One of the biggest bands in the world, Mark, Travis and Matt retain their position at the top of the pop-punk pyramid.
Words: Ali Shutler.
blink-182 have spent a big chunk of 2019 touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 1999’s ‘Enema Of The State’. An instant and enduring classic, it was the first of three albums that took the band from Warped Tour pop-punk heroes to one of the biggest bands in the world.
“’Enema’ is an album that we’re proud of and it really did stand the test of time,” starts Travis Barker. It was the first blink record he drummed on, and at the time, he had no idea he’d be in the band for the long haul. “I was poor, I was sleeping on people’s couches. I have a friend who’s always said, ‘man, I just want to be a rock star, and I want to play in front of millions of people’. Can I share something with you? My only goal in playing music was to somehow find a way to play my drums and still make enough money to eat and have somewhere to sleep.”
“It’s an absolute joy to play that album front to back,” continues Mark Hoppus. “Looking back on it twenty years later, there’s nothing that I would change about it. I still think that every song on there is a banger.”
Six days after the final show of the run, they’re releasing their new album ‘Nine’. Anyone expecting nostalgia needs to look elsewhere though. Sure, the band are proud of their legacy, but they’ve still got plenty left to say. The best way to honour their story so far is to carry on as fearlessly as they’ve always done.
“When Tom [DeLonge] left the second time, Travis and I had a conversation because we could very easily ride off into the sunset and play greatest hits sets into infinity, but that’s not what we wanna do,” Mark continues. blink could spend the next few years continuing to do anniversary tours for ‘Enema’ followed by 2001’s ‘Take Off Your Pants And Jacket’ and 2003’s ‘Self-Titled’ and sell out arenas around the world. “We don’t want to be a legacy band. We want to continue to write new, exciting and vital music.”
So with Tom gone (again), they recruited Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba as a temporary replacement, and then a full time one. “It was an odd thing to walk into,” he admits, but the band quickly set to work on ‘California’.
“I felt like we needed to go back and replant our flag, as to what blink-182 is,” Mark explains. “We had to strip blink-182 back to its very foundations. We had Matt as a brand new member, the band had gone through a lot of turmoil for a bunch of years, a lot of it very publicly, a lot of it behind the scenes and I felt like we needed to re-evaluate, ‘what is blink?’”
“We just made a bunch of songs, and it was like redefining blink,” offers Travis. “Yes, this is all the stuff we still like. Yes, we still like all the old stuff that we play.” It was a record that proved blink-182 could still be a band. “Towards the end of the tour cycle for ‘California’, there was kind of a renaissance of blink. There were people discovering blink for the first time because of popular culture coming back around to rock music, as well as a lot of artists citing blink-182 as inspirational to them, from Twenty One Pilots and Panic! At The Disco to The Chainsmokers and Juice Wrld. All different kinds of musicians were talking about growing up listening to blink, and we released ‘California’ in the midst of all that.”
The shows became a multi-generational space. “It’s an interesting mix of people that are coming to the shows right now,” continues Mark. “We have life long fans, and we have people who are coming out to some of their first shows, and that’s fucking awesome. You still see the same amount of joy, excitement and people singing your songs back to you as you had twenty years ago. I love it.”
With the band re-energised and validated after ‘California’, they then asked, “’Okay, where can we take blink in 2019, and what do we want this band to be?’ That’s what ‘Nine’ is.”
To start with the band returned to the studio with John Feldmann, who produced and helped write ‘California’, to just make music. Twenty songs in and they were all pumped by what they’d created. They thought they were close to having a finished record.
“Then Travis was like, ‘yeah, I don’t think we have it. I think we’re just making ‘California Two: Electric Boogaloo’, we gotta do something different’,” reveals Matt. “People should either love or hate what you do. For it to be okay, that’s just the worst thing imaginable. We had a bunch of stuff that was okay. It wasn’t new or exciting, and it wasn’t pushing us out of our comfort zone.”
“They were great songs, but we realised that’s not what we want to be doing,” continues Mark.
They broke off for a little bit before regrouping with the mindset, “Okay, now let’s really write the album that we want to write,” Travis explains. “Let’s write the songs that we are proud of. Let’s not repeat ourselves or make the same album twice. We made that the goal.”
With a freshly cleaned slate and a new purpose, the band set to work. Travis took the lead, playing the band a bunch of different beats he’d been working on for an eclectic mix of artists. “’If you guys like any of it, I’d rather it go to blink than anybody,” he reasoned. “We just experimented a little more, in the same way we did on ‘Untitled’. For whatever reason, when we made that record we were stoked on the idea of ‘song is king’ and whatever we write, it can’t be right or wrong.”
Mark agrees on everything apart from what their sixth album was called. “We want to push what blink-182 is, we want to surprise people, and we want to do something that stands the test of time. It’s the same energy we had on the ‘self-titled’ album where the songs could be different but still feel like they lived in the same world.”
There’s nothing on ‘Nine’ that sounds like ‘I Miss You’, ‘Feeling This’ or ‘Always’. That wouldn’t be exciting enough. Instead it, just like ‘Untitled’, takes the idea of blink-182 and challenges it time and time again. Working with different producers, the band opened themselves up to adventure and experimentation. The result is a record that’s their best since they came back from hiatus.
“When we were recording ‘Untitled’, we were referencing The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, The Cure and all these giant rock bands,” Mark reflects. “We almost jokingly named that record ‘Our Pet Sounds’ because we wanted people to listen to it and be like, ‘fuck, I had no idea those guys could do that’. I want people to do that again when they listen to ‘Nine’.”
“There’s forward motion, and it still feels like blink, it’s just blink 2.0 times two now,” adds Matt.
“We were very unified in what we wanted this album to be,” Mark picks up, “and we were all pushing each other to do different stuff. We wanted to push the boundaries of what people think blink-182 can be, and what we think blink-182 can be. We put a lot of work in to make this album a special one.
“For me, blink-182 is about the chemistry of the people in the room. We were all in the studio, throwing ideas at one another. Matt has does an amazing job of stepping into a potentially very difficult situation. He makes blink his own while paying respect and honouring the shoes that he’s filling. Matt is vital part of what makes blink-182, blink-182 right now. On this record, even more than on ‘California’, you can really feel and hear his fingerprints all over the songs, especially on things like ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Darkside’.”
“It’s only record two, but also, it’s record two,” beams Matt. “It’s a huge deal I’ve been asked back. The fans, whether they love it or not, they’re having it. The guys are happy, so I’m psyched. It’s surreal, but I’m grateful. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Recently Matt posted something that said he ‘was really into identified flying objects’. “I thought it was funny,” he smiles. “It wasn’t aimed at Tom, but people flipped out. If that was a jab, I’m not a very good boxer.”
Since he joined the band, he’s had to live with the shadow of Tom hanging over him. It must be weird to join a band as revered as blink and have people constantly ask when you’re getting fired.
“Tom’s been nothing but nice to me and amazing to our band. I have nothing but nice things to say about him. It’s just one of those things. One day we were in the studio, and I said to Mark, ‘At some point, Tom is going to come back, right? He has to. It would be awesome if he wants to wait a while though ‘cos I’m having way too much fun right now’.
“I think it’s kind of inevitable. It seems like they’re all friends and they talk. I’m just glad we have this record, and I’m happy to be doing it. I feel like I have carved out my own space. It’s something that’s taken until now to do, but I know my own role in the band as a third of blink, and it’s something that people have, at the very least, settled into enough to be like ‘okay, well this will do for now until hopefully, Tom comes back’.
“There are people that love both, but really, what people think of me, I don’t care. How I feel personally and how my bandmates feel, that’s what’s important to me. I can’t really put it into words other than things have gelled.”
Travis isn’t so sure about Tom’s return, though. “I don’t know. I mean, I love the guy. I talk to him from time to time, and we’re friends, but whether two friends ever share the same musical vision again, that’s something I don’t know. It’s kind of unknown. It depends on the time when we meet up and if we meet up and if that conversation happens. It’s like ‘Hey, what is your vision? What are your goals’ and then, ‘What is our vision, and what are our goals?’
“If we can all align, then yeah, that’d be awesome one day, you know? If we can’t, we can’t. It is what it is. I don’t really know though, I’m very just present. I don’t even look at where I’m playing tomorrow. I just live in the now, and I feel like that’s what works best for me.”
Lyrically, ‘Nine’ tackles everything from breakups, breakdowns, tragedy and hope, with a persistent sense of loss, despair and uncertainty. There’s a whole load of chaos and not much control.
“One word that comes up a lot in blink songwriting is the devil,” says Matt. “That guy is mentioned a lot on this record as a symbol of evil and wrongdoing. There’s definitely darkness and evil to this record, but it has to be hopeful in the way that blink is hopeful. Mark writes some dark fucking shit though. That guy’s brain goes to some dark corners. And it’s amazing.”
Writing for ‘Nine’ was similar to how ‘Take Off Your Pants And Jacket’ was written. “We’d written this whole group of songs that we liked, but they were mostly dark,” reflects Mark. “Lyrically it was a little dark, and our manager was like, ‘it’s cool, but there’s got to be some happy moments on there’. We did the same thing with this record.”
90% in, they realised they needed something more upbeat, which is where ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Blame It On My Youth’ came from.
“Mark said to me one day that if you’re singing about happy days or something that you want to happen, you’re not seeing it from a happy day,” continues Matt. “It’s coming from a bad place.”
The band have always balanced a jovial, boyish sense of humour with more serious moments of loneliness, loss or longing. Mark, like a lot of blokes, isn’t great at opening up. It’s easier to make jokes, but in his lyrics, he can be open, honest and vulnerable.
“It’s strange because, on this record, we worked with so many different producers to try and keep everything sounding fresh,” he reveals. “It’s weird when you walk into a room with someone you’ve never met before, you sit down to write a song, and they say, ‘Okay, well what’s going on in your head? What’s your deepest fear? What’s your darkest thought? What’s your emotional vulnerability? What are you suffering from right now?’”
In one way or another, ‘Nine’ glances at all of these questions.
“It’s always strange for the first hour. It feels like a blind date, but you have to abandon yourself to it. If you try and protect yourself and you’re not honest, then you’re going to come out with a song that’s only mediocre, and that feels hedged, safe and protective. Nobody wants to listen to that music.
“People want to listen to music that’s honest, whether that’s ‘I’m having the time of my life with my friends’, ‘I’m in a really dark place, and I feel like nobody can hear me’, or ‘I want to take over the world’. If you’re just making shit up, then it falls flat. When you’re in the studio, you may as well be honest and try and get a great song out of how you’re feeling, rather than write something terrible.”
‘Heaven’ is a little different, though. Once again built around a beat Travis brought in, the initial song just didn’t connect with him. “To me, the beat feels like it relates to the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub,” he explains.
The deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, the Pulse Nightclub shooting saw 49 murdered and 53 injured by an American terrorist, and it took place four miles from where Travis lived.
“We had to write about it because it’s all we could think about,” adds Matt.
Matt has Alkaline Trio. Mark, as he’s proved with Simple Creatures, could happily exist writing, producing and singing outside of blink, and Travis is perhaps the most in-demand drummer around. They don’t need blink, but they do it because they enjoy it. It still feels fresh. And there are new places to go.
On their ‘Enema Of The State’ anniversary tour, Lil Wayne opened for blink-182, and during a hometown show in California, the band were joined onstage by Goody Grace, Jason Aalon Butler, Alex Gaskarth and Josh Dunn at various points in the evening. Unlike most pop-punk groups, blink don’t just live in their scene. They helped define it, then branched out without abandoning those roots.
“Travis has been at the forefront of all this forever,” praises Mark. “When he first joined blink, he listened to punk and played in punk rock bands but listened to heavy metal and loved hip-hop. He added all these different influences to blink that weren’t there before. He’d put a Latin beat in the middle of a punk rock track or use a hip hop beat over rock and roll guitars.”
Back then, music genres followed strict rules, and as a kid, you were defined by what music you listened to. Now, though: “Genre’s dead. People just like songs. I have a 17-year old son, and if you asked him what kind of music he likes, he wouldn’t even know how to answer you. He’d just say everything.”
So rather than worry about who’s listening or what their fans want from blink, the band let the songs lead on ‘Nine’.
“When I write trying to figure out what other people want from blink, it feels watered down,” argues Mark. “I write mediocre songs. blink does its best work when we just keep our heads down, live in our little studio world and write stuff that is important to all of us. That seems to connect with people. If I try and second guess what people want from blink, it’s not gonna be good.”
Travis and Mark have been writing music together for twenty years. For artists who like to constantly change, that’s an impressive run.
“Having no rules, that’s what makes a blink album exciting for me,” starts Travis. “We’re not confined to being anything. We’re not in the studio taking suggestions. We don’t have like a goal at hand. We’re just doing what comes out. The most exciting thing about it is not like being confined to a style or being boxed in.”
Travis is very in demand as a drummer and a collaborator. Recently he’s worked with everyone from Lil Nas and Halsey to Nothing, Nowhere, Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud.
“I have to like what they’re doing, or I have to like them as people. Pretty much everyone that you see my name next to I like, I endorse, or I really am proud of the music we created together. There’s plenty of stuff where I just say, ‘I’m not around’ or ‘It’s not really my thing’. I do love all styles of music, and I grew up listening to all styles of music, and that keeps me creatively satisfied.”
Thing is though, blink doesn’t feel like The Day Job or a chore. “With ‘Untitled’, there was no difference between what blink was doing and what popular music was doing. It wasn’t like blink sounded like something throwback or nostalgic. And I can say the same thing about ‘Nine. It’s very modern.
“Working with artists like Yungblud and Machine Gun Kelly [on their track ‘Not Okay’], I’m proud to say it wasn’t much different than working on the blink album. Working on blink and working on whatever new artists, it isn’t much different right now. And that’s really satisfying. It shows blink is doing exactly what I really believe in my heart we should be doing.”
blink feel unburdened to do what they want. There’s a freedom to ‘Nine’ that sees the band get weird, wonderful and more interesting than they really have any right to be. It’s not even out, but already the band are moving forward.
“We have an EP that’s coming out really soon with collaborations with ‘Pharrel, Lil Uzi and Juice WRLD,” grins Travis. “We’re working on other songs for that, and there are also talks of a Christmas EP possibly. Who knows, though? It depends what we’re like on the day.”
As for what the band mean in 2019, “I don’t really sit back and think about it. We’ve been moving at such a rapid pace for so long. I’m just in it. I’m present.”
One of the most noticeable differences between ‘California’, is the lack of ‘joke’ songs on ‘Nine’. There’s no ‘Built This Pool’ or ‘Brohemian Rhapsody’. Mark doesn’t wish people took blink more seriously though. Not now, anyway.
“Back in the day, like in 1999, we wondered, ‘why don’t people take us seriously as musicians?’ We’re doing videos where we’re parodying boy bands and just making jokes onstage, but at the same time we’d write a song like ‘Adam’s Song’. We were trying to write the best songs that we could and try to put on the best shows that we could.
“We were totally written off by the press and by the punk rock scene. Everybody was worried this was a joke band. Now though, we’ve stood the test of time, and people respect blink. We’ve had a long career in music, and I guess we just feel more comfortable now.”
There’s still something to prove, though.
“In some ways, I still feel like I did back then; like we have to go out there and prove ourselves in every single song and with every single show. In everything we do, we need to put our all into it and try and do the absolute best that we can. We don’t take anything for granted, and I definitely don’t feel like we can sit back now and relax or coast. I never want to feel like that. I always want to have that hunger, that drive and that ambition. I want people to come to every single tour and be like ‘oh shit, that’s way cooler than the last one’. I want every album to come out and have people say, ‘oh cool, I didn’t expect this. I didn’t know they could do that’. I feel a little more comfortable, but also more hungry.”
So will blink be spending 2039 doing a 20th-anniversary tour for ‘Nine’? “I hope so! When we recorded ‘Enema of the State’, I had no idea we’d be still talking about it twenty years later, so anything’s possible in this world. I hope that we can tour this album twenty years from now. I’ll be nearing 70, but it’ll be great.”
Taken from the October issue of Upset. blink-182’s album ‘Nine’ is out now.