meta-scriptAngels & Airwaves On New Album 'Lifeforms,' Restoring Angst To Rock And Turning Blink-182's Purview Outward |
Angels & Airwaves

Angels & Airwaves

Photo: Jonathan Weiner


Angels & Airwaves On New Album 'Lifeforms,' Restoring Angst To Rock And Turning Blink-182's Purview Outward

Blink-182 was all about teenage breakups and the id; Angels & Airwaves have deeper and grander ambitions. But to Tom DeLonge, both bands deal with human beings, just on two different levels—and 'Lifeforms' is his ultimate exploration of eternal questions

GRAMMYs/Sep 29, 2021 - 11:17 pm

The blossoming of Tom DeLonge from pop-punk delinquent to dead-serious UFO researcher may seem dubious. Despite his whole-souled dedication to the field and the Pentagon (to a degree) backing up his claims, it may be difficult to accept that the guy who mewled "Dammit" and ran around nude in the "What's My Age Again" video could solve central questions of human existence.

But to say that these pursuits are disconnected—a thousand tired jokes about "Aliens Exist" aside—would be to fundamentally misunderstand DeLonge. His old band, Blink-182, was all about the id and failed romantic efforts. And Angels & Airwaves, the group he's led since 2005, is just as interested in human beings and their travails. He's just connecting them to a grander cosmic timeline.

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"I like the exploration of how we interact with the people around us and what we think life really is," DeLonge tells over Zoom alongside drummer Ilan Rubin—basically the Paul to his John in this band since he joined in 2014. "I'm really fascinated by the expansion and growth of self-awareness and who we are and where we're going as humanity. To me, this is a big study in that."

He's talking about Angels & Airwaves' new album Lifeforms, which was released Sept. 24. Restoring a tinge of punk angst to the band's atmospheric aesthetic, highlights like "Rebel Girl," "Euphoria" and "Restless Souls" illustrate how far DeLonge has come as a craftsman. He says it's the best album he's ever made. "If not, the top couple," he clarifies. "It's so challenging and unique and diverse."

Read on for an in-depth interview with DeLonge and Rubin about the making of Lifeforms, DeLonge's fascination with outer realms and their push-and-pull as collaborators. The blustery DeLonge holds forth at length with White Claw in hand; the mellow and measured Rubin mostly listens.

Angels & Airwaves. Photo: Ashley Osborn

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How are you guys feeling? Looks like a nice day over there.

DeLonge: It's a nice day. Ilan and I do a lot of meditation together. We like jogging, swimming, calisthenics, aerobics. We do all these things every day for 10 to 17 hours straight and then we do rehearsal.

What do you guys get out of that? These meditative, bodily experiences?

Rubin: Nothing physical. It's an emotional bonding.

DeLonge: It's an emotional affair between us. It's really emotional. Here's my White Claw. [Holds up can for a Zoom toast.] I do this as a joke where I literally pour out the White Claw and put Jack Daniel's in it. I just want people to think that I'm drinking White Claw.

Did you have any questions or was it just this?

It's just this. Later!

No, how did you develop the aesthetic for this record? There are synthetic elements, but with something very human underneath.

DeLonge: Well, we have a process that we've developed over the years between myself, Ilan and his brother, Aaron, who's our co-producer. Coming into it, one thing I was wanting to do was: A lot of punk bands start out really fast and aggressive, and where do you go from there? You slow down and get more intricate. 

Over a decade ago, we started a little slower and more atmospheric. So, one of the things I wanted to do was have a little more angst—a little more edge. On this record, I wanted the songs to be really diverse—kind of a best-of album with a lot of things in my head I grew up with coming out. It was all about guitars and doing heavier elements, and you'll hear that on things like "Euphoria."

There are not as many songs on the album that represent what Angels used to be. We're just growing into a realm where, I think, Ilan's really added an element of musicality to what I do.

Because I'm more of a melody guy. I think of music in very simple ways, but it helps a lot to have someone like Ilan come in, expanding on some of those ideas. He understands all the music I grew up in and he's been part of that world, but he liked bands that had more than three chords, and I found that really interesting. 

Because in punk, if you play more than three chords, it's like "They don't know what they're doing. They're hitting wrong notes. It's too many!"

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Rubin: I think the intent in the music is clear, and I say that aside from my involvement. [2014's] The Dream Walker, which was the first album we did when I joined the band, seemed like a step in a different direction. And all these years later, this is a different direction from that.

But I do have to say that everything does start with what Tom is feeling the direction should be. He starts the ideas. He plants those seeds, lets the ideas grow, and then, at a certain point, I get sent the stuff and kind of play around with harmonies, different sounds and twisting some structures here and there.

We've sort of fallen into that pattern of working because we live in different cities now. He's still in San Diego; I'm in L.A. We've been able to utilize the internet and the wonders of technology. Tom starts with it, throws it over to me, I throw it back, and we do that quite a few times until the song ends up where it ends up. Before we know it, an album's done.

DeLonge: This is about us getting a GRAMMY, right? Is that what this is? We've won so many, it's hard to even discuss.

A whole room full of them, right?

DeLonge: I even tell people that I don't acknowledge that the GRAMMYs matter until I get one. Then they really matter.

Ilan, you mentioned that you build off of Tom's material. Any examples of how you do this?

Rubin: What I'm about to say is a good thing: Tom works from a simple place, usually, which would entail just the chords, the melody and the overall vibe he's going for. He relays the vibe, I do a little digging, a little research, and I help bring that to life. 

Beyond that, once the feel of the song is established, it becomes a matter of "When I hear it, what comes to mind creatively?" And that could be harmonies, vocal arrangements, other sounds, potentially improving or replacing electronic stuff that was there—because we have different instruments where we are—and that, as I said, is a polite push-and-pull until we're done.

DeLonge: Just for clarity, too: A lot of bands will write a bunch of songs, then they pick the ones they like. I kind of feel like anybody can write songs—just like "Here's a bunch!" I don't know why, but I find it better—not all the time, but most of the time—to kind of have a goal: "Here's a song that's in this kind of box." Like, a direction I want to go in.

It worked well on this record, and that's why it's so diverse. Because we weren't just writing songs out of nowhere: I would sit with his brother and go, "Why don't we do something that's more electronic, that's more dance-focused but still has an edge, that reminds us of whatever band from the '80s?" or something. That gives us a target to follow.

And then once we identify what that is, Ilan really excels with all the electronics and synths. I mean, on every instrument, really, but it's cool to send up "Something like this," and he goes "Oh, you mean this?" I go, "Oh, f***, that's what I meant, but I don't even know that language!"

It works really well, the way we figured it out. I think. For us, at least.

Rubin: I will say that I stay out of the way until it's time for me to get involved. We've written songs together; we've obviously written songs for other people. As a songwriter, I understand that people like to get their ideas out first—myself included. In which case, Tom just kind of does his own thing until it's time for me to get involved and that collaborative process begins.

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The press release states that the album is partly about how "Our interaction with other types of lifeforms will actually be what we evolve into caring about more in the near future." Can you expound on this a little bit? Do you mean terrestrial or extra-?

DeLonge: For me, writing the words—at least for these songs—it's always about relationships. In the past, with Blink, it was like "OK, you're breaking up with a girl or moving away to college and leaving behind your life, your family or friends, or whatever." Very simple things that a kid in the suburbs would understand.

But, really, where I'm at now—not being a kid anymore—I like the exploration of how we interact with the people around us and what we think life really is. If I argue with my chick about what movie we're going to watch, is that really all life is about—those kinds of interactions? Or is it something bigger than that?

It's tied into a lot of work I do with my company or the movie I worked on that's going to come out—Ilan and I, and his brother, are scoring that. That movie is more about paranormal lifeforms and what the universe really is, and consciousness. 

All that time together [reinforced] the idea that lifeforms and our interactions with others are more than just arguing about a movie. It's really about lessons learned as a human being and as a soul. Interacting with love and loss and pain and heartache and all that kind of stuff. 

It makes more sense to call this project Lifeforms once you see the movie, Monsters of California. You'll see a little more about my passions and what I'm doing with To The Stars.

I'm really fascinated by the expansion and growth of self-awareness and who we are and where we're going as humanity. To me, this is a big study in that. Any individual song, you could say this about love, loss and heartache, or something. But to me, the entire picture is about something different.

Ilan joined the band right after we did this sort of arthouse film called Love [from 2011]. It was an artistic, meditative film, and an album went with it. And that whole thing was the same thing: I was writing love songs or whatever, but it wasn't really about just falling in love. It was the idea of a unified mind and consciousness. Our interactions with each other are what this is all about.

So, this is another one of those things where I take deep dives into subjects that can be communicated in different ways. That's why I like the whole transmedia element of this. Rather than just being in a band and pumping out music every two years, I like this idea of being much more ambitious—including different elements and formats and mediums to play with.

It's going to make the show better. It's going to make the fans more tuned in to what we're trying to achieve and trying to say so they can get their own opinions of it or whatever. So, that's what makes me excited about it.

I think you're doing what great songwriters should do, which is juxtapose the microcosmic and macrocosmic. A petty fight or love affair can be connected to an eternal timeline, or expand infinitely outward in impact or meaning.

DeLonge: Because I believe in that—any guide you take into consciousness and how we work and how matter is affected by the way you think.

Things like telekinesis and telepathy—all that stuff's real. They're doing it in laboratories. They're trying to understand how it works or whatever, but at the end of the day, there's a reason why, when someone walks in a room and they're angry or weird, you feel their vibe. You're like "Man, that person's got a weird vibe. I feel weird around that person."

Well, that's the beginning of telepathy. People don't know that. know this because I spent eight hours with one of the head genetics experts at Stanford—in the world! Up for the Nobel! I spent an entire day with him. He worked on a UFO program. All these things about consciousness I learned, and it's fascinating.

I feel like we know nothing, probably, about who we are and why we're here. So, that's something I'm always chasing—trying to understand that more.

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Tom, I'm curious about what you read or heard or experienced or watched early on that initiated this awakening in your life, or made you aware of a grander context to the world.

DeLonge: Well, it's not one thing. It's a journey, right? Anybody who's fascinated by something and studies it for 20 years is going to have a perspective that's different than most. A lot of people go "OK, there he goes with UFOs!" or whatever, but that's like saying you're into agriculture. "I like gardening" or "I grow evergreen trees" or whatever it might be. It's kind of a blanket term.

But when you get more into that subject, you're reading about consciousness. You're reading about geopolitics or ancient texts and religions and all that kind of stuff. The journey takes you through all these things where you discover something along the way. You start to find patterns.

And by the time I was surrounded by all these government people, I was like [Taken-aback voice] "Oh my god." It all comes to a head.

But I've always been someone searching out why we're here, and I think artists are supposed to. They're supposed to guide us through the world and communicate it back in a way that somebody could get a new perspective, or at least resonate with it and not feel so alone. 

I just think it's our job as artists. We're weirdos and we're supposed to show you what we see. And then, every once in a while, someone goes "Wow! That's an interesting perspective."

The press release also touches on childhood tumult. Is that autobiographical? Can you expound on this theme?

DeLonge: A little bit. I don't know about Ilan's childhood. I don't think either of our childhoods were very standard. They were very different`.

Music's gotten [to where] it's so easy to write a catchy song these days. What's the difference between this catchy song and another catchy song on the radio? Well, it's going to be the people saying it and why they're saying it. I like my musicians to have an edge and come from a weird upbringing or something wrong to where their perspective is warranted or embraced as a different point of view.

Wouldn't it suck if the guys in the Who [weren't like that]? If Pete Townshend sold insurance and was a totally normal guy? He wasn't breaking his speakers and going crazy? I like my bands to have a kind of messed-up childhood or something that's unorthodox.

What would they be if Pete didn't have a couple of screws loose? That's the heart of the band.

DeLonge: That's my point! That's why the songs are cool. A few fistfights and maybe some drugs and alcohol and growing up in a really hardcore blue-collar town and not having the best parents in the world gives them the perspective to write the songs they did. If they weren't like that, they wouldn't have the great hits that we love so much.

Tom DeLonge. Photo: Jonathan Weiner

It seems like you're trying to embrace a punk-ness with Lifeforms. Maybe one that connects your past in Blink-182 with your musical future.

DeLonge: Yeah! I think a lot of people that don't understand the punk scene might think it's about the music. That's something I originally thought as well, but it's really much more about a rebellion against the norm. I tend to find that a lot more around me in other places that you wouldn't expect.

Like, [Gestures to Ilan.] He plays in Nine Inch Nails, and Trent Reznor's f***in' got a pretty edgy past! A lot of f***in' angst. And that kid's more punk than most of the people I grew up with! But you can't say Nine Inch Nails sounds like the Ramones, you know? Or the Clash. But no one's going to argue the angst behind the music.

For me, it's that element within a rock band—or a rap band! One of the guys who used to tour manage Blink was at the Santa Monica Civic when the Clash played there for the very first time. There were riots and s***.

But, he goes, "The first time we heard N.W.A., we were s***ing our pants! We were talking about burning places down, but they were talking about killing cops! That's a whole other level! That was the most punk s*** any of us heard!" 

So, I think it's more about coming from a place that isn't so perfect and is a little bit broken and busting out of that. Saying "I'm not going to stand for that. I need to change my environment. I need to change the world that I see," you know? And it happens in a lot of places besides the typical punk-rock music that people think owns this attitude. It's not true! It's just not.

Nobody's going to argue that Liam [Gallagher], who sings for Oasis, is some kind of mellow guy. He's not. He's probably in a fistfight somewhere. He's one of the most colorful dudes in rock, and I love that. That's what I'm searching for, I guess.

Anything on that, Ilan?

Rubin: I definitely agree that an attitude is brought to the table that can be brought to anything, regardless of the style of music. I completely agree with that. I will also say that attitude can be brought to the table regardless of upbringing or any kind of external influence, I think. Largely, people are wired the way they are, and music is a great medium to be you and your truest self.

For example, I may not be an aggressive individual on the outside, but when I play drums, it's almost a different version of me. But that version of me is as authentic—if not more—than anything else you might see.

DeLonge: That is a really wild thing, by the way. That is super true. He's, like, this mellow all day. Most drummers are hitting or shaking things; they have a lot of energy. I was making fun of him yesterday because he was like [Langurous voice.] "Oh, I'll stretch, let's play the show," and then it's like [Makes explosion noise.] He turns it on.

But that has to be in you. You can't fake that. It's just different sides of you. [Jokingly] I mean, when I make love, it's insane. People say...

Rubin: You'd never expect it.

DeLonge: You'd never expect that I know what I'm doing.

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"Restless Souls" is described in the press release as "A letter to God from humanity." Tom, can you talk about that?

DeLonge: I mean, for me—coming out of the pandemic and seeing all the racism and violence and infiltration of foreign territories into our democracy and the shutdowns and the propaganda that divided us so badly—lyrically, I was like, "What would God say?

If he was going to write a letter—"F*** it, I'm going to write a letter, because I want to be able to talk without you guys talking." You know how that happens in a relationship? "I wrote it down so you can't interrupt me."

God's like, "I don't even recognize you anymore. If you think you know how this is all supposed to work and you think you're doing it correctly, then take the reins. And if you're not going to take the reins, step aside and go for the life lessons you're supposed to go through." That's where the song was coming from.

The thing about it, too, is that it's probably the only song on the album that shows you what Angels was known for a little bit. It's inspirational; it's uptempo; it's kind of pop-punk in the foundation of it. But the musicality of it is very different from something we've done in the past.

I think it's going to be a popular song. It's not a single. We're not working on the radio. We're not making a music video for it. I think it's a wonderful song that Angels fans are really going to be appreciative of. It kind of maps out what the band is always trying to be, which is something a little more positive. More of a positive force. 

But we're not scared to make d*** jokes and we're not scared to write a fast song once in a while. We had a super-fast punk song but it didn't really make it past the demo stage.

Rubin: It was too fast.

DeLonge: It was just too fast! So fast we thought it'd hurt somebody!

Is there anything about the essence of Lifeforms we didn't touch on?

DeLonge: Whatever you may or may not have thought Angels was, I think this album will honestly catch you by surprise. I think some people go, "Oh, that's the guy from Blink, so it must sound like Blink!" or "They have the guy from Nine Inch Nails in there, so maybe it's industrial."

I think people don't really understand what we do, but as a mainstream music lover, I don't have a problem in describing this record as a best-of tour of some of the great bands that I grew up with. You might hear a song that kind of reminds you of the Who, or Depeche Mode, or the Cure or the punk, new-wave kinds of things that happened in that era.

And every band does this, right? Every band's trying to say "How am I influenced by the greats?" I can put myself into our version, but I think we really achieved that. We're not chasing something that's happening right now. We're not chasing something that we've already done.

We're making music for us, really. And then, if people like it, that's bitchin'. But what happened here is we made a record that I think is the best album I've ever been part of—if not, the top couple. It's so challenging and unique and diverse.

I don't have anything where each song is f***ing good and so radically different. At least I think so. Now, if you hate what I do, it's easy to say "Each song is really bad!" On the whole, people don't say that. But different! But different! If it's really bad, at least it's different.

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Andrew Watt
Andrew Watt

Photo: Adali Schell


How Andrew Watt Became Rock's Big Producer: His Work With Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, & More

Andrew Watt cut his teeth with pop phenoms, but lately, the 2021 Producer Of The Year winner has been in demand among rockers — from the Rolling Stones and Blink-182 to Elton John.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 01:45 pm

While in a studio, Andrew Watt bounces off the walls. Just ask Mick Jagger, who once had to gently tell the 33-year-old, "Look, I can deal with this, but when you meet Ronnie and Keith, you have to dial it down a little bit."

Or ask Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard. "He really got the best out of [drummer] Matt [Cameron] just by being excited — literally jumping up and down and pumping his fist and running around," he tells

As Watt's hot streak has burned on, reams have rightly been written about his ability to take a legacy act, reconnect them with their essence, and put a battery in their back. His efficacy can be seen at Music's Biggest Night: Ozzy Osbourne's Patient Number 9 won Best Rock Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. At the last ceremony, the Rolling Stones were nominated for Best Rock Song, for Hackney Diamonds' opener "Angry."

On Pearl Jam's return to form, Dark Matter, due out April 19. Who was behind the desk? Take a wild guess.

"You want to see them live more than you want to listen to their albums, and they have the ability to look at each other and play and follow each other. I don't like my rock music any other way, as a listener," Watt tells "All my favorite records are made like that — of people speeding up, slowing down, playing longer than they should."

As such, Watt had a lightbulb moment: to not record any demos, and have them write together in the room. "They're all playing different stuff, and it makes up what Pearl Jam is, and singer Eddie [Vedder] rides it like a wave."

If you're more of a pop listener, there's tons of Watt for you — he's worked with Justin Bieber ("Hit the Ground" from Purpose), Lana Del Rey ("Doin' Time" from Norman F—ing Rockwell) and much more. Read on for a breakdown of big name rockers who have worked with Andrew Watt.

Pearl Jam / Eddie Vedder

Watt didn't just produce Dark Matter; he also helmed Vedder's well-received third solo album, Earthling, from 2022. Watt plays guitar in Vedder's live backing band, known as the Earthlings — which also includes Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced John Frusciante in the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a stint.

The Rolling Stones

Dark Matter was a comeback for Pearl Jam, but Hackney Diamonds was really a comeback for the Stones. While it had a hater or two, the overwhelming consensus was that it was the Stones' best album in decades — maybe even since 1978's Some Girls.

"I hope what makes it fresh and modern comes down to the way it's mixed, with focus on low end and making sure the drums are big," Watt, who wore a different Stones shirt every day in the studio, has said about Hackney Diamonds. "But the record is recorded like a Stones album."

Where there are modern rock flourishes on Hackney Diamonds, "There's no click tracks. There's no gridding. There's no computer editing," he continued. "This s— is performed live and it speeds up and slows down. It's made to the f—ing heartbeat connection of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Steve Jordan.

"And Charlie," Watt added, tipping a hat to Watts, who played on Hackney Diamonds but died before it came out. "When Charlie's on it."

Iggy Pop

Ever since he first picked up a mic and removed his shirt, the snapping junkyard dog of the Stooges has stayed relevant — as far as indie, alternative and punk music has been concerned.

But aside from bright spots like 2016's Josh Homme-produced Post Pop Depression, his late-career output has felt occasionally indulgent and enervated. The 11 songs on 2023's eclectic Watt-produced Every Loser, on the other hand, slap you in the face in 11 different ways.

"We would jam and make tracks and send them to Iggy, and he would like 'em and write to them or wouldn't like them and we'd do something else," Watt told Billboard. "It was very low pressure. We just kept making music until we felt like we had an album." (And as with Pearl Jam and Vedder's Earthlings band, Watt has rocked out onstage with Pop.

Ozzy Osbourne

You dropped your crown, O Prince of Darkness. When he hooked up with Watt, the original Black Sabbath frontman hadn't released any solo music since 2010's Scream; in 2017, Sabbath finally said goodbye after 49 years and 10 (!) singers.

On 2020's Ordinary Man and 2022's Patient Number 9, Watt reenergized Ozzy; even when he sounds his age, Ozz sounds resolute, defiant, spitting in the face of the Reaper. (A bittersweet aside: the late Taylor Hawkins appears on Patient Number 9, which was written and recorded in just four days.)

Maroon 5

Yeah, yeah, they're more of a pop-rock band, but they have guitars, bass and drums. (And if you're the type of rock fan who's neutral or hostile to the 5, you shouldn't be; Songs About Jane slaps.)

At any rate, Watt co-produced "Can't Leave You Alone," featuring Juice WRLD, from 2021's Jordi. Critics disparaged the album, but showed Watt's facility straddling the pop and rock worlds.

5 Seconds of Summer

When it comes to Andrew Watt, the Sydney pop-rockers — slightly more on the rock end than Maroon 5 and their ilk — are repeat customers. He produced a number of tracks for 5 Seconds of Summer, which spanned 2018's Youngblood, 2020's Calm and 2022's 5SOS5.

Regarding the former: Watt has cited Youngblood as one of the defining recording experiences of his life.

"I had started working with 5 Seconds of Summer, and a lot of people looked at them as a boy band, but they're not," Watt told Guitar Player. "They're all incredible musicians. They can all play every instrument. They love rock music. They can harmonize like skyrockets in flight. They just were making the wrong kind of music."

So Watt showed 5 Seconds of Summer a number of mainstays of the rock era, like Tears for Fears and the Police. The rest, as they say, is history.

Elton John

A year after Britney Spears was unshackled from her highly controversial conservatorship, it was time for a victory lap with the God of Glitter. What resulted was a curious little bauble, which became a megahit: "Hold Me Closer," a spin on "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" that briefly launched Spears back into the stratosphere.

"Britney came in and she knew what she wanted to do," Watt recalled to The L.A. Times. "We sped up the song a little bit and she sang the verses in her falsetto, which harkens back to 'Toxic.' She was having a blast."

Watt has also worked with pop/punk heroes Blink-182 — but not after Tom DeLonge made his grand return. He produced "I Really Wish I Hated You" from 2019's Nine, back when Matt Skiba was in the band.

Where in the rock world will this tender-aged superproducer strike next? Watt knows.

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Rock Trends 2023 Hero
(L-R): blink-182, Phoebe Bridgers, Hayley Williams, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen

Photo: Estevan Oriol/Getty Images, Taylor Hill/Getty Images, Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The New Yorker, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images, Sergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images


2023 In Review: 10 Trends That Defined Rock Music

Rock acts young and old helped the genre stay alive in 2023. Take a look at 10 of the genre's most prominent trends, from early aughts revivals to long-awaited reunions.

GRAMMYs/Dec 11, 2023 - 05:32 pm

The rock scene may no longer be the dominant force it once was — blink-182's One More Time... is the only Billboard 200 chart-topper this year to predominantly fall under this category. But 2023 has still been an interesting and eventful period for those who like their guitar music turned up to eleven.

Over the past 12 months, we've had the two biggest groups of the Swinging Sixties returning to the fray in style, a new European invasion, and a wave of blockbuster albums that may well go down as modern classics. And then there's the revivals which will no doubt spark nostalgia in any kids of the 2000s, a resurgence in all-star line-ups, and a residency that could possibly change how we experience live music.

As we gear up for the holiday season, here's a look at 10 trends that defined rock music in 2023.

European Rock Traveled To America

From Lacuna Coil and Gojira to Volbeat and Rammstein, the Billboard charts aren't exactly strangers to European rock. But 2023 was the year when the continent appeared to band together for a mini invasion. Italian quartet Måneskin continued their remarkable journey from Eurovision Song Contest winners to bona fide rock gods with a Best New Artist nod at the 2023 GRAMMYs, a top 20 placing on the Billboard 200 albums chart for third album Rush!, and a Best Rock Video win at the MTV VMAs.

Masked metalers Ghost scored a fourth consecutive Top 10 entry on the Billboard 200 with covers EP Phantomime, also landing a Best Metal Performance GRAMMY nomination for its cover of Iron Maiden's "Phantom of the Opera," (alongside Disturbed's "Bad Man," Metallica's "72 Seasons," Slipknot's "Hive Mind," and Spiritbox's "Jaded"). While fellow Swedes Avatar bagged their first Mainstream Rock No. 1 with "The Dirt I'm Buried In," a highly melodic meditation on mortality which combines funky post-punk with freewheeling guitar solos that sound like they've escaped from 1980s Sunset Strip.

Age Proved To Be Nothing But A Number

The theory that rock and roll is a young man's game was blown apart in 2023. Fronted by 80-year-old Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones reached No.3 on the Billboard 200 thanks to arguably their finest album in 40 years, Hackney Diamonds, with lead single "Angry" also picking up a Best Rock Song GRAMMY nod alongside Olivia Rodrigo's "aallad of a homeschooled girl," Queens of the Stone Age's "Emotion Sickness," Boygenius' "Not Strong Enough," and Foo Fighters' "Rescued." (The latter two will also battle it out with Arctic Monkeys' "Sculpture of Anything Goes," Black Pumas' "More than a Love Song," and Metallica's "Lux Aeterna" for Best Rock Performance.)

The eternally shirtless Iggy Pop, a relative spring chicken at 76, delivered a late-career classic, too, with the star-studded Every Loser. And Bruce Springsteen, KISS, and Paul McCartney all proved they weren't ready for the slippers and cocoa life yet by embarking on lengthy world tours.

Death Was No Barrier To Hits

Jimmy Buffett sadly headed for that tropical paradise in the sky this year. But having already recorded 32nd studio effort, Equal Strain on All Parts, the margarita obsessive was able to posthumously score his first new entry on the Billboard Rock Chart since 1982's "It's Midnight And I'm Not Famous Yet."

But he isn't the only artist to have recently achieved success from beyond the grave. Linkin Park reached the U.S. Top 40 with "Lost," a track recorded for 2003 sophomore Meteora, but which only saw the light of day six years after frontman Chester Bennington's passing.

Perhaps most unexpectedly of all, The Beatles topped the U.K. charts for the first time since 1969 thanks to "Now and Then," a psychedelic tear-jerker in which surviving members McCartney and Ringo Starr brought previously unheard recordings from George Harrison and John Lennon back to life.

The Giants Stayed Giant

Foo Fighters also overcame the death of a core member on what many rock fans would consider this year's most eagerly awaited album. Drummer Taylor Hawkins, who passed away in early 2022, doesn't feature on the poignant but vibrant But Here We Are. Yet the two-time GRAMMY nominated LP still proved to be a fitting tribute as well as an encouraging sign that Dave Grohl and co. can extend their legacy:lead single "Rescued" became their 12th number one on Billboard's Main Rock Chart.

The Best Rock Album category for the 2024 GRAMMYs proves that veterans were alive and mighty in 2023. Along with the Foos' latest LP, the nominees include another Grohl-affiliated band,, Queens of the Stone Age's first album in six years, In Times New Roman..., Paramore's This Is Why, Metallica's 72 Seasons and Greta Van Fleet's Starcatcher.. (Metallica's 72 Seasons also struck gold with its singles, three of which landed at No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, where lead single "Lux Æterna" spent 11 consecutive weeks on top.)

Of course, we also have to give a shout-out to U2. Not for March's Songs of Surrender album (for which they re-recorded 40 of their biggest and best tracks), but for the immersive, eye-popping Las Vegas residency at The Sphere which potentially reinvented the future of live music.

The Rock Supergroup Continued To Thrive

2023 spawned several new rock supergroups including Mantra of the Cosmos (Shaun Ryder, Zak Starkey and Andy Bell), Lol Tolhurst x Budgie x Jacknife Lee, and Better Lovers (various members of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die). But it was an already established all-star line-up that took the GRAMMY nominations by storm.

Consisting of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker, boygenius bagged a remarkable seven nods at the 2024 ceremony. Throw in a well-received headline set at Coachella, U.S. Top 50 follow-up EP, and even a "Saturday Night Live" showing alongside Timothée Chalamet, and the trio couldn't have asked for a better way to continue what they started together in 2018.

The Early 2000s Enjoyed A Revival

The cyclical nature of the music industry meant that the era of choppy bangs and super-skinny jeans was always going to come back into fashion. And following throwbacks from the likes of Olivia Rodrigo and Willow, the original punk-pop brigade returned this year to prove they could still mosh with the best of them.

Possibly the defining nasal voice of his generation, Tom DeLonge headed back into the studio with blink-182 for the first time in 12 years, with the resulting One More Time... topping the Billboard 200. Linkin Park ("Lost"), Papa Roach ("Cut the Line"), and a reunited Staind ("Lowest in Me") all scored No. 1s on the Mainstream Rock Airplay Chart, while Sum 41, Bowling For Soup, and Good Charlotte were just a few of the high school favorites who helped cement When We Were Young as the millennial's dream festival.

The Emo Scene Went Back To Its Roots

After channeling the new wave and synth-pop of the 1980s on predecessor After Laughter, Paramore returned from a six-year absence with a record which harked back to their mid-2000s beginnings. But it wasn't their own feisty brand of punk-pop that Best Rock Album GRAMMY nominee This Is Why resembled. Instead, its nervy indie rock took its cues, as frontwoman Hayley Williams freely admits, from touring buddies Bloc Party.

Paramore weren't the only emo favorites to rediscover their roots. Fall Out Boy reunited with Under the Cork Tree producer Neal Avron and old label Fueled By Ramen on the dynamic So Much (for) Stardust. And while Taking Back Sunday further veered away from their signature sound, the Long Islanders still embraced the past by naming seventh LP 152 after the North Carolina highway stretch they used to frequent as teens.

Country Artists Tapped Into Rock Sensibilities

We're used to seeing rock musicians going a little bit country: see everyone from Steven Tyler and Bon Jovi to Darius Rucker and Aaron Lewis. But the opposite direction is usually rarer. In 2023, however, it seemed as though every Nashville favorite was suddenly picking up the air guitar.

Zach Bryan repositioned himself as Gen-Z's answer to Bruce Springsteen with the heartland rock of his eponymous Billboard 200 chart-topper (which is up for Best Country Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside Kelsea Ballerini's Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, Brothers Osborne's self-titled LP, Tyler Childers' Rustin' in the Rain, and Lainey Wilson's Bell Bottom Country). Meanwhile, Hitmaker HARDY — who first cut his teeth penning hits for Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton — leaned into the sounds of hard rock and nu-metal on his second studio LP, The Mockingbird & the Crow.

But few committed more to the crossover than the one of country's greatest living legends. Dolly Parton roped in a whole host of hellraisers and headbangers including Richie Sambora, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and Rob Halford, for the 30-track Rockstar — her first rock-oriented project of her glittering 49-album career.

Post-Grunge Reunions Were Abundant

Fans of the mopey '90s scene known as post-grunge had all their dreams come true this year thanks to several unexpected reunions. Turn-of-the-century chart-toppers Staind and Matchbox Twenty both returned with new albums after more than a decade away. Creed, meanwhile, announced they'd be headlining next year's Summer of '99 cruise after a similar amount of time out of the spotlight.

The insatiable appetite for all things nostalgia, of course, means that any band — no matter how fleeting their fame — can stage a lucrative comeback. Take Dogstar, for example, the unfashionable outfit boasting Hollywood nice guy Keanu Reeves. Twenty-three years after appearing to call it a day, the Los Angeles trio surprised everyone by hitting the Bottlerock Napa Valley Festival before dropping a belated third LP, Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees and embarking on a headlining national tour.

The New Generation Gave The Old Their Dues

Say what you want about today's musical generation, but they know to pay respect where it's due., Olivia Rodrigo, for example, doffed her cap to '90s alt-rock favorites The Breeders by inviting them to open on her 2024 world tour.

New working-class hero Sam Fender invited fellow Newcastle native Brian Johnson to perform two AC/DC classics at his hometown stadium show. While ever-changing Japanese kawaii metalers Babymetal debuted their latest incarnation on "Metali," a collaboration with one of their musical idols, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello.

Whether new artists are teaming up with the old or veterans are continuing to receive their flowers, 2023 proved that rock is alive and well.

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Photo of Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performing at Las Vegas' Fremont Country Club
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs a"not-so-secret" show at Las Vegas' Fremont Country Club

Photo: Fred Morledge 


How Las Vegas Became A Punk Rock Epicenter: From When We Were Young To The Double Down Saloon

Viva Punk Vegas! It might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but Sin City is "the most punk city in the U.S." spoke with a variety of hardcore and legendary punks about the voracious vibe in Vegas that lends itself to punk spirit.

GRAMMYs/Oct 25, 2023 - 04:28 pm

These days, what happens in Vegas, slays in Vegas when it comes to the harder side of music.

It might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but as Fat Mike of NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords has been putting out there for a while now, Sin City is basically "the most punk city in the U.S." at the moment. Some might find this statement debatable, but Vegas has long attracted subculture-driven gatherings, from Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekend to the all-metal Psycho Las Vegas to the mixed bag that was Las Rageous. The latest slate of huge punk and punk-adjacent music events (from Punk Rock Bowling and When We Were Young to the just-announced new lineup of Sick New World 2024) back his claim even further. 

Mike’s own Punk Rock Museum, which opened in April of this year, has cemented the city’s alternative music cred — even as it’s still best known for gambling, clubbing, and gorging at buffets. 

In fact, A lot of the audacious new activity is centered away from the big casinos and in the downtown area and arts district of what is known as "old Vegas." Just outside of the tourist-trappy, Times Square-like Fremont Experience, there’s a vibrant live music scene anchored by a few key clubs, and an ever-growing slate of fests.

*Attendees at 2022's When We Were Young Festival┃Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic*

Live Nation’s second annual When We Were Young Festival brought out a largely Millennial crowd to see headliners Green Day and blink-182 this past weekend, alongside over two dozen more recognizable openers from emo/pop-punk's heyday. Tickets sold so well when it was first announced, that a second day was added to the schedule.

Green Day didn’t stop with their fest gigs; the band played a "not-so-secret" pop-up show last Thursday night at one of the most popular venues in town for punk, alternative and heavy music: Fremont Country Club, just blocks from festival grounds. The show served as a warm-up gig as well as an announcement by Billie Joe Armstrong: His band will join Smashing Pumpkins, Rancid, and others for a 2024 stadium tour. The band also debuted a timely new track, "The American Dream Is Killing Me."  

Read More: Why 2002 Was The Year That Made Pop-Punk: Simple Plan, Good Charlotte & More On How "Messing Around And Being Ourselves" Became Mainstream

"People who like punk and other heavy music want to be in a club environment like ours, not a big casino," says Carlos "Big Daddy" Adley, owner of Fremont Country Club and its adjacent music space Backstage Bar & Grill. Both have become live music hotspots not unlike the ones Adley and his wife/partner Ava Berman ran in Los Angeles before they moved to Vegas over a decade ago. 

"Fremont East," as the neighborhood is called, will soon see a boutique hotel from the pair. Like everything they do, it will have a rock n’ roll edge that hopes to draw both visitors and locals.

*Outside Fremont Country Club┃Photo: Fred Morledge*

The duo told that a visit to Double Down Saloon, Sin City’s widely-recognized original punk bar and music dive was what first inspired them to come to Vegas and get into the nightlife business there. Double Down has been slinging booze (like Bacon Martinis and "Ass Juice" served in a ceramic toilet bowl mug) and booking live punk sounds since it opened back in 1992.

"It's kind of a stepping stone for a lot of bands," says Cameron Morat, a punk musician and photographer, who also works with the Punk Rock Museum as curator of its rockstar-led tour guide program. "People always assume that Vegas is just the strip, but that's only like four miles long. There's a lot more of the ‘‘other city.’ There are people who are just into music and into going to local shows who don't ever go to the main strip."

In addition to the Double Down, Morat says Vegas has always had a history of throwing local punk shows at spaces like the Huntridge Theater, which is currently being remodeled and set to re-open soon for local live music. He also points to The Usual Place as a venue popular with local punk and rock bands now, and The Dive Bar — a favorite with the mohawk, patched-up battle vest scene, featuring heavy music seven nights a week, including a night promoted by his partner Masuimi Max called Vegas Chaos.  

*Cameron Morat┃Photo: Kristina Markovich*

While glitzy stage shows from legacy artists and mega-pop hit makers like Usher, Elton John, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga still get the most media attention, raucous local shows are starting to factor into a new generation’s vacation planning, too.

"There’s a really good scene here," Morat proclaims. "It's funny because a lot of people, the sort of gatekeepers of punk, ask ‘why is the punk museum in Vegas?’ But it is a punk city, and not just because you've got all the local bands and the venues."

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Morat, whose own band Soldiers of Destruction, plays around town on occasion, also notes other acts such as Gob Patrol, Suburban Resistance, and Inframundo as having fierce local followings. He says there’s a certain voracious vibe in Vegas that lends itself to punk rock creation, performance and attitude. "A lot of the anger from punk rock — like the disparity of wealth, for instance, is here," he says. "Five minutes down the road, you've got people throwing away a million on the roll of a dice. But you've also got people who are doing like three jobs just trying to pay their rent." 

Over at the Punk Rock Museum, Morat, who moved from Los Angeles to Vegas about seven  years ago, is keeping busy booking big-name guests to share inspirations and war stories, both weekly, and specifically timed with whatever big festival or event happens to be in town. He says he wants to feature artists that might not be thought of as traditional punk rock, but who have relevant backgrounds and stories to share. 

"A lot of these people have punk history the public doesn’t know about," he says. "I think if we just stick to a very small well of people, it's going to get pretty boring. So I'm trying to open it up for a bigger cross-section." 

*Imagery from "Black Punk Now" | Ed Marshall*

The museum is already showing the breadth of punk rock’s influence on music in general. During WWWY, the museum held events tied to its new exhibit "Black Punk Now," curated by James Spooner, director of the 2003 documentary Afro-Punk. As Spooner spoke about the film’s 20th anniversary and his new book of Black punk authors, musicians playing the weekend’s festivities from Sum 41, MxPx, Bayside, Less Than Jake came through to talk too. Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman and Fat Mike himself also took part in the museum’s new after-dark guided tour series.

Bringing in a wider audience and a new generation of rebellious kids who seek to channel their angst and energy into music is part of what the museum — and, it seems, the myriad of events in Las Vegas these days — is all about. Despite what some punk rock purists and gatekeepers might say, the inclusion of tangent bands and scenes is in the original punk spirit. He’ll be booking guests tied to next year’s Sick New World, the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly bash and even EDC in the future (electronic bangers are not unlike hardcore ones and even Moby was a punk before he became a DJ). 

"I think that the museum is great for the punk scene here," he adds. "People will literally come to town just to see the museum, and then if there's a band playing in town in the evening, they'll go. So it's broadening the support for all the bands, local and touring. Some punk bands used to skip Vegas completely on their tours, but not anymore." 

Remembering When We Were Young: Avril Lavigne, Jimmy Eat World & More Bands Reflect On The Peak Of Emo & Hardcore Ahead Of Vegas Fest

Deryck Whibley performing in 2023
Deryck Whibley performs in 2023.

Photo: Richard Thigpen


Get Amped For When We Were Young 2023: Sum 41's Deryck Whibley's Favorite Emo Songs By Fellow Performers

Ahead of Sum 41's appearance at When We Were Young Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 21 and 22, lead singer Deryck Whibley curated a playlist of tracks from Blink-182, KennyHoopla, Good Charlotte and more.

GRAMMYs/Oct 20, 2023 - 07:30 pm

For the second year in a row, pop-punk is taking over Las Vegas. The When We Were Young Festival is bringing another slew of emo and pop-punk acts from the mid/late aughts to the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on Oct. 21 and 22, from Yellowcard to Rise Against to Green Day.

"Fat Lip" rockers Sum 41 are one of the 55 artists playing this year's iteration of WWWY, which will mark two of the Canadian group's final shows (in May, they announced they'll be disbanding after their current tour commitments). Though they've been touring for nearly 30 years, frontman Deryck Whibley tells that the front row "looks the same as it did in 2001."

"This music speaks to a younger generation, and the new generation always gets into it," he says. "There's just something about this kind of music that is youthful and exciting, and there's energy there. I think it's always going to be here."

In celebration of the 2023 iteration of When We Were Young Fest, Whibley put together a playlist of 15 songs by his fellow performers, including the Offspring, Blink-182 and the Ataris. Whether or not you're headed to Las Vegas, get your dose of pop-punk nostalgia on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, or Pandora.