Angels & Airwaves

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Angels & Airwaves

Alternative-rock group

Since coming together in 2005, the San Diego-based, quasi-spiritual alt-rock group Angels & Airwaves has focused on one mission: becoming the biggest band in the world. Frontman Tom DeLonge served as the driving force behind the formation of Angels & Airwaves after enjoying a dozen years of success helming the snotty pop-punk trio blink-182, which peddled some 20 million albums around the globe. When blink-182 went on hiatus, DeLonge launched Angels & Airwaves with the intention to create powerful, emotional, melodic epic records. "My goal is to pick up where I left off and take it to a larger level," DeLonge told Lina Lecaro of the Los Angeles Times. "To walk away from a band that was that huge, selling out arenas … was a gnarly decision and I didn't take it lightly. But now I'm being myself completely for the first time and I'm focused on making this the biggest band in the world."

DeLonge grew up in Poway, California, and by high school had developed a fixation with punk rock. Some of his early influences included the Cure, Screeching Weasel, and the Descendents. His favorite hobby was playing his guitar. "I picked up the guitar in seventh grade," DeLonge noted during a video interview posted on MTV's Buzzworthy blog. "I couldn't put it down."

During the interview, DeLonge went on to describe his teen days—how he would come home from school, grab his guitar, and play some fast punk rock riffs. After awhile, he would slow it down until he relaxed and dropped into a slumber, often falling asleep with his guitar on his chest.

In 1992, the teenage DeLonge became a founding member of blink-182. The pop-punkers enjoyed their biggest success with 2000's quadruple-platinum album Enema of the State. Known for their juvenile hijinks, messageless songs and onstage swearing and nudity, the band became one of the most popular acts of the 1990s punk movement. In 2005, blink-182 announced an indefinite hiatus and DeLonge began dreaming of other things.

Angels Hit the Airwaves

After the blowup with blink-182, DeLonge realized he still wanted to create music—just in a different way. "When I decided not to continue with that part of my life, I still wanted the same things that I wanted when I was in Blink: I still wanted to be in the biggest band in the world, and I still wanted to be the best songwriter that I can," DeLonge told Rolling Stone's Alex Mar. "I thought, ‘I can create anything I want to create … And it's going to be the most epic and anthemic and heroic music that I've ever made.’"

Out of these musings, DeLonge came up with the concept for Angels & Airwaves and quickly set about finding other musicians to join him with his vision. DeLonge recruited high school friend David Kennedy to play guitar, Ryan Sinn to play bass and Atom Willard for drums. Speaking to the BBC, DeLonge said that getting the band together pretty much occurred like most music ventures. "David, I played in a band called Box Car Racer with him. Ryan was in the Distillers in San Diego and David knew him. And Atom grew up down the street from David, so it's very much like a normal band coming together."

Kennedy, the guitarist, grew up in Poway, California, with DeLonge. Before joining Angels & Airwaves, he played with Box Car Racer and the hardcore groups Hazen Street and Over My Dead Body. Sinn, another California boy, began his music career as a guitarist but learned bass in the early 2000s when the punk-rock outfit the Distillers, desperate for a bass player, came calling. Willard, the drummer, joined his first band in his teens. By 1990, Willard was playing drums for the rock group Rocket From the Crypt, an endeavor that lasted a decade. In 2003, Willard joined the Offspring and in 2005 he joined Angels & Airwaves.

In a group interview with, members talked about how the name Angels & Airwaves was conceived. "Basically, we wanted a name that was larger than life to reflect the great expectations we had on the band. The ‘Angels’ part was inspired by one of our managers who walked away from a serious car accident with just a few scratches. We realised that we needed a delivery system for our message to be heard, which led to the perfect marriage of ‘Angels’ with ‘Airwaves’." Sometimes, the group's name is abbreviated "AVA" and the band uses an "AVA" logo. DeLonge told the BBC that he thinks of the "V" as an upside-down "A"—but it also stands for "Victory." In addition, his daughter is named Ava, so he likes that the band's name reminds him of her.

For the Record …

Members include Tom DeLonge (born on December 13, 1975; married with two children), lead vocals, guitar; David Kennedy (born on July 8, 1976 in San Diego, CA), guitar; Ryan Sinn (born on April 23, 1979), bass (left band in 2007); Matt Wachter (born in Pottsville, PA), bass (joined band in 2007); Atom Willard (born on August 15, 1973), drums.

Group formed in San Diego, 2005; released debut album, We Don't Need to Whisper, 2006; released follow-up, I-Empire, 2007; spent time on road as part of the annual Vans Warped Tour, 2008.

Awards: San Diego Music Awards, Song of the Year, for "The Adventure," 2006; San Diego Music Awards, Album of the Year, for We Don't Need to Whisper, 2006; mtvU (formerly College Television Network) Woodie of the Year Award, 2006.

Addresses: Record company—Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069. Web site—Angels & Airwaves Official Web site:

Made Noise with Whisper

AVA released its heavily contemplative debut album, We Don't Need to Whisper, in 2006. The 10-song CD opens with "Valkyrie Missile," which is a reference to a Cold War missile with nuclear capabilities. Complete with long, easy basslines and energetic drumming, the song discusses destruction and how destruction can yield beautiful things. Another track, "A Little's Enough," invokes religion. Narrated by Jesus, the song talks about God fixing the world in just one day. The album peaked at number four on the Billboard 200. It also won album of the year honors at the San Diego Music Awards.

To set the mood for the album, AVA recorded the tracks in a studio with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space odyssey projected on a flat screen, playing concurrently with photos showing images from World War II. The idea was that the Kubrick film represented endless hope while the war photos reminded the musicians of some of humanity's worst qualities. "And then we'd write a love song in the middle of that so this love song would end up pulling and gnawing on all these different emotions and it would leave the listener kind of confused but uplifted," DeLonge told Bobby Hankinson of the Boston Globe. With this album, AVA hoped to send a message to listeners urging them to seek love and find hope amidst despair.

AVA also released a movie in conjunction with We Don't Need to Whisper. The movie—part science fiction, part documentary concerning the making of the album—is called Start the Machine. Speaking to Rolling Stone, DeLonge said the movie "is this poetic metaphor about how humans can create the worst thing in life—war—and the best thing as well, which is love. It's a third CGI, a third documentary and a third love story." Besides real-life footage and interviews with band members, the movie contains "planes arcing through space coming down into a D-day of missiles exploding in a nebula. It's very The Wall … but futuristic."

The band's Web site includes movies and videos in an effort to reach people living in a new media world. DeLonge launched a highly interactive social networking site called Modlife, which houses the band Web site. DeLonge envisions a future where music is free but fans pay a subscription to sites like his, which enables them to view videos and blogs by their favorite bands and chat with band members. AVA makes short movies to accompany its songs, then releases them exclusively to Modlife members. DeLonge believes sites like his will allow musicians to make money because, he says, with today's easy digital copying, music does not make money like in the past.

Built Empire

In 2007, the bass player, Sinn, was let go from the band and replaced by Matt Wachter from the band 30 Seconds to Mars, fronted by Jared Leto. Wachter grew up on the East Coast and took an early interest in piano and drums. By high school he was playing in bands. Eventually, he picked up bass because he wanted to join a band and the only opening they had was for bass.

Wachter joined AVA in time to work on the band's second album, I-Empire, which was released in 2007. Complete with plenty of synth-heavy jams, the album hit number nine on the Billboard 200 chart. The "empire" the album's title refers to is the "inner" empire. "It's a way of looking at the world, as the world is yours," DeLonge said in a band biography posted on the Geffen Web site. The energy-laden, bass-driving, synthrock anthem "Everything's Magic" turned out to be one of the biggest songs on the album, hitting number one on the iTunes Modern Rock Chart.

Willard relishes the band's approach to music. As he told John J. Moser of the Morning Call, "[We're] trying to make almost an escape through the music and at the same time just deliver the idea of hope and that you can make your world a better place." Willard also likes that the band allows members to focus on their families, too. As Willard told Moser, "Everybody's priorities and personal lives are important, and if someone says, ‘I want to go do this with my wife’ or ‘My kids are this or that,’ nobody's going to sit here and go, ‘Dude, what the [heck], man, miss a practice?’ We're all professionals, it's going to be all right, we're going to make it happen one way or another."

Angels Floated in Balance

As for becoming the "biggest band in the world," reviews remain mixed. Radio station music director Dan O'Brien has placed some of AVA's songs in heavy rotation. "This band has this underground swelling of support and interest," he told the Boston Globe. "For Tom [DeLonge], this is a progression; a lot of the blink stuff was juvenile, this to me is more mature."

Some see little hope for the band. Writing in Variety, music critic Steven Mirkin complained that AVA's music contains nothing but formulaic gestures and easily digestible clichés. Critiquing a live performance, Mirkin complained that "DeLonge's vocals have the quavery whine of the Cure's Robert Smith, Dave Kennedy … sprays moody, spiky guitar lines and drummer Atom Willard plays (or, to be more precise, overplays) furiously." Mirkin suggested that if DeLonge's desire was to make the world a happier place, "he might want to rethink Angels and Airwaves' direction and add some of Blink's jokiness. Even sophomoric humor is preferable to his current sophomoric existentialism."

As for the future, DeLonge's aspirations remain high and he intends to keep moving forward with his vision for AVA. The band's first album, after all, was certified gold, proving the band has potential. "I want to come out with an album that people will refer to twenty years from now as the album of this decade," he told Rolling Stone, noting there has not been an album like that since Nirvana's Nevermind. "I don't think there's ever been a band as good as U2. But I'm willing to take on that challenge."

Selected discography

We Don't Need to Whisper, Geffen Records, 2006.

I-Empire, Geffen Records, 2007.



Boston Globe, May 19, 2006, p. D17.

Los Angels Times, May 11, 2006, p. E12.

Morning Call (Allentown, PA), February 16, 2008, p. D1.

Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA), January 27, 2008, p. G4.

Variety, May 11, 2006, p. 14.


"Angels And Airwaves," Geffen Records, (June 10, 2008).

"Angels & Airwaves—Between The Blinks,", (June 22, 2008).

"Angel Delight!," BBC, (June 22, 2008).

"Biography of Angels & Airwaves," Angels & Airwaves Official Site, (June 10, 2008).

"Q&A: Blink-182 Man Launches Angels," Rolling Stone, (June 10, 2008).

"Video Interview: Tom DeLonge," MTV Buzzworthy Blog, (June 22, 2008).

—Lisa Frick