Angels & Airwaves was never meant to be just another band, Tom DeLonge told me. The musician, also, of course of seminal punk band Blink-182, has seen his ambitions for Angels & Airwaves, his group with Ilan Rubin, expand in recent years into a multi-disciplinary project that encompasses an impressively wide range of artistic platforms.
Like with the band's previous two records, Love (2010) and Love: Part Two (2011), their forthcoming album, The Dream Walker -- which drops Dec. 9 and includes the brand-new single "The Wolfpack" -- will be accompanied by a film component, the animated short Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker, which will debut at the Toronto International Short Film Festival later this month.
On top of that, The Dream Walker project will also branch out into a series of comic books, a novel, and collectibles.
It may sound like a lot to pull off, but, as DeLonge explained from his home in California, he's always been dreaming big.
MTV: What are you up to today?
Tom DeLonge: I'm trying to figure out some cool gadgets, scanning military frequencies. This is a hobbyist sport. I have all this gear in front of me, and I have no idea how to use it. I'm going to Area 51 this weekend. We're gonna go and sneak a peek at the world's most secret base. I had to get a scanner to listen to what they're doing. They're complicated devices, so I gotta figure it out so when we get out there we can be privy to what they're talking about.
MTV: Do you believe in all that stuff? Aliens and government secrets?
DeLonge: You know what's funny? There's a scientist that worked for Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the elite engineers of the Department of Defense who built Area 51. This senior scientist came out on his death bed a couple months ago and showed all these pictures of aliens and UFOs. He's like the real deal. I Instragrammed this video, and it got like 1.7 million views in 24 hours on the video. I'm probably marked for death right now by the government! It's a fascinating video. It doesn't matter if I believe or or not. There are guys who worked under Edward Teller and Oppenheimer who are talking about it.
MTV: Tell me about "Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker." What's the story there?
DeLonge: Well, years ago when we started Angels & Airwaves it was always meant to be an art project that was representing a collection of artists, not just a band. A transmedia project where we would communicate scenes of human behavior along different mediums. It took us a little while to get it going, to get the company running, to understand how to monetize it and make it work. We put out our first feature film on our last album, and there was quite a bit of critical acclaim for that. We showed it at about 20 film festivals and proved to the film industry we take cinema seriously.
This is our first mainstream attempt. "Love" was an art house project. "Poet Anderson" will have a novel by Suzanne Young -- a New York Times best-selling author -- a feature film, comic books, and a graphic novel. "Poet Anderson" will continue to go on forever. We're launching it with the anime short film, and we've been working on the album for two years. We have "Star Wars" concept artists, best-selling artists and authors all over the world, different states, countries, everyone working on the same project. That's the thing I'm most proud of, being able to wrangle such incredible talent.
Our cover art was created by visual development designer Gustavo H. Mendonca who has helped create some of the most iconic images and characters for Lucas Films, Marvel, DC Comics and your favorite video games. He is helping us bring the characters and world of Poet Anderson : The Dream Walker to life. Our cover is based on a key character that will unfold in the Poet storyline. Here's an explanation from one of Poets contributing writers: "Dream Walkers are the elusive warriors of our dreams, protecting us from our nightmares. The orb-like halo is the physical embodiment of a Dream Walker's soul. It hovers around their body, creating a protective shield, turning the deepest vulnerability into the greatest strength."
MTV: Was there a steep learning curve for you in figuring out how to do all of this stuff?
DeLonge: Oh yeah, it was huge. Especially when we did the "Love" movie. It was ambitious for us to try to make a visual partner to the album, but not just videos. It wasn't supposed to be a cerebral art piece, but it grew and grew. We learned so much by doing it ourselves... It was crazy. It took five years to do all of that. We learned quite a lot.
We've attacked "Poet Anderson" with quite a bit of vigor this time. We took the latitude to be able to change and evolve. The animation is a much larger project than we originally intended, but we went into it knowing how to do these things and how to start early and keep room for the evolution of the project.
MTV: The story is about a boy who can control his dreams?
DeLonge: It started from two different concepts. A lot of theoretical physicists are trying to identify what's happening out in space. If the universe is truly infinite that means there's infinite possibility. There's no end to what's going on. I was thinking if half your life is spent dreaming, the only thing that can traverse that distance is consciousness. Maybe when you dream you're popping into different points in space time? Then there was a Stanford study that said that nightmares are preparing you for real world events. I put those together in the two orphaned brothers. One is in a coma, the other is trying to contact his brother while lucid dreaming. The dream world looks and feel a bit like Blade Runner, and has good-versus-evil kind of a "Star Wars" realm. There are really incredible visual effects moments and high-level concept design. But the story itself is a dark tale of nightmares and kind of losing your mind a little bit, starting to blur the lines between dreams and being awake.
MTV: Do you remember your dreams?
DeLonge: Rarely. I've had a few lucid dreams, and I have very specific imagery and landscapes that are in my head. I always wondered why those were there. They haunt me in a weird way -- I don't understand why they've been hanging around in my mind for so long... I'm fascinated with a lot of things, like why a little tiny atom is a bunch of electrons spinning around a nucleus, then you look at solar system and it's the same thing. It makes you wonder if it goes on forever. The ancients used to say 'As above, so below.' It's interesting that they would look at the stars and see things in this grand scale and it would work in the tiniest parts of life as well. People ask why I'm into UFOS, why I study that. It's undeniable that there's life out there. NASA held a symposium last month, about the inevitability of life in the universe... We're going to have to understand how it affects us. To me that's fascinating... I like to know what the hell is out there, especially since we're killing each other every day here and we gotta get past that.
MTV: I read that you refer to one of the songs off the album, “Paralyzed” as being something for the punk rock fans, early Blink fans. Do you feel like there's a lot of crossover between your two fan bases?
DeLonge: There is little crossover of course, but they're pretty different audiences. I think 20 percent of the audience is crossover, the rest is pretty radically different. Only because Angels has spent so much time trying to be, pardon the pun, a little bit more dreamers. Trying to do things more artistically, a little more esoteric, and giving people the ability to jump in and digest versus the immediacy of Blink. Blink was always about 'Turn it on. Turn it up loud. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to break something.' Both of those are very strong parts of me. One represents me as a youth full of angst, the other is a quest to find out what this is all about. The audiences tend to be parted like the Nile.
MTV: “The Wolfpack” has a lot more of a darker electronic feel. Are those songs representative of the album?
DeLonge: Yes and no. Yes in the sense where you can hear how different they are. No because the record is so massively diverse. Just as diverse as those two songs. There's nothing on the record that sounds like those, but all the songs don't sound like each other. It was a really bold attempt by us to make a very strong left turn, and I think people are going to hear that. Of course the icing on the cake is always a very simplistic melodic reference on the vocal. I'm not going to change that about me. But the music itself is much more evolved, and adult if that's the word to use. My partner, Ilan, he's the most significant musician I've ever met in my life. He plays drums for Nine Inch Nails, but he's way better on guitar than I am. Infinitely better. And the best piano player I've ever seen in my life. When you put those together, it sucks because I can't compete! But it's been awesome, and he's younger than I am, but he grew up studying the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Queen, The Police. I grew up in punk rock, and we were suspicious of people that could play their instruments well. With Blink we all came from broken families, pretty hardcore, and we wanted to do music that was funny and angsty and spoke for the suburbs, where the houses all look pretty but the families inside sucked. We were using music for a different reason. We weren't trying to be good. Pairing me with Ilan has been like oil and water.
MTV: Do you and Ilan see eye to eye on everything?
DeLonge: Not at all. We don't see eye to eye on sh-t, really. It's been a fight. Only because I don't mind power chords. I like things that represent the scene because it identifies that you came from somewhere and that you're speaking for some reasons and have something to say. I come from a punk tribe, I believe a certain thing, I hang out with certain types of people... I like that. I don't like ambiguous artists that could play in any band, but that's not what Ilan is by any means. But the difference is when I would do something that reps scene it doesn't identify with him. He's a musician's musician, but he has a hardcore edge to him. He's really, really smart. The way we would combat each other, I'm just molded in a very specific way. Once we figured out, what both of our ears like, it got really amazing. His brother is our producer, Aaron, and he said it's like being in a studio with somebody that reads every manual and meticulously paints a painting to where it's very ornate and intricate, then being with another painter that splatters paint on a canvas and says it's f--king cool. And that's what we are.
MTV: What's going on with Blink these days? Is there new music on the way?
DeLonge: We're just getting ready to start that journey. I was on the phone a bunch yesterday about all the logistics, how to put the record out, who it's with. It's happening. I told the fans a bit ago and they know it's coming.
MTV: You guys played some really huge festivals over the summer. Do you take that for granted now, or do you sometimes still wonder if maybe you're dreaming?
DeLonge: It's both. When I'm not there I take it for granted. When I'm at home with my friends, they're all modest guys, skaters and surfers, work normal jobs. We hang out and I really like this part of my life. I don't want to go out on tour. But when I'm out there in front of 100,000 people, I'm like 'Oh wow this is pretty cool!' We just played the biggest rock festivals in the world -- Redding and Leeds -- and we shattered all the merch records that we set five years ago. I think Blink just works for a couple different generations. Kids that grew up with us, then the new kids who have heard from their older brothers or something that this is a coming-of-age band. I love being a part of that. Granted, the Clash stood for serious sh-t, but I think what Blink stands for is pretty cool, too.