It is said that the difference between being good at anything in life and being great at it is the effort. If that was the only criteria, there would be a lot more rock stars walking around. Truth is, to be successful in the music industry you need a great work ethic, tough skin and talent. Mix that in with some luck and you just might do something special. In 2021 there is a band that checks all those boxes, although they did not need luck, the band is Angels and Airwaves (AVA).
When you think AVA, you think Tom DeLonge and his history with blink-182. The reality of it all is AVA is more than Tom’s association with Travis and Mark. They are more than a band straight out of the Warped Tour.
Angels and Airwaves is as solid as a band can be. AVA today has delivered on a sonic vision that’s taken them a minute to develop. Ask any of their fans and they’ll tell you that their sound is soul piercing.
DeLonge founded AVA in 2005, following the then break up of blink. He focused new efforts on creating a band that would be, as he describes, “an art project [that approaches] larger human themes and tackles them in different mediums.”
The band began recording their first album in mid-2005 and an accidental internet leak of the single “The Adventure” caused an early radio release in May of 2006.
The song blew up, and when the follow-up “Do It For Me Now” hit the airwaves, AVA was on a meteoric ride that they earned all on their own.
When original Angels and Airwaves drummer Atom Willard stepped away from the band, DeLonge knew he wanted more of a seasoned multi-instrumentalist to take his place, Ilan Rubin was his perfect fit.
In 2011 Rubin not only became Angels and Airwaves new drummer, but also a contributing writing partner for the band beginning with The Dream Walker up to their most recent release LIFEFORMS. 6 albums and 16 years after the band’s initial inception, they are touring the world again once more with a new album 3 years in the making.
This is no exaggeration, LIFEFORMS is a kick-ass album. It deals with complex themes like social interaction, conspiracy theories and understanding the existence of the human race.
Singles like “Rebel Girl,” “Kiss and Tell,” “Spellbound,” “Euphoria,” and “Losing My Mind” have already stunned our senses with fantastic videos to immerse us in their world.
LIFEFORMS is packed with fantastic tracks. Some of my personal favorites include the modern English inspired song titled “Automatic” and a more Buzzcocks style punk track called “No More Guns.”
According to the band this album promotes a rebellious and emotional connection with listeners by taking inspiration from music styles they listened to in their youth and I can definitely hear these influences immediately.
As the music fates would have it, I had the opportunity to catch up with Rubin in Philadelphia on one of their only days off from the tour. He graciously took the time to answer my meaningful questions like: how did you know music would be your vocation? Where does creativity come from? and did you ring Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell with a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich? (He says he did not, but he thought about it).
Bottom line, Rubin is a triple threat of talent, determination, and creativity paired with a perfectly dry sense of humor. This was by far one of my favorite interviews to date. He holds many titles in the music industry: He’s the youngest musician to ever play a Woodstock stage, the youngest musician to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and an incredible heavy hitting drummer for many notorious bands in the industry but what makes Ilan Rubin absolutely timeless is his prowess in songwriting and his professionalism both on and offstage.
Rubin is a chameleon of a musician that can blend perfectly with any group and stand out quite brilliantly in his solo work. We have heard Rubin in the past play for prolific artists like Beck, Paramore, Nine Inch Nails, and of course… Angels and Airwaves.
Angels and Airwaves shows are like ascension to Heaven.
Tom DeLonge | Angels and Airwaves
Photo by Jonathan Weiner
The interview went like this:
Jenna: I’m fascinated with “Origin stories;” like you should see my storage closet and all the comic books in there- What is your superhero origin story? We all know drums called to you at an early age, can you elaborate on your early beginnings and the first time you really knew that playing drums wasn’t just something you liked that was fun but something that was destined to become your vocation?
Ilan: I will try to sum it up because honestly, it’s a bit of a blur to me at this point. I’m 33 now and I picked up the drums when I was about 8 years old. My dad was a drummer when he was in high school and he had his drumset set up [in our] garage for whatever reason; I’d imagine my older brothers wanted to tinker with it first and at some point, I figured I could do it as well. As I played a little bit my dad realized that I actually had some rhythm and was being musical rather than just hitting things with sticks loudly. So, he taught me a few things and I became obsessed with it.
He continued… Most importantly, my dad recognized that I had a natural talent and he taught me a bit and I learned very quickly by ear. When he showed me Led Zeppelin, I would just devour those albums learning everything I could. I got to be a pretty good drummer pretty quickly; I just didn’t want to do anything else. My dad and my mom were and still are extremely supportive so the idea that it could be something other than just a hobby was very clear to me at a very early age.
Jenna: That’s so cool. That’s kind of rare, I don’t always hear the story of “my parents were really cool” especially in this industry. I also read about you that you had some Drum lessons from Travis Barker – is that true? What was that like?
Ilan: Yes, I took lessons from him from 11 – 13 years old. It was very early on. Somebody who worked with the Blink camp saw me playing at Warped Tour and recognized that I was a good drummer. They basically asked me “would you be interested in taking lessons with Travis Barker- do you know who that is?” and of course I knew who he was, especially since I had brothers who were older than me. It’s crazy to me to think that I’m now 33 and he’s now 40-something when I was taking lessons as an 11-year-old from a guy in his mid-twenties. It’s very bizarre and scary how quickly that time flies by. The last time I saw him was around when I joined Angels and Airwaves. I haven’t seen him in a couple years [although we’ve spoken recently] perhaps we’ll find a time to catch up. A lot has happened in 22 years or whatever it’s been.
Jenna: and you’ve been doing this so long so it probably feels like even a longer forever for you.
Ilan: Time terrifies me — I have to admit
Jenna: That reminds me of another thing I wanted to ask you about. You’ve been doing this since you were so young; Do you feel like there’s anything that you’ve sacrificed from your youth because you’ve been so career oriented for so long? Like did you ever miss out on going to Prom or any other rites of passage?
Ilan: Absolutely not! I could give a S*it about going to prom which is why I didn’t care when I missed it! [laughs] Because I have to tell you none of that stuff was important to me. That doesn’t mean I was a weird loner at school that didn’t have friends and hated life- that was not me either; I was a happy kid and had friends but it seems like my priorities were always in perfect order as far as doing what I’m doing now and I was just always that way.
He continued… I never felt like I had to juggle a social life with music because music was just naturally more important to me. For example, I was practicing for my NIN audition. I was 20, you know Halloween is still a good holiday for 20-year-olds and I was like “nope! I gotta go play some drums.” I never had FOMO; that’s the best way to put it. I always had my eye on the prize and the best part is I never felt like I was sacrificing anything at all by having my eye on the prize at all times. I’m happy that it ended up being that way.
Jenna: By 20 years old you’re a member of Nine Inch Nails and working with Trent Reznor. What was that like?
Ilan: Great! I have to say I came in during the middle of a touring cycle so it’s not like there’s this fresh break or start to work from the ground up. I had a lot of songs to learn, I had it all ready to go but when I finally got into the rehearsal room to just play with the band and I got to see firsthand how professional and on point Trent was I felt like- Great I’m in the room with a professional musician. There’s no doubt why he’s gotten where he’s gotten and why he is who he is.
Jenna: In addition to the work, you do for other musicians, you also have your own projects. Tell me about The New Regime and your self-titled solo project
Ilan: The New Regime was to gain autonomy and liberate myself from irritating band settings. I can finish drum tracks, bass tracks, guitar tracks and I don’t have to wait.
Jenna: I saw the New Regime when you supported Angels and Airwaves’ 2019 tour. It must have been tough doing double duty! You had mentioned that you changed your solo project’s name “The New Regime” to release under your name Ilan Rubin after fans mistakenly couldn’t tell that the drummer of angels and airwaves and the singer of The New Regime was the same person.
Ilan: It was too long down this road for people to not be putting it together! I was probably doing myself a disservice by releasing my solo music under a moniker [The New Regime]. So I said screw it, coming out of the Pandemic music is now going to be released as Ilan Rubin.
Jenna: Under your Ilan Rubin Spotify, I found two awesome tracks already. I loved Chaos in Motion and heard your Queen inspiration immediately in that song; “Talk Talk Talk” is my favorite track of all your solo work though. Your songwriting is stellar and that vocal hook is timeless.
Ilan: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that. It feels really good putting music out a song at a time. You can kind of gauge growth and really give a piece of music the attention it deserves either as a listener or as someone releasing music. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of putting so much effort into a body of work and then putting it out and it feeling old less than a month later.
Jenna: The newest Angels and Airwaves record took 3 years to create and was just released this September. LIFEFORMS is such a solid record and knowing you a little better now, I have to say I heard many influences in this record and many of them deriving straight from your influences (like Led Zeppelin, Depeche Mode, and Queen to name a few) Can you tell me more about your writing process with Tom for Angels and Airwaves? Did you start writing with them right when you joined?
Ilan: yeah, pretty much. Everything I’ve written with Angels has been a collaboration with Tom. I haven’t brought full songs in or anything like that, but really a big reason as to why Tom wanted me in the band was because I was a lot more than just a drummer and he was at a point in his musical life where he did want more of a collaborative partner. Being a multi-instrumentalist and having a different taste in music than he does we just got together and it just seemed like an odd but a very good fit. Our first proper release together was The Dreamwalker; That was an album written entirely by him and myself. There were EPs done that were definitely more in Tom’s lane that I would come in and add things from time to time. And then we got to LIFEFORMS it was a very fluid writing experience.
He continued… I feel like the growing pains of our partnership had worked themselves out from The Dreamwalker up until now; new directions and boundaries had been expanded within the Angels and Airwaves music felt like a given. It was a comfortable feeling kind of stepping out of the norm as opposed to an uncomfortable or scary feeling for Tom; because Tom has a very distinct sound.
Jenna: I’ve heard many artists and I’m sure I’ve said it myself as well, in regards to songwriting, feeling like it’s something that comes from somewhere else and it’s a thought or idea on loan. Like when you hear it- you don’t fully believe it came from just you or your mind. Do you have a similar experience with songwriting? Is it something that seems to come from nowhere to you too?
Ilan: It’s a very good question and it’s a deep question because I actually have a couple of perspectives on it. Anyone I think who can write a song from top to bottom is capable of writing another song top to bottom whether they’re inspired or not. Now that obviously doesn’t determine whether or not they like said music, but I think everyone is capable of it. What is really interesting and I suppose inspiring about music is there’s this thing where you can play a chord that you’ve played 10 million times on the same guitar but there’s something about that chord on a given day on another guitar for whatever reason will pull something out of your creativity. And that for me, there is no explanation.
He continued… Sometimes it just comes to you and you have to seize the moment- and that’s kind of what you’re talking about, but at the same time I think that idea where the notion where ideas are coming out of nowhere is more like a subconscious filtering of your taste. You know what you like to hear, you may have been into a new band or a new song and that information changed something in your musical brain. It makes you listen to things a little bit differently and I think listening differently is what yields inspiration.
Jenna: What are some of the last things you want people to know about this industry? Do you have any advice for any up-and-comers who are trying to be the next Ilan Rubin?
Ilan: I think the greatest results come from having a genuine passion for what you’re doing and that is going to be the thing that takes you the farthest. If you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a singer, really put in the time for that craft.
Like I said, this band checks all the boxes and they are simply electricity personified. Along with DeLonge and Rubin, AVA features David Kennedy on guitar/ keys and Matt Rubano on bass / synth. Seriously, do yourself a favor and check them out whenever then play in your neck of the woods.
You can catch Angels and Airwaves on their LIFEFORMS tour now. Limited tickets are still available. They will be playing two shows at the Hollywood Palladium November 5th and 6th before they take the I-5 down to SOMA in San Diego on the 7th.
A good band can entertain you, a great one can change your life. Angels and Airwaves might just be that life changing show you need to experience.