CARLSBAD, Calif. — On a rainy Tuesday evening in Angels and Airwaves' suburban Carlsbad recording studio, singer Tom DeLonge pondered ice cubes. Specifically, the ice cubes made famous by 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 and Airwaves released it independently as a free download Sunday at http://modlife.com/AngelsAndAirwaves, 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. But their approach could be a new avenue for self-sufficiency amid rock music's commercial swan dive.
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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.
LOVE is clearly a labor of such, where the planetarium-size synthesizers of M83 bolster chiming arena-rock in the spirit of U2. The band members 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 and Airwaves in its 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 that he co-founded — suggests that 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 its pending 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.