DeLonge regroups with A & A

TORONTO - Tom DeLonge torn and frayed would be no surprise. So, when the ex-frontman for California punk-rock sensations Blink-182 blew through town last week to unveil his new band, Angels & Airwaves, and play a sold-out gig at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, he caused onlookers to do a double-take when he showed up at The Brasserie in Toronto's entertainment district garbed in a chic, chocolate coloured ensemble, complete with Fly-era Bono sunglasses, and hair that was neatly gelled and parted to one side.

The way guitarist David Kennedy looks at it goes like this. Early last year, with Blink's future in doubt, DeLonge was at a crossroads. "When everything went off with Tom and his last band, he gave me a call," says Kennedy, who was the guitarist in DeLonge and Blink drummer Travis Barker's other side project, Box Car Racer. "We just started talking about life, trying to figure out what to do and where to go. We wanted to be in a healthy environment, a creative environment and a drama, ego-free environment.

"At the time I had gone through a lot of stuff with a different band and I decided I didn't want to make music if I couldn't do it exactly the way I wanted to do it. And having the same values, the same goals and the same agenda as Tom, it seemed like this would be a healthy, exciting environment to get involved with."

The pair having been friends since high school, Kennedy suggested the 30-year-old singer-songwriter give a call to ex-Distillers bassist, Ryan Sinn. Having played in the same circles as DeLonge and Kennedy, fellow Californian, Atom Willard (drummer for the Offspring), was offered a spot behind the drum kit.

With Blink lying in tatters, Angels & Airwaves were born.

Moving production to Never Pants Ranch and the Foo Fighters' Studio 606, DeLonge and his new associates began recording the group's debut - "We Don't Need To Whisper" - in mid-2005. But having already conquered the worlds of pop and punk (Blink has sold in excess of 20 million records worldwide, won an array of MTV awards and sold out arenas across the globe), the quartet wanted A & A to be anything but a rehashing of the million-riffs-per-second DeLonge had already proven he could play.

"As much as I might have liked Blink, I could've never played in that band," Kennedy says, sipping from a cup of Orange Pekoe. "That didn't speak to me. That's not my silly kind of personality. Now, instead of being one thing, we can be what everyone is, which is humorous, which is serious, which is dramatic. The emotions everyone goes through in their everyday life, we can be all of that."

Gazing down on the late-afternoon lunch crowd seated below, Willard nods in agreement. "That's the beauty of being in a new band. People aren't going to be saying, 'I can't wait to go to the show tonight and laugh.' Some nights Tom can be serious and I can guarantee you he's going to say some shit that's going to make you think. So it's nice not to have those preconceived ideas. Whatever we want to be, we can be."

It was understood that if the foursome were going to take part in creating something new and completely different from what their fans were used to, A & A could and would frolic amidst a variety of sounds.

Whether it's the way they emote "Do It For Me Now," which takes on the same grandeur of Pink Floyd sans Roger Waters, the way they swoop through arena-ready songs like "Distraction" and "The War," or the way they let Larry Mullen-like drums and Edge-sounding guitars unfold on "Valkyrie Missile," A and A's debut trades Blink's punk-friendly sounds for epic rock stylings that mine the same terrain as U2 and Queen.

"The music was more than the tempo or the notes," Willard says. "It's about this feeling that it evokes."

Kennedy sets his cup down on the table alongside an ornate teapot before settling back into the bar's expansive couch. "We've already done what we've done before," he allows matter-of-factly. "But at this point, we all wanted to do something that spoke to where we were at personally. If we were going to do music, we were all like, 'I don't want to do something I've already done.' A lot of music right now is rehashing a lot of older stuff. Not that that's bad, but I just wanted to be part of creating something new."

"Nobody in this band is trying to deny anybody's past," he continues. "Everyone's excited and proud of what we've done. But we're coming from there," he says pointing across the room, "and this is where we're going," his hands now planted firmly at his side. "That's really what this all is."

Willard slouches back, his head and tattooed arms basking in the early afternoon sun. "Here was an opportunity to do something with people who were all so likeminded from the ground up," he says gesturing. "It was like the stars were all perfectly aligned. With his musical past, I never would have looked at David and gone, 'That guy's gonna like the same music I want to play.' But we all came together in this one room and everything else just kind of washed away."

With the album having hit shelves, listeners (many of whom got a jump start on the record's street date after songs were leaked onto the Internet) have kept an open mind. "Hopefully, any anticipation of what we're going to sound like has stemmed from what people have already heard or seen from the band. I'd like to think that all the anticipation or lead-up has kind of been from what we've already put out."

"I hope people aren't saying, 'Oh, here's these guys who were in other bands and now they're in this new band. I wonder what they sound like.'"

Perhaps tired of having to qualify DeLonge's new project to a spate of anonymous tape recorders, Willard says the record goes beyond anything any of them have done before, uncovering emotional truths that will resonate decades from now. Positivity, believing in yourself and going after your dreams narrate the album's 10 tracks. "It's really about making yourself happy," Willard offers with a smile. "What could be better with your life and how do you make that better? These are the kinds of things we want people to ask themselves."

Kennedy knows that A & A have the blessing and curse that goes along with already-made stardom. So, he'll put up with the band's political-style campaigning as DeLonge weans Blink's fans to this new project. "It's pretty much what you do when you want to start a rock band," he quips. "But it's only worth it if it's going to be original. I'd rather be a failure, and be original, than be successful and a copycat."

And though he likes DeLonge's adolescent antics as much as the next guy, Kennedy feels invigorated by his new role in A and A. Laughing as he recounts how DeLonge will still veer off into "some funny directions sometimes," the guitarist says the group's message is the perfect antidote for apathy.

"Despite whatever situation you're in, tomorrow can still be the best day of your life," he says seriously. "I like communicating the idea that I might not be in a good mood now, but I'm going to be...even if I have to wait until next week."

Angels & Airwaves will appear alongside Taking Back Sunday at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto on July 5.

- Mark Daniell ( - JAM! Music)

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