Angels & Airwaves: Who Can It Be Now?

Tom DeLonge's new band plays our blindfold game, sounding off on Green Day, Arctic Monkeys, and ... Def Leppard?

Who knew that Tom DeLonge, blink-182's potty-mouthed master of teen angst, had an inner Bono waiting to emerge? Ask DeLonge about his new band Angels and Airwaves, and the singer-guitarist explains how he's chasing after "an element of the human soul that hasn't been in American rock 'n' roll in a long time." Anybody out there got a white flag?

Yep, Fall-Out Boy can keep the party punk. With impressive songs both political and sincere, A&A are tackling the U2 and Coldplay turf. Their We Don't Need to Whisper debut sounds like The Joshua Tree if it was recorded in a San Diego garage. VH1 spun a handful of unidentified songs for DeLonge, guitarist David Kennedy, drummer Atom Willard and bassist Ryan Sinn. The guys guessed at the artists, and passed judgment on punk past, punk present, and world-beaters of all stripes.

Buzzcocks -- "Ever Fallen in Love?" Love Bites (1978)

David Kennedy: Alkaline Trio! [Laughs] This is old f*cking punk rock. I've heard this before. It's like the Buzzcocks ...
Tom DeLonge: There were only a few punk rock bands before my time that I was really into. The first song I ever tried to play was by [L.A. hardcore group] the Descendents. Everything about my guitar playing is from them.
David: I learned how to play "Hope." That seemed like a Descendents song that was conveniently easy.
Atom Willard: Mine was Minor's Threat's "Seeing Red." But drums are a different thing. Drums are easy.
Ryan Sinn: The first punk rock song I learned was The Germs, "Lexicon Devil." It was just an easy song.

What was more important back then - anger or catchiness?

Tom: I never really liked angry music - which I gues is a product of living in a sunny city in California. I was looking for melodic sensibility. That was very much my thing. The Descendents could write a kick-ass song. Dude, if their records came out now, it would be completely current.

U2 -- "The Unforgettable Fire" from The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

Tom: I think The Unforgettable Fire was my first U2 record. "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "With Or Without You" are two of the greatest songs ever. There's no mystery about my fascination with that band. Any band that has as many rad songs as they do, and are still writing good songs at this time in their career [is inspiring].
David: By the time I was in high school, man, none of their stuff made sense to me.

Why not?

David: At that time they were doing the Zootopia thing. All I cared about was bands like The Misfits, Uniform Choice, Insted, Minor Threat, a lot of New York hard core. I was trying to figure out who I was and those bands made me feel comfortable.
Tom: I think it took U2 a while to discover themselves what everyone knew they were. U2 is not the only band that had this kind of inner spiritual awakening. There's a lot of that idea in Angels and Airwaves, but the difference is that our band sonically sounds like what rock 'n' roll could be like in the future.

Arctic Monkeys -- "Fake Tales of San Francisco" from Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)

Tom: Sounds like Franz Ferdinand.
David: Oh, it's the f*cking Arctic Monkeys.

Not a fan?

David: I don't know anything about them. I just know people talk about them a lot.
Tom: David had the best way to describe it. There's this thing that goes on in England where they're so proud to be English. Rightfully, because it's one of the most f*cking amazing countries on earth. But a lot of times they hype what they have for no other reason than that there's nothing else to hype.

They seem to be singing about experiences English teens can relate to, which is sort of what blink did for SoCal teens.

Tom: blink sang about details of teenage living for a decade. I don't think that's ingenious, because the Descendents did it before we did. I get skeptical when someone says X is the next biggest, greatest, raddest thing. I just go, "F*ck, I don't have the chills yet." Give me the chills!
Atom: That's what we wanted when we made our record - giving ourselves the chills. Getting so excited about what we're doing that we freak ourselves out.
Tom: I truly hope that the Arctic Monkeys do well because as far as punk rock goes, it really is different. I would much rather see a band like them succeed and do well then just the same old version of what I've been doing for the past decade.

When you listen to the radio do you hear the children of blink?

Tom: Oh yeah. But at the same time I'm not asshole enough to think that I'm their f*cking influence. It's just the natural chain of events. We were the first band that really spoke for the middle class white kid that was on a computer that really didn't hate his life, but didn't like everything about it either. We were the first ones to do funny stupid videos. But now there's a whole industry made off that kind of world. It's interesting to want to be out of it and look back in.

Def Leppard - "Hanging on the Telephone" from Yeah! (2006)

Tom: Sounds like The Replacements. Who is this? What, Def Leppard? This is ca-ca, dude! But when I was a kid I did think "Pour Some Sugar on Me" was epic.
David: Sure, but they need to make that record again not this record [of cover tunes].
Tom: Look how they're posing [on the album cover], like it's still a brand new thing. [The one-armed drummer is] putting up two fingers, so it's cool.

Did you do covers when your messing around in the rehearsal studio?

David: I don't know how to play any songs. Ryan taught me some good ones.
Tom: The only cover songs I've ever been a part of are a Descendents song and Dinosaur Jr. song. And Barry Manilow when I was in Boxcar Racer!
David: We f*cking did "Mandy." It was good, though.
Tom: I loved that song. I think it's one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. [Sings] "Oh, Mandy/ You came and you gave without taking/ But I sent you away." It's so good.
Atom: I didn't join this band to play "Mandy."

Green Day -- "American Idiot" from American Idiot (2004)

All: Green Day!

Green Day write successful political pop songs. Did you follow their lead to a degree?

Tom: I haven't even heard that album! I only heard whatever [made it to] the radio. I love the fact that it got people psyched. But Angels and Airwaves is very much an extension of what I did on my last blink record, where we really dived into this Pink Floyd sort of world. I'm inspired by Green Day's success, but their music doesn't really touch me. It's not my kind of music.

Does a time of conflict lend art more urgency?

Tom: It's always the job of an artist to be aware of the world around them and communicate it back to for people to digest. John Lennon got shot for really challenging the way people think during a massively controversial war. Van Gogh cut off his ear because he couldn't express what he was trying to express. Artists have a job to try and up the ante every time, especially right now, when things aren't that good.

What's the closest you've come to cutting your ear off for rock 'n' roll?

Tom: Making this record. My management sat me down in my backyard and were going, "What's wrong with you?" I said "I feel like I'm losing my mind, but I feel like that's what's gonna make this record truly great." It was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life, but the most rewarding and spiritually fulfilling thing I've ever been a part of.

- C. Bottomley (VH1.com)

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