Tom DeLonge on ‘Scary’ UFO Footage, Angels and Airwaves and Blink-182’s Future

Since leaving Blink-182 to study UFOs, the guitarist has been on one of the strangest odysseys in rock. But as he puts it: “Maybe Tom isn’t so nuts after all”

Twenty years ago this month, Blink-182 released Enema of the State, an album that sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and “reimagined Green Day’s Dookie as one big, undeniably catchy fart joke” according to Rolling Stone’s list of the 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time. Guitarist Tom DeLonge has spent the two decades since on one of the wildest paths in rock history. In the mid-2000s, DeLonge left Blink to start an an ambitious space-rock band called Angels and Airwaves. He then started seriously investigating space himself, launching To the Stars Academy in 2015, an organization devoted to researching UFOs. DeLonge’s company, which Rolling Stone visited for a profile of the guitarist in 2016, has earned some credibility since; a 2017 New York Times story uncovering the existence of the Pentagon’s secret $22 million Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program credited To The Stars as a place where ex-military and government officials such as Luis Elizondo, who formerly ran the government’s aerospace identification program, were continuing their work.

Last week, another major UFO story hit the Times, detailing strange, highly advanced objects that were spotted daily over the East Coast between 2014 and 2015. “These things would be out there all day,” said Lieutenant Ryan Graves, a Super Hornet pilot who has been with the Navy for 10 years. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.” “This was us,” DeLonge said, holding a copy of the New York Times article late last week. He pointed to the work he has done at To the Stars as directly responsible for uncovering the possible sightings. “Everyone is like, ‘Wow! This is real. Maybe Tom is not so nuts after all!'”

DeLonge executive produced the History Channel’s new show Unidentified: Inside America’s U.F.O. Investigation, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. He appears in the show with former military and government officials such as Elizondo, Lt. Graves as well as John Podesta, President Clinton’s former Chief of Staff. In this interview, DeLonge also discusses new music by Angels and Airwaves and the state of Blink-182, and why he hopes to return to his former band someday.

You just put out “Rebel Girl,” the first Angels and Airwaves song in years. What was the initial reaction to Angels and Airwaves when the band debuted in 2006? It was so different from Blink-182.
I think Angels and Airwaves has always been a little bit ahead of its time. For a kid that grew up on a band like the Ramones like me, these are complex sounds and compositions. I remember that a lot of my fan base wasn’t totally ready for it, because they were still mourning over the fact that I wasn’t playing with Blink at the time. But I tend to realize that everything I’ve done in my life is about five years ahead of its time. It would make a lot of sense that people would revisit what I was doing now and say, “Oh, I kind of get it.” That tends to be the curve that I’m on with everything I do. People thought I was nuts for not being in the band to go chase little green men. I go, “Just trust me for a minute here.” And then now, the article in Rolling Stone, I just posted it right when I walked in the building. It’s like “Wow.”

What did it feel like to see the latest article in the Times?
This is the third New York Times article that we organized and put together at To the Stars. But this one’s dealing directly with the pilots that are current military pilots that we took to the Senate and Congress. A few weeks ago, there was another article that leaked on the Times that Congress is putting together a formal reporting mechanism to the Navy on UFOs. That’s us again. Our show Unidentified is us doing that. Taking these specific pilots to Congress, influencing legislative language for oversight committees and for the appropriations committees. In that process, it leaked and came out in the papers. But our show is what this article specifically is about. And [it’s] very real. Lieutenant Graves [said] they had a fleet of UFO’s follow their carrier battle group for eight months out to the Middle East where they’re intercepting them almost on a daily basis. It’s pretty unnerving.

So that UFO footage that the Times posted — explain what that is.
It’s gun-camera footage. And what people don’t understand is they could be many, many miles away. But they’re zoomed in on an object. And even when the object just bounces an inch on the screen, that means it could’ve gone from zero to 20,000 miles an hour in a snap of your fingers. It’s a big deal even though it just looks like a little blob. But if you’re a pilot, or if you’re a radar operator, or a trained military observer, you know exactly what that is and it’s scary to them. Because things don’t do that. There’s no wings; there’s no plume on the infrared cameras. You will see an outline of a plane. You will see the fire coming out of the back — these crafts don’t have that. They’re circular or disc-like in shape. They have blurred edges. They have observability. They have positive lift and all these different factors that the government has identified. Any one of these things — they call them these five observables, and any one of them, if a country were to get one of these five, it would be a paradigm shift. A game-changing national-security issue. And these craft have five of them.

What we’re showing Congress, and what we’ve been doing in the Senate, that we’re now bringing out to the American people and the world, it’s like, “This is fucking real. And it’s real scary, so let’s get our stuff together and deal with it.”

I know for a fact that this vehicle that I’ve created at To the Stars has already changed the world. People are now taking this seriously and understanding that it’s real. We’ve changed policy, and I’m really proud of that, especially when, for years, people though I was the crazy UFO guy. I didn’t do it alone, by any means. but I created the mechanism for them to do what they’re doing now and I’m really proud of that.

Blink-182’s Travis Barker, Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus in 1999. Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Why is the footage “scary” and dangerous to you?
Because you’re dealing with something [that] you don’t know what it is, you don’t know who’s in there or who’s operating these things. [Luis Elizondo] says it best: It’s kind of like you go to bed at night, you lock your doors, you set your alarm. And then you wake up in the morning, unlock the door and there’s bloody footprints through your whole living room. And you’re like, “The alarm didn’t trip, the doors were still locked, but someone walked right through my house and I had no clue. Whose footprints are those?” That’s kind of scary, because you have no clue how they could bypass all the security systems of your house effortlessly. Something with this technology is in charge. This is like rolling into some type of indigenous tribe that’s never met man. They’re deep in the forests of some remote Pacific Island and we come in with an aircraft carrier and a stealth fighter and all they have are sticks. Who’s in charge should they choose to impose their will? We don’t even know what this is, but we have to think in terms of that. And that’s a big deal.

“This is fucking real. And it’s real scary, so let’s get our stuff together and deal with it,” DeLonge says of recent UFO discoveries.

And think about the technology of these, too. Think about World War II when we were the only ones that had the nuclear bomb. You could take over the world. This is so far beyond nuclear power. They talk about civilizations, the Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 civilizations. A Type 1 civilization can control the power of the planet, and Type 2 can control the power of the sun and a Type 3 civilization can control the power of their own galaxy. We’re not even a Type 1 civilization yet. This could be a Type 2 or Type 3 that’s operating these things. I have no clue, but the technology that it is, is so far beyond what we can do that it’s unnerving. You have to hope that they’re loving. That’s a stretch probably, right?

There was one person in that Times article, Leon Golub, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard. He said the possibility of an extraterrestrial cause “is so unlikely that it competes with many other low-probability but more mundane explanations … bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight.” What do you have to say about those explanations?
It’s so offensive and naïve and ignorant that I go, “How are you even let into such a prestige environment?” They’re planting “Harvard” next to comments [made by] an officer that spent 3 million dollars on his training before he ever touched the throttle of a hundred-million-dollar weapons platform, with security clearances and the ability to fly live weapons over an American city. The two guys that went on the record are Top Gun graduates — these are the best in the world. The system that recorded this stuff is called the Spy-1 Radar, which is the single most classified radar system in the world. It’s the best stuff we got in the United States Government. And the Princeton [a Navy ship which spotted objects in 2004, which the Times reported on in 2017] was a radar ship. The entire ship was an array of hardware that can get 360-degree views of an entire combat awareness. It’s so advanced that they have the Top Gun guys running it. So for someone to say it’s bugs on the system is so offensive.

Is he saying that all these generals and admirals that have the keys to all of our nuclear weapons can’t tell a bug on the best radar system on earth? That they’re literally hallucinating, or something? It’s offensive to them. I’ve met these guys. A general I was working with had multiple PhD’s from MIT and Cal Tech in aerospace engineering. Another general was in charge of 5,000 of our nuclear warheads. He was the commander of this stuff. These guys are not idiots. I think people need to think a little bit more before they say disrespectful comments like that.

When you said that To the Stars was responsible for the footage in the Times, what did you mean?
The video had gone declassified and To the Stars Academy were the ones that received it.

OK.
I don’t want to talk about anything else with that. So we’re the ones that brought it to the Times. The Times then was able to go out and find another copy of the video. That’s why there’s their version without our logo and then there’s the version with the To the Stars logo on it. So somebody at the Pentagon gave the Times the video.

Do you see Trump talking about this?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I do know that because of our efforts, the White House has been definitely informed of some things. I wouldn’t know what. I do think that there’s the potential that some of his Space Force comments are taking into account some of the data and information regarding the subject.

Do you think the Space Force is a good idea?
I don’t know. It make sense to me because when we wanted to deal with oceans, we created the Navy. We created the Army to deal with land. We created the Air Force to deal with the sky. Space is a real thing now; we can get there. And there’s things out there. One of the radar operators, the guy I was referring to that was a Top Gun graduate, he’s the one that sent out the intercept. Commander Fravor [a retired Navy commander who reported the 2004 U.S.S. Princeton incident] was sent by this guy and he watched 100 craft come in from space over a four-day period. One hundred!

Where?
Over the coast of San Diego. So they came in, they hovered and they would drop in .78 seconds from 80,000 feet to sea level. Do you realize how fast .78 seconds is? 80,000 feet to zero. It’s just there. That’s just unreal! The question would be, “Is it imperative that we create an entire division that deals with space?” It makes sense to me because it’s not like we can tell the Navy to worry about space. Maybe they want to. Maybe they consider space like the ocean or something. I don’t even know. It’s just way above anything that I’ve experienced.

Let’s move on to Angels and Airwaves. You’ve said that you you were on drugs at the time you started the band. The sound of the first two albums is very “druggy.” Did the drugs you were on influence that huge, ambitious sound?
Yeah, it was weird because at the time I broke my back and I had surgery and I had a disc that was broken and tangled up in the largest nerve in my body. I got all addicted to painkillers at that time. I was also dealing with coming out of a really big band. It was a rebirth of who I was, and [my] identity, and insecurities and all that kind of stuff. I learned a hell of a lot about myself at the time. But creating Angels and Airwaves and having that issue in my life, at the time, allowed me to hyper-focus and really go deeply into what I was creating. There’s no mystery that drugs ruined a lot of people and I thank God it didn’t ruin me. What happens, and any artist will tell you, is if you’re not sober and you’re creating something, [drugs are] a very simple way to get deeper into what you’re creating, for better or for worse. But I’m probably the only musician who came out with this space-rock band and then did a pause to create an aerospace company. I’m not just singing about space; I’m actively engaged in that technology and what I can do for the human race and what part I can play in bringing this data, this information, this technology, out to the world.

The new single “Rebel Girl” is a little more punk than other Angels stuff, and the sound isn’t as big as the first two records. I was curious if you’re going to return to that sound.
Maybe. It’s so funny because whenever you have a plan, it always changes the first day you start recording. If you’re a good artist, you don’t force it to be something. You’ve got to evolve with whatever the song’s trying to be. What I want is to bring back a lot of those atmospherics and soaring landscapes. And we are doing that. So far, on the first third of the record, there’s a bit of that in there. The big crescendo when it builds and all that kind of stuff. The second song that we’re planning on releasing, if we still go with it, [could have] lived on the I-Empire and We Don’t Need to Whisper records.

When those early records came out, a lot of the fans thought, “What the hell is this?”
We put out a record called The Dream Walker with an animated short film for Poet Anderson and some books and all this stuff. I think that record was a defining moment because people were like, “Well, happened to the old [sound]?” And then half were like “This is the best stuff you ever …” It was the most critically acclaimed record I’ve ever done in my life. The fans needed a minute. But now I think it’s pretty unanimous that people look at that record as one of the best things we’ve done. This next one is going to be very similar in the sound and the landscape. But melodically, it’s going to be way more in the direction of I-Empire. I think everyone will like where this ends up.

When do you think the Angels album will come out?
It’s coming out with a movie. I co-wrote a movie and it goes into production in just a few weeks. Then when I come out of that and go into post, we’ll score it. That will kind of dictate the second half of the album. Both of those will come out together somewhere around the tour or shortly thereafter. It’s going to be hard to say because this is a big project.

What do you expect from this tour? You’re playing clubs and theaters.
Yeah. This is really for the fans that have been so supportive of us. I expect nothing more than having an overwhelming, emotional response within myself that people care about what I’m doing. It’s a fear of mine because I get real emotional when I play Angels live because it’s a big part of my soul. There’s a lot of meaning in it for me. When I see people respond to it, I’m almost scared of it because it’s personal to me. In a different way than Blink. Blink’s personal to me, but it’s super fun and super loud and fast. But Angels and Airwaves, there’s so much heart in it for me. There’s things in those records and songs that mean a hell of a lot to me. So when people send back that vibration, I’m kind of scared of the overwhelming emotion. It’s hard to describe.

“I get real emotional when I play Angels and Airwave songs live because it’s a big part of my soul. When I see people respond to it, I’m almost scared of it because it’s personal.”

Do you remember the first time you knew there was more to your life than Blink?
Probably when I created Box Car Racer. Box Car Racer was a side project that I did with Travis Barker. But really it was about me and my friend David Kennedy, who plays in Angels and Airwaves. He grew up in hardcore bands, I grew up in punk bands, and we wanted to do something that blended both of those styles. But it was kind of scary because Blink became such a big monster at the time, that you kind of get stuck in this feeling that you need everyone in the band to be good at what you do. Because we really did need each other to do what Blink did. So to step out of that and say, “But what can I do on my own?” That was a very difficult decision. I was super excited to challenge myself. And it was actually pretty cool. And I thought it was really good especially for who I was at the time and where I was at musically. So to come out of that and say, “Wow, I made a dope record just by applying myself and taking a shot at putting myself out there without the safety of the team all around you” — that was a stepping stone to lead me to try a lot of things since then — going into technology, clothing companies, aerospace, making feature films, television series. It’s a bunch of stuff I would never have tried if I didn’t succeed the first time I tried something new and ambitious.

Here at the office, we’re fascinated with YouTube clips of your last Blink shows. You’re playing one of those huge festivals, and you’ve changed your singing a lot. You’re singing way differently on those last shows. I was curious what led you to sing in that different voice.
I kind of learned how to use my voice. I never learned how to sing, so I was always trying to sing like the Descendents. When I got in Angel and Airwaves, the tempo was slower, the melodies were written differently. And then, rather than nasally staccato, it became more like violin, more like a stringed instrument. The notes flow together. And then it came naturally to me. I’m not even a good singer. I’m just a little punk kid. I learned how to do this in a garage. So it’s really hard to make that sound good when you’re not even doing it right to begin with, you know? When you’re singing that way, you can’t even hit the notes. You’ll be flat or sharp 80 percent of the time, because the way you slam your vocal chords together on every single word really messes up [the] pitch. So I think for me, it wasn’t even really conscious. It was just what I’ve been doing for years with Angels and Airwaves. It’s the only way I know how to sing now.

Did you get blowback from the guys — “You’re not singing like you do on the records”?
No. I think kids just want it to sound like it did and I don’t blame them. And I probably could. But it seems funny to try and sound like I was 16 again. I’m not. Authenticity is a big deal for me. Be yourself. If you’re not being yourself, then the whole thing is just a play. You’re just putting on a play every night. And I can’t do that; I feel like a robot. I’ve just got to be myself.

What does the 20th anniversary of Enema of the State mean to you?
It means that time is flying by really quickly and I’ve achieved so much more than I ever thought possible. And I’m really, really thankful that people would even care at all about what I do. I’m just trying to do good things for people.

Were you surprised how well that record did?
Oh, my God, yeah! I’m still surprised about it, yeah. I’m always surprised. I’ve only been really into music and UFOs, and I might have a chance to conquer both.

There’s a lot of online excitement about you talking to the guys in Blink. I’m curious when you last talked to Mark and what that was like.
I just talked to Mark two weeks ago and I talk to Travis all the time. There’s a lot of love and respect and it’s like any set of brothers that have an argument and then, all of a sudden — “Who cares? My bad, my bad.” It’s not a big deal. The only issue right now is we’re so busy. My commitment to my company is the priority in my life. And Angels and Airwaves is a part of my company. The company came from Angels and Airwaves. When we created Angels and Airwaves, it was to be an art project that was trans-media. How do we put out music with film and books and all these things? They often live independently, but they all work together. We created an entertainment division to do that for Angels and Airwaves. One of the stories was about UFOs and that’s the one that got me [in with] the people that mattered, because I knew that subject and I knew things about it and I was getting ready to communicate it on really big platform, make motion pictures about all this stuff. I just felt I would get a lot further if I didn’t socialize what I was planning on doing, because I was also a little bit nervous about that, because I knew that I was playing with national security. But everyone else thinks UFO’s are a joke, and it’s weird tin-foil hats. It’s not. It’s real, serious business. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t ruffle any feathers in the wrong way because I do know a lot about that subject and I do know it’s no joke.

When I did that, it just spiraled into aerospace and science and it just grew into To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science. But this all came from Angels and Airwaves wanting to communicate themes over trans-media projects. And I told this to people 12 years ago when I started the band. I think everyone thought I was nuts then, too. There’s a very consistent thing here where Tom’s crazy and doing these things people don’t understand. But if you look at the path I’ve been on, I’ve done everything I said I’ll do. It’s just taken a little bit longer. It’s all hard stuff.

Do you think you will play with Blink again?
I know you’re probably looking for your headline here, but I think there will be a time, absolutely, that we play together. We all love each other and care about each other. We don’t always see eye to eye. I think people see the differences in our art. I love seeing how they’ve evolved and what they’re doing. I think when people look at Angels and Airwaves and what I’m doing, they can tell the differences. And sometimes it’s hard when you’re all trying to paint the same painting. And every once in a while, I like to see what the painting will be if I do it a different way. Off to the side. I think there’s a healthy respect for everyone to be able to paint their own paintings.

“I think there will be a time, absolutely, that we play together. We all love each other and care about each other.”

So you would be excited to play with Blink again?
Oh, my God, yeah! I started that band. That was a big a deal to me and it’s a big deal to them. And it’s a big deal what we accomplished. There is no animosity; there is no weirdness. It’s just right now, for me, I have a lot going on and the stakes are so big with my company, and with the government and with other governments. I found myself in the driver’s seat of something that’s world-changing. I can’t take my hand off the wheel for, honestly, for a rush of people really loving what we accomplished. Those things are amazing to feel, but I’m doing something I feel affects humanity. But once that is smooth sailing, then I can kind of relax and allow the car to drive itself a little bit. Then I think that conversation becomes more relevant for me.

I wanted to ask about the WikiLeaks dump that revealed your e-mails to John Podesta. What was going through your mind when those e-mails came out?
It was the worst thing ever. Because there was the biggest secret on earth, the most classified, most taboo secret on earth. And I was the only person, ever, that was able to turn the valve and get it open. And I had a full flow of information. And when WikiLeaks dumped all of Podesta’s emails, and my communication with Podesta, that valve got shut off and it scared the death out of me — for the people I was working with, but also for humanity. I was like “Oh, my God, I got so close.” But that brought me the credibility to where everybody else — from CIA, the DOD — all circled around me and said, “You’re for real, and your ideas are good. But they’re not good enough yet. Let’s help design a better better version of the idea.” And that’s how the Academy of Arts and Science became a reality.

You told me that Unidentified gets “gnarly” at the end. What did you mean?
You’re going to see stuff towards the last couple episodes that … you’ve never seen this kind of stuff, dealing with this subject, on television. On television, it’s usually guys chasing lights in the sky and they’re out in the middle of the desert. You will see the Majority Leader of the Senate, Harry Reid. You will see the intelligence agents of other NATO allies. You will see members of the current real program. You won’t see their faces, but you’ll see elements of that. You’ll see the data, you’ll see us dealing with Congress. And what you’re going to see is the world being awakened.

We didn’t do this to make a TV show. We did this as a way to get the people ready to pressure Congress further. That is what the show’s about for me. We did not do this for entertainment. I didn’t just want to sell a show. This is To the Stars Academy doing its job and a camera following us. Because everything we’re doing is gathering the info and getting the Congressional leadership to understand what’s going on. And that’s why it leaked in the press. That’s us, and this is all part of a long, multi-year strategy to awaken everybody.

Regarding Blink, it’s really interesting that you said, “I love what they’re doing.” That’s a pretty big to say because I would think that if there’s another guy singing your music, Matt Skiba …
You journalist, you’re trying to push buttons. So transparent.

It’s true, though!
No, I don’t care. I’m a confident guy. I like what I do regardless if people like it or not. I don’t need admiration or people clapping or cheering at me. I don’t need that validation from an audience. I love the fact that they have a way to do what they love. That’s what I care about. I love that they don’t have to wait for me or rely on me depending on when I can or can’t do something. That’s frustrating for them. Do we have differences in what we like musically? Absolutely. But it’s not like my ideas are any better, or something. They’re just different.