We’re not entertainers,” Elizondo said in an interview earlier this year. “Our talents lie in engaging governments, Congress, and international organizations, and we’re ready to shift into second gear. Entertainment is one way to do it, but it’s not comprehensive.”
Tom DeLonge Was Never Crazy