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.
Do you think you're better able to appreciate Blink now than you were during the last few years of the bands first go-round?
Yeah. When we stopped playing shows we were getting around six to 10,000 people, which is huge. When we got back together two years ago the shows were 25 to 30,000 people a night. That's insane. It blew my mind. I realized that our approachability, our fun, next-door neighbor kind of thing actually meant a lot more than I gave it credit for meaning. It represented 70 percent of America's suburban youth. Kids that lived in little cookie-cutter houses, but they wanted something different. That's when I realized that all those things aren't necessarily attributed to art, but to lifestyle.
You seemed like goofy guys that I knew in high school.
We were those guys. I remember we were in Florida and Mark came out of the dressing room covered in suds, naked with white bubbly stuff all over him. And he decides that he's going to go into the Goo Goo Dolls' dressing room and ask if they've seen his towel. And this is at a point where no one likes us and we're just playing these radio station festivals. All these bands were like, "Who the fuck are these guys? They're just fucking stupid and saying dick jokes." They had every reason to hate us because they're artists. We took every opportunity to really laugh at ourselves, and it was pretty transparent that we were in on the joke. People responded to it. We were the antithesis of the rock star.
Our producer Jerry Finn, before he passed away, was saying one time that people forget that the Beatles were considered a joke band for a while, with the movies and the girls chasing them. It wasn't cool. It took them to kind of step out of themselves . . . and I'm not saying we're better than the Beatles. [laughs] But my point is that in any really cool timeline with any band, hopefully it's bumpy and hopefully there's a lot of of breaking apart that box and taking people on an ambitious joyride. Because when artist takes all those leaps and risks, it's what's fun for the rest of us.
When the band broke up, you guys went into very different musical directions. There was some concern amongst the fans that it would be hard to reconcile those differences on a new album.
Yeah, I thought so too. But at the same time, if you listen to "Up All Night" it sounds like Angels and Airwaves. I mean, that's who I am. Angels and Airwaves is a complete, pure reflection of who I am. The philosophy, the spiritualism, the esotericism, the idea of hope and space and the themes about life and grandeur . . . that's all me. So to pretend that I can't . . . that's me. That's what I sound like when Mark and Travis aren't with me. You've always heard Travis' love of hip-hop and drum and bass and electronica. He's all about rhythm and he's the best drummer on earth. If he didn't bring his of love hip-hop into Blink-182 then we'd never have songs like "I Miss You" or "Down." The new record is called Neighborhoods because we're all three radically different people from different neighborhoods.
It's hard for some people to understand how working in separate studios would lead to the best possible record. It also made it seem like you guys weren't getting along
I get it. I was talking to Mark about this last night in his dressing room. I said, "Dude, I feel like if the three of us wiped our schedules clean and focused on nothing but being together and writing this record, infinity is where we could have ended up." For whatever reason, what we have now is what was meant to be. It was just not pressuring each other, letting everybody have their respective projects. There was no fights. There was no arguments.
Everyone was like, "Tom's got Angels and Airwaves. It's important to him. Cool. Travis has got his solo record coming out. He's been working on it for three years. Let him do it. Mark's flying out every other week for a TV show. He really enjoys it. It's his thing. Cool." We really just took our time. We didn't have pressure. There's a lot of plusses and minuses to working this way, but I think there are more minuses than plusses. Because I was talking to a guy who represents the Police. They tried to get back in the studio and they couldn't pull it off. They just couldn't do it.
Do you mean recently, or back in the 1986 when they briefly reformed?
After their last tour. He went, "You accomplished something they never could. You made a record." So whatever the process needed to be, it needed to be that way.
You guys were longtime friends. The Police were never friends. They had no roots, so when a storm came it just knocked them over.
Yeah, Mark and I have pretty deep roots. I met him specifically to start the band, but at that level we weren't a band. We were friends hanging out, skateboarding every night and terrorizing the town 'til two in the morning like a pack of wild wolves.
After the break-up a lot of fans obviously blamed you for what went down. There were stories that you changed your number and refused to talk to the other guys. You were seen as the villain of the whole thing. Was that difficult to deal with?
Yeah, it's difficult. I mean, yeah. I started this band. It's not like I wanted to end it, but I have a really bad problem. I feel like I can do anything in the world. And my second problem is that I want to take care of everybody. So what happens is that I usually put too much of myself out there and I take on way too much. So when Blink got all big, all these people were running the machine except for the band. We started to grow out of young adulthood and into real adulthood. We started to become different people. Travis started his TV show. And I wanted to go out and expand as an artist. It's like you're best friends with a guy and all of a sudden he got a girlfriend. And you're like, "Wait, it's only about us. What's she doing here?"
For me, it all got very toxic. It was all about money. It was all about ego. It was all about fame. I needed to be home with my daughter. She was two years old and I was gone for two years. I was like, "I'm going home." But at that point we weren't even communicating. We were communicating through other people. Later, we all hated each other's guts through the press. That's easy. It's another person making the fight for you. We just needed a break. We were tired.
The fans saw me as the villain. I'm sure they did. But nothing I ever did was vindictive. I said some bad shit because I got addicted to Vicodin for quite a while because I have a really bad back. I got all hopped up on narcotics and that fueled my fucking belief that I can really change my life and that messed me up for a while.
How did you get clean?
I just stopped one day. Well, I was unable to get any for a week. I was taking so many that I called my doctor and was like, "I need more" and they're like, "You can't have any more, but in a week you can talk to the doctor about getting more." I thought, "Oh, fuck. I'm going to be so deep in withdrawal and puking my brains out and shaking and fevers" and I just said, "Look, don't ever give me these things again." I just hung up the phone and went through with it.
Did you worry about your ability to play the old songs now that you were older?
I love that people ask that question. That's honestly what I thought too. So I do Angels and Airwaves and I convince myself that I'm growing as an artist. It's light years ahead of anything I'd ever done at that point. So I was wondering how I'd be able to play these songs. But as soon as you put that guitar on you forget how fast and loud and fun it is. Every night before I go onstage, I still listen to old punk bands like NOFX and the Descendants for the same reason that I did as a kid. It brings back that eternal youth kind of spirit. It's awesome.
Walk me through your day so far today.
I woke up. I had a lot of phone call meetings for stuff going back home with my companies. And then I went to the gym, made myself some shakes and I rushed back over to do my flying drum riser gag to make sure everything's cool. Then I stuff my face, do whatever press is given to me and then I practice until the time to play.
It seems like the three of you have so many different demands on your time these days. Back in the day, you guys were able to focus on nothing but the band.
Yeah, we'd eat, sleep and breathe Blink. We didn't have kids. Musically, Blink is still our priority.
Did you guys have real different tastes in music back in the 1990s?
It was always very diverse. I remember on one of my first Blink tours. I think it was still in the area where they didn't even know if I was going to be in the band. I was listening to King Diamond and Tom was like, "What the fuck is this?" The next day it was Slayer and he was like," Dude, this metal shit . . . Why the fuck do you listen to that?" I was like," This is what I grew up on." I think that we learned a lot about everyone. I showed him Tribe Called Quest and all these hip-hop bands. I think as much as we always seemed the same back then, we were so very different.
I was talking to Mark and he said that he was surprised by how dark some of the lyrical themes on the album album are. Do you think it's a dark record?
Yeah, in some ways. I mean, what we all just went through was pretty dark. We still have fun and still have goofy songs, but I think for this album there's a lot of seriousness. We all went through a bunch of dark shit.
That's an understatement on your behalf.
Yeah. I looked Death right in the face. I didn't write lyrics on this album, but I can understand why they're dark.
It seems like the tragedy really brought you guys together.
Yeah, absolutely. It's crazy to think that such horrific events would be what it would take to get us back together. But at the same time, it's a huge eye opener. I never thought in a million years that Blink would be back together. I always say that four days before my accident, Adam and I were playing the MTV Video Music Awards. Our little duo of drummer and DJ reached heights we never thought were possible. I was so stoked, and then obviously what happened to me…
I'm in a hospital. Shit's not going so good. I get transferred to L.A. I get to the point where I can actually read and I see a letter from Tom. I don't have the same feelings that I had six months earlier if he had written me a letter. I'm sitting on a bed and the doctors are talking about possibly amputating my foot and I'm reading this letter from Tom and there's a picture of his kids. It was heavy. I wasn't bummed at all. I had no ill will. I had no fucked up feeling towards him. I wanted to reach out to him.
A lot people wouldn't be able to bounce back like you have after going through something like that.
I think it was my kids. If I didn't have kids, I think I would have went the other direction. I mean, when I got out of the hospital I was on 21 forms of medication. The doctor said that I would be on half of them for the rest of my life. I was on 5150 watch for two weeks…suicidal, crazy. I then slowly went off my meds. I had my kids looking up to me and wanting me to bounce back…Just to be given a second chance, knowing my partners didn't get that. I had to make the most of my time.
Do you see Blink as your top priority right now?
Yeah, but unfortunately I can't do as much touring as I would like because I don't fly. It's an obstacle. I'm working on it though. I'm trying to get hypnotized, trying to talk to a doctor who retrains your brain. Maybe he'll help me fly again one day.
You can obviously just take a boat to Europe.
Yeah, but I want to go to Australia. But that would take me 31 days on a boat. I don't know if I can do it. It's a little harsh, but I want to go there so fucking bad. I want to go to Brazil. I've never been to South America. I've never had this obstacle in front of me before. I love playing the drums. I love touring. It's so fucked.
You're eating a pretty healthy meal right now. Looks like just broccoli and meat.
It's vegan, so it's all fake meat. I've been vegan since I got out of the hospital. It's another eye opener. It changed my life in a number of ways. I mean, I run every day now. I never ran before. In the hospital, I promised myself that I ever walked again, that I would eat well and swim every day.
Before the plane crash, I was battling a painkiller addiction. For years. I can proudly say I didn't even take any pain medication after I got out of the hospital. They told me I'd be on some of the medicine for the rest of my life, but I got off all of them. They made me a completely different person.