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INTERVIEW: Ilan Rubin with Angels & Airwaves

Photo credit: Jonathan Weiner

Angels & Airwaves is fronted by Tom DeLonge (formerly of blink 182), and consists of Ilan Rubin (drums) (Nine Inch Nails), David Kennedy (guitar) (Box Car Racer) and Matt Rubano (bass) (Taking Back Sunday). They recently released their first album in six years, LIFEFORMS and are playing PromoWest Pavilion at OVATION tomorrow!

We had the distinct pleasure of talking to Ilan Rubin prior to the show about getting back into touring, the new album, and even Queen!

CincyMusic: So first of all, let's get into this. This is a not just a national tour. This is a world tour you're about to do, which is freaking awesome, especially coming off of COVID, While everyone is just waiting to play any type of shows, and you are strictly going on a world tour. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?

Ilan Rubin: Yeah, I'm I am very excited. I know the rest of the band is very excited as well. There's a bit of cautious optimism. I guess it's a good way to put it, because obviously we hope that everything goes off without a hitch. We just don't know what the state of the world is going to be like. I don't think anybody has known since March of last year. And yea, I'm the kind of person, and this is not a reflection of the band, but I just always fear the worst. So I just can't wait to actually be out and be doing it because then I will have that feeling of moving forward. Shows are happening and that’s great and every show that we perform, I will consider a success.

CincyMusic: I think that being such a long term musician that you've seen the worst that could possibly happen in every type of situation ever.

Ilan Rubin: Yeah. And just a natural born pessimist.

CincyMusic: Yeah, I hear ya. Well, that's awesome and I for one am super stoked for you guys. I saw that you are playing all over the country and then to London and the UK, and that's really exciting.

Ilan Rubin: I do miss the UK and Europe in particular. I mean, I love playing all over the place, but I haven't been since mid 2018 so its been a few years. I can't wait to get back, but really, I'm just looking forward to getting in the swing of playing every night.

CincyMusic: I totally understand what you're talking about, man. And with this type of band where I mean, I want to really jump into the album itself because the new album is called LIFEFORMS. It's been the first album in seven years I believe that that you guys have released. Right off the bat as a musician hearing it, for me, I immediately hear influences from, you know, you got like, “No More Guns” which kind of sounds like an old Ramones type of tune, you know, and you've got “Automatic,” which has that Cure sound right off the beginning. And the song “Euphoria” that used that synth in it that almost sound like Rush in the beginning of Tom Sawyer…

Ilan Rubin: We should not have used that goddamn sound lol...

CincyMusic: Hahahah when I heard it, I was like…

Ilan Rubin: I never would have used that sound myself, but we can get into that.

CincyMusic: You kind of stayed away from the monotony that a lot of artists fall into when they start making more and more albums that people don't stay to the norm of the past sounds… some people want to hear the old familiarity, but everyone loves a maturity of a band and ya know wanna see what they're gonna do now so to speak.

Ilan Rubin: There’s always a double edged sword in whatever you do because everybody has an opinion and every day that goes by, people feel the need to express that opinion more and more and more as much as it doesn't actually matter. So, getting that off my plate and we'll revisit that if it's relevant to the conversation. But I think in terms of the stuff sounding more and more different, that really does stem from The Dream Walker. And I'm not necessarily saying that because that's when I joined the band. But I say that because in the very first conversation that Tom and I had before I joined Angels & Airwaves, I recall telling him very vividly that just because I'm a multi-instrumentalist and I have my own band where I write play and sing everything, don't think that I'm going to come into this and start trying to write everything you're playing on. He's like, No, no, no, no. That's exactly what I want. I don't want just a drummer. I want somebody else who can contribute musically. Not that I went in and wrote everything, but it became more of a sharing of the reins. And we did take that period to really find out how we work best together. And pardon me if this sounds redundant or if you've heard it before, but there was a bit of a lost in translation between him and I because we are incredibly different musicians. We express ourselves very differently, even with something as common as English. And there was a lot that was going over each other's heads and we had to figure out why that was happening. And once we figured that out and we found a common language, we were able to become very, very productive. And that has definitely stemmed or that has definitely worked its way into everything we've done since and especially on this LIFEFORMS album. And a big part of that is Tom realizing that he can stretch his wings out a little bit, which I'm not sure it's one of those things where you know it would be good for you, but it feels great to be a bit more comfortable. You know, and I think, for example, "Rebel Girl" might be a good example of that where it's a nice, catchy song... They are chords that Tom has been playing since he was in his teens. Nothing against C,G to F. Incredible songs have been written with that, but that's probably the only song that is that kind of down the middle in terms of how it's written. I mean, there may even be like automatic. I haven't heard it in a very long time, to be honest with you, because so much time is condensed since writing, recording and now obviously release. But almost when you do, you do a two chord progression you have to be a little bit more melodic to make that not sound monotonous when you have a three chord progression, there's enough movement to where you can almost simplify the melody, even more so that's just an example of one of the first songs, if not the first song that was written for this album. And I think it was like I said, well written, but very comfortable for Tom, and I think almost everything else has been a lot deeper than that. Musically, of course. Lyrically, the lyrics are all Tom. I don't get involved with lyrics in the slightest.

CincyMusic: I was going to ask you about that…

Ilan Rubin: I just I think that lyrics are a personal thing, even when I write with other people or produce other people I ask, “Do you want me involved in lyrics or not?” Because I can see people being very precious and feeling that they need to express their words exactly the way they want to.

CincyMusic: So during COVID, you guys released a song called “All That's Left is Love." Proceeds went to COVID relief fund. I was there. Obviously, there's a positive response to that. But was there any… I don't know… was there a storyline that there was a meaning behind making that song was there? Was it just like, you know what, the world is going through this hell hole right now... let's make a song and have donate the proceeds?

Ilan Rubin: Honestly, that would be more of a Tom question because, as I said, the songs come from Tom in terms of when we recorded, I'm not sure, but I do recall that when we shot the video for it, that was obviously the first time we had seen each other in quite a while, but the first time we'd seen other people in quite a while. So it was kind of like, Whoa, there we are hanging out. But it was. It was a fun time, and I'm glad people appreciated it and enjoyed it. But yeah, it just seemed like any ounce of positivity or honestly repayment, something, is a good thing to do. So that's really the purpose that song provided.

CincyMusic: I find it great. Like, I think that so many more artists, whether they were huge or in the middle or even coming up, we're able to, I guess, kind of humanize themselves during this because, you know, there's times not everyone was doing Zooms and everyone wasn’t doing meetings like this or whatever, where it wasn't that far fetched to try to reach out to an artist anymore because they seem so normal, they seem so much like everybody else. OK, I want to get into some fun questions here. Well, first of all, life forms the idea. Obviously, no one is a stranger to the fact that Tom is kind of obsessed with the unilateral of, you know, you know, universes I would say,

Ilan Rubin: (answered sarcastically) This is the first time I'm hearing of it, to be honest.

CincyMusic: Hahahah Yeah so I don't know, was that just kind of his idea thing or you guys all kind of collaborated on, you know, let's call it LIFEFORMS?

Ilan Rubin: He may have written a song that had a working title of LIFEFORMS and thought of that title may have been too good to waste on a song and that being the title of the album. I could be wrong, but my knowledge of the actual song titles is abysmal because we have working titles up until it's time to come up with real titles. And to this day, I refer to songs by their demo name and I don't know what they would be even changed to.

CincyMusic: Are there certain songs that when you're on tour that you guys love to play? Or maybe certain covers, if you like to throw in that you guys like to do?

Ilan Rubin: We have never done a cover as long as I've been in the band. What's funny is that when you're a band who has played for such a long time and of course, I'm including time that was prior to my joining Angels and Airwaves, but there are mainstays that have to be in the set, which really does whittle down the amount of new additions that you even have to think about. Of course, you come out with a new album and you have to play the singles off of that album which whittles down to not even more to whatever you want to throw in to spice up the set. So I don't want to say that it's predetermined, but the amount of material that really gets interchanged is fairly limited.

CincyMusic: Understand that for sure. Yeah, I mean, I think a buddy of mine went to see Incubus recently and he's such a 90's traditional like, I love Matchbox 20. I love, you know, Incubus, but I really like the songs from those decade, you know what I mean? And so they didn't play "Drive" and they didn't play "Dig" and he was extremely upset. And I said, Dude, Incubus has been around for a long, long time, and they probably don't want to play "Drive" anymore, just like anybody doesn't want to, you know, from the dawn of time, artists didn't want to play their singles anymore because they were tired of them.

Ilan Rubin: I have a split opinion on that. I understand the lack of inspiration that comes from playing some song every single night. But when it comes down to it, it's three to four and a half minutes of your life, and people who enjoy that material have paid you money to listen to it at some point. And that being said, I do respect when people are just like, Hey, you're coming to see me this year, and I'm telling you right now I'm going to play what I want to play. I understand both. So it is a bit of a toss up. I mean, I'm trying to say, I mean, I haven't really been in that situation much as a concert goer because most of the people I've ever wanted to watch passed well before my time. It's a frustration I haven't necessarily dealt with myself, but from the performer's perspective, I can see both. But you know, I'm a pretty nice guy. In which case if I'd say, just play the song.

CincyMusic: Right, you're right. Three and a half, four minutes, you know, who cares? It's easy, do it. Unless you are doing "Bohemian Rhapsody" you know, a 12 minute masterpiece of something.

Ilan Rubin: And it funny that you mentioned Bohemian Rhapsody, which I was literally just singing to my piano about 20 minutes before this thing because I just can't get enough of it. But I was actually picking apart the harmonies and the intro, but that's a nerdy I get.

CincyMusic: I love it, it’s unfathomable.

Ilan Rubin: They put out that masterpiece of a song that obviously cannot be performed with four guys on stage. But even they made the effort to play some sort of version of it until they finally realized they could play most of it. So skip the intro and play the whole song. But that would have been a very easy out, to be like this cannot be performed live. Therefore, we will not..

You know, I don't I don't really like the the term genius being thrown around in music a lot. I generally kind of reserve that for that term, for composers of two or three hundred years ago who had no sort of technical technological advantage. Many had a severe handicap of some sort, whether it be hearing loss or eventual blindness, but people who put out an output that dwarves bands who have been around for 50 years and these guys churn that out in a couple of decades. Yeah, it's hard, but I think that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is without a doubt achieving a genius that song. It's a phenomenal creation and it is an absolute execution of brilliance.

CincyMusic: It's like a Frankenstein of chord progressions that you wouldn't think like, where is he coming up with, you know, the you know, the it's just E flats over the Ds over inversion over inversion and all that just craziness of theory. Radiohead stuff gets that way, but nothing to the extent of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Ilan Rubin: I love that you mentioned Radiohead because there's a lot, not that I particularly care about Creep, but there was a long time there were like, “no.” And then they open up Breading Festival with it and people lost their minds. I love that Noel Gallagher quote, “Shut up and play Creep.”

CincyMusic: Did he say that? Oh, that's great. Well, last quirky questions. are there any guilty pleasures when the band goes on tour? TV shows? Interesting food? You guys like to eat?

Ilan Rubin: Is there such thing as a guilty pleasure food? All kinds of cotton candy. No, honestly, no. I'm I'm practically the exact same person When I'm on tour as I am when I'm home, I stick to my bubble. I, I excel in my bubble and that's what I enjoy. So on tour, my bubble happens to be the stage and at home and happens to be this room. Now that does not mean that I'm a recluse, but I am an introvert, so I prefer to be home because that's where I feel most productive and I feel most comfortable. So I'm not the type of person who can just take an entire day off, let alone more than that. But an entire day, even when I say, You know what? I'm going to do nothing but watch TV or a documentary or tennis matches or something, whatever it is that I'm into by a certain point when I feel like my battery is fully recharged at 100 percent, I'm like, I want to do something. I want to write music, I want to practice something, I want to learn something, and that's how I am. And on tour it’s slightly more difficult to do that. The difference being in this room is I'm either in a bus, in a dressing room or in a hotel room. And everything I just said is very possible to do in each one of those spaces. So I'm very much the same regardless.

CincyMusic: When you're performing at your best, you're the performer, you're firing off at all cylinders. You could give it all for about an hour, 80 minutes, hour and a half, and then you need to recharge..

Ilan Rubin: It's funny because sometimes people have a hard time making sense of the fact that I generally don't like going out, and I can phrase that in in a more positive way and say, I generally prefer to stay home. But then they're like, “You travel all the time.” I'm like, That's exactly it, but Im gone all of the time, if not most of the time, even half the time. So when I'm home, this is where I enjoy being in person just like ever, ever, ever again to get out of the house. There's so much to do. And for whatever reason, being out, even if I'm not doing anything that's particularly energy consuming, can feel draining. And it's only gotten worse with COVID. Because with COVID, I'm like, Wow, I don't have to make excuses anymore to go anywhere. That's great. Obviously, COVID is terrible and I wish this wasn't happening, but lock down was like “okay.”

CincyMusic: Well, I think that all that's about it I really do appreciate you taking the time to have the interview with CincyMusic and can’t wait to watch you crush your show here and on the tour. It’s been such a pleasure Ilan.