It wouldn’t be a Tom Delonge conversation without at least one gag.
For our interview he gets it out of the road straight away.
“Hi, can I please speak to Tom?”
“Oh, let me see if he’s here… Oh, he’s in the bubble bath.”
“Nah, just joking. It’s me. How’s it going?”
It’s the exact juvenile prank you’d expect/desire from an interview with Delonge, whose earned as much of a reputation over the last two decades for telling dick jokes as he has for concocting infectious melodies and angst ridden anthems as one of the frontmen of pop punk icons Blink 182.
However, when it comes to his work in Angels & Airwaves, Delonge takes a much more serious tone, and when you look at the sheer scale of output from the group, you appreciate that there isn’t a lot of time for joking around. In the nine years since Delonge created AVA (as it’s typically abbreviated as a reference of the band’s logo), the art project has released four albums (including twin concept records Love and Love: Part Two), a documentary (2008’s Start the Machine which documented the creation of Angels & Airwaves), a full feature (2011’s Love), toured the world performing sell out shows, and in the meantime Delonge and his small, independent team have created a comprehensive digital retail service called Modlife that provides artists with direct access to their fans to sell them both digital and physical properties. In fact they did such a great job creating Modlife that is now used by not only AVA and Blink 182, but also the likes of Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, and Jack White’s Third Man Records.
“When Angles & Airwaves started we said we wanted to be a trans-media experience. We want the band to be able to do soundtracks for ideas much larger than ourselves and we wanted to be something that’s different and we wanted to be independent. So we needed to build the infrastructure to do that.”
“The first thing we needed to do was build the technology platform that could handle being independent – something that could monetize digital media and limited edition products that are physical. How do you do that – ya know? And that thing that we had to dream up is called Modlife and it now powers Pearl Jam’s fan club, we do Nine Inch Nails’ releases, we do Kanye West’s releases. And no-one knows how much Angels & Airwaves have paved the way for a lot of different things in the music industry but that’s fine, I just want people to enjoy the art.”
And for all that they’ve already achieved, the group now stands at the precipice of their most ambitious cross platform project to date.
As musicians, they are poised to release The Dream Walker on December 9, a record co-written and recorded by Delonge and Ilan Rubin (best known for his work in Nine Inch Nails) that sees the band explore the expansive, ethereal rock that AVA are known for, but also delves into the world of electronic music on tracks like ‘The Wolfpack,’ or Clash inspired battle cries like latest single ‘Bullet’s In The Wind’.
Simultaneously, the group will release the short film Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker, which recently picked up the best animated film award at the respected Toronto Short Film Festival. The anime-inspired short explores the Delonge-created world of Poet Anderson – a ‘Lucid Dreamer’ with rare abilities who can move in and out of his vivid dream life guided and protected by a guardian angel known as the Dream Walker. When Poet’s nightmares begin to break through into his waking life, he is forced to face his demons to fulfill his destiny. It’s a rich and compelling story, enhanced by the music on The Dream Walker, which largely serves as the film’s soundtrack.
For Delonge, the fact that the short film has already achieved an accolade such as its Toronto win, already feels like acknowledgment enough of the massive amount of work and effort that’s gone into the project.
“I’m freaking. I’m so happy. We spent two years making this thing and it’s been so much work and the animators I’ve been working with are so talented. They deserve it so much and it’s such a head turner. People don’t expect this level of art out of a band but you know, like I always tell people, we’re not a band, we’re an art project.”
It doesn’t stop there either. The group has plans for a Poet Anderson feature film, comic book and graphic novel, all to be rolled out over the next few months to coincide with the 10th anniversary of AVA. Each release is intended to combine for the kind of all-encompassing multimedia experience you might expect from The Wachowskis and a $100 million budget – not a collective of artists and entrepreneurs operating within the ethos of being independent and free from record label or movie studio influence.
“That’s exactly what we’ve worked so long and hard for – to have control over our own art and control over our own destiny and that’s hard to do because the record labels and all the corporations have a monopoly on that and artists have been trampled on for so long. We’ve created an inter system where everyone’s going to be able to do what they love and hopefully thrive from it. Like I say, we’ve got a lot of work to do but this is a big deal. This is as DIY as it gets but it’s also the most ambitious project, I think, any band is doing.
“All the art pieces have to work on their own and work beautifully as a puzzle with all the pieces fitting. So you don’t have to read the book or hear the record or see the movie to get the same vibe. All of them stand as an individual piece and is strong on its own but if you really dig it, it won’t end. You can go and enjoy all the different pieces and that’s what’s exciting for me.”
Analysing it on paper, the vast nature of project is intimidating. Simply organising all its moving parts, let alone finding the time to work on so many aspects at once is enough to make one’s head ache. But Delonge says he gets focus from an unusual source that helps him burn through the tasks at hand.
“I have ADD, so I can jump down and work on a comic book and then I get 100 pages from one of the novels we’re doing and them I’m like “Oh yeah, shit, let’s go do this,” and then I’ll be thinking of some 3D concept art of a motorcycle that glows and I’m like, “Fuck! That’s rad! What if it glows in this colour and what if this was this?”
And at the end of the day, Delonge is never lacking in a source for inspiration. After all, The Dream Walker world is his creation, and he continually draws upon his stories to fuel each aspect of the project.
“All the songs were inspired by either the culture or the tribe from which our character comes from or the dream world itself. ‘Bullets In The Wind,’ that to me reminded me of the Clash in some ways, is referencing the transistor radio and analogue culture when rock and roll was more important. That is the tribe that Poet Anderson comes from. But also ‘Paralyzed’ is about sleep paralysis. That’s a direct hit from what this is all about – the enormity of dreams and the effect that it can have on people. So the whole album has something to do with either the culture or the theme itself.”
Delonge says it’s taken the band 10 years to be ready for this kind of release and the learning process has been a steep, yet ultimately rewarding one.
“This is encapsulating all the ideas – the idea that we could do things that weren’t just an album or an album and a movie but all different forms of art working together. So this is something we always wanted to do. I probably wanted it all to fire a little earlier but now that I’m in the thick of it, there’s no fucking way. There’s no way we could have done this 10 years ago. It’s taken so long to understand how to do this and how to do the business of it, how to do the art of it, how to inspire people, how to set up a work flow pattern where we can work together. It’s been awesome but it’s been difficult.”
He eventually intends to take The Dream Walker on the road, but he appreciates the enormity of the project and realises that it’s going to take some time for fans to let it sink in.
“I just need to make sure that everyone understands it, everyone is excited about it and everyone has immersed themselves into it so that it can be a success.”
Originally published on vmusic.com.au