Punk rock singers have always played with vocal affectations. Whether it be Johnny Rotten’s snarl or Joe Strummer’s overt Britishness, these kinds of exaggerated singing styles have been present from the genre’s birth. But one that’s always been harder to pin down is a specific mix of nasal, whine, and California skate-bro—in other words, the Tom DeLonge. While he wasn’t the first pop-punk vocalist to put all these things in a blender, his strange pronunciations have been the butt of many jokes and endless video loops, but recently Atlas Obscura attempted to get to the bottom of it by recruiting a specialist to help determine what sounds DeLonge actually makes when he sings.
Stanford linguistics professor Penelope Eckert explains that most of DeLonge’s phrasing comes from something known as “The California Shift,” which merges vowel sounds and over-extends words that end with the letter R. DeLonge exhibits an extreme case of this, with Eckert pegging his pronunciations as a mix of Anglo and Chicago English, but she also identifies it as a a “skate/surf/punk subculture linguistic feature.” While the piece goes deep on DeLonge, it also works to explain the shifts in pop-punk singing over the decades, though it doesn’t help explain why anyone would have Rancid’s marble-mouthed Tim Armstrong narrate a video series.