May 23, 2016


How Angels & Airwaves Became The Only Scene Supergroup

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

On February 22, 2005, Blink-182 announced an indefinite hiatus. The relationship between the three members that made up the iconic pop-punk project—guitarist Tom DeLonge, bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker—began to fracture. When personalities come into play, egos become next to impossible to repair. For the trio, it went one step further: they all wanted different things on different platforms. Much like the language that surrounds all reunions, the guys needed to close the book on Blink if they ever wanted to return to it.

Almost immediately, Hoppus and Barker formed a new project, the electronic pop-rock group +44 with buds (and guitarists) Shane Gallagher of The Nervous Return and Craig Fairbaugh of Mercy Killers. To some, it was a supergroup; to most, it was simply a welcome continuation of Mark and Travis songs. With that divide it became apparent that DeLonge was at the heart of Blink's dissolution. 

Months went by and it wasn't until September 2005, after seven months of radio silence, that DeLonge emerged in the public eye promising a new project, Angels & Airwaves, a band he described to MTV as "the greatest rock and roll revolution for this generation." Not too long after it became public knowledge that the reason for this new era of DeLonge was a heartbreaking one: Tom was addicted to painkillers, telling AbsolutePunk, "I was losing my mind, I was on thousands of painkillers, and I almost killed myself." 

After months of writing and recording in his home studio, DeLonge brought together Hazen Street guitarist and high-school friend David Kennedy, former Rocket from the Crypt drummer Atom Willard and The Distillers bassist Ryan Sinn and Angels & Airwaves was fully born. On May 23, 2006, they released their debut album, the atmospheric We Don't Need To Whisper.

In the decade since they've been a band, AVA has featured musicians who've played in and with Thirty Seconds to MarsThriceParamoreLostprophets and Nine Inch Nails. Unlike +44, DeLonge had effectively created a supergroup—one that he, as the mastermind and frontman, could dictate.

Angels & Airwaves continues today, shape-shifting to fill whatever purpose DeLonge requires. In the beginning, it truly was the first supergroup to emerge from a pop-punk/emo reality, even though the band itself didn't really sound like either of those genres. (At its most familiar, AVA is Tom's weirder moments on Blink-182's 2003 eponymously titled fifth studio album...and perhaps the post-hiatus release of 2011's Neighborhoods.) We Don't Need To Whisper was Tom at his most Tom: The record is obsessed with vastness and space, both lyrically and musically. It's an incredibly self-serious release, which might have felt jarring for Blink-182 fans at the time, but is now beloved. There are moments that recall Blink (the heteronormative brattiness of "It Hurts"), and others that feel like a B-side to his other side project, Box Car Racer ("The Machine" comes to mind).

What's truly fascinating about this band is that it was able to find success as a supergroup, as a cohesive unit. This hadn't happened before in Warped Tour world for a variety of reasons. For one, these sub-genres are very, very new. They don't extend back more than a few decades, and obtaining "super" status requires time, personality and growth. Blink-182 had been famous on a mainstream level for almost a decade when Angels & Airwaves were born, with Tom's rock-star status solidified like any other major rock act.

Most supergroups are of the prog-rock or metal variety, and it's largely due to how those fan groups behave. They're fundamentally loyal to the acts they love, and more specifically, everyone who makes them up. In pop-punk/emo, there's usually one member (more often than not, the frontperson) who is the object of affection. Blink-182 subverted that, perhaps by the economy of being a trio, but also because of how they came to their success. There are a lot of non-musical aspects to love with Blink-182, and most of them are predicated on humor. If you liked Blink, you liked the boys behind it. All of them.

A mutual appreciation for the whole of a band is necessary for a supergroup to flourish, but, historically, they also have something of a expiration date. The form only exists when the members were previously famous in another project, and that cannot be abandoned or people lose interest. Looking back, Angels & Airwaves is seen as "Tom's project." More often than not, people forget the band is a supergroup. It's because DeLonge has managed to curate music in a way that makes him something like a pop-punk Bono: the stuff of legends, but on his own terms. 

That's the only way a supergroup can live in this world, at least, for now. It'll be interesting to see if, in a decade or so, the next wave of emo acts attempt to build a supergroup. If they do, it's going to take a Tom DeLonge to see it through.

Want more Angels & Airwaves? Revisit a classic Fuse interview with the band from 2006, wherein Tom DeLonge details their experimental sound: