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, marveling 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 objects reported 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.”