Blink, and the guy goes all adult on you

Tom DeLonge tries his hand at 'epic in every sense of the word' rock with new group Angels & Airwaves

Tom DeLonge's new band is called Angels & Airwaves, but as recently as 15 months ago he was agonizing that his once high-flying life had become more hellish than heavenly. Today, though, the Poway-bred singer, guitarist and songwriter exudes so much optimism and excitement he seems like he could start levitating simply from the power of his own enthusiasm.

The best way to understand this dramatic turnaround is by flashing back to late 2004 and the conclusion of a triumphant European tour by DeLonge's previous band, pop-punk superstars blink-182.

He should have been on top of the world. He wasn't. To paraphrase the title of B.B. King's classic 1970 blues song, the thrill was gone, and DeLonge saw nothing in blink's potential future to convince him otherwise.

The trio has not performed or recorded since. And while DeLonge speaks highly of his former bandmates when asked, he has had virtually no contact with them.

DeLonge, 30, co-founded blink in 1992 with bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Scott Raynor (who, after two albums, was replaced by Travis Barker in 1998). Yet, despite having sold millions of albums and concert tickets, blink's fame and fortune were no longer enough to satisfy DeLonge.

“You don't even wish for the success that I had, because you don't think it's attainable,” he said during a recent interview in Angels & Airwaves' Carlsbad rehearsal studio. The band performs a sold-out show Saturday night at downtown's House of Blues, then returns for a July 23 concert at Viejas Bayside Concerts at the Embarcadero.

“... people are different when they're 30 than they are when they're 16,” he continued. “We kind of all grew apart (in blink) and we had different goals. And a lot happens when (you get) fame and money and responsibilities, and how you work with (your) family – it's just hard.”

Eager to explore new musical vistas and to spend more time at home in Encinitas with his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Ava, 3, he decided early last year to officially step away from blink. After what DeLonge describes as a “major blowout,” the trio announced an “indefinite hiatus.”

With blink behind him, he soon realized he wanted to do something bigger and better than ever before. He also wanted to create music that was more ambitious and inspirational than blink's rousing, but often juvenile, songs about flatulence, volcanic hormones and teen angst gone awry.

“So, coming from a band that was as successful as blink ... you ask yourself: 'How do you go up from here?' ” DeLonge said. “And you start looking at the biggest, boldest, most ambitious and most legendary bands of all-time. And to me – it's probably different than other people – but I look at bands like U2, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Cure; all these bands that I grew up thinking were larger-than-life.”

Enter the Angels

True to his words, “We Don't Need to Whisper,” the debut album by the four-man Angels & Airwaves (due out May 23 on Geffen Records) aims for precisely such a larger-than-life impact. DeLonge's goal for this ambitious concept album about “love and war” was to make it sound epic.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Epic in every sense of the word. And epic in the way (it feels) in the heart, and the passion and the ideas, and the ambition. And what I wanted for our listeners to feel. ... ”

DeLonge benefits from the empathetic musical support of his new bandmates. They include guitarist David Kennedy (who had played with him in his blink side project, Box Car Racer), ex-Distillers bassist Ryan Sinn and ex-Rocket From the Crypt/Offspring drummer Adam “Atom” Willard.

While all are skilled instrumentalists, that wasn't DeLonge's emphasis.

“I think the first thing Tom asked me was: 'How's your wife?,' and we started talking about that,” said bassist Sinn of his first meeting with DeLonge. “Because there's a lot of musicians out there that are great players, but they're not the nicest or greatest of people.”

DeLonge agreed.

“It didn't have to do with musicianship,” he said of his new bandmates. “It had everything to do with them as people, and (having) respect for each other and a common goal and vision. It has nothing to do with fame and money; it has everything to do with changing our lives – and, hopefully, others.

“I need particular people who are good people. Good people. So that when the stress and the tidal wave of success comes, you don't get caught up in it. You stand firm and remember what you're doing it for. Because there are people who can truly be affected by this music and can take it to good use.”

The 10-song “We Don't Need to Whisper” doesn't always rise to the heady level DeLonge is aiming for, in part because he has yet to fully assimilate and reshape his sometimes too overt musical influences. But the album is a bold move forward for him, regardless.

The raw immediacy of blink's energetic pop-punk has been replaced by chiming, U2-like guitar lines and anthem-like choruses, Pink Floyd-ish instrumental textures and DeLonge's deliberately English-accented vocals. Other key influences include the Police, circa 1983's “Synchronicity” album, and a heavily processed drum sound inspired by ex-Genesis singer Peter Gabriel's solo albums from the 1980s.

“There's a lot of Peter Gabriel influence on this record,” DeLonge affirmed.

Lyrically, the album represents a major evolution. Now 30 and with a second child on the way, DeLonge is eager to address more adult issues. He is also unafraid to sound idealistic, as evidenced by the closing couplets of “Start the Machine,” the album's concluding selection: I'm on my knee, just one to start, a fresh new start, don't be undecided / If love's a word that you say, then say it, I will listen.

“You know, I really want to represent the idea of change in somebody's life, and doing it for the right reasons,” DeLonge said. “I really want to represent, too, that's it's actually cool to be happy. It's actually cool to be positive and optimistic and idealistic. It's cool to see yourself doing beautiful, great things. It's not cool running around being pissed about everything and tearing down everyone else.

“... (blink) didn't have a message. And I think that's what its charm was. What kids loved about it was its absolute irresponsibility and (sense of) just doing what you want to do when you want to do it. Angels is (about) ... absolute responsibility. Not in the sense of being adult, but the sense of being responsible for your own life.”

And what of those who might dismiss his idealism as the indulgence of a rich rock star?

“I'd say, 'How do you think I got this way?' ” DeLonge replied. “If you want to be a rich rock star, too, maybe you should try believing in yourself and try doing something wonderful.”
INFLUENCES ON THE MAN

Born in 1975, former blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge happily acknowledges his musical influences. They include U2, the Cure, Pink Floyd and other legendary artists whose work inspired “We Don't Need to Whisp***er,” the upcoming debut album by DeLonge's new band, Angels & Airwaves. “I re-fell back in love with those bands,” he said, “for so much more than even their music.”

Here's a look at three of DeLonge's biggest new/old influences:

Artist: U2.

Classic album: “The Joshua Tree” (1987).

The sound: Atmospheric, majestic and stirring, with no hint of pretension.

Standout song: “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

DeLonge: “It's just really obvious, to even a half-educated listener, how influenced I am by U2. They were my first favorite band in seventh grade; I had all their records. And then I got into punk rock, and they weren't cool enough for me.”

Artist: The Police.

Classic album: “Synchronicity” (1983).

The sound: So innovative that it created a musical template copied by many other bands in the 1980s and beyond.

Standout song: “Every Breath You Take.”

DeLonge: “The Police and 'Every Breath You Take' (is) kind of what I was after (with Angels & Airwaves). And I'd be lying if I didn't say I was very familiar with how they wrote those songs. ... But I think my spin on it is (how) I really wanted to combine my favorite things about music from the '60s to now.”

Artist: Peter Gabriel.

Classic album: “So” (1986).

Standout song: “In Your Eyes.”

The sound: Daring fusion of funk, techno, world music and more.

DeLonge: “So much of this Angels & Airwaves' record is (influenced by) Peter Gabriel. And I'm not the hugest Peter Gabriel fan. But there's some songs of his that I will fight to the death over, like 'Solsbury Hill' and 'In Your Eyes' and 'Biko.'”

- George Varga (SignOnSanDiego.com)

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