Interview & Show Preview: David Kennedy of Angels and Airwaves (AVA Plays Showbox SoDo 4/7)

Angels and Airwaves released LOVE, their third CD, on February 14th this year – for free. It’s a fantastic CD, with Young London, Letters to God, Pt. 2, and the Flight of Apollo probably as my early favorites. I talked with guitarist David Kennedy last week before the band began the spring leg of their LOVE Tour. I wanted to know about several things, including what seems to be a collective fascination on the band’s part with science fiction and how he got into competitive motorcycle riding. Angels and Airwaves hit Seattle on April 7th at Showbox SoDo. I highly recommend checking this show out – they’ve got great music and their shows are hugely entertaining.

I’ve seen you a couple times live and the shows’ visuals are always amazing. How involved has the band been with the stage setup and lighting?

We’re probably more hands-on than anyone you can imagine. We actually built the stage ourselves too. We have to facilitate those ideas and it has to come from us. There’s an overall theme that gets started and then we have a guy that worked with us when we were on tour with Weezer, Ethan, and he’s come back to work with us again. The gig he just got done with was U2’s Stadium Tour. He’s coming with us to slum it. He likes the creative process no matter how matter big or small it may be and since we all work well together, we all have these creative and interesting visions, he still finds it worthwhile to come hang out with us.

Who approached artist Drew Struzan to paint the cover of I-Empire?

These ideas always come from Tom [DeLonge, guitarist/singer]. I just would never think of it. I would think how cool it would be but . . . We were looking through a Star Wars book and he thought, wouldn’t that be cool? Who thinks they’ll just call Drew up and ask him to draw? And Drew calls back! Tom is charmingly naive. A lot of people have that filter, like yeah but that would be weird, but Tom just said I’ll call and ask, it will be sweet. I always see these social barriers, that probably aren’t even there. He doesn’t even think about it.

What was it like to see yourself painted like that?

It was the coolest thing ever. I look way cooler in that painting than I do in real life. He gave me a cleft chin in that painting. He made me look like Han Solo, I could never complain about that. And I officially got my face on a t-shirt. I don’t know if I ever had that dream but it was an incredible moment. When we got the shirts printed up I went ahead and put one on as a joke and thought it was all super cool. It was in the middle of the summer and I put my jacket on and got on my motorcycle. I went to the coffee shop and I was like, holy shit, I can’t take my jacket off. My face is on the shirt. I would have felt like such an idiot. It’s like, you’re wearing a shirt with your face and three other dudes’ faces on it. It started out as a joke and went terribly wrong. I found myself in a coffee shop getting hot coffee, sweating in a leather jacket in the middle of the summer. People thought I was probably just going to rob the place.

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Angel and Airwaves’ David Kennedy in Seattle – photo by Dagmar

Do you read a lot of science fiction books?

I watch a lot of science fiction movies, I’m not the big reader in the band. I don’t have the attention span for it. Maybe a manual/how-to or a magazine. I have a hard time staying still for too long. If it’s got lasers, sword fighting or any type of explosions I will probably enjoy the movie. Crossbows. It’s kind of ridiculous, I’m 33 years old. That’s probably too old but it just never gets old to me.

What’s one of your favorite movies?

Equilibrium. It’s fantastic. It stars Christian Bale and is kind of like a B+. Not a B movie. It actually came after the Matrix but the only reason people compare it to that is because the guy wears a black trench coat. It’s in the future, after the third world war, of course. Most science fiction is post-apocalyptic but anyway what they’ve deemed in society is that feelings is the reason why we have these wars, so society has created an antidote for feelings and you’re supposed to take this every day. Anybody who’s feeling gets arrested or killed. It’s based upon religion too, like the clergy, the father – those are the people enforcing these rules. It’s really bitchin’.

What was that other one Christian Bale was in? The one with the dragons, that was good.

Reign of Fire. Personally I was a little disappointed because of Matthew McConaughey’s character. I projected what I expected onto the movie, which was not fair. I wanted it to be this battle against dragons and it just wasn’t. The humans were just hiding and scared. A few people were trying to fight but the whole big epic thing just fell short – when the dragon came down and just wiped out everybody and McConaughey leaping into its mouth. . .

You have one dragon tattoo?

Three. I have a gigantic snake, it’s kind of like a dragon. It’s got a dagger going through it.

You also have a tiger tattoo?

I have a tiger tattoo. I have a lot of animal tattoos and I’ve got these foo dogs, which in Asian mythology are half lion half dog.

Cool. What other tattoos would you get?

I think right now I’m kind of filled up with items. If I was to finish things I would want it to be something a little more ambiguous. Right now it’s bold and I don’t want it to get too cluttered.

You ride motorcycles in competitions now. Were you drawn to speed as a kid?

Not really. I think that actually came more from music. That probably sounds weird. I grew up around motorcycles, my dad always rode, and I was always a fan of movies like the Wild One, the Great Escape, Rebel Without a Cause, movies where you see Marlon Brando or James Dean or Steve McQueen riding bikes and you’d think, those are the coolest guys ever. Not that I was around when those movies were made but I caught them at a young age. It resonated strongly to me, stylistically, lifestyle wise. The performance thing came from being in a band. I loved getting ready for shows, getting out and performing and the energy that you get. From becoming addicted to that feeling and that process, motorcycles became that same thing to me. Going fast I get that same feeling that I get on stage except that it’s just me, it doesn’t depend on a roomful of people or a few other guys. I put my head down and try to get around as good as I can. Once I was able to connect those two worlds that’s how I got into it. Getting better, having goals, getting into racing. It’s the same thing as playing a show. You practice, you get ready, you get your gear, trek everything out, run the system checks and then perform. It’s the same thing with riding bikes, you work on your bike, you practice, you get out there and you compete, perform. That’s your performance, that’s your gig.

How have you all remained friends in the band?

We’ve been friends for a while. When you’re in a band and you’re eighteen years old you have to work together for the next seven years, that’s just a really big growth spurt. For anybody. Creatively, artistically, and also in your every day life. You just grow up. It’s hard to keep the same goals and agenda from when you’re 18 to 28. I don’t know what it would have been like if we’d started the band out when we were eighteen years old. We wouldn’t have been nearly as focused or knew who were as individuals. That’s the biggest thing, I can definitively say who I am now. When we started the band I was 28 and I felt comfortable with myself. I wasn’t trying to identify myself as an individual or figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I could see that Tom wanted to do it and I could see what we wanted to get out of it. As long as everyone knows they’re working toward a similar goal (even though) the process of getting there might be different for each individual you can’t really fault anybody. That’s how we work together and that’s how we stay friends. If we didn’t have that connection I couldn’t do it anymore. I could do things when I was younger sheerly for my own ego but now there are a lot of things that I love and am passionate about. I don’t mind pursuing other stuff. Music speaks to a lot more people and I like things that involve people’s lives in that way. This is a platform that supports that desire more so than any other thing that I am involved in. But it’s not worth compromising my health or mental health and integrity. In this band, even if somebody says something crazy I’ll still back them up. Would I be friends with you outside if this band? And the answer’s yes, and if it’s not going to be that answer then I don’t want to be around you. I don’t have time for it anymore.

When you learned guitar what was the first music you really got good at playing?

Enter Sandman by Metallica. Smells Like Teen Spirit. I don’t know if I was such big a fan but it was immediate, the songs registered immediately.

I’ve read several comparisons of your guitar playing to the Edge’s style. Are you a fan of U2?

I’ve grown to be more of a fan. They’re at the top of the mountain of people that make it work. They’ve been around since the late 70s – it’s like as old as I am – and they are still putting out records that I love. What other artists do that and they’re still putting records that people buy? They always have a bigger purpose.

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