Ilan Rubin on Angels & Airwaves: “It’s more of a vehicle for positivity”

Ilan Rubin (second to left) talks Angels & Airwaves, who recently released their sixth studio album.
Jonathan Weiner

“Whatever is required of me, I do. I love a challenge, that’s a lot of fun.”

Challenge seems to be part of the daily routine for musician Ilan Rubin. The 33-year-old has been around the performing block a few times so to speak. Most may recognize him from his time drumming for 9 Inch Nails, or from working with other bands such as Paramore, or even from his five solo releases under The New Regime. Lately, however, the multi-faceted musician has been with Angels & Airwaves fronted by Tom DeLonge (formerly of blink 182) along with David Kennedy (Box Car Racer) and Matt Rubano (Taking Back Sunday). Rubin joined the group almost a decade ago in 2011-12, and since then he’s been touring with the band and working on their sixth studio album—the first to come out in six years—which was released on Sept. 24.

‘Lifeforms’ is reminiscent of some early 80’s Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, and in true band fashion, the songs touch on many topics ranging from toxic masculinity to one’s relationship with gun violence. Philadelphians will be able to hear it all themselves—Angels & Airwaves has been hitting the stage around the country, and soon will be in the City of Brotherly Love this week, on Oct. 19 at Franklin Music Hall.

For ‘Lifeforms,’ Rubin is the master behind the music—in the sense of the flow. “The entire lyrical department is up to Tom,” he explains. “As far as my focus on the album, it really stems from a musical place. How things flow, how things perform, how things are executed and how things sound. Whatever inspires Tom to start writing is entirely in his domain, once it gets passed to me, the vibes are essentially established. There are a few rarities where I really think it needs to be changed drastically, and hopefully, he likes it.”

Rubin may take on the musical side with the band, but his experience penning his own lyrics with The New Regime, and now under his own name, helped along the way.

“The New Regime was something I had for a while, I put a tremendous amount of effort into that music for quite some time. What inspired me there really could cover a whole myriad of things. There’s definitely more of an edge in terms of being unhappy with certain things or talking about wanting change in certain things,” Rubin says. “So, in fact, I know Angels and Airwaves is more of a vehicle for positivity, whereas the New Regime was more a way for venting. We kind of see two different paths for lyric writing… Not that everything is venting or everything is positive, [Tom] can have an overall theme and a lot falls into each of those boxes for the two of us.”

Being a multi-instrumented talent (Rubin’s knowledge spans past the drums to the piano, guitar, bass and even the cello) there is a lot that went into his time solo, but also with his time in the band. It exercises different creative muscles. “If I can sum that up: With The New Regime, a lot of care and consideration went into every note of every harmony, every vocal—everything. When you have five releases under you belt, you definitely have your songwriting tools honed. There’s a lot that I can do and a lot of that comes from experience,” Rubin continues.

With Angels & Airwaves, that extensive knowledge comes into play, especially with their latest album. Whether it’s a Queen-inspired rift or a Depeche Mode concoction of sounds, ‘Lifeforms’ is a correlation of inspirations and functionality of creativity.

“All of the experimenting and true hard work takes place on my own time with my own music and then I kind of develop those skill sets to be able to enhance whatever it is. In the Angels world it happens very efficiently and quickly,” Rubin explains. “[But] I definitely didn’t start that way. When I started playing drums, I definitely had nothing but tunnel vision for drums for years…[then] I gave myself that addictive feeling of, I can teach myself to do whatever I want. The sky is the limit, I can keep going and going and going, I had that same addictive lust for instruments as I did with the drums.”

Rubin says the singing part of his career was born out of necessity. Although he doesn’t sing solo quite often with the band, when he did work solo he needed something to blend together his extensive knowledge of instruments, that’s how The New Regime was born in the first place. But, with the band, there’s a lot more teamwork, which inspires him differently. Fans will get to see the outcome of that work when they hit the stage on Tuesday.

What songs is Rubin most excited to play? “Euphoria is one of those songs that once we’ve started playing it live, it crept onto my list of favorites. For me as a drummer, it’s fun to play up-tempo stuff but I really enjoy sinking into a groove and considering that song is a little bit heavier, a little bit slower, I just love playing it but I’m also singing on half of it live and those harmonies are really fun to sing. So, it’s a good time for me,” he says. “Automatic seems to be a crowd favorite as well.”

Whether it’s scoring for a movie (which Rubin recently did for the boxer-centered film ‘Bobcat Moretti,’) or shooting for the stars (Tom’s fascination led the announcement of the album to be made from space), time doesn’t get wasted in the world of Angels & Airwaves. It’s that sense of multi-tasking and deadlines that helps to cement Rubin as a success as well.

“Often you find yourself after a high-pressure situation feeling accomplished and good. It fills you with an extra sense of confidence and a dash of pride.”

That pride and confidence comes full force with Angels & Airwaves. It’s also not lost on the drummer just how special being onstage once again is.

“It still feels a little odd just because you’re around strangers…I will say being onstage feels 100% natural. It feels so comfortable and just fun. There’s just a good sense of comfort with playing on stage. Not that I didn’t appreciate performing live—It’s always been one of my favorite things, but there is an added element of this feels good and I hope this doesn’t get jeopardized again in the future,” he says.

So what can audiences expect from the show on Oct. 19?

“A lot of bright lights, a lot of Tom’s humor and really just a pretty good onslaught and catalogue spanning set-list. On the one hand I feel like we’re playing a lot of new material that flows well, and goes over well with the crowd. At the same time, we’re playing some older material that people haven’t expected and kind of spanning — it’s very balanced I would say,” finishes Rubin. “For new people and people who have been there since ’05,’06, you’re going to get plenty. And for the just casual concert-goer, I think they’re really going to appreciate the production and just the vibe that we’re going to bring across.”

Angels & Airwaves will perform at Franklin Music Hall Oct. 19. To find out more information and to get tickets, visit bowerypresents.com

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