We recently posted a long series of interviews with the members of Blink-182 – but that was only the beginning. Here’s part two of our series of Q&As with Mark Hoppus, Tom Delonge and Travis Barker, conducted backstage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. We spoke about the difficult birth of their new album Neighborhoods, how they finally learned to communicate and compromise after years of strife, and Delonge’s belief that that the band has embraced a “much more modern and relevant form of rock & roll.”
Everybody in the group spent the last few years working on different projects. Do you think that helped the creative process after you guys convened to cut the new album?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that doing things outside of Blink allows us to find out what our skill sets are, what we’re good at, what we lack, what each person brings to the table. I think probably the most important lesson we learned from taking five years off from Blink was each of us is very different from one another and we’re never going to connect on certain things and it’s that disconnect that makes us Blink.
Often the very thing that drives a band apart is that force that makes them so great in the first place. Some bands just can’t compromise and they simply cease to function. You guys have clearly learned how to compromise.
Well, we’re still learning. It’s somewhere in there, in this battle between our ideas the good stuff comes out. That’s probably the biggest lesson that we learned being absent from one another for so long.
How do you decide what direction a song should take when you all have such different musical tastes?
Definitely on this record there was a lot of push and pull from where it started to where it ended up. Take a song like “Love Is Dangerous.” Originally, Tom’s ideas was a quieter, more electronic song. I think Travis and I put rock into it. In the large view, Tom has ideas for things. I don’t really have ideas for songs. I go in with something like a guitar riff and I build a fairly simple song around it. Travis expands that idea into something stranger and grander, and Tom comes up with really way out ideas. I’m usually trying to pull them back into a more rock, concise arrangement.
Tell me about an average day on tour.
It’s Groundhog Day. Every day is very similar, but in a different location. You wake up on the bus. You’re in a parking lot somewhere back beyond the stage. Luckily now, we’ve come through these buildings so many times that you kind of have a reference point to where things are. But the other day we played this arena in Des Moines. I woke up and there are these rows of buses idling, generators on. You look for a door, any door you can walk in. I had no idea where anything was. There is normally a sign that says where to go. You go in, have some breakfast, check e-mail, walk around and talk to people all day. I’ll go sit in my dressing room for awhile, see some people, then I’ll sit on the bus, get bored there, walk around, talk to other bands, and then we’ll get to play the show. The shows are the best part about touring. After the show, go back on the bus, watch movies, TV, computer ’til four in the morning, until you do it all again.
People always have this idea that backstage is this amazing place to visit, but it’s usually just people sitting around, bored.
It’s really interesting when my friends come backstage for the first time and they’re looking for this giant party and it’s just a bunch of people poking around, doing their job, getting to work. It’s like when people come into the studio when you’re recording. They go, “Oh, I want to come see you guys record!” They think everyone is just rocking out in this 10-hour jam session. They come in and people are working the gear, setting up mics, we record a part, “How was that? You like that sound?” You work about half an hour getting a bass sound. They’re like, “This is so boring.” Then they leave.
Before the reunion tour in 2009, did you worry it had been so long that maybe nobody would care about Blink-182 anymore?
Absolutely. We had no idea what to expect. We’d had minor success with our side projects, nothing at all on the level of Blink. We were coming back after a five-year hiatus of acrimonious back and forth and everything else. To come back on that tour and have it be the biggest tour we’ve ever done, and the reaction be so positive, it’s been amazing. Really, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how we got so lucky to have people that like our band so much that we can go away for five years and they’ll come back and watch our band play. It’s really cool.
It would have been such a bummer if Blink-182 had just gone away forever. That happens with some bands.
I was worried too. Blink had such success and we did stop at our highest, back in 2005. Coming back, I didn’t want to suck. I wanted to come back and do something cool. I didn’t want to come back and do a shitty album. I’d rather have left it at the height then come back and do a record that wasn’t as good. I’m proud of this record, though. I don’t think it’s shitty.
It’s definitely not shitty, but the birth of it seemed to be more difficult than previous records.
Yeah, definitely. It was a completely different process than we’d ever used before. And then we didn’t have Jerry [Finn] at the helm. Everything was different. We were just starting to have kids back in 2003. Now our kids are going to school and so much has happened in the last five years. The crazy thing is that everything is so crazy in our careers right now. Every one of us has a different manager. We have different attorneys. We have different business managers. It’s like, everything on the outside of the three of us is totally different and weird and bureaucratic. I mean, there are good people involved, but there is just so much on the outside of us. But when the three of us get in a room, it’s all good. The three of us get on stage, it’s all good. The recording was completely different, but when the three of us sit in a room together and Tom picks up a guitar, I pick up a bass and Travis gets behind those drums, there’s something that happens. It works. I’ve stopped trying to figure out why that is and just accepted the fact that Tom is who he is. Travis is who he is. He’s awesome. I bring something to the table, and just let it happen.
Tell me about Jerry Finn.
One of the smartest, funniest, most generous people I’ve met in my life. He was just the ideal friend. His loss is heartbreaking.
He died right around the same time as the plane crash. Out of nowhere, you guys are hit with two unspeakably horrific events.
There was a time when everything was very bleak. There was a lot of tragedy. It was all terrible shit.
That could pull people apart or push them together.
Yeah, in the end it obviously brought us together. But there was an awful, awful period of time that I think we’re still going through it in a lot of ways.
I think if a lot of people went through what Travis went through, they would not be nearly as functional as he is right now. Fewer things are more traumatic than his accident.
Nobody should ever have to go through something like that. Travis has seen it through very well I think. It’s crazy.
In some ways, Neighborhoods is a mature sounding album for you guys.
I would say that. I was trying to shy away from saying that Blink-182 has made a mature album, but listening to it, I think that it is.
In the minds of so many people, you guys are just eternal goofballs.
That’s the thing. We write this dark, moody, powerful, strange record, but then we get up on stage and say a bunch of dick jokes and make fun of each other. But that’s kind of the way it’s always been. We’ll play a song like, “Stay Together for the Kids,” but also throw shit at each other.
Next: Tom Delonge
How is the tour going?
Well, I just got over being sick, so I’m a little nasally right now. That’s been the primary reason it’s been a little difficult. Losing your voice completely and you have a sold-out show in front of 17,000 fans in Detroit, sucks. But besides that, the tour’s been great. From my perspective, this is a good time for us. I am able to present the band the way I was hoping to. I always wanted this band to start taking steps towards . . . I’m really proud of the way that the band is presenting itself on the live show. It’s a much more modern and relevant form of rock & roll, I think, than the small, little punk scene that we grew up in. So that’s exciting to me.
So many bands establish a sound and then just keep making the same record over and over.
Well, I think that people saw a lot more potential in Blink-182 than we saw in ourselves until the last record. I think with that record, we proved to ourselves, “Wow, we can actually be like a real rock band rather than your next-door neighbors that got famous.” I always thought the band could be gigantic just because of the approachability of it and the humbleness of it and the fun of it. The songs were good and catchy, but I never thought we were going to maintain being big because we were revolutionary or because our ideas or our art was so all encompassing. But I think on the last record we started to touch on that.
I was talking to Mark and he told me that you want an epic sound, like Muse or U2. It’s hard for some people to imagine how you can reconcile that sound with Blink.
But that’s what’s so fun about it. What would that sound like? And you hear it on the record. You hear a little bit with “Up All Night.” You hear it with “Natives.” These songs have big builds and some crescendos. But, how do you mix those two worlds? People hear me do it with Angels and Airwaves. People know that Travis can play anything that he wants to. People know that Mark is into the coolest, newest music and producing records and he’s been writing great songs forever. So, it’s just an ambition and an arrangement in my mind. But I like the idea that people wonder or go, “There’s no way to pull that off.” That to me is the fun part of it.
Do you see the final sound as a compromise, or a melting pot?
It’s both. I mean, the melting pot is the compromise. The magic of Blink is the compromise. We would have had more intros and epic crescendos on the record if I had my way – but then it wouldn’t have been Blink. Mark and I are almost on two opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m always trying to push things forward and he’s always nostalgic for who we were and where we grew up and how we meet in the middle is always the beauty.
Were there moments during the making of the record when you became frustrated?
So how did you deal with that?
I’d just bite my tongue. I’d just get pissed and bite my tongue. And I just kept telling myself that everything happens for a reason and everything’s supposed to be the way it’s supposed to be. I also really believe in the natural course of events. I’m constantly finding myself fighting battles with what I want and what the natural course of events are pushing me to have. So I was always like, “I really want this stuff and I really believe in my heart that this is something that will make the band better.” But just because I believe that, it doesn’t make it so. It really doesn’t. So, learn to get over it and let the compromise happen.
There’s a lot of demands on your time right now. You have the new Blink album and tour, the new Angels and Airwaves album, all your businesses and your family. Do you ever feel that it’s just all too much?
I never wanted to have two bands. But yeah, it’s too much. Especially the past six months have been really hard because the Angels film was a five-year journey and that just hit theaters a couple of weeks ago, and now it comes out in November with a double album, 22 songs. And I started a whole company around it. Angels and Airwaves is a company now. So, all that was going while I was supposed to make this Blink-182 comeback record. And I’m trying to balance everyone’s interests and then my wife is looking at me like, “I hate your guts because you’re supposed to be working less and hanging out more.” I’m like, “I can’t let anyone down because I care about them all.” Both of these sides of the fence are, like, who I am. I am still this little punk rock kid, but I am also this armchair academic that’s trying to look at the world a little bit differently.
Do you see Blink continuing indefinitely, or are you worried that you might start to feel too overwhelmed in two or three years?
No, I think that my most overwhelming points were the past six months. Blink was supposed to go earlier, but everyone’s schedule got pushed back and then it got pushed right on top of the Angels release that was already planned. So, I had no choice but to do them both at the same time. I never want to do that again. But will Blink continue? Absolutely. As long as it’s fun and people care. And as long as we keep respecting each other the way we are now . . . myself included to them. I think we’ve proved that the worst is behind us.
Next: Travis Barker
I was just talking to Tom about all the demands on his time. The same goes for you. You’re being pulled in so many directions with Blink and your solo record and everything else.
Tours are easy though, man. It’s less busy out here. I just throw myself in practicing all day. I don’t get to just sit around and play around on my drums at home. There’s a lot more responsibility at home, so a tour is like the opposite for me. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
It’s a pretty long tour. There must be some days you’d rather be home.
Yeah, I’m not a good traveler. I don’t like traveling, period. I like being at places and I like going places, but I don’t like forms of transportation. I wish I could just snap my fingers and be there. That’s the only thing that trips me out. I love tour, but I don’t like traveling at night or driving long hours. But I love tour. If my kids could be out there full time, I’d probability never go home. I mean, like first days of school for my kids, I wish I was there for that to make sure the kids get acclimated and stuff. But this is sorta my home.
Do you think that the new songs are fitting in well with the old songs in the set?
Absolutely. Especially now that the album leaked. I mean, there are fortunate and unfortunate sides to that. The fortunate side is that people know the music now, which is super cool. The whole time after you record an album, you’re just waiting for the release date. You’re waiting for fans to hear it and stuff. Leaks suck, but at the same time it’s cool all these kids are getting familiar with the new tunes. One of the best things about this tour is being able to play new music.
The album kept getting pushed back and some fans were worried that meant there were problems.
I think it was more like miscommunication. No one was really telling them…after our last tour Tom had a commitment to make another Angels album. So that had to be done. We always give each other space. While he was making that album, I was doing a tour for my album. Mark was doing his television show. On the Lil Wayne tour, I would get music and I would just go rent a studio on my day off and go play drums. But it wasn’t until we really got home and got focused for like the last four months that it really took a turn and the best material started really coming out.
The fact you guys were working in a separate studio than Tom freaked some fans out.
I mean, I can see anyone tripping like…change freaks people out. But realistically, when we recorded albums back in the day we didn’t have kids. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was written in my warehouse in a room there. We got together for a week and a half and wrote and recorded them in a couple of days. It was such a different writing process. A lot of this stuff was not written in a room together. We all have different ideas. I bring beats to them. “Which one pops out to you? Which one do you want to write to?” It’s changed over the years. If it didn’t change, things would suck. It’s evolution. Things are supposed to change. We see this as a positive. A strength is that we’re able to get ideas down without going, “Okay, we gotta book a studio and I’m going to try and remember this in my head a week from now.”
It’s about a million to one shot for a band to become as big as Blink. To have that happen, and then just throw it all away forever would have been terrible.
Especially over nothing. When we look back, we see…I’m sure it’s happened to other people in other fields. You get so consumed with work. You’re playing shows every day and you’re doing tour after tour like we were ten years ago, and there’s no communication. Everyone’s burnt. The air was so thick around us back in the day you could cut it with a knife. It was so bad right before we broke up. At the time, if we had better management or some way to communicate, we would have all been in a better place. When we look back now, after my crash when Tom and Mark finally came to my house, about thirty seconds went by and Tom and Mark are telling dick jokes. It’s like, “Look, you dickheads didn’t talk to each other for six years and now everything’s completely fine.” You realize how petty some shit was we were all fighting over.
The only thing that’s changed for us is that we all have different dressing rooms and we have our families on the road with us. Everything else is the same. It’s the same great energy we had playing onstage back then. It’s not one of those weird situations where it’s The Eagles and everyone hates each others guts and they can’t stare at each other on stage. We never experienced any of that.
But there must have been some frustrating moments making the album.
Maybe little things, more with miscommunications. I think at one point Mark and Tom were really ready to work again and I was on a Lil Wayne tour. Then when I’m ready to work and I get home, Tom’s doing an Angels album. Or Mark’s doing his TV show. But that’s just the effect of being apart for seven years. We all started getting our own things going on. It was hard to pick up and tell me, “Hey man, fuck your solo album” or “Tom, screw Angels and Airwaves” or “Mark, your show’s not important right now.” All those things were established and kinda got popping before the band was recording an album again.
There must have been moments that you’d get material back from Tom and it was not quite the sound you wanted.
Maybe sometimes, but I think that was a result of having a couple of different studios. But then if you were producing something and we were working on an album together you could make something and it might be a little too much in the direction you usually go. So, I’d come in and balance it out and Mark balances it out. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what Blink’s here for.
I’m sure some fans just want the sound of old Blink. They want hear “Dammit Part 2.”
Yeah, I feel that. But we could only write so many songs for this album. There will be other albums. This was just the first group of songs. I actually look forward to the next album even more because hopefully we won’t have our hands on so many other projects at the time. Maybe it will be like our last self-titled album where we spend a year just working on it. I have no idea, but I do feel like we gave our fans a little bit of everything that they expected. At the end of the day, it can’t be like a self-indulgent Blink album where we’re just doing all this experimental new stuff. I feel like there’s a lot of old with the new.
Did you worry when the band got back together that tension would remain, and that Mark and Tom wouldn’t totally be a unit again?
Well, those two were like husband and wife back in the day. I’d always tell them that I’d never seen two males that weren’t homosexual so close. And no diss to homosexual people. I like heterosexual people, homosexual people, whatever. But I’d never seen two friends so close or anything like how Mark and Tom were. I always played the middle between them. And I still do. I’m really close to Mark and I’m really close to Tom. It’s like a couple, but there’s three of us. So we all have to spend time being friends, just being cool, maybe talking about stuff that has nothing to do with the band. It’s just like any relationship.