The following is a phone interview with Tom Delonge of Angels and Airwaves and formerly Blink 182 that was conducted by Brad Streeter. We would like to thank Victoria Torchia of Geffen Records for her facilitation of the interview. Please enjoy!
The new album I – Empire. This is the second half of your first album, and I have heard you say they were meant be listened together. However, I know you have made a few changes personally from the creation of the first album to this one. Were you trying to accomplish something different with this new album or are your goals or message still the same?
[Tom] Well what we did, I guess in pretty easy terms, we all came from pretty successful bands. We were all very interested in doing something more expansive with our art. So we didn’t want to just classify ourselves as just another band. We wanted it to be more of a fine art or performance arts project where we were involved with something where the message remained constant but the medium would always change. So the first thing we set out to do was to put out records that in chronological order; where each song reflected a period that I was going through during a very specific time, over a course of two years, where I was changing my life specifically built around this message.
To further it we started working on two different films. One we just finished which is a documentary that is about the genesis of what this (AVA) is, what Angels and Airwaves did, what is different and what we are going to do. The other film itself is basically a philosophical ride of, you know, by metaphorically speaking of how the lyrics fit into human life. That movie is in its finishing stages right now, being edited.
But really we wanted to do something that was more kind of different than what most punk rock bands are doing right now, where they are all dressing in black and acting pissed or sad or wearing make-up. Its just not what we are into. We are adults now, you know, and we have been doing music since we were teenagers. So to us we had to be really honest with ourselves. What do we want to do with our lives, and what do we want to spend it doing? We know people now that are unhappy in their careers or had family members pass away. You start to learn that life is a little more vulnerable than you think it is. So we wanted to do something that was really true and honest to ourselves. But you know we have had our share of obstacles. We have turned into a lot of different things that are kind of weird at times and things we didn’t expect. But it has been quite an adventure to say the least.
Nice…you hinted on a lot questions that I am anticipating on asking. However, you touched a little on the “Start the Machine” documentary. I was reading up on this and from what I have learned it really shows the birth of this new band but at the same time showcases your struggle with Painkillers…
How comfortable are you to release this to the public and highlight this side of Tom?
[Tom] Well, I am fine with it. Ever since I was seventeen or eighteen, my life has been in the public eye. So I'm use to it. You learn to be kind of an open book. And what I think, along the lines like you mentioned, the documentary was meant to first be about what this project was. But then it turned out to be how I had to turn this message that was so outward around and apply it to myself. I didn’t realize it till halfway through. You know I was losing my mind, I was on thousands of painkillers, and I almost killed myself.
So I met with a film grouping in LA, Lionsgate. We were just talking, and the guy who runs the company is a friend of mine. I was asking his advice about this documentary. He instantly said “You have to submit this to Sundance Films” He watched part of it and continued to say it has to go to Sundance. I was never planning on it going to film festivals. So when I called up my friend Mark who was making the documentary. I said “Mark just finish it, and make as true as it can be.” And he said “Do you want to include everything in there?” I said, “Just make it true!”
I had nothing to do with making it. I wasn’t involved. I mean I was paying for it, but I wasn’t overseeing it. I wasn’t spelling it out. It was completely Mark’s art project. I had nothing to do what was in there, other than the fact it was my band being documented.
So he tried to make it as true as he could, and he put all the sensitive material in there, and we sent it off to all these film festivals. Then people started freaking out. They said it was…what did they say…They said “Brilliantly produced and directed, and a great story.”
I don’t know all these crazy film critics were going off about it. Because it is not just a documentary. It has beautiful CGI footage that shows the conjunction of war and love which is what the whole record is about. A war with yourself, the drugs, losing your best friends, the previous band, and starting a new band. Then finding your way out of it. It was very much a human story. So it very much seemed to connect and resonate with these film critics.
It’s not a normal documentary with a hand held camera. Everything is filmed beautifully, artistically. It is quite a tremendous ark of a story. But I think in my life with Blink and up till now; we had a lot success, and a lot of ups and downs, drugs, parties, and crazy things were going on. You know, it is definitely something for other people to watch and see what other people go through, digest it and communicate back to them and hopefully learn something from it. That’s what art is all about.
Kind of going on this film based concept. You are really starting to branch out with this idea of synergy between film and other related visual imagery with music. What has sparked this interest?
[Tom] The fact that Blink sold so many records and were selling out arenas across the world. What sparked my interest was because the joy of blink was that we didn’t have a message. It was like anarchy. That’s what was rad about it. This forever youthful exuberance that you would run out to the world and be flamboyantly happy and don’t care about anything. You are just going to live life to the fullest. I guess the anti-message is the message.
But with AVA, and going through the break up and going through this traumatic experience. I got to know these guys (AVA), and taking the loss is like the hardcore spirit of punk rock music. But we wanted something else that was built upon brotherhood, friendship and loyalty, and doing something that had this inner politics because Blink was so outward. So we all headed out with this hard concept for people to grasp. We instantly wanted to be as ambitious as we could and start doing things that we really could set standards for what other bands could do. I have access a lot of different resources that other don’t because my company makes films and a lot of powerful people work there that are bright and intelligent. So we access to doing other stuff. I wanted to show what would happen if bands try…(and I know I was the first one doing it…and I was going to have to involve my friends and company to try and pull it off) ...to clearly set a mold for what bands could do.
That’s why we are in the middle of building this huge piece of technology and operating system for bands to use and athletes to use. We have the movies coming out, and we are working on all these artistic performance and broadcast stuff.
I mean kids and punk rocks kids, and critics don’t really understand it. But it is all going to make a huge change. This is what I was talking about a few year back when I was coming out saying I want to revolutionize Rock n’ Roll. And people kind of took it the wrong way. But one: I was high and on thousands of painkillers and I really wasn’t realizing how I was communicating it. (Laugh)
[Tom] But the thing was we were REALLY working on these things. We were spending millions of dollars on this operating system called MODlife, and its revolutionary! Its really, really amazing. We are spending money on these films. But then I get these calls from companies all over the world that want to work with Angels and Airwaves. Like huge ones! Like the biggest media companies in the world. They see that one band is doing all this, and I am trying to explain to everyone if no one does it then music is going to fail.
So we help push the limits on what we can do, and want bands can do. If CDs are going to be free, we have to learn how to communicate our art on different mediums. So what sparked my interest is there is a crisis in the music industry and I have an over ambitious soul that wants to do something good with my time here.
Very true, and kind of puts your point of view in perspective…but you did just bring up how you are starting to work with larger companies. You were recently quoted as saying on one of your upcoming tours you are going to incorporate NASA into your show. Can you please explain how the hell you are going to utilize NASA into a rock show?
[Tom] [Laugh]…Well I really can’t talk about it too much. But it does have to do with that operating system we built. We have been working together on something that is really exciting for hopefully the end of the year 2008 that involves the top 25 technology companies in the world. What gate it ends up working at and how it comes out is largely a secret. We can't come out and promise stuff. But NASA was the first company that came on board, and there are a million things I can do with that company. But I am trying to propel this band into a realm where you really don’t know what we are going to next, and also try to bring people along with it. And let music hit you in a much different way rather than just your ears.
Now speaking about governmental organizations and this is kind of topic, but I am going to ask anyway. I just got done watching an interview with you on Larry king where you stated you wanted to be involved in this upcoming Presidential election. Who has your support and why?
I think at first it was Joe Biden but he dropped. I think Obama sees the world of change. Absolutely. I think he is probably the best bet. I think Hilary will actually do very well, but she has kind of been there a long time. But Obama is the closest thing we have to JFK. Obama in his young adulthood grew up with the Internet and was connected to the world in some larger degree. I think he will think about how to solve problems on more of a global level. For one he has a family member from Kenya.
When I brought up I was going to conduct this interview with you on the Absolutepunk, about 90% of our members brought up Blink in some fashion. I know we have touched on that subject briefly, and we both know how much Blink 182 impacted a lot kid’s lives including my own. However, a good majority of the members showed some form of negatively towards you in regards to the break up. Why do you think the fans still have this animosity towards you?
Well for one, I think it is because I am the one in the limelight right now, and at first I was an easy target. But I think a lot of them like that band (+44)…I like that band a lot too. So I don’t think they have much to be bummed out about. But I think once the documentary comes out I think everyone will get a lot better perspective of what actually went down. Ummm...I didn’t quit that band because I wanted to. I quit that band because I had to. Because when people give you an ultimatum about your family, what are you going to do? But the problem was no one was being truthful at the time. You know I was all spun out on painkillers and there were a lot of other things going on in the band. There was no communication, there was no friendship left, and there were arguments for about a month. For weeks and weeks of it in Europe and we would never solve anything. I was gone from my 2-year-old daughter for two years straight and I needed to go home and no one really wanted that. So I had to leave. But I never really went on to the public and talked about it much and said I needed to make a major life change and surround myself with people that supported the fact I was responsible for these human beings, my kids. Or supported the fact that I wanted to go out and do really positive good things with my music that can really affect people. And I can’t do that with people that you are not talking to. I mean in Blink we didn’t hang out, we didn’t share dressing rooms. We never rehearsed; we never got together because we were just not friends anymore. I don’t know, people always ask me "When you are getting back together?" and I say "So when are you are getting back together with those 3 guys in high school?”. They go "What are you talking about?" I say “You know those 3 guys you hung out with in Junior High and High School.” The point was we started when we were teenagers, and now that we are in our 30s we are just not connected. We are totally different people. They are amazing guys and amazing musicians and we had a really brilliant time at the beginning, but it got to a point to where there were no…I mean personally I wasn’t getting anything out of it. It wasn’t about money at all. It was about I had a family I had to raise and I had to spend 90% of my time on the road with people I never talked to, and we had totally different goals of what we wanted to do. Travis wanted to go more and more into the hip hop area, Mark wanted to stay around where we were, and I still wanted to be the biggest band in the world at the time, but I knew I had to go home. It was 6 months to a year without me seeing my daughter and I was trying to be a dad for the first time. It just really didn’t work.
I believe what may have sparked the negativity towards you was Mark and Travis were a little more public about the break up at first…
They made it seem as it was your decision. You were the one that changed your phone number, you were the one who had your manager speak on your behalf...
[Tom] Absolutely I did not talk to them. That is totally true…absolutely… and absolutely they were pissed about it. But that was after we argued for weeks and weeks and there was nothing left to say. Like nothing. If we would started arguing about it again it would be like the movie that you have seen for the 75th time in one month. It was like what are we fucking doing? I guess we feared to talk about the same things again and again. I mean we are talking about arguments with tears and screaming backstage in Europe for days and days. I mean then we got home and they wanted to start talking about it again after we agreed to take a break, and I could go home with to my kids. Then they wanted to start booking tours, and they got all pissed. That’s why. And they all wanted to go out and tell everybody, and they went out and they were mad. I mean they had every reason to be angry. I took away from them something they wanted to keep doing, but I told them. I don’t want to quit this band. I started this band. It was me. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t want to do that. But it just came to that situation were they sort made me choose between how I wanted father my kids. You know I can do that. That is really what it was. I don’t know.
I don't have any animosity towards those guys. Because when everyone is put in those situations where they are not comfortable, you look at it through a filter, and at the time it was really a negative filter. They were suspicious, everyone thought I was going to go out and do a solo record. There weren’t people in my ear telling me I was the band. It was all lies! It was all paranoia. It wasn’t my manager that was trying to make me start a new band. It was all such shit! It was all suspicion, and it ruined the band. None of it was true. I mean (+44) was actually created while we were still on tour in Europe. AVA was not even created till months and months after the break up. I mean people think I had this in my head to go out and do this. It wasn’t like this at all. They already had in their head to go out and start a whole new band.
[Tom] But the thing is… fuck I miss those guys! They are awesome guys. I mean I wish I could be friends with those guys, but it really isn’t a reality right now. We just have totally two separate lives and ideas on how we want to live our lives. I mean they live in Beverly Hills and Travis was into his TV show at the time. But I have my companies down here (San Diego) and we just signed a bunch of professional athletes to Macbeth. I am making movies, and I am with my best friends in the world doing Angels and Airwaves making music that is really a liberation of my soul. I am in a really, really good spot. I mean it is really hard to think about going back and singing about dicks and butts right now (laugh).
Right, we know Blink was geared towards the younger audience and you did write songs about topics like that. But that was Blink. We knew that, and we love you for it. However, I have read in recent interviews were you state. “This is the best music I have ever made, and the purest reflection of myself than ever before.” Do you believe that when fans of Blink hear you say that they may believe you are discrediting everything you did with Blink or are they just perceiving your words incorrectly?
[Tom] I don’t know. I think every time I have ever recorded music it is has always been the best I have done. If I don’t get better at it, I am not progressing. But AVA was so much further advanced than Blink. It really blew my mind. Because in Blink we didn’t have the same goals, we were getting along, and everyone was suspicious of each other and shit. So we really couldn’t do our best work. You know. Like on Angels and Airwaves it is so free. Everyone was so supportive. Everyone was like “Fuck” it feels so good. I just felt like I went light years ahead. Not that Blink sucked. Blink was everything! I loved that band. I mean fuck I started that band. It was awesome. We could have probably done anything in the world with that band if we would have stuck together and remained friends, and respected each other a lot more. I mean I know in Blink we sat around and were writing songs at times…not all of them…but at times we were like fuck is this what people want. Is it still punk or is it main stream? With AVA we don’t do that. It’s a whole different writing process. We surround ourselves with art and giant ideas and philosophies and study every little more we make to further our message. With Blink it wasn’t like that, and that is cool.
Cool….I guess that is about it with the time allotted and we hit a lot of revealing topics.
[Tom] Yeah man I was really excited for this interview. I was stoked because you really have a great group of bands and kids on this site. I mean I know my band is really controversial, but I guess that is kind of the fun of rock n’ roll right? [laugh].
Yeah..I mean AP.net did start out as a Blink 182 fan site…
[Tom] I know but it has gone so further than that, and it is not just that anymore. I am glad that you guys were able to talk to me which is really cool. I mean we still consider ourselves a punk rock band. So thanks so much for your time.
Fantastic interview. My stance on Tom's ego certainly hasn't changed, but maybe that doesn't matter anymore. Nice insight to the Blink breakup--really puts it into perspective, doesn't it?
I, for one, am looking forward to this documentary.
That interview brought me to the verge of tears. Not really, but shit its good to hear him say that he misses Mark and Travis, thats about all I wanted to hear from him.
And I'm anxious to see the films they're putting out, I think his ideas about the music industry are pretty good, and its admirable that he's trying to do everything in his power to better music (even if he misses the mark from time to time, no pun intended). He's definitely one of the most positive minded individuals around despite the amount of bashing he receives.
I mean +44 was actually was created while we were still on tour in Europe. AVA was not even created till months and months after the break up. I mean people think I had this in my head to go out and do this. It wasn’t like this at all. They already had in their head to go out and start a whole new band.