Tom DeLonge knows how he'd like people to listen to We Don't Need to Whisper, the debut album from his new group, Angels and Airwaves (out May 23, 2006). "I really want the room to be dark, with black light or a candle," he says. "People should have headphones on, and they should be really comfortable, maybe sitting on the floor, leaning against the bed. I spent a year and a half working on this record, trying my hardest to give people a moment of escapism. All I ask is 50 minutes of a lowered heart rate."
The first single, "The Adventure," is already burning up the radio and the Internet. Lyrics like, "I want to have the same last dream again/the one where I wake up and I'm alive" is what DeLonge describes as what this record is all about. "Standing up and screaming, 'I want to be alive.'"
In just over a decade with Blink-182, DeLonge went from the San Diego suburbs to the top of the world. The band sold over 20 million records worldwide, won a wide assortment of MTV awards, and sold out arenas everywhere from Adelaide to Oslo. The trio were notorious for their half-naked clowningbut what actually made fans stick around was the songwriting, which honed pop-punk riffs to lethally sharp points, with lyrics that could veer from romantic to comic to rueful.
DeLonge is particularly proud of the recognition the band got from the bands who came before them. "I met Joe Strummer from the Clash and he turned out to be a really big Blink fan because his kids were really big Blink fans," he says. Robert Smith of the Cure sang on the band's last album; Pete Townshend tipped his hat to them onstage at a San Diego show.
So in early 2005, with Blink-182 on a break, DeLonge came to a crossroads. "I didn't have a career, I didn't have a band, I didn't have music happening in my life and I was torn apart. I knew I had to make one of two choices. The first choice was to lie around and be sad, thinking back to the times when I was in a big band on top of the world. The second choice was to continue to make new music and take it to a completely different level. While I did want to satisfy my Blink fans, I also wanted to bring in a whole new generation of listeners. It had nothing to do with fame or money. I knew if I could create a year where I turned my life around, and envisioned myself doing wonderful things, that I could challenge other people to do the same."
Rather than do a solo album or another version of his well-reviewed side project, Box Car Racer, DeLonge decided to start a new band. He recruited Box Car Racer guitarist David Kennedy, bassist Ryan Sinn (formerly of the Distillers), and drum god Atom Willard (previously of Rocket from the Crypt and the Offspring). The quartet headed into the studiowhere they would try anything to find a new sound or a new song.
DeLonge says, "We would literally shut the blinds, dim all the lights, put Stanley Kubrick's 2001 on the flat-screen TV and take these Stephen Ambrose World War II books, with these two-page spreads of cities burning and people dying, and we'd paste them all over the wall. So on one end of the room, you'd have the endless hope of space, and on the other end you'd have the worst of humanity, and then in the middle, we'd write a love song."
We Don't Need to Whispernamed after the first phrase DeLonge said into a microphone when sessions began, testing to see if everything was workingwas recorded at his home studio in sessions that began in March 2005 and continued for about a year. The album isn't the pop-punk hard candy that fans might expect from DeLonge: it mixes guitars and electronics on the epic scale of U2 or Peter Gabriel. The album tells a story, for which DeLonge offers Cliffs Notes, beginning with the album's epic opening track, "Valkyrie Missile": "That's a weapon in the cold war that carries a nuclear weapon. It's coming to annihilate life as you know it, meaning I didn't see the breakup of my band coming, but something special and beautiful is about to happen."
The next track: "Distraction," is what DeLonge describes as the emotional outline of war, and finding solace in a lover during turmoil in one's life. "Whether it's my brother being in a war on the other side of the world that was based on a lie, or my dad having leukemia, all these different things are true. But everyone's dealing with something and a lot of people are dealing with heavier shit than me."
"As you go through the record you get to these times where you're starting to outline love and life being created," DeLonge says. "God comes down and fixes the world in a day on a song called 'A Little Is Enough.' And then by the end of the record, with the song called 'Start the Machine,' the last words are 'If love is a word that you say, then say it, I will listen.' I'm just saying whatever you picture yourself doing can and will happen, but you have to have an enormous amount of faith in yourself and the world around you." DeLonge laughs. "So preachy, I know. And I don't mean for it to be. I wanted it to be the recording of an emotional event in my life. I love the idea of an album doing that, because I knew that if I could get 15,000 people in an arena to have the same feeling at the exact same moment, it would end up feeling like a religious event."
The name Angels and Airwaves popped into DeLonge's head while he was driving. He wasn't certain about the name at first, but then he realized that "Angels and Airwaves" abbreviated as "AAA"and that if he inverted the middle A, it spelled AVA, which is also the name of Toms daughter.
DeLonge isn't shy about being ambitious, and he's shooting for the moon with Angels and Airwaves. "This is not a side project," he says. "This is the next half of Tom DeLonge's life. If you liked anything that I did in the past, this is very much the next step." He still cracks lots of dick jokes and he's still obsessed with UFOs, but now he wants more. "The magic of Blink-182 was that the three of us came together to create this amazing band," he says. "But now there's no holds barred. I get to be me completely with a new group of talented musicians. We are on a different intensity level with this record, and it's something that we can't wait to share with the rest of the world.