On a sunny afternoon in San Diego, Tom DeLonge sits in front of a Mac in a darkened room, searching “black triangle UFOs” on YouTube. He plays a clip of a mysterious glowing craft, which hovers over Paris before disappearing in a flash of light. Conspiracy theorists refer to it as a TR-3B; some believe it’s a machine the government secretly built from gathering UFO intelligence. “It’s pure, unadulterated anti-gravity,” he says, marvelling at the craft’s movement. “It would scare people if they knew this existed.”
For as long as he can remember – even before he sang “Aliens Exist” on Blink-182‘s multiplatinum pop-punk classic, Enema of the State, in 1999 – DeLonge has been obsessed with what he calls “the phenomenon.” He can tell you about reports of triangular aircraft spotted over Belgium in 1990. He can tell you about the airships of 1897, blimp-shaped objectsreported throughout the West over the course of three months. “They went across the country and landed in certain cities, and mayors and senators met with the pilots,” says DeLonge. “It was national news. And then they completely disappeared. No one knows who they were.”
The guitarist has made several aircraft-spotting pilgrimages himself, driving his Airstream trailer to Nevada test sites like Area 51 and Tonopah, bringing spotting scopes, satellite phones and night-vision goggles (“They’re registered with the State Department – I can’t leave the country with them”).
He’s taken his obsession to a new level with To the Stars, an industrial-style office space he sees as his own mini-Disney – a “transmedia” experience for his music, books and film. It sits on a strip of skate and surf shops, across the street from the best fish tacos in town, and includes a small store, decked in comic-book wallpaper, stocked with his releases and a library of UFO literature.
“I have 10 people that I’m working with that are at the highest levels of the Department of Defense and NASA and the military.”
DeLonge’s latest project is Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows, a 700-page novel he wrote with UNC Charlotte Shakespeare professor A.J. Hartley. Though fictional, it’s written with information DeLonge says he gleaned from “sources within the aerospace industry and the Department of Defense and NASA.” Then he adds, “That sentence, specifically, was approved for me to say.” Chasing Shadows theorizes that alien technology not only exists, but that the government has known about it for decades and has even replicated some of it.
Online, DeLonge has been called batshit insane, delusional and a possible paranoid schizophrenic. “It’s very hard to think, ‘How did this guy in a band get access like that?'” he says. “It sounds crazy. But it’s because I can speak to a very specific audience. I earned their trust. I knew my material.”
In DeLonge’s office, the only sign of his previous life is a large framed drawing of Blink-182 on The Simpsons in 2003. At that time, they were four albums into a run that propelled them from San Diego punk clubs to MTV’s TRL alongside Britney Spears and ‘N Sync. DeLonge and bassist Mark Hoppus had a Beavis-and-Butt-Head-like rapport, bantering onstage about poop and singing songs like “Fuck a Dog.” Although Blink wrote about serious topics like teen suicide and divorce, DeLonge still can’t shake his goofball persona. Recently, a fan sent him a book to autograph, asking him to “draw a dick, please.” (He did.)
But DeLonge and Hoppus’ relationship started to crumble as soon as Blink found huge success. Hoppus was stung when DeLonge formed a side project, Box Car Racer, that included Blink drummer Travis Barker but not Hoppus. They had several blowout fights in 2004, when DeLonge refused to commit to another big tour, and the band broke up. “The band has always been dysfunctional,” DeLonge says. “The only time we all really communicated daily was in Blink’s first, sort of, trimester.”
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In 2005, DeLonge formed Angels and Airwaves, an ambitious group that mixed punk with U2-like anthems. DeLonge predicted it would be “the greatest rock & roll revolution for this generation” and compared it to the Second Coming of Christ. Now, he admits he was “superwired” on painkillers during that time. He eventually kicked pills by going cold turkey, spending five days vomiting and writhing on the floor of his house. “Narcotics are demons,” he says. “It was such an insane thing to go through … I never want to land there again.”
“I don’t want the legacy of the band to get fucked with,” says DeLonge. “I do care about that.” Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty
In 2008, Barker survived a plane crash in South Carolina that killed four others. Nearly losing their drummer convinced Blink-182 to try to put aside their differences, and they reunited to play for their biggest crowds ever. But, gradually, DeLonge seemed like he was somewhere else. Onstage, he wore his hat pulled down over his eyes and clothing that advertised an Angels and Airwaves film project.
For 2011’s Neighborhoods, he clashed with his bandmates over the sound of the album and recorded his parts in a San Diego studio two hours away from Hoppus and Barker. “I was so bored with just what we’ve been doing for so long,” he says. “I go do six records, then we come back and all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we create these landscapes?’ I think we should have been pushing ourselves, and trying to push the genre forward.”
By then, Hoppus and DeLonge were going months without speaking, communicating through separate managers, a holdover from the breakup years. “I didn’t talk to the guy for seven years straight, and you become a much different human being from 29 to 36, or whatever it was for me,” he says. “Those are important years.” Later, he adds, “You know somebody really well, but as they grew up, got married, had kids and started their own life path, they became someone pretty different.”
“I couldn’t tell the band I was working with people in the government.”
DeLonge says he was blindsided when Blink issued a statement last year saying he had quit. At the time, he says, he was working with Marvel on a theatrical project involving Blink-182 and negotiating a new record contract. DeLonge disagreed with the terms, which required an immediate six-month commitment to the band. To the Stars was already up and running, and he was deep into the first of a planned nine novels.
“I couldn’t tell the band I was working with people in the government,” he says. “That’s another big part of this story. People think I want to just put out a novel and make a movie. I have 10 people that I’m working with that are at the highest levels of the Department of Defense and NASA and the military. Big shit, and no one knows this. I’m doing all this stuff already.”
Since then, Hoppus and Barker have started recording with Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio on guitar, and the lineup has already started playing shows. DeLonge has not communicated with the band since the announcement of his departure. “If they would have come to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re really busy right now. We really want to do something, maybe we should get someone to fill in,’ or something, I would have probably been fine with it,” he says.
I suggest that anyone in his position would be upset. “But I don’t work on ego,” DeLonge says. “It doesn’t define me. Is it awkward and weird? Yeah. Does part of me get bummed? Totally. But it doesn’t consume me. I’m doing some of the best stuff I’ve ever been involved in. People look in and they go, ‘How could you walk away from something like that?’ or ‘How could you not get so pissed?’ Well, because I’m more than that.
“I love those guys,” he continues, “The only thing I think about is, I want them to be happy. [But] I don’t want the legacy of the band to get fucked with. I do care about that. I don’t want an incredible legacy to be ruined.” Still, he says, he’s not closing the door on playing with them again. “I’m not opposed to it. I still would be interested, if people would just pick up the phone and call.” (Confusingly, DeLonge gets in touch with Rolling Stone a few weeks later saying, “I am currently in the band.” He maintains that he has never officially quit or been fired.)
DeLonge lives on a pristine, palm-tree-lined street in an upscale beach town outside San Diego, in a Fifties-style ranch home full of futuristic touches, like art-deco swivel chairs painted with tiny UFOs. Jennifer, his wife of 15 years, greets him at the door along with his two big dogs, Luna and Henrey. Inside, his son, Jonas Rocket, 9, is playing a Star Wars video game in pajamas. Daughter Ava Elizabeth, 13, is at school. As a dad, DeLonge can be strict; he polices the kids’ Internet privileges to make sure they can’t access Blink-182’s raunchier catalog.
DeLonge grew up in a working-class family 30 minutes away from the beach. He has trouble relating to some of his affluent neighbors and mostly hangs out with his high school skating friends. “I had an exercise shirt on the other day,” he says. “You should have seen the amount of shit I was given for looking like the ultimate yuppie.”
“The band has always been dysfunctional. The only time we communicated daily was in Blink’s first trimester.”
He gets behind the wheel of an electric golf cart and drives to his favorite Italian restaurant, overlooking the beach. He’s in a nostalgic mood, routinely drifting back to his old band’s glory days. He remembers the pranks Blink pulled on other bands – dropping the curtains on openers Fall Out Boy mid-set, or the time Hoppus went into the Goo Goo Dolls’ dressing room naked looking for his towel.
“I keep talking about Blink – we’re not supposed to talk about Blink,” he says. After lunch, we walk along the beach, passing the bench where DeLonge likes to sit for hours watching surfers and writing. At night, after working at To the Stars, he’ll play board games with Jonas or lie on his porch playing guitar under the stars. “Quality of life comes first here,” he says. “Music is secondary. I take my kids to school, I pick them up. I’m not traveling and missing baseball games.
“It’s incredible when you’re playing ‘All the Small Things’ in front of 100,000 people with lasers and shit. But it’s difficult to grow when you’re doing the same thing over and over. All I care about is, ‘Am I happy? Am I around people who love me?’ I’m doing too much cool stuff here to stop.”