Mark Hoppus doesn't do karaoke, but he was beneath the spinning disco ball Thursday night, welcoming guests to sing Blink-182 songs at an Asian-themed bar on the Sunset Strip. The occasion was a party to announce the band's summer tour, which begins July 22nd, and a new album called California, their first with singer-guitarist Matt Skiba.
"We can't wait to see you all on the road," Hoppus says to the packed Blind Dragon bar, where members of the tour's three support acts – A Day to Remember, the All-American Rejects and All Time Low – are scattered around the room.
First, the new album's silver-haired producer John Feldmann takes the mic, dressed in a pin-striped suit, as the anxious pop-punk sounds of Blink's 1997 hit "Dammit" (a.k.a. "Growing Up") fill the room. "Mark Hoppus is definitely in the top three of my favorite Blink-182 singers," Feldmann jokes, then stumbles happily through the song with the help of the crowd.
The 16-track album is the band's first without co-founder Tom DeLonge, following his acrimonious split with the band. The recording of California last year was a way for Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker to push Blink-182 into the future.
"To be honest, the last couple albums were, in my opinion, phoned in," says Barker, sitting with Hoppus in a back room. The last album, he says, had the three longtime Blink members working in different studios. This time, the band wrote in Barker's Los Angeles studio, then approached Feldmann to produce, and the difference in energy and output was immediate.
"We did 28 songs in a month and a half," says Barker, a baseball cap tilted on his tattooed scalp. "It was awesome. The chemistry was great. Everyone was in the studio putting in work, being creative. When you get that momentum going, the possibilities are endless."
Initially, Skiba's role was simply to fill the space left by DeLonge for three shows. But soon the band was at work on new songs for a new album, and Skiba was asked to stay. "There were a lot of times I'd be in the vocal booth or in the control room and Mark or Travis would be tracking, and I would have to remind myself where I was because it felt so natural," says Skiba, best known as singer-guitarist for Alkaline Trio. "We all put a lot of effort into this and a lot of heart and thought, but it fit together like Legos."
This week, the track "Bored to Death" was released as a first hint at the sound of the new album. Within the band's traditional pop-punk sound were some noticeably modern textures and beats, owing something to Barker's work outside the band. "John would be like, 'Trav, do some of that weird shit you play with EDM or rap artists.' And I'd be like, 'OK,'" Barker says, as Hoppus cracks up. "So there's drum 'n' bass in the verses of 'Bored to Death,' but it's in a rock song, so it's kind of masked. There's stuff like that all over the album."
"That makes it interesting for me," Barker adds, "but I never try to force that stuff into this project because I understand the difference between what I do by myself and what I do in Blink."
Hoppus says the band embraced modern recording techniques on California "but tried to keep an old-school ethos." While he describes "Bored to Death" as representative of the album, he calls the songs wide-ranging, with the modern balanced by classic anthemic choruses and soaring guitars.
"It goes in a lot of different directions," says Hoppus. "We have some songs that sound like Blink-182 from 1999. ... We have some songs that are like nothing we have ever done before. We have a ballad called 'Home Is Such a Lonely Place' that has clean arpeggiated finger-picking guitars with strings underneath it. We have super-fast late-Nineties-punk-rock-sounding songs. ... We tried to capture the energy and not worry so much about all the knobs."
Hoppus says his lyrical content has evolved over time, but that the emotional impact remains the same as ever. "I write less about high-school stuff now than I did 15 or 20 years ago, but the topics are universal," he says. "There is a lot of angst that could be teen angst or it could be angst of everyday life. I still have the same emotions I had 20 years ago – I get frustrated or I get excited. I still feel like I'm falling in love with my wife."
In the past, Blink-182 has prepared for major tours with as little practice as possible, says Hoppus. This time, the new band has been spending quality time in the rehearsal studio, investing in an open-ended future. "We want to be really focused and have our chops up," he says. "With the previous incarnation of Blink, there were times when we wouldn't rehearse or we would rehearse five times before a tour. We really want to be road-ready when we step out onstage."