On Thursday night (Apr. 28) in Los Angeles, at a cushy karaoke lounge on Sunset Boulevard, Blink-182 were the audience instead of the entertainment for a change, as Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Matt Skiba sat back and watched their friends, family and future tourmates scream every single word of the pop-punk trio’s greatest hits.
To mark the release of “Bored to Death,” the first single off their forthcoming album, California, and the announcement of their upcoming tour, which has them lapping the country on a 45-date odyssey, Blink-182 opted to rent out the Blind Dragon, queue up a handful of the songs and get loud with some lucky fans. There was no "Don't Stop Believin'" or "Total Eclipse of the Heart" action here; everyone was there to sing—and celebrate—the music of Blink.
At one point, John "Feldy" Feldmann—the Goldfinger frontman, longtime friend of the band and California producer—hopped onstage in a spiffy grey suit to kick off the festivities with "Dammit," and that's when the night started to feel like a special occasion worthy of the circumstances. Blink-182 have gone through it in the past few years, and announcing their comeback with a goofy, pseudo-fancy shindig complete with umbrella-sporting drinks and a look back on their accomplishments was a fitting start to this new chapter.
Before the room was screaming with Feldy about losing, failing and flailing now, the guys stepped away from the debauchery and opened up about California, and why this album really isn't so much the start of something new for Blink-182, but a vital reacquaintance with the spirit of the band that they had so dearly missed.
FUSE: I just took a look at the list of your tour dates, and it is massive. How does it feel to be doing such an aggressive push behind the album, to be getting back out there?
Mark Hoppus: It feels really good to have everybody excited. I’m mostly really happy that people are excited about the new album, that they want to come out to see shows. It feels like a new chapter for our band. I’m really excited about it.
The track list is big, too: at 16 songs, it’s longer than your previous releases, even some of your reissues and the special editions of your albums. Travis, you’d mentioned that you guys cut around 30 tracks for the album in the studio; “Bored to Death” is the first of these released and the only song we’ve heard from California so far. Does “Bored to Death” set the tone for the album?
MH: California has a bunch of different styles of songs on it. “Bored to Death” was actually the first song we wrote when we got into the studio with John. We had been writing for about four months prior to that, and ditched all of those songs. We walked into the studio fresh and had an idea that first day; that song became “Bored to Death,” and it came together in a matter of hours. In the next two months, we wrote nearly 30 songs. We liked all of them. There weren’t any that we started where we were like, “No, that song’s not good.” Some were better than others, and obviously we put the best on the record, but we have so many more left over that we want to continue working on them and either use them for the next record or maybe do an EP.
It was just a really great, positive, creative time for all of us in the studio. It was long hours, for sure: I would show up at 8, Travis would stay until 2 or 3 in the morning. Poor John, he’d work from 8 a.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. between all three of us. It was just a great two months of writing.
This was the first time you’ve worked with Feldy in a production capacity together.
MH: Blink had played shows with him back in ‘94—we’ve always kind of known him. Travis was probably closer to him than any of us when we first started this album. I think Travis was the one who reached out to him about producing this. We all went [into the studio] with an open mind. I think John far surpassed anything any of us had expected as a producer.
We had been working with our friend, our dear friend, Jerry Finn. Matt with Alkaline Trio and Travis and I with Blink, we’d been working with Jerry for decades, and he had been the fourth member of Blink and probably the fourth member of Alkaline as well. He passed away a few years ago and I never thought there’d be anybody that could come even close to replacing Jerry, and John is really the closest that we’ve come to someone who could fill that capacity. He’s a great friend. He’s a great producer. He knows how to get the best performance out of Travis, out of me, out of Matt. He really kept focusing us on what Blink-182 is all about, and I think that we wrote a great Blink-182 album.
Awesome. So, tonight: We’re here doing Blink-182 karaoke at the Blind Dragon. Why karaoke? Are you guys secret karaoke champions?
MH: The funny thing is, Travis doesn’t do karaoke. I’ve never once done karaoke. Matt, I think, only does karaoke when he’s in Japan or he’s not working. It's really more of a chance for us to hang out with our friends and our friends to do karaoke and embarrass themselves. If anybody does Blink-182 songs it’s going to be weird, though!
Matt Skiba: I think that’s mostly what they’re doing! That’s what I heard.
I thought I heard “Trap Queen” when they were checking the sound system earlier...
MH: Yeah, that’s for Travis. Travis is doing that for sure.
Travis Barker: It’s one of my favorites. (laughs)
MH: We’re just here to hang out with our friends. A lot of times, what happens when you announce a tour or an album, you go and sit in a conference room somewhere, and you do interviews, and it’s really dry and anti-septic. Here, it’s a party for everybody: We get to hang out with the bands we’ll be touring with all summer, and we get to hang out with our friends as well.
With the tour, when we talk about a typical push behind a record, bands typically head out for a month or two, a few weeks. You’ll be out for an entire season. Was this an intentional choice, to plan such an aggressive, country-lapping tour behind California?
MH: It’s a giant tour. It’s a long tour. It’s so long that some of the bands couldn’t do the whole thing and we had to break it up into two support acts.
TB: We always tour like this when an album comes out—it’s just been forever since an album came out, hence why there are 16 songs on the record. I was fighting for 28 to be on the album, you know? I feel like you starve people for so long... We’ve promised album, and [our fans] have gone without, so me, personally, I felt like the more material on the album, the better. The more tour dates, the better. That’s what we do when we’ve put out albums in the past.
Did California bring out of a different side of you as musicians and collaborators?
MH: It's very easy to take a long time for me to write lyrics, personally, to say, “All right, let me go ruminate on this. I’ll go away and come back and I’ll think about stuff and get really cerebral about it." But John was like, “Okay: We’ve got the song structure. Write lyrics. Go in there and sing it. Go in there and sing it.” Sometimes, I was like, “I’m not ready to sing!” “No. Go write something great right now!” It was something that I’ve never been faced with before, and it was great. I think I wrote some of the best lyrics I’ve written in a long time for this record, because I didn’t have a chance to go and overthink things. It was just like, “Write the first thing that comes to your head.” Not overthinking it lyrically, going in and writing stuff, and going back a week later and going, “That’s actually pretty cool—I really like that line now!” I would’ve written something stranger, more obscure, maybe, and I think this album has that immediacy to it. John just works so fast, and sometimes it was frustrating because he works so fast that you get caught up in this energy, and I think this energy really translates on the record.
TB: I love that tempo. I love working at a really fast pace. I always feel like your first instinct is your best. I got used to that by working with Tim Armstrong for so long, working with the Transplants, where it’s like, “Yo, I have a song idea!” and the song is done in an hour. It’s actually better than if you spend three days doing it. John was just really awesome, I agree: He was the coolest producer, the coolest person that we could’ve brought in for an extra set of eyes and ears since Jerry’s passed. He’s been a dear friend for a long time, and he killed it.
“"I think I wrote some of the best lyrics I’ve written in a long time for this record because I didn’t have a chance to go and overthink things."”
What are you most excited about when it comes to putting out music in 2016? This year has been absolutely nuts on a number of levels so far, to say the least.
MH: I’m pretty excited about it. I think that this record is really a statement that the three of us made about what Blink-182 is and what it’s all about. I think that there’s been obviously years of speculation about what this new incarnation of Blink-182 is going to sound like. Is it going to be different? Is it going to count as Blink-182? Is it true to our roots, or whatever? I think that we kept our heads down and wrote a great album. I think when people hear it, all speculation will be put to rest, and they’ll be really happy—at least that’s what I hope for. Everyone that we’ve played it for has had a great, positive reaction for it. The best way I can describe it is it feels like home. When you listen to it, it feels like what Blink-182 really is, and it hasn’t felt like that in a while, for me, personally.
Calling it California deepens that feeling, too. Was that a deliberate choice, to stress the geographic anchor there?
MH: It wasn’t a deliberate choice, but when we started writing lyrics and coming up with song titles, we were in the valley of Los Angeles. It was a perfect California winter, and it was sunny and hot every single day. John’s studio, it’s basically indoor-outdoor with palm trees everywhere. We were writing songs called “San Diego,” “Los Angeles,” “California,” and shouting out all these California punk-rock bands, lyrics to songs, and it just had this theme of California, this beautiful, endless opportunity with something weird or twisted underneath it. All the songs kind of have that. It’s a really catchy album, a really melodic album. There are all these hooks everywhere. It has an edge to it, a darker side. It just seemed like what California means to the three of us.
MS: I wouldn’t even say it’s a concept record, but it’s conceptual, and there’s an underlying theme throughout the songs. Even songs that have nothing to do with each other...it’s conceptual, but it’s also just big and bright and huge and dark and twisted, everything that California is. It sort of conceptualized itself, in a sense. I think we’re all open to it. It came together really nicely.
Final question: What feels good right now? As you prep for tour, what songs are feeling especially fantastic to play live?
MH: I’m really excited to take the new songs we’ve written and lived with in the studio and figure out how to translate them into a live setting, and to play new songs for people. It’s been a long time since we’ve played and had songs that have a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, and I can’t wait for people to hear the album and come out to the shows and sing along to these new songs.
TB: We’re playing our single, “Bored to Death,” but then there are fan favorites that kids will hear without hearing the recorded version and instantly love. There’s a song called “Rabbit Hole” that I think will do really awesome. We play this amazing track called “Brohemian Rhapsody” that’s kind of a cool, 15-second ass-kicker that’s kind of fun. I’m anxious to play new stuff and make the set musical and bring songs to the set a little bit differently than we have in the past.