Tom DeLonge and Ilan Rubin: an odd couple making it work in Angels & Airwaves

Angels & Airwaves is shown performing July 27 at a private concert at Gnarlywood in Carlsbad.
Angels & Airwaves is shown performing July 27 at a private concert at Gnarlywood in Carlsbad. The band, co-led by singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge (at front in center) and drummer Ilan Rubin, is now embarked on a national tour to promote its sixth album, “Lifeforms.”
(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tom DeLonge is 45 and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Ilan Rubin is 33. But, says Rubin, ‘in many ways, I feel older than Tom’


If there’s ever a rock ‘n’ roll-themed reboot of the classic 1970s TV sitcom “The Odd Couple,” Angels & Airwaves bandmates Tom DeLonge and Ilan Rubin seem ideal for the roles of the mismatched roommates with wildly different sensibilities.

Exactly how different was demonstrated in a recent joint interview. Both exuded pride about “Lifeforms,” the new Angels & Airwaves’ album, while acknowledging their highly disparate musical approaches. The four-man band will conclude its fall tour with a Nov. 7 concert at the all-ages Soma San Diego.

“I think it’s funny how very, very different Tom and I are,” said Rubin, 33, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year as the drummer in Nine Inch Nails. “Tom is generally a positive person. I’m generally negative.”

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“No, you’re not!” said DeLonge, who rose to fame as the co-founder of the Poway-bred pop-punk band blink-182.

“But I’m cynical,” said Rubin said, whose musical tastes skew heavily to classical music, classic-rock and jazz. DeLonge, conversely, is still an unabashed punk-rock kid — even at the age of 45.

“What’s hilarious,” Rubin said, “is that Tom is older than me but the music I listen to is generally older than him. In many ways, on the inside, I feel much older than Tom.”

DeLonge is quick to agree.

“That’s really funny, and so on point,” he said. “Ilan is younger than me, but his tastes go way farther back than mine. He was born into real musicality and musicianship, and I was born into emotion.

“Punk-rock was just a vehicle for emotion. You don’t like the rules put on you, or the way you grew up, or people telling you who you should be. So, you’re pushing back against the system and the music is a vehicle to express anger or pain.”

Angels and Airwaves drummer Ilan Rubin
Angels and Airwaves drummer Ilan Rubin was only 11 when he performed at the 1999 edition of Woodstock. He recently completed his first film score.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Different generations and perspectives

The age difference between the two is demonstrated with “Timebomb,” the opening number on the new Angels & Airwaves album. Its pulsating synthesizer lines, crafted by Rubin, sound like an homage to the pioneering mid-1970s work of the pioneering German electronic-music band Kraftwerk.

Except ...

“I have no doubt it’s reminiscent,” Rubin said. “But I have never sat down and listened to Kraftwerk.”

“I think you would like them,” DeLonge said, “because of how analog they are.”

“German and analog?” Rubin responded. “I should be way into that!”

“For me,” DeLonge continued, “that electronic stuff was always there. I liked the early techno and EDM stuff, which was fairly simple. EDM now is pretty complex, weird and in-your-face ...

“I liked bands like New Order, because they sounded like punk-rock kids who had bought a Casio keyboard and played really simple stuff. It reminded me of how I thought of punk music, because we weren’t that good on our instruments.”

The fastidious Rubin, who recently completed the film score (his first) for “Bobcat Moretti,” reads and writes music. The instinctive DeLonge, who recently directed his upcoming debut feature film, the partly autobiographical “Monsters of California,” plays music primarily by ear.

Rubin, in addition to drumming, is an accomplished keyboardist, guitarist and bassist. As a session drummer, he has been featured on albums by Paramore, Beck, Jesse & Joy, Phantogram and others. He began his recording career as a pre-teen in the San Diego band F.o.N. The group featured his older brother, Aaron Rubin, whose album producing and engineering credits include Angels & Airwaves.

DeLonge is primarily a guitarist, singer and songwriter. He has been a key member of three bands — blink-182, Box Car Racer (which he formed with blink drummer Travis Barker) and Angels & Airwaves, which he founded in 2005 and which Rubin joined in 2011.

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Rubin has five solo albums to his credit, each recorded under the name The New Regime, on which he handles all the instrumental and vocal parts himself. DeLonge has made one solo album. Both write songs, but in very different ways.

“When we make an album,” DeLonge said, “I might try to frame it by saying: ‘Okay, this is a like a square house.’ And Ilan will say: ‘It’s square, but we’ll make it out of glass.’

“And I was never thinking we would use glass! I don’t build ‘houses’ like that. But Ilan will say: ‘What if you tried it that way’?”

Their contrasting approaches don’t reflect the age difference between DeLonge and Rubin as much as their markedly dissimilar influences and frames of reference.

Rubin can expertly dissect the work of The Beatles, Beethoven and Buddy Rich, and enjoys discussing the structural intricacies of their music. For DeLonge, whose first concert was a Dead Milkmen show at San Diego’s Soma Live in his early teens, it’s all about gut-level reactions and making a visceral connection with his teenage id.

Tom DeLonge of Angels & Airwaves
Tom DeLonge will conclude his fall tour with Angels & Airwaves with a Nov. 7 concert at the all-ages Soma San Diego.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘How cool is that?’

“When I saw the Dead Milkmen,” DeLonge recalled, “I was like: ‘Wow. Look at how all these people are looking at this band! How cool is that? This is where I’m going to live the rest of my life. I found my job!’ ”

Rubin’s first concert was in 1995 when he was 7. His dad took him to see former Led Zeppelin mainstays Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at the San Diego Sports Arena.

Rubin began playing his dad’s drum kit soon thereafter. Just four years later, he became the youngest musician to perform at the 1999 edition of Woodstock. That same year saw him named the “Best Undiscovered Drummer Under the Age of 18” by “Modern Drummer” magazine.

Rubin’s explosive drum fills at the end of the song “Kiss & Tell” provide an instrumental highlight on the new Angels & Airwaves album. But those fills came solely at the urging of DeLonge.

“We played ‘Kiss & Tell’ on the 2019 Angels’ tour,” said Rubin, who was only 12 when he began studying with blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.

“Any time those sorts of soloing spotlights occur in these songs, Tom is always the one who wants me to show off and spice things up. I’m happy to do that. But it’s never my idea.”

Why not?

“Well, as a songwriter, I like the bridges to take the song elsewhere, perhaps a key change, and find a clever way to get back into it,” Rubin replied.

” So, to have a bridge be a miniaturized drum solo is something I would never do. Of course, I’m capable of it. And it’s fun and makes for entertaining versions of the song in live shows. But as a songwriter, I would never do that.”

DeLonge laughed heartily upon hearing Rubin’s anti-drum fills remarks.

“Let me (expletive) clarify what happened here,” DeLonge said.

“Ilan is kind of bored with drums. He’s like: ‘I mastered that when I was 4!’ I don’t think he is ever listening to a song like a drummer who only plays drums and is trying to throw in everything they can. Ilan plays a lot of other instruments, so he’s not trying to get attention.

“I don’t think he’s ever overly concerned with thinking: ‘This is my one chance to shine on this album.’ So it’s funny. Because I’m coming from playing with Travis in blink, and I’m like: ‘I need you to do something rad on drums, because I can’t do anything with this guitar.’

“So, I’m always pushing Ilan to create something with a lot of energy and to have a drum feature in our shows, which he is very capable of playing. You’re the only drummer I’ve met who doesn’t give a (expletive) about showing off ...”

Rubin chuckled in agreement.

“That is the exact essence of Tom and I working together on a song or album,” Rubin said.

“Tom always starts the idea, gets his entire idea out and writes the entire song. Usually, I come in for bridges or adding stuff on top. But between (the 2014 Angels & Airwaves’ album) ‘Dreamwalker’ and now, what we’ve arrived at — in approaching music the best way we can — is we each pull ourselves away from our own comfort zones. And we end up doing something that is somewhere left of center.”

“That’s a good way of putting it,” DeLonge said. “I concur. But I wouldn’t say I write the song, although I do try to spit the whole idea out. On this record, and the other ones, I’m thinking: ‘What is the package of these 10 songs and how do they fit together? Here’s one in this zone; here’s one in that zone’.”

Happily, the musical yin and yang DeLonge and Rubin bring to Angels & Airwaves is complementary, not a collision. And with “Lifeforms,” which was released last Friday, they have created their strongest and most cohesive collection of songs to date.

The album features several high octane tracks that make a compelling argument for the return of guitar rock. It also contains some of the most mature work of DeLonge’s career.

Never mind that “mature” is not a word often associated with DeLonge, whose stage patter with blink-182 singer-bassist Mark Hoppus focused on jokes about flatulence, male genitals and various sexual acts.

“Mature? Unfortunately, I agree,” DeLonge said.

“But for me, maturity in songwriting is to know and be hyper-aware of when I’m not challenging myself to be better. It’s knowing where your skills end, and to embrace other people’s skill sets, It’s also knowing you can’t create it by yourself.

“I get a lot of credit for things I don’t do. I have a lot of talented people around me. Ilan’s brother, Aaron, is the wingman. He is the fifth band member in Angels & Airwaves and he crafts these songs intricately. On this album, which we made over a three-year period, so much of what you’re hearing has nuances on top of a simple song structure.

“I’d say: ‘I know I want to start this song with a little synth, and then do this or that.’ I was thinking macro. Then Aaron would say: ‘What if we do this part at a faster tempo, and then we shift that part?’ Then, we handed it to Ilan, who added a different bass line and harmonies.

“That’s not what I did with the song, but it’s so much better. People say to me: ‘You’re maturing.’ But it’s not that I’m getting better as a musician. I’m getting better at knowing what I’m good at, and not, and embracing other people.”

‘Ilan has a lot of talent and skill’

Angels & Airwaves drummer Ilan Rubin and his wife,  Samantha Gray Hissong.
Angels & Airwaves drummer Ilan Rubin poses with his wife, Rolling Stone music journalist Samantha Gray Hissong.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For Rubin, what’s fundamentally most important about music and songwriting is, well, the fundamentals.

“Any way you look at it, the most important thing about a song is the vocal and melody,” he said. “You can add stuff to change things up, but you are writing your melodies and the chord progression under the vocal and melody.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is that the singer needs to be inspired by what the chords are. Because that’s what gives them ideas for a melody. So, I could write progression and give it to Tom, and it may not spark an idea for him. And vice versa; he might give me 100 melodies that don’t do it for me.

“So, it’s most important for Tom to come up with something that inspires melody. Then, when he has something to sing over, it becomes a matter of dressing it up.”

For all the differences between them, DeLonge and Rubin are united by their shared passion for music.

“Ilan has a lot of talent and skill,” DeLonge said. “And he has the ability to explore different musical frequencies with other people in a way few can. I like a lot of other music, but I can’t play it. Ilan can. I can say: ‘I really like this Beatles’ song.’ But he is like: ‘Well, this is how they thought, and this is how they did it.’ And I’m like: ‘Oh, my god. I can’t get my fingers to do that!’

“But we are really well-matched. And, when you put us together, the sky is the limit.”

Tom DeLonge, left, and Ilan Rubin of Angels and Airwaves
Tom DeLonge, left, and Ilan Rubin of Angels and Airwaves are shown in 2014 in the band’s Carlsbad headquarters.
(John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)


In DeLonge’s case, the limit may be beyond the sky.

In 2015, the same year he most recently left blink-182, DeLonge founded his Encinitas-based To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences. Its mission statement is, according to its website, to “create science fiction stories for millennials that inspire and transcend, stories about dreams, consciousness, paranormal, UFOs, and many other things that once used to be taboo, but after newly declassified government documents are now proving to be absolutely real.”

Tom DeLonge traveled the world multiple times as the co-founder of the Poway-bred blink-182, the hugely popular pop-punk band that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

March 4, 2017

DeLonge launched the academy with senior CIA agent Jim Semivan and physicist Harold Puthoff. It now has a staff of 12 that includes several former U.S. government employees. And its reach has extended well beyond the several books the academy has published and the footage it released of U.S. military planes encountering Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (footage that the Pentagon has confirmed is authentic).

One of the academy’s key staff members, Luis Elizondo, was a longtime intelligence officer with the Department of Defense and the Office of Director of National Intelligence. Last summer, he and DeLonge gave an online presentation entitled: “Can blink-182’s Tom DeLonge Uncover U.S. Government UFO Secrets?”

In 2018, DeLonge began serving as the executive producer of “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation” on TV’s History Channel. The series, which ran for two seasons, featured Elizondo and former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon, one of the academy’s most prominent advisers.

In 2019, the academy debuted its Acquisition & Data Analysis of Materials Research Project, a research program dedicated to obtaining and analyzing exotic material samples from UFOs.

Also in 2019, the for-profit academy entered into a five-year, $750,000 agreement with the United States Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Their shared goal is “to advance To The Stars Academy’s materiel and technology innovations in order to develop enhanced capabilities for Army ground vehicles.”

DeLonge, who was ridiculed by some for leaving blink-182 to launch his academy, is understandably pleased with the outcome so far.

“People like to make jokes that I’m chasing aliens,” he said.

“I was in blink, one of the biggest bands in the world. With the academy, I knew the whole time what I was doing, without ever knowing how it would end up. I just stuck to my guns and people are now finding out I’m a pretty savvy guy.

“For me, it’s about doing what you love because you love it. Don’t do it for money. Just do what moves you and makes the world a better place. I did that, and it’s all paying off now. It was a bumpy road at first, but I’d love for this (the academy) to be the thing I’m remembered for.”

As for the likelihood of him reuniting with Hoppus and Barker in blink-182, DeLonge indicated the door may be more open now than at any point since he left the band six years ago.

DeLonge and Hoppus grew close again this year after the bassist publicly disclosed he was being treated for cancer, specifically, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma stage IV-A. Hoppus announced on Thursday that, after several months of chemotherapy, he is now cancer-free. On Friday, he announced he will be performing as part of a Halloween livestream show, “Travis Barker’s House of Horrors.” The lineup also includes Avril Lavigne, Machine Gun Kelly, and more.

Can a reunion by blink-182, whose 30th anniversary is next year, be in the works?

“We talk about it all the time, and I think everyone’s interested in it,” DeLonge replied.

“It’s just a matter of timing. Obviously, Mark is healing right now, and his treatments went really well. It doesn’t mean he skipping around yet. Like any survivor of cancer, he’s just really grateful land feels like he a new lease on life has been granted to him.

“So, we’ll see where he’s at and where I’m at, and how things line up. I think there’s the opportunity there (for a reunion); we just have to figure out the timing.”

Angels & Airwaves, with Bad Suns and 1990nowhere

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7

Where: Soma San Diego, 3350 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District

Tickets: $44.50

Phone: (619) 226-7662