Back in the days of Total Request Live, the three members of Blink-182 seemed to have barely distinguishable personalities. But anyone who has ever spent time with Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Tom Delonge knows that was never true. They are three drastically different men with very different ideas of what the band should sound like, and how they should evolve as a collective unit. Those problems came to a boiling point in 2005 and they took a four-year break. They reformed for a reunion tour in 2009, and spent the last two years recording their new album Neighborhoods.
We checked in on the band backstage at the Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center a couple of weeks ago. Tom spent his afternoon working on future Angels and Airwaves projects, while Travis focused on his extensive fitness regime, and Mark met with fans and worked on his Fuse television show Hoppus on Music. We sat down with them separately to talk about how the band has learned to function as a unit after such a tumultuous break-up and Travis Barker's tragic plane crash. The conversations covered everything from Caddyshack to battling a severe Vicodin addiction to the challenge of touring the world when you refuse to board a plane.
How has the tour gone so far?
Really good. I'm glad that people are embracing the new songs. We started out playing four new songs right at the beginning of the tour and we didn't know what the reaction would be because the album wasn't out yet. Personally, when I see live shows and the band says they're going to do a bunch of new songs I'm like, "Stop, no, I want to rock out to stuff that I know!" But even before the album leaked people were singing the songs back to the stage, which means they were going on YouTube and learning the songs.
So you started recording 'Neighborhoods' two years ago?
Yeah, we took the first steps just a few weeks into the reformation of the band. But a few weeks into it we realized that we weren't ready to record yet. We were all friends again, but we were being too polite to each other to record. We were too protective of that little spark of Blink-182. So we decided to go on tour and build the band back up again. So, we really started digging into the album about eight months ago.
How did the creative process work this time around? Was it the same process as back in the day?
It was the same process, just different geography. We have always introduced songs to one another and bounced ideas off each other, but this time we weren't in the same studio the whole time. We'd start by going to the studio in Los Angeles and recording structures for songs. Then we would break apart. Tom would go to his studio in San Diego where he would work on guitar parts or vocal ideas. I would work on stuff in Los Angeles with Travis, recording drum and bass. Then we'd all get together and compare ideas and change some stuff. The cool thing about recording this way is that everybody got the chance to explore all their ideas without the other guys in the studio waiting to record their bits. I think that consequently it probably took a little longer to record this album, but it was one of those things where we wanted to be able to say that we'd exhausted all our ideas and this was the best possible album we could make.
When the word came out that Tom was working in a different studio than the rest of you guys there was some concern it meant you guys weren't totally getting along. There was also worry it would really have an adverse affect on the music. How would you address that?
I can only address it to say that it's not like that. I was very skeptical of working like this. Tom wanted to work like this for a while. It was a big point before the band broke up. Tom wanted to work in San Diego, despite the fact that Travis and I live in Los Angeles. I still think that the best work we do is when the three of us are in the same room. I still believe that. The best. At the initial genesis of songs, we would all be in the same room – or I would present a song to Tom in its infancy and he would try different things. So, I was really skeptical about this recording process – but somehow it worked out really well for us. Much better than I thought. It sounds cohesive. I guess each of us have our own unique sound that we bring to Blink, but no matter what we should sound like Blink in the end.
Did you worry about fan expectations when you made the album? I'm sure a certain segment of the fan base doesn't want to hear your sound change at all. Is that on your mind?
It is. We had to make a continuous effort to set that aside and just do what we have always done, which is keep our head down and make music that we love. I can't second guess people. We're going to put something out and some people are going to say, "I wish it sounded like Dude Ranch." I think there are songs on this record that seem like they could be a part of Dude Ranch and there are songs that sound like they could be a part of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.
I know that in the past Tom has voiced some reservations about playing some of your older songs as he got older. Has it ever felt weird to you?
From the outside, looking at the situation, I would think so. I mean, here were are, grown men with kids and families and houses, and we're singing about things that happened to us in high school. But I still think they're completely relevant to the people coming to the shows. If I ever get bored . . . not bored, but weird about playing a song like "What's My Age Again?" I just remember when I wrote that song and how much fun it is. And the reaction on the floor is always great.
I imagine that the Who had a similar kind of feeling about doing "My Generation" as they got older – singing "I hope I die before I get old" in their fifties and sixties.
It's something they wrote and it's them. It's that energy and that moment in time, crystallized by that song. "My Generation" sounds completely different to you in your experiences than to me with my experiences. Aside from photos, there is very little else in life that crystallizes moments like a song. You remember the first time you heard it, driving a car or the heartbreak you went through. So, I don't feel weird playing songs about high school even though I'm a grown man.
How are things between you and Tom right now?
Good. Really good. Probably better than it's been in a decade.
It seems like Tom is into the real big, epic sound of Angels and Airwaves, and you and Travis are more into a punk sound. Some fans thought that the tension between those two ideas is what took you guys so long to finish this album. Is there any truth to that?
Yeah, totally. I don't want to say that Tom wants us to sound like Angels and Airwaves, but I think that Tom wants stadium rock. Tom wants to be the Police. He wants to be the Who. He wants to be Muse, you know, the big, giant theatrical production. Big things, like U2. I want things to be a bit simpler, a little more indie rock, a little more concise. Travis is all over the place with music. I never know what he's going to do with a song once I give it to him. It's always different and 10 times better than what I could have hoped for. But, yeah, there definitely is that struggle between Tom wanting his big stadium thing and me wanting things to be more compact and elemental.
How do you reconcile those two things?
It's that struggle. It's not a difficult struggle. It's a creative struggle. It's a lot of talking and trying to understand what people are going for in songs. I would present something to Tom and he would play a guitar part over it that I wouldn't feel comfortable with. I would say, "Why did you play that?" And then he would explain it to me, and I would be cool. We had so much time to make this record that if I felt that guitar part wasn't going to work, I would say, "All right, let's sit with that guitar part for a while, work on this, and them come back to it."
There's gotta be a lot of downtime on this tour. Are there certain movies that you watch over and over again?
Every tour I watch Caddyshack, Stripes, Vacation, Fletch and a bunch of classic movies. This tour, I watched Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia. Then I usually end up watching The Thin Red Line or Platoon or some kind of war movie.
Finally, do you see yourself still in this band in 10 or 15 years?
As long as I'm having fun in Blink, I'm going to play in Blink. When Blink stopped being fun, we broke the band apart. Now it's fun again and we're loving it. In 2000 I couldn't have imagined myself doing it in 10 years and here I am, 11 years later, doing it and loving it.
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