Tom DeLonge is many things: co-frontman of Blink-182 and chief purveyor of their trademark toilet humor. The entrepreneur behind Modlife, a digital platform designed to give artists more control over their music. Founder of the clothing companies Atticus and Macbeth Footwear. And the mastermind of Angels & Airwaves, the neo–prog-rock project that's as far from Blink-182 as is possible.
Despite all these accomplishments, he remains a popular subject of media ridicule. In early 2015, he gave a Paper Magazine interview in which he seemed a bit, to be charitable, paranoid, holding forth on Area 51, government mind control and forbidden engineering. Australian music magazine Tone Deaf declared him "batshit insane"; SF Weekly asked if he was having a mental breakdown.
So has DeLonge lost it? Not by any outward appearances. On the phone, he doesn't seem any crazier than the rest of us, even as he talks about revealing the truth behind UFOs, or what he calls "unexplained aerial phenomena." In fact, his approach to the outré subject borders on academic.
"I understand that a lot of the time people think of little green men and the tinfoil-hat crowd, and I don't blame them for thinking that way," DeLonge says. "But I want people to understand that I'm being very serious and forthcoming."
DeLonge spent more than a year and a half meeting with high-ranking military officials and scientific elites pitching the idea for Sekret Machines, a transmedia project he hopes will explain what UFOs are and what they're doing.
The tip of the spear is a novel, Sekret Machines: Chasing Shadows. He co-authored the surprisingly readable, 700-page tome with A.J. Hartley, a Shakespeare scholar and co-author of the Darwen Arkwright series. Two other novels, a documentary television series, nonfiction books and a new Angels & Airwaves album will follow.
Chasing Shadows is hefty but a page-turner, more comparable to a mystery or thriller than to science fiction. It follows multiple people whose lives are changed by encounters with unexplained aerial phenomena.
DeLonge first investigated UFOs in junior high when he went to the school library looking for "weird books." The best he could find was one on UFOs, but it didn't do much for him. "It was mostly about the Loch Ness Monster and I wasn't interested in that at all," he says.
Many years later, on tour with Blink-182, DeLonge caught the UFO bug. "It was my first year touring and I needed something to do," he says. In the pre-iPhone era, boredom's cure lay in books. So he grabbed a copy of Timothy Good's definitive guide to UFO conspiracy lore, Above Top Secret: The Worldwide UFO Cover-Up. DeLonge was fascinated by the treasure trove of testimony from former high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration, as well as pilots.
DeLonge explains that UFOlogy is a "nonlinear topic" that includes physics and the sciences, as well as geopolitics, religion and cosmology. "Researching just one branch can take up several years of your life," he says.
He likens his research to a detective on a case. One day, he'll get knee-deep in nothing but metallurgy. Another, he'll dive into cargo cults, the phenomenon of primitive tribal people who worship World War II–era aircraft as vehicles of the gods. "You have to pull information from different areas and make it make sense."
So what makes Sekret Machines different from Above Top Secret, the Disclosure Project and other works of UFOlogy?
"There won't be any disinformation in my project," DeLonge says. "The Disclosure Project has a lot of oddities, so you're not sure who you can trust. We want to build on a very strong foundation of credibility by talking to very high-level people."
DeLonge doesn't mind using his fame as Blink-182's chief scatologist to gain access. "From their perspective, it's usually just a cool cup of coffee with a musician," he says. But his studious approach to the subject piques his sources' interest. "A lot of times they raise an eyebrow and wonder how I have the information I do. I'm not just regurgitating something I saw on afternoon television."
Co-author Hartley is more buttoned down than DeLonge. As an adolescent, he had an interest in UFOlogy as what he calls "the middle ground between science fiction and conventional reality."
Initially Hartley was worried that his co-author would require him to believe things he didn't, but his fears were soon quashed. "This is a guy who is trying to put together what happened," he says. "He doesn't have this driving conviction that it's aliens. His idea shifts as he gets new information. It's not all about little green men."
Hartley's viewpoint has evolved as well, to the point where he's not sure where he falls anymore. "The thing that's hardest for me to refute is when [DeLonge] asks me, 'Why would all these people lie?' All these deathbed confessions of engineers." DeLonge introduced Hartley to conspiracy theories surrounding UFOlogy, some of which Hartley believes, others of which he doesn't.
Originally contracted to do one book, Hartley now is committed to co-authoring the remaining novels. Still, he and DeLonge have different goals. "He wants this to be a gateway drug," Hartley says. "I just hope people enjoy the book."
So what are UFOs or "unexplained aerial phenomena," according to DeLonge? "The whole UFO phenomenon is a very vague label for what has been explained to me as a life form. When that life form does what it's doing, human beings have a way of perceiving it in their own culture."
But as with the identities of his sources, he's a bit cagey about specifics. "There are certain things I don't want to say and certain things that I can't say. It's a much more complex subject."
Although DeLonge does believe our government knows more about UFOs than it's been willing to admit, his view on the subject is uniquely optimistic. "I wanted to reverse people's cynical view of government. Not politicians. But the government and what it's doing. There are people in government doing really heroic work. When people hear this they're going to be so relieved that [it's] not some big, bad secret government. It will change the way people feel about our military and intelligence leadership."
And who, according to DeLonge, are the shadowy forces operating behind closed doors to conceal UFOs? "It's very compartmentalized," he says. Some agencies, he claims, work on reverse engineering found technology from the life form, while others in intelligence gather reports of cattle mutilation and abduction stories. Still others monitor the entire electromagnetic spectrum at low orbit. Then there are the disinformation agents — people who leak photos of the Roswell crash or create discussions on Internet forums designed to look nutty and tarnish the entire study of UFOs.
When asked why so much secrecy surrounds the subject, he's evasive. "This is one of the things that we're going to be talking about in the upcoming docu-series."
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Ultimately, what stands out about DeLonge's UFOlogy research is his seriousness. If his goal were more time in the limelight or a fatter bank account, he could just hop on the bus with Blink. Instead, he's pursuing a rigorous examination of a truly esoteric and strange subject, one that invites accusations that he's gone "batshit insane."
DeLonge acknowledges that his project won't change the world. But he remains hopeful that "Sekret Machines can be a spark for a pretty big fire."