The Suburban Kid Who Traveled to the Stars
Words by Maggie Gulasey | Photos by Jeff Stockwell
Tom DeLonge is best known as the guitarist and vocalist in the legendary band Blink-182. For nearly 20 years, he wrote popular Blink songs while amusing the fans and disturbing parents with his often X-rated stage antics. Never one to settle and always seeking the next creative challenge, he formed more experimental bands like Boxcar Racer and eventually his present-day art project, Angels & Airwaves.
It is obvious DeLonge is a talented musician, but less visible is his long history as a successful entrepreneur. He has founded several companies, including his current and most extraordinary undertaking, To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, an aerospace company with a multi-faceted entertainment division.
Building his company and playing in a band have offered no shortage of stress. To combat the daily pressures, DeLonge has found riding his motorcycle provides the perfect therapeutic escape. His enthusiasm for the two wheels has translated into a hobby that is both functional and enjoyable, and grants a temporary escape from his busy life.
At this point in DeLonge’s life, it is hard to keep track of everything he has going on. It would seem as though everything he has done up to now has been preparing him for his most recent ventures. To anyone else, his ambitions may seem crazy and far-fetched. But to DeLonge, he is just a kid from the suburbs who dreamed of going to the stars.
“When I started Angels & Airwaves, I was thinking about creating an art project, not just a band.”
“The idea of coming out of Blink-182 was insurmountable. There was no way in my mind that I was going to be able to create another rock band that could ever compete or be anything close to what Blink was. Blink was such a cultural phenomenon, and I didn’t want to try and repeat that.”
As the formation of Angels & Airwaves was in its early stages, DeLonge started noticing where the art and music industries were going. As a result, he created Modlife, a business that would benefit the artists and fans alike. At a time when file-sharing companies like Napster were popular, Modlife created new revenue streams for artists such as Pearl Jam, The White Stripes, Nine Inch Nails, and Kanye West.
It was through this experience that DeLonge gained a comprehensive understanding of how to monetize music and applied those lessons to his new band—and eventually his aerospace company.
“With Angels & Airwaves, I thought it was great because, if you look where music is going and understand the economics, it was not just about music; it was more about transmedia. Unlike multimedia, transmedia is more one theme across different types of media, but they all work together; they’re all saying the same thing.
“For Angels & Airwaves, it was, how do we take a theme about the human race and communicate those in a motion picture and on an album and in a book? It became an art project. The band was simply one branch of the tree.”
While utilizing music, film and literature for his creative endeavors, it was—and still is—important to DeLonge that they all effectively communicate his ultimate objective: to have a positive impact on the world.
“It is super-important to stay true to the message and the ethos of what Angels & Airwaves was doing. I remember when I left Blink, we were always like, ‘Fuck you, fuck you, rebellious this, we’re kids that don’t care about anything.’
“And then I did Angels & Airwaves, and it was like all of a sudden we are naming records ‘Love’ and writing songs about changing the way you see yourself and changing the way you see the world.
“Some people thought it was pretentious, and I am sure it was misunderstood, but I knew I was not the first artist to sing about love. I knew that’s where society needed to go. I know that’s who I really am. It was really interesting to me, especially because we got into a lot of stuff with consciousness when we created Angels & Airwaves.”
Fueled by his passion for music, writing, film and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)—combined with his diverse background from prior business efforts—it was only a natural evolution for DeLonge to start his most arduous company to date.
“It seems like I created Angels & Airwaves as a way to set up building an aerospace company. That would be absurd probably for any other musician, because why would anyone ever want to do something with the amount of work, the amount of resources, and the amount of stress involved? But leave it to me to want to do something that wild.
“I think we have to stick true to doing all the things we are doing at my aerospace company—to be an extension of what I want to do with the band, which includes how we interact with our environment, with the people around us, our intentions, and how we can come from a place of compassion and love versus ego, and just normal human desire to conquer and become famous or rich or want control.
“We really wanted to be a band that stood for something more than just hating where we came from, hating politics, and wanting to rebel. This was more like, okay, let’s actually change the world. That’s the goal.”
In 2017, DeLonge captivated the world when he revealed his latest and most demanding project to date, To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science (TTSAAS).
With science, aerospace and entertainment (To The Stars, Inc.) divisions, TTSAAS was created to explore the outer edges of science and generate meaningful discoveries through its research.
As president and CEO, DeLonge has teamed up with an impressive roster of accomplished individuals who have worked in or with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Defense (DoD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), just to name a few.
No longer working under a veil of secrecy, the team at TTSAAS works with and for the public to promote education, transparency, sustainability and community. Unconstrained by government motivations, this privately owned company believes in responsible public disclosure when it comes to UAP.
In collaboration with their entertainment division, TTSAAS takes the science and aerospace division’s discoveries and employs them across an array of media to make the controversial topics engaging and easier to digest.
“The name ‘To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science’ is great because of what it represents. ‘To The Stars’ was chosen because it is aspirational. When you’re looking up and wonder, how far can you go? To the stars! Which star, the nearest star? Or the ones we can’t see? It’s kind of infinite. ‘Arts & Science’ is another way of saying science fiction, and turning science fiction into reality.
“Having an entertainment division and an aerospace and science division works wonderfully well because, for example, we have a set of stories called Sekret Machines. We take real facts about the UAP, and we are making movies and write books like Sekret Machines based on that.
“We also take the observed technology from the classified videos and U.S. government documents with the DoD or the CIA, and my co-founder Dr. [Hal] Puthoff then works his way back into the physics of how the UAPs are operating.
“Now we can start dabbling in and building that stuff and make science fiction become a reality. It is bringing about a technology that can transform mankind, and then continuing to study the phenomena that has been interacting with mankind for millennia.”
Depending on the person receiving the information, the topic of UAPs can be met with a gigantic eye-roll, absolute fear, or an enthusiastic hunger to learn more. In any case, to the believers and skeptics alike, the subject matter is notoriously saturated with disinformation and falsified videos. Standing out as an authentic source can be a difficult task.
To combat this, TTSAAS strives to work with information that has been verified under the scrutiny of science. Ideally, only substantiated data is disclosed to the public.
“My partner Jim Semivan, from the CIA and one of the co-founders of the company, says we are only going to stick to real, certified, verifiable science. Just real stuff.
“That’s why the declassified videos that TTSAAS brought out were so important. We know who the pilots are, the systems that captured it, and the type of plane that they were flying. It is completely verifiable, which goes a lot further when you stick to things that there is no argument about. I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of that stuff out there, but there really is.
“We have already provided evidence that the UAP is real. That’s part of what we did when we released the declassified videos and when one of our partners, Lou Elizondo, came out about the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program [AATIP] last year.”
Elizondo’s secret program was first made public in December of 2017. With over $22 million dollars in government funding, the AATIP studied UAP from 2007 until 2012, when the program was officially dissolved. It was Elizondo who was responsible for releasing the compelling video footage of a United States fighter jet capturing a UAP performing incomprehensible maneuvers.
Though the footage captures a UAP, the unidentified aspect of it means that it has not been verified as extraterrestrial. It could very well be something manufactured by humans, as its origin is still unknown.
“We have already brought the evidence forth, and there is more that’s coming. There’s some big stuff that we have planned that’s really going to take this conversation straight into everybody’s living room. How will people react to it, and how will they absorb it, and how are they going to deal with it?”
So, how does a person go from playing punk music in front of thousands of people for decades to speaking in top-secret facilities with high-ranking government officials? two seem to be on different ends of the spectrum, DeLonge explains that he has been groomed for this his entire career.
“When I started To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, I was literally just a musician.”
“A lot of people ask me how I go from performing on stage to speaking with people from the CIA, the DoD, or the world’s biggest aerospace companies. It is crazy. But the thing that really prepared me was I already felt like anything was possible.
“When Blink exploded, to being a part of that ride, you’re already thinking that anything can happen—because I was living in my parents’ garage. So, when you go from living in the garage to something like that, you kind of already open the door to believing anything is possible. With that experience, I realized that there aren’t barriers on really ambitious, big ideas.
“The next thing that prepared me was already being an entrepreneur. I have already been in thousands of meetings with people that knew a lot more than me, that were a lot more professional, and a lot smarter. I have already embarrassed myself thousands of times when pitching my company and not knowing any of my shit—I had a lot of failures, but through those experiences, I learned how to hold myself.
“The third thing I learned that helped prepare me was that you absolutely must execute what you say you are going to do. If you say you are going to do something, don’t let months pass, and don’t forget about it. You follow up when you say you’re going to follow up, and you show them progress, listen and take their advice when necessary.
“Those types of things are what helped me earn the trust of people and then eventually create a giant mechanism to do something that has never been done. To this day I remain very much out of my league.
“More than anything, though, my team, they’re the guys that really do that stuff. They’re the ones that their whole lives and careers have been in those kinds of environments, so I really lean on them to do most of the heavy lifting.”
Taking a hard look at DeLonge’s resume, it would be tough to challenge his credibility as an entrepreneur. As the founder of several successful bands and businesses throughout his life, it’s obvious he does not lack motivation or the desire to challenge himself.
But as a public figure, it can be easy to pigeonhole him. Absorbing only superficial snapshots of his life, it would be no stretch (and not completely inaccurate) to stereotype him as merely a punk musician who tells raunchy jokes and chases aliens like a crazy person.
Digging beneath the surface, however, it becomes apparent that DeLonge and his team are anything but crazy. Doing their best to utilize substantial evidence and apply a scientific approach to their work, it seems as though TTSAAS could generate significant research. But that does not mean it won’t be an uphill battle for people to take DeLonge seriously.
“I do get all these headlines that I am ‘chasing aliens’ or left my band to chase Unidentified Flying Objects or has a tinfoil hat on my head and I’m crazy. I look at those comments and think, if you only knew what I knew, if you’d only been in the meetings I have been in, if you’d only had the discussions that I’ve had, if you’d only seen the shit that I have seen. Not only would those comments stop, but their hair would turn white, and they would lose sleep the way I have lost sleep.
“That’s not something you can just tell everybody. Most people go, ‘We want to hear those songs where you ran around naked and told dick jokes.’ That’s still a big part of me; it really is. My humor, friends, and the music that I like hasn’t changed—I still listen to punk rock almost daily.
“But as far as what I need to do for the planet and what I feel like I have been chosen to do, I have to see it through.”
Starting an aerospace company, recording music with Angels & Airwaves, writing novels, producing and directing films, and so much more, is a large undertaking for just one company.
To say a lot rides on DeLonge’s shoulders is an understatement.
“There is a lot of pressure. We are kind of like five entertainment companies in one—the way Disney is, but we are tiny. Then on top of that, we are building technology that is extremely revolutionary and difficult and takes years to bring to fruition. So, yeah, there is pressure. It is super-ambitious, ridiculously difficult, but so insanely rewarding.”
In order to combat the considerable amount of pressure, DeLonge has found something functional and fun to ease the daily stressors. Reminiscent of an obsession that began in his childhood, his newfound passion takes him away (literally and metaphorically) from the daily burdens.
“You know, I had a really difficult year. A lot of things came into my life this past year, like starting a company, and it has been really stressful. When I got into riding bikes in a big way this past year and half or so—I toyed with it in my 20s—with everything going on, it reminded me of when I was a kid in a broken family; my parents hated each other, and I hated my parents.
“I had just started Blink as a punk rock band, and skateboarding was my life. Every time I got on the skateboard, I felt the vibration of the street through the board, and I felt the wind, and I felt the motion. The faster I went, the farther away from home I got, with everything disappearing behind me.
“The motorcycle is the first thing that reminds me of learning how to skateboard. It is the first thing that reminds me of that freedom, of feeling that motion, of feeling like you’re flying.”
“It has been an absolutely wonderful way for me to get on and go up the coast and get away from some of the things that I am dealing with.
“I’ve always wanted to get into it in a big way, but I never thought I would like it this much. It’s like anything else that people get into; once you get into it and understand it, then you realize what people have been talking about.”
DeLonge has three motorcycles: a Ducati Monster, a BMW R nineT, and a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. Because the Monster has been at the shop for almost a year, the R nineT and GS Adventure have become his main bikes.
“While the Ducati was away, I was pissed because I really wanted a bike. So, I went and I bought the BMW R nineT. I got a limited-edition one; it’s got the big 21 number on there, representing when BMW first started making motorcycles in 1921.
“It has all these intricately carved aluminum and titanium pieces. We changed the seat, exhaust, headers, and the wheels. I mean the whole thing looks steampunk. It’s funny; I wanted to make it much more industrial looking, and now it’s so shiny and showy. I was like, whoa, I didn’t really plan that part out. I thought it was going to look a little rougher around the edges.
“The R nineT is the most incredible thing, and I ride it every day around town. That’s what I ride to work and what I ride up and down the coast highway and along the ocean. It’s just my everyday bike.
“But I noticed that the traffic has been getting so bad to get to Los Angeles. We are only a couple of hours from there, but it can take five hours sometimes! It can be ridiculous, so I needed a bike that was safer, bigger and more comfortable for the trip.
“So, I bought the huge R1200 GS Adventure. I remember at the time I had a Ford Raptor, this big, off-road truck, and this was the same thing as the Raptor, but as a bike.
“It can go anywhere and do anything. You can pack it up for long trips; you can ride it up to Alaska if you want. It doesn’t matter if you have to go over a mountain and through a river or all along dirt roads, this bike can do anything.
“It’s just as comfortable on the freeway with cruise control and heated grips as it is riding off-road. I got the GS for those trips, and it now keeps my commute to LA around 90 minutes both ways, just cutting through traffic and splitting lanes.
“Until I get my Ducati back, my two bikes are the R nineT and GS Adventure. I really want to buy a bunch of R nineTs right now. That’s really what I want. I do like all of the Triumphs and Nortons and all that—they’re so stylish—but something about these BMWs and the way they do the boxer engine just looks cool. I am kind of into German engineering. They’re mad scientists over there.”
Motorcycles are a well-deserved reprieve from the slew of never-ending projects he takes on. Though it can be overwhelming at times, DeLonge would not have it any other way.
“Outside of having my family, the only two giant things I have cared about were music and the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Music was the dream, and the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena was this unattainable, fascinating hobby of mine. But the fact that I am playing such a big part in both is like, oh my god, how did that happen?
“I can say at this point in my life, TTSAAS is tremendously more satisfying than being in a band. But that’s only because I have been in a band for so long. Being in a band is the best job in the world, but you are still playing the same 15 songs every night, and you’re still exhausted waking up in a parking lot, and you’re still waiting around for 24 hours of the day to have one hour of a lot of adrenaline.
“Things become very monotonous for me. But this kind of a company at this stage in my life is a blend of all the things I love: producing films, directing films, writing novels, working in aerospace, working in science, working with the government, and still playing music.
“Angels & Airwaves is recording right now. We have big plans for that band next year. So, I still get to do all the things I love, but I have broken into other areas that really keep me satisfied at this point in my life.
“If you look at what I’ve done and who I am, I honestly feel like I have been molded to do this. That doesn’t mean it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It feels harder than breaking a giant rock band. I just know that I am supposed to be here.