Very few of us had a better October than Tom DeLonge. The legendary and beloved singer-guitarist celebrated the ongoing reunion with his iconic punk band Blink-182 by releasing One More Time, the trio’s first album of new music since 2012. The blistering and brilliant record immediately shot to No. 1 on the Billboard record charts – besting a new album, Hackney Diamonds, from The Rolling Stones – and the band coupled its arrival with the continuation of a worldwide tour that will take them through 2024.
All of this, alone, would be incredibly exciting, but Tom DeLonge wasn’t finished. On October 6, the musician released his feature-length directorial debut, Monsters of California, in select theaters and on streaming platforms. And if you are one of the millions of people who grew up on DeLonge’s music (and humor), then Monsters of California offers everything you have grown to love about the songwriter… as well as a deeper look into all of the interests that continue to shape him as a storyteller, and as a human being.
The first thing most everyone knows about Tom DeLonge is that he founded Blink-182. If people know a second thing about DeLonge, it’s probably that he’s fascinated with extraterrestrials, dedicating his life to the research of the existence of alien life forms. DeLonge formed the entertainment company To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2014, and celebrated on social media when the U.S. government held publicized UFO hearings, confirming alien sightings and name-dropping DeLonge in the process.
So it should come as no surprise that DeLonge’s first fictional feature film, Monsters of California, dabbles in all things extraterrestrial, borrowing from both the popularity of Stranger Things to the nostalgia created by past Amblin films like Gremlins, The Goonies and Poltergeist. Not that DeLonge ever dreamed he would become a filmmaker. As he explained to CinemaBlend during a recent and exclusive conversation:
There's two things that I've always said to myself. One is, ‘I will never own a music studio.’ Because recording is so tedious and boring, and I would never want that at my house. Well, I got that and I've had it for years. The second thing was, ‘I'll never make a film, because it’s so fucking tedious.’ Because I was making music videos. And now I'm doing that. But when I was growing up, I never thought I wanted to make movies.
It was DeLonge’s work with his other band, the ethereal and borderline spiritual Angels & Airwaves, that opened his eyes to the possibility of incorporating stronger visual aspects alongside the hopeful music they were creating. DeLonge envisioned multimedia projects tied to Angels & Airwaves, which would include books, films, and animation. As DeLonge remembered:
That's how it started. I didn't want to tour all the time, and I didn't want to do one or the other. If I do a little bit of ALL this stuff, I could be at home more, still do music, but still be creative all the time. So I started doing more film stuff with Angels & Airwaves. And I was like, ‘This shit’s pretty fucking fun, to work with concept artists, to learn about a camera, and to make these little pieces of art. We were putting out short films. We won best animation at the Toronto Film Festival. We put out an acclaimed, art house, sci-fi movie called Love. And a lot of Blink fans were like, ‘This shit’s boring!’ (laugh) They didn’t understand! Too high concept. But boy, was it fun to create art that was respectable, that had dignity. That's when I really felt that I could do this. It wasn't as a kid. It was as a musician.
From Idle Hands To Being The Boss On Set
Monsters of California follows a close-knit group of Southern California teenagers – Dallas (Jack Samson), Toe (Jack Lancaster), Riley (Jared Scott), and Kelly (Gabrielle Haugh) – as they embark on a supernatural adventure sparked by government research conducted by Dallas’ missing father. The kids, first and foremost, are hysterical. You can draw a direct line between the actions of the teenager friends on screen and DeLonge’s own formative teenage years, mixing in skateboarding, adolescent crushes, Bigfoot encounters, pot brownies, and dick jokes. This is, after all, the guy who wrote “Aliens Exist” and “What’s My Age Again?” and who entertains crowds on a nightly basis with scatalogical humor shared from the stage. To know Tom is to recognize that Lancaster appears to be channeling DeLonge throughout Monsters, and the whole movie plugs into a delightful Scooby-Doo vibe that makes it all feel like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon (in the best way).
This is hardly DeLonge’s first brush with Hollywood. In fact, next year will mark the 25th anniversary of DeLonge’s silver screen debut, where he played Dave from Burger Jungle in the horror comedy Idle Hands. “That shit should have gotten an Academy Award,” DeLonge jokes. Later that year, he and his Blink-182 bandmates Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker appeared in the raunchy teen comedy American Pie.
DeLonge and I talked about his experience on the Idle Hands set, and how it compared to his first day as the captain of the Monsters of California set. As he recalls:
Oh my God. I remember when I showed up (on Idle Hands), I didn't know what I was doing. I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing here? I'm not an actor. I don't know why I said yes to this.’ I was nervous. I was like, ‘I don't really know how to say this one word! . I don't really even know how to deliver it. Like, what am I doing here?’ But now, when I do Monsters, I showed up and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing here? I don't know how to make a movie! Like, what am I doing? Holy shit. What are all the things that can go wrong?’ So for months leading up to Monsters, the only way I could attack planning how to make this movie was not focusing so much on what I wanted to do. I would obsess all night long of what could go wrong. Like, what if it feels slow? What if the actors don't know the lines? What if I don't have time to set up the lighting? What if I don't even know what cool lighting looks like? What if I feel like the camera isn't doing what I think it should be doing? What if I show up and, you know, the generators break? And I mean, just anything. So, having walked through the pain of things going wrong is really what prepared me.
Over the years, both musically and in his approach to film, DeLonge would mature. Even with the adolescent hijinks in Monsters of California, there’s impressive craft throughout the movie. The film’s inspirational score, composed by Angels & Airwaves drummer Ilan Rubin, calls to mind the soaring wonder of John Williams in his earliest collaborations with Steven Spielberg. And while on set, DeLonge often knew what tricks needed to happen to achieve the look of the Amblin films to which he was paying homage.
DeLonge told me:
We had literally zero lighting. I always kept saying, in the pre-production stuff... I was talking with our DP and was like, 'The movie's just always going to look cheap.' He's like, 'God, the only way movies look expensive is when there's a lot of lighting, but we didn't have any money for it.' So I kept just giving my credit card. I'm all, 'Get those cranes out here that have those giant lights!' So we hired like this one giant truck that would stick up a crane and just light the place up. And that changed that entire night time shoot. If we didn't have that one truck... My partner was like, 'We don't have the money. We can't do it. We can't do it.' I was like, 'Dude, Stan, we need this, or else it's not going to look anything like an Amblin movie .' You know? And it did! And he's like, 'That was the best decision.'
Faith vs. Science
One element that particularly struck me, more for the amount of time that Monsters of California spends on it, is the push-pull between the belief in Christianity and the reliance on scientific fact. Given his fascination with alien life and interplanetary exploration, DeLonge clearly falls on the science side of the debate… as does Dallas, the character who displays some of Tom’s best qualities. But DeLonge and his co-screenwriter Ian Miller enjoy staging arguments between Dallas and his mother (Arianne Zucker) because of her stoic faith, standing in opposition to her son’s logical conclusions.
As DeLonge tells me, this comes from his own childhood experiences, making Monsters of California that much more personal, and that much more accessible:
My mom is a Christian. I grew up in a Christian household, and my dad was not. And there's a lot of pain and fighting and broken home ingredients because of all that. I learned a lot. I learned everything about Christianity just growing up, having to go to church every Sunday. But I also hated it. I felt it was weird, and didn't understand it because I knew there were so many religions that are around a lot longer. And I also knew the universe was around so much longer before that. So none of it made much sense to me.
In 2003, while on a break from recording what would go on to become their self-titled album, Blink-182 traveled to the Middle East to play for the troops following the Iraq war. It was on that trip that DeLonge came to a crucial understanding. He said:
None of these fuckers over here give a flying shit about our version of God. They have their own that's been around even longer. And I'm also like, ‘Why do we think we know?’ Once I started really digging into UFOs and learning about that, it opens the door to everything to do with the fabric of reality and consciousness, religion and secrecy, DNA and biology. There are all these branches of the tree. What you come to learn is that over time, science was about what's measurable with whatever tools we have at that time. Anything else is considered paranormal or metaphysical. We just throw it into religion. We just go, ‘We can't measure that because we haven't invented a tool to measure that. So that's God, you know? That's Catholicism. That's the study of Islam. That's whatever you want to say it is. But now, we are learning through quantum physics and through the tools we've made, whether it be CERN, or whether it be something else happening in the bowels of Yale or Harvard or Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, now we know that all the stuff we pawned off as religion is actually measurable. Now we are taking faith and spirituality and consciousness and religion, and taking Newtonian physics. And now they're merging. Now it's all just science. Now it's all just reality.
This very much gets addressed in the third act of Monsters of California, when Dallas and his crew meet up with an informed scientist (the great Richard Kind) and get as close as physically possibly to exposing the truth.
One More Time, Jerry Finn, and the future of Blink-182
Hopefully moving forward, Tom DeLonge figures out how to balance his musical excursions with his filmmaking career, because Monsters of California shows incredible promise for a first-time director. At the same time, the new Blink album, One More Time, might be the best record the band has produced. The lead off track, Anthem Part 3, absorbs all of the life lessons the three Blink boys have encountered since they wrote Anthem on Enema of the State. They are different people now, touched deeply by cancer bouts, break ups, and near-fatal crashes. That somber maturity shines through, even in the catchiest songs (of which Dance With Me and Blink Wave win the award).
Shortly after One More Time dropped, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who produced the album, was asked on Twitter who he’d dedicate the record to. He answered the late Jerry Finn, the man who helped refine Blink’s sound on Enema, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, the Box Car Racer album, and Blink’s self-titled album as a producer. Finn collaborated with heavy hitters in the pop-punk scene, including Green Day and Sum 41. I asked Tom which song off One More Time he thought Finn would enjoy the most, and DeLonge told me:
I can't really say one specific song. This album has elements of everything we've ever done. There’s a Box Car Racer song (called Terrified) on there. There's like a very Blink, like, Dance With Me is a total Blink song. Or Anthem Part 3 is a very old school Blink song. But then there's One More Time, which is very adult, and very serious, and very genuine. But then we have a song called More Than You Know, that's just kind of an ass kicker. And he would've had so much to say about each one of those. … Jerry would've loved the diversity. He wouldn't have just been all about one song. He never was. Jerry was all about, ‘This one song is meant to sound like this one experience.’ When we did the song I Miss You by Blink, he was like, ‘Okay, on this song, we're not gonna use any electric instruments. It's acoustic bass, it's an acoustic guitar, it's drums, analog drums. Then we're going to use all analog percussion.’ Even the organ we used in it is a harmonium or something, you pump it with air. So it's like an accordion. Everything was analog on that song. And so that's kind of how Jerry worked. Like, ‘Let's do all this cool shit, and make this one song be a certain thing. It doesn't mean you like it more than Feeling This, you know? Feeling This is different. It's like, ‘Okay, on this song, we want the drums to sound like John Bonham. So it's loving the dish that you're making, to be the best example of what it is.
That love comes across in both the Blink-182 album One More Time, and Tom DeLonge’s wildly entertaining, suspenseful comedic thriller Monsters of California. If you have ever been a Blink fan in your life, you will vibe with Monsters. I sincerely hope it’s Tom’s first of many movies, because I dig his storytelling methods, and will happily follow him down every rabbit hole he chooses to explore.
Rent Monsters of California right now.