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Angels & Airwaves Discuss ‘The Dream Walker,’ Poet Anderson + More

Angels and Airwaves
Photo by Johnny Buzzerio

Angels & Airwaves are getting ready to re-emerge on the scene with their latest album, ‘The Dream Walker,’ but there’s much more in store for fans of the band to embrace. The disc is just one part of a multimedia project that will include a film, comic books, a graphic novel, videos and animations that will all tie in to a central character known as Poet Anderson.

Diffuser recently had the chance to preview some of the new songs, get a look at some of the animations and view a trailer for this amazing new project before sitting down for a chat with frontman Tom DeLonge and multi-instrumentalist Ilan Rubin. Check out our chat about the project below.

Wow! Now this is one pretty huge project. Last time we talked, it was all about the ‘Love’ albums and film and that was big, but now you guys are doing this. Can you talk a little bit about the jumping off point for ‘The Dream Walker’?

Tom DeLonge: Yeah, when Angels & Airwaves first started we wanted to be more than a band. It took us a long time to get that first movie out, but we learned a hell of a lot by the time we did that. We were able to get a lot of critical acclaim on that, we were able to show that we cared about cinema and took it seriously. We were able to do it independently. We were able to understand the medium and what it takes to create that kind of art. On this album, we now have a company staffed that has the ability to enable taking it up a level and re-creating that, but with some experience under out belts.

The difference in the songwriting is, just like all the artists that are involved on this project, I have a teammate [in Ilan Rubin] writing the songs for the first time, so you’ll notice quite a big jump in the songwriting and a much more mature, much more complex [nature] that I think lends itself to the ambition of the entire project.

This is a multimedia project where we have a New York Times best-selling author writing the novel that will come out in June, I believe. We have concept artists that work on ‘Star Wars’ working on some of our stuff, we have a comic book — a few issues — a graphic novel coming out internationally, a distributed graphic novel and the animation. We’ve been doing this for two years with some animators that I found in Europe that are incredible and it borders anime and it’s got a very strong, credible look to it that people that are interested in those types of things are going to find really in line with what they think is cool and what’s modern and relevant. When you put it all together, the big things that are different is now we’re organized, now we know what we’re doing and we’ve been able to really pull everybody in and it’s working, it’s exciting and it’s just the beginning, it’s all just starting. I’ve been hibernating for a couple years, but we’re back and we’re making it happen.

Awesome. Ilan, I know that you’ve been working with Tom for a little while. Could you talk a little bit about basically seeing this project through?

Ilan Rubin: So, I met Tom about three years ago and joined Angels & Airwaves. At that point, that was right when the ‘Love’ albums and the movie had been released, so all of that was packaged and ready to go. We did a little bit of touring on that, about a months worth of touring Europe, the U.K. and a couple southern California shows and then after that, the inevitable was to write and record the next batch of music.

So, the Poet Anderson idea was something that Tom had for a long time that he can tell you about in much better detail. But it was something that he had told me about and something that he had been working on, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was able to really enjoy seeing what he had been envisioning and working on this entire time. So, my extent of the knowledge was obviously the concept, the idea itself, concept art and that was pretty much it. So, being able to see the short of the animation was great and putting music to it was a lot of fun, but that was one side of things — one facet of this greater release.

The album itself, Tom and I had been working on for two years, on and off at this point, between his busy schedule and my busy schedule it was a matter of — first of all, when we were in town at the same time, able to work on stuff and finding how to best work with each other. Once those things were figured out, we were able to be pretty productive and the album is just about finished.

Poet Anderson is the character at the center of this album and multimedia project. Tom, can you talk a little bit about the idea of the character, how it came about and how you envisioned it initially?

TD: I think when I was envisioning what this was going to be, I look up to the greats like your Disneys and Marvels and DC Comics and all those kind of intellectual property rights kind of companies, but a lot of them were unrelatable to me because I wasn’t going to do a bunch of stuff about superheroes. I wanted to be more philosophical and cerebral in some ways. So, I got really hot on the idea of creating a reoccurring character around themes of human behavior or humanity. The first one, the ‘Love’ project, was all about human consciousness and connection and losing everybody around you to realize the importance of every relationship around you, that your only purpose here is to experience connection with other people.

With Poet, it’s about dreams. It’s the idea that nightmares prepare you for real world events and in an infinite universe and that dreams potentially could be something that’s happening on the other side of the galaxy. You fall asleep and you wake up over there and you’re doing that. Who knows what dreams really are? Why do we dream? So, the other two properties that we’re working on after Poet that are going to start launching next year and the year after, are completely, radically different — but once again dealing with strong themes about the human race.

We are able to immerse those things into stories that are rich and vibrant and are more consumable. Poet is like that, it’s something that’s going to be thought of as coming of age as much as it is science fiction and it all started with a character that I dreamed up in Paris about a decade ago in a hotel room by myself. The little guy with a bowler hat and an umbrella — he seemed like a new Peter Pan to me.

I’m obsessed with some of the great science fiction films, the ‘Tron’ and the ‘Star Wars’ and that kind of stuff. So, to me it’s like, how do I blend nightmares, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Tron’ altogether. But, it’s the same thing I do with music. Ilan calls me the man child, all the stuff that we’re doing. Even the music is myself trying to be a part of the stuff that I loved so much as a kid that I wasn’t a part of. I was a spectator, so on all this stuff I’m not a spectator anymore. I’m a participant.

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I have to ask, because these sketches for the artwork are pretty amazing: Do you have any of this stuff, whether it be renderings or figures that you’ll put away for yourself as a collector?

TD: I have hard drives full of artwork, but the best stuff is going to be coming my way in the next few weeks. It’s hard to think of what’s going to top how cool this animation is — it’s unreal. But, one of our concept artists is delivering what’s known as a “night stalker,” which is basically, the enemy of the dream walker. It’s your Jedi and your Sith, you know? We’ve been spending some time with what these characters look like, but what’s exciting about it is that the story is really, really good.

Poet Anderson, he’s an orphan — him and his brother are orphans, but, his brother is thrust into a coma. He believes that the only way he can contact the one person left in his life is through lucid dreaming, which he and his brother used to do as kids. There’s a lot of search and discovery of who he is, what he’s got and what he has to lose, if anything. I’m really excited about those pieces coming through and it’s all surrounded by such incredible, futuristic characters that I think anybody that sees the way these come to life are going to love.

The other thing that people don’t know is that these guys have what’s called a Halo, which is this ball of light that will hover around these characters, and that’s their soul. The whole idea of it is for you to get to that next level to be able to control dreams and make your experience what you want it — to not just day dream in life, but to make your life the dream that you’ve always wanted it to be — you have to bury your soul, you have to put yourself out there. That’s really the undercurrent of this whole thing, if you’re someone that’s going to get into this, you’re going to realize that it’s part of an esoteric spiritualist kind of story. You put yourself out there and you bury your soul and then you can make your experience on Earth that of dreams. That’s what we’re saying here, but it’s going to be a fantastic ride in the theater as well.

Obviously as musicians it starts with the music, but with all these different ideas from the comics to the film to the book, how much do each of those mediums figure in when you’re trying to create the music?

TD: Yeah, it’s all got to live on its own. Everything has to be awesome on its own and then they tie together directly and indirectly. We can’t have a record that’s s–t, but the artwork is really cool. You know? So, we can’t have a book that’s amazing, but the soundtrack that just launched it was the worst thing you’ve ever heard. The whole goal of this is the fact that every artist that is working on each part is on the top of their game. Everyone! Whether it’s the concept artist or the animator, or even me being able to be in a band with Ilan. He’s younger than I am, but he can play every instrument that we need infinitely better than I could and I can’t even play most of those instruments, actually. Now that I think about it, I can only play one instrument — but, he can do it all.

I think that working with people that are accomplished like that in all these categories, we’re going to be able to say that each one of these things stands on its own, compliments the other, but could exist without the other at the same time. So, if we do our job right, we’re going to have people show up at the show that love the novel. We’re going to have people that go to the movie because they love the band and we’re going to have people that go and buy the comic books because of any of the other things that we’ve done. They all get to the same place, we might have people that come to the show just to celebrate the world in the message. Everything behind everything that we do has a pretty awesome message for everyone, but specifically for young adults. It’s a new world and I just want to do good things.

From what I’ve heard so far of the new music, I think you’ve got a perfect pairing here. I have in my mind what I think Angels & Airwaves should sound like from the last few records, and it’s definitely evolved. I hear some of Ilan’s the New Regime stuff also coming in and forming a new sound for the band.

TD: Absolutely, yeah.

IR: It was a very interesting process for Tom and I to figure out where we could meet outside of our normal territories, musically speaking. Once we were able to find that, the productivity level went up and there’s just been a lot of interesting music that we’ve been putting together and it almost pains me to say that — the bulk of the album we had worked on it one period of time — the last few songs are still getting more and more interesting.

TD: It’s almost like we should start now.

IR: Yeah, I’m curious to see what we’ll come up with next. It just keeps evolving, but that first trial period of seeing what we could create together, like you said, it’s not typical of Tom, it’s not typical of myself and it is something in its own right. So, it’s been a good process, but it’s almost getting more interesting now.

Let’s get into some of the songs. ‘The Wolfpack,’ which you are talking about as the probable lead single, definitely has a little more electronic vibe to it. Tell me how that came together.

TD: Yeah, we wanted to write a song that was primarily electronic, that was very modern and sophisticated, but also harkens back to bands that we liked. In my mind, it was always very different because most of the stuff I do is guitar driven stuff. With Angels & Airwaves, there is a lot of electronic elements, but not like this, where the whole thing is that different.

Lyrically, the song is about the music industry and always was so from day one, where it’s about putting yourself out there and really letting people take little pot shots at you, but that chorus is “That girl bites like a wolf.” I think that really sums up the idea that the music industry is something sexy that you’re always going to keep coming back to, even if it tears you apart piece by piece and it will take a bite at you when you least expect it — and there’s a lyric that says, “Like thieves that can eat with a wolf pack.” It’s like college and college critics, people that don’t find the value in art, but they find the things wrong with it and I think every artist has an issue with them. No artist has issues with people not liking their stuff, they have issues when people just — it’s just like worthless pot shots.

I think all art can be talked about in a constructive manner, even if it’s not your cup of tea, so ‘The Wolfpack’ — I think it’s a great song for us to lead with, simply because we are not just coming out with one song, we are coming out with a lot of f—ing s–t here [Laughs]. Animations, we’re going to have a novel, comic books, we’re going to have a feature film, we’re going to have merchandising in stores and at any give time, there’s plenty of stuff for people to pull us down for, but there’s also plenty of stuff for people to say, “Wow, that’s really cool. They tried so hard to make something cool for us to experience,” and that’s really what we’re trying to do.

I think ‘Tunnels’ has a great possibility to do something. I’m just a sucker for a good build in a song and that definitely has it.

TD: Yeah, I’ve been telling people that it’s my favorite story on the album and Rolling Stone [magazine] put a little piece out there in our conversation about how I wrote that. Lyrically, it was the first song we wrote, but I wrote those lyrics about a year and a half ago, about doubting religion, coming from a family where our mother was very religious but our father was not and they had a really tough marriage and we shelved the song for about a year-and-a-half while Ilan and I worked on other stuff.

But a few months ago my father passed away and I woke up in the middle of the night to this grand, supernatural experience that was euphoric, completely changed my mind on a lot of what I feel about what’s on the other side and it was a life changing experience all the way around. So that made me run back and write the end of the song, which was a juxtaposition to the beginning, which was do what you want, or as you may, but, there is something on the other side and it’s incredible and beautiful.

I love that! I love that that song has that in there and I love that I was able to experience something like that. You always hear people talking about things like, “You know, someone passed away and I saw a slice of pizza and it reminded me of them and they’re here.” That’s not what this was. Whatever happened to me that evening when it woke me out of my sleep was absolutely the most powerful thing I’ve ever had contact with in my life. It’s something that I hold close to me, that song. And for the longest time, it was Ilan and my favorite song. It wasn’t until recently we were like, all these other songs are f–kin’ probably better. So, we don’t talk about it as much as we did, but I think it’s a great song.

And you mentioned a new track called ‘Bullets.’

TD: ‘Bullets in the Wind,’ the new title.

IR: Well, when you write songs you have these working titles, so we actually just decided on the definitive title about an hour ago, so it doesn’t roll off the tongue that easily for us at this point.

First of all, what was the working title? Just out of curiosity.

IR: ‘Liberty Radio.’

TD: Which I still liked, but I wrote a riff that he thought sounded like Def Leppard — isn’t that what you called it?

IR: Yeah, I do remember that.

TD: Yeah, you dick. But, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ was a f–king great song.

IR: I didn’t say it was bad, I just said it was like it. [Laughs]

TD: This is actually a really good thing to talk about. This is exactly how we work together, I would write something and he would not really like it. Not even trying to be funny, he would go like, “What about this,” and he would take that riff and do something interesting to it and I would go, “Wow, that’s kind of interesting. But, I don’t like those notes. What if you did this?” Then he’d go, “OK, I get what you’re doing. How about this,” and it would end up in his hands, but it would be dope. I wanted it to end up in his hands, because truthfully it would really make the band sound different and that riff on ‘Bullets In the Wind’ is that. We might have to change that name. When I say that out loud and I say ‘Bullets In the Wind,’ it just sounds like …

IR: You have to get used to it, it’s been the title for an hour.

TD: Which one do you like better, ‘Bullets In the Wind’ or ‘Liberty Radio’?

I kind of like ‘Liberty Radio.’ [A few moans from around the room]

TD: That’s what I thought, I’m up against the whole Rubin family here.

Sorry. [Laughs]

TD: But the song is really cool because it was a really interesting riff, but the whole thing is very analog sounding. [Ilan’s] brother did a fantastic job at co-producing the record. Aaron really brought elements to the band, production-wise that — f—, you know what we haven’t talked about? The fact that Aaron almost died during this, which I forgot. His brother got seriously injured during this and the whole record almost went down the drain in a moment. He fell off a balcony at a concert and was in the ER, no one knew if he was going to make it through and he was gone for a few months.

IR: A couple months. Quick recovery for such a horrendous accident.

TD: It’s insane, when you see Aaron, you would never know now.

IR: So that’s how long it’s taken to do this album.

TD: Yeah, we’ve had things like that happen — it’s been crazy. But, his brother brought such an amazing sound on that song in particular — all these space echoes and reverbs. I was all stoked because it reminded me of the Clash. I was like, “This song sounds like the Clash to me.” I think it would sound different to you. What does it remind you of? Is there anything that it reminds you of?

IR: There’s a common influence that Tom and I have, which is a rarity to have a common influence between the two of us — is the Police. So, moments stick out to me, whether it be in instrumentation or just little things here and there that are more on the musicianship type side of things, maybe things that wouldn’t be very obvious to a casual listener. But, it’s one of those songs where there are some hints, like Tom said, things that are Clash-esque or little things that are Police-y, drums, or guitar sounds, or guitar styles, whatever it is.

TD: It’s still so unique though. I can’t tell you if you listen to that, that most people would say that. Ilan is really good, because he can play a lot of different instruments, he’s really good at being able to bend each one to make the whole thing unique and I think that’s a really strong contender for a single, actually.

You know, we are very different, but, he still likes really cool s–t. It’s not like we’re totally different musically and he likes really weird stuff, he’s very tasteful and into rad rock n’ roll music. It’s just stuff that I didn’t personally, I grew up in a very weird box, but it’s because I grew up in a weird way, in the mountains raised by Sasquatch. They only listen to certain things.

[Laughs] Okay, let’s finish with an update on both of your other bands — Blink-182 and New Regime.

TD: For Blink, we’re getting ready to start recording sometime shortly. We’re in the middle of figuring that out right now. I think the goal is to get working hard on a record by the end of the year and we just have to figure out really, where and how, because we’re in different locations. But, I’ll know more in a couple weeks.

IR: And with the New Regime, I finished another EP entitled ‘Exhibit B’ to go along with ‘Exhibit A’ that came out midway through last year. I completed that and I’m just trying to find the best way to put that out, so it doesn’t kind of get lost in the fold with the twenty million other bands that are out there. I’m strategizing.

Guys, thank you so much.

To learn more about the Angels & Airwaves’ ‘The Dream Walker’ album and to keep up with the progress of the various surrounding projects, check out their website here. You can also hear the band’s recently released song, ‘Paralyzed,’ below. And if you’re interested in being part of a mosaic for the band’s new album art, find out how to get involved here.

Angels & Airwaves, ‘Paralyzed’

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