ROCK VENTURE: Matt Wachter, left, Tom DeLonge and David Kennedy are Angels… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
On a rainy Tuesday evening in Angels & Airwaves' suburban Carlsbad recording studio, singer Tom DeLonge pondered ice cubes. Specifically, the ice cubes made famous by the Japanese writer-mystic Masaru Emoto, who claimed that projecting positive vibes into water could make it freeze into more beautiful crystals.
"This guy taped pieces of paper with words like 'Love' and 'Hate' to cups of water and froze them. When he looked at them under a microscope, the ones with 'Hate' looked chaotic, but words like 'Love' made them perfectly symmetrical," DeLonge said. "So we thought, what if we could use our album to do that to people, who are made up of mostly water?"
Hence the epic, electronica-infused emo band's new album, "LOVE." Angels & Airwaves released it independently as a free download on Sunday, the latest in a string of multiplatinum rock bands -- including Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails -- to use new, free albums to build their brand and fans' loyalty, instead of seeing them as profit-makers.
The album is just one facet of a larger business experiment for the band, which hopes to seamlessly incorporate pervasive social media and corporate sponsorships in ways that might make Naomi Klein shudder. But their approach could be a new avenue for self-sufficiency amid rock music's commercial swan dive.
As appropriate for a band obsessed with science fiction, it's all about trusting the Force. In this case, it's the force of branding coupled with the allure of free content.
"We created this whole world around the band as a deep and philosophical adventure and immersed ourselves in it," DeLonge said. "We personally went $500,000 in the hole on this album. But I believe music should be free. If I have to, I'll go sell blood and sperm to make that happen."
As the longtime singer and guitarist of recently reunited '90s pop-punk titans Blink-182, DeLonge probably won't have to hock his plasma any time soon. But it's clear that Angels & Airwaves, founded after Blink's breakup in 2005 in part as a healthful escape from DeLonge's drug and personal problems at the time, holds his interest in different ways than his easygoing, frequently naked punk act.
"LOVE" is clearly a labor of such, where the planetarium-sized synthesizers of M83 bolster chiming arena-rock in the spirit of U2. The band members, including guitarist David Kennedy, bassist Matt Wachter and drummer Adam Willard, wear jackets emblazoned with the band's logo while working in the studio. Lyrics like "Do you believe in hallucinations? Silly dreams and imagination?" purposefully invite the group's young audience to join Angels & Airwaves in their stylized fantasy land.
But a walk around the band's vast recording complex -- which also houses the offices of DeLonge's skate-shoe company Macbeth, and ModLife, a new social-media interface he co-founded -- suggests Angels' earnest music is balanced by a cool-eyed capitalist instinct. Once hooked, fans can invest in the band's output at a variety of price points -- from the free download of the album to pay-per-view concert streams to copies of their forthcoming feature-length film, a kind of "Event Horizon"-meets-"Avatar" CGI epic also called "LOVE."
"I'm a businessman and I want this to be as big as it can be," DeLonge said. "I felt we could do the business end of this better ourselves with new partnerships. We could strike a deal with Ford where they put a copy of the record in every new car and they use one of our songs in an ad. We can do anything we want, and I have no problem approaching this band as a venture capitalist."
"Does a musician end up looking like a NASCAR driver at the end of all this?" DeLonge asked. "It's up to them. I have no problem with corporations -- I own two of them. It's about letting the musician choose what's best."
Bamboozle LeftWhere: Angel Stadium of Anaheim, 2000 Gene Autry Way, Anaheim.
When: Angels & Airwaves plays March 27 with AFI and more. Something Corporate headlines on March 28.
Price: $45. On sale now.