By: George Varga
As the lead singer, guitarist and frontman in blink-182, Tom DeLonge has become rich and famous by co-writing, recording and performing songs that celebrate the joys and angst of adolescence, ideally with as much gleeful profanity as possible.
As the lead singer, guitarist and periodic keyboardist in Angels & Airwaves (or AVA, as fans call it), he is able to use his wealth and fame to co-write, record and perform a far more serious style of music that focuses on such major issues as war, peace, idealism and existential dread. To underscore his serious intentions, there isn’t a hint of profanity in Angels & Airwaves’ lyrics, which accompany songs that take their cues from moody art rock far more than they do from punk rock.
With both groups co-existing — blink, which disbanded acrimoniously in late 2004, reunited early last year — DeLonge finds himself in a rare position. He is now one of the few rock stars who is able to fulfill his adolescent and adult musical ambitions at the same time.
“I think it probably is the best of both worlds, because they’re so drastically different,” says DeLonge.
“Maybe not to the passive listener,” he continues. “But most people will notice vast differences and see that I’m expressing myself in completely different ways with each band. That kind of symbiotic relationship, for a musician, could be wonderful — or self-destructive.”
In fact, wonderful and self-destructive have both applied to DeLonge, a Poway, Calif., native who has achieved worldwide success and undergone personal turmoil as a direct result of his success with blink.
The band, which he formed in 1992 with bassist-singer Mark Hoppus and drummer Scott Raynor, started to take off following the arrival of drummer Travis Barker in 1998. The trio’s next album, 1999’s multimillion-selling “Enema of the State,” transformed the group’s fortunes almost overnight. DeLonge, a 1994 Poway High School grad who worked a day job hauling concrete before blink broke big, became successful beyond his wildest dreams. Blink appeared in the 1999 movie “American Pie” and was later featured (in animated form) in an episode of TV’s “The Simpsons.”
Similarly popular albums and world tours followed for the band, thanks to its brash but very well-crafted brand of pop punk. By focusing equally on teen turmoil and proudly potty-mouthed humor about sex and various bodily functions, DeLonge, Hoppus and Barker struck a major chord that helped make them one of the biggest rock acts in the world.
At least it did until late 2004.
It was then, after an extensive international concert trek with blink, that DeLonge informed his band mates of his desire to take an extended hiatus so that he could spend more time with his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Ava, then 2. Eager to maintain the group’s momentum, Hoppus and Barker balked, but to no avail.
In early 2005, blink announced it was going on “indefinite hiatus.” The following year, after he overcame an addiction to painkillers that contributed to the friction with his blink band mates, DeLonge launched a new group, the four-man Angels & Airwaves. Barker and Hoppus responded by forming their own quartet (+44) and releasing an album of their own.
Where some rock stars downplay their drug problems and others shamelessly publicize their recoveries, DeLonge sounded both genuinely chagrined and contemplative as he recently discussed the dark period he went through.
“It was much more difficult to address myself and my own issues than it was to talk about it,” the singer-guitarist says. He first acknowledged his problem with painkillers in “Start the Machine,” a 2008 film documentary about the making of “We Don’t Need to Whisper,” AVA’s debut album.
“To come to terms about it with my family was much more trying,” notes DeLonge, whose family now includes son Jonas, 3.
“The difficulty of that period was just looking back and realizing how much of a jackass I sounded like. I see it now with other artists, when they have no filter, and it’s so obvious they were on same path I was on.”
And what path is that?
“Insecurity,” DeLonge replies. “You’re trying to find your individuality in a place (rock stardom) where you’re getting a lot of attention. And the easiest way to feel indestructible is to alter your perception of reality, chemically. Once you do, you feel like you’re indestructible. …
“With my taking medication, I always realized how much I wanted to stop. But there was a very easy moment for me to stop, when it became increasingly difficult to get more medication and I had to wait, at one point, for an extra week and half. I knew that was the moment. I had no choice because I realized I’d be so deep into my withdrawal. The pivotal moment was where it started the breakup of the band (blink), where (I) had to convince myself I was bigger and better.”
Older and wiser, DeLonge looks back on his addiction to painkillers as a harrowing but transformative learning experience.
Today, he displays a sense of maturity and introspection few fans would associate with blink or its music.
“I think that comes with age,” says DeLonge, who owns two successful companies, Macbeth Footwear and Modlife, a website that lets bands and their fans interact through live video broadcasts, text messaging, Twitter and other au courant means.
“People always say you’re supposed to have maturity and act (like) it. But the beautiful thing about maturity is that it comes in its own time. It doesn’t hit you like puberty might hit you. It’s more like something that happens (gradually) every year. When you become an adult approaching 30 — and now I’m 34 — you become aware that you’re not indestructible and that the world holds a finite amount of time for everybody. And you have to come to terms with all that.”
Intriguingly, this is the first time blink and AVA have existed at the same time.
By extension, it is also the first time DeLonge has had to reconcile what it means to be in two very different bands. His reunion with blink came following the 2008 Lear jet crash that nearly claimed Barker’s life. The drummer and DJ AM (who died the following year) were the only survivors of the tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of the pilot, co-pilot and two other passengers.
“I think music means something different to me now than it used to,” DeLonge says, sitting on a couch in AVA’s north San Diego County recording and rehearsal studio.
“I think that 10 years ago — more than 10 years ago, 18 years ago — it was a venting of angst. And now, it’s definitely an expression of my soul. The problem is, now that blink is back in my life, I have to decide if I want to express my angst or my soul.”
Despite his earlier contention that he’s enjoying the best of both worlds, juggling both bands — and their disparate musical and lyrical focuses — may not be so easy.
Blink’s audience expects charged songs that fuel youthful tension and release. AVA’s music, especially on its new album, “Love,” is inspired by the epic work of the Who, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and U2 in their respective primes.
“I would lose straight away if I went on ‘American Idol,’ ” DeLonge says. “But those guys (on ‘Idol’) will never be known for defining a generation of young suburbanites like (blink) did.”
Following a break after AVA’s tour wraps up, DeLonge will turn his attention to blink and preparations for the reunited trio’s first album of new songs since 2003.
“With AVA, I’m with a team of guys who feel the same way I do. We grew up with the same expectations that we have for ourselves, as well as about what music can do for somebody. We love the investigation of the spiritual world and educating ourselves on philosophical matters that might change the way we feel about our audience.
“With blink, we’re not all the same people. We don’t have the same goals, we didn’t grow up the same way. The magic of blink is how all three of those ingredients are so different. A large part of who I am now is because the breakup of blink (led to) such a traumatic fallout of three friends that I went in search of myself. I haven’t had to write any (new) blink songs since that change. Coming (later) this year, I’ll have to start writing those songs, and it will be interesting to see what side of me comes out.”
COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM