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Blink-182's 'California' Through Producer John Feldmann's Eyes: Track-By-Track

We had producer John "Feldy" Feldmann break down Blink's comeback LP, their first with Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba and without founding guitarist Tom DeLonge

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John "Feldy" Feldmann: "Cynical" was probably the second-to-last song we wrote. We were going through everything [n the discography.] We had a really mid-tempo, [2004's] Blink-182 kind of record. There wasn't a lot early Blink-182 [on the album, no] Cheshire Cat, Dude Ranch-era stuff because Travis [Barker] wasn't in the band then. I skipped over that era but I knew we needed a fast song. I gave them an option of a fast song [which became "Cynical"] and like everything song on this album Travis insisted he play it in one take. This was take three, the version that made the record. He thought he messed up in the beginning. You hear him going, "Ahhh!" on the track.

The thing with Travis, one of the many things, is that he plays so consistently. Whether it's a half-time, Zeppelin-y kind of feel or this super fast '90s punk thing, like we have in this song. We hits [with] the same velocity every time.

Mark [Hoppus] had this idea of what people may or may not think about a new version of Blink, with a new member, making a record with a producer—they haven't made a record with a producer in eight or nine years—the idea of thinking the world is in a cynical place in general. He came up with this really cool concept and [Alkaline Trio's Matt] Skiba had the outro, half-time melody in his head and it worked perfectly. We're starting the album out with "This is who we are, this is what we're doing."

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"Bored to Death"

Feldy: "Bored to Death" was the first song we did together. My idea for the song was very much, "let's throw everything and the kitchen sink at it." Let's do everything I can think of that reminds me of classic Blink: the guitar riffs, the kind of hip-hop/drum and bass songs, the half-time choruses like in "Stay Together For the Kids," I had all these ideas and we threw them into one song with a classic Mark Hoppus lyric. The bridge is what I think made it turn into the single, when Mark came up with that nursery-rhyme bridge section, melodically and lyrically. I knew it was special but it wasn't until we had the record done...songs like "Sober" and "She's Out Of Her Mind," those songs might be more classically "singles" but this song just feels like a unique, different, exciting [single.] When I listen to KROQ and it comes on, it just feels good."

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"She's Out Of Her Mind"

Jatnna Nuñez for Fuse

Feldy: Skiba came up with the "Bauhaus" lyric and we were talking about that...How many Blink fans are going to even know who Bauhaus is? At the end we decided "Who gives a fuck?" and did what we want. It's a fun line! It was song originally called "Orange County Girl." Mark's wife is from Orange County. We wanted to write a classic, no-brainer pop-punk song: major key, fun, happy, classic. We wrote that one pretty early on. It kind of got shelved because it felt too happy compared to the rest of the record. 

Travis really drove a couple of these songs home. He came back to this one and said, "Dude, we cannot leave this song off the record. It's too important for the Take Off Your Pants & Jacket-era of Blink." There's no drama. There's no heaviness to it. It's about this girl who is a little bit out of her mind but we love her. 

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"Los Angeles"

Jatnna Nuñez for Fuse

Feldy: That was song three that we had written. We were in an experimental phase of what is Blink-182, 4.0. We have the first two records, that was college pop-punk. We have the [longtime Blink producers] Jerry Finn-era, the Mark Trombino-era, the self-produced era [2011's Neighborhoods] and the new member-era of Blink. This is one of the songs where we wanted to incorporate Travis, who is so clearly hip-hop-minded, this unique drummer, how do we incorporate that? We set up a mini-drum kit and an electronic drum kit and said "Travis, play a bunch of beats," over this half-time groove for the chorus. 

We talked about all of us coming from San Diego, for the most part, or at least spending a lot of time in San Diego, Travis from Riverside and then Laguna [Beach] to all of us now living in Los Angeles and what the city means to us. I'd say "Los Angeles" is definitely the heaviest song on the record. We needed to experiment on the darker side of where Neighborhoods left off, where Blink-182 left off. We always thought [this song] was going to be the name of the record and the first single because it's so dark and heavy and rebellious for what Blink fans were maybe expecting. In the end "Bored to Death" was the clear choice for the first single. Mark, he's so famous for those bass chords, he came up with the bridge part on the fly and that part, again, was written on the fly...maybe in 15 minutes.

The Sixth Street Bridge downtown was getting blown up or torn down when we were writing this song. It felt very timely. Blink has never been a political band but touching on what happens when you live in a big city, life here is different from life growing up in the suburbs. 

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HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 01: Musician Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy performs on stage during the AT&T Block Party at the NCAA M
Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Tuner

Feldy: "Sober," we did with Patrick Stump, who is a good friend of mine. Fall Out Boy supported Blink for many tours. They're all the oldest friends. I hang out with those guys a lot and he was just kind of here and he had this idea—what could Blink be on modern rock radio in 2016? What does that look like? What does that mean, when there aren't really live instruments on the radio? 

So we came up with this drum and bass feel in the verses, all Travis. Mark wrote the lyrics about falling in love with his wife, being on the road, the dichotomy of having to perform and being wasted, that's some of the most inopportune times...the idea of having a career based on the idea of fucking up, what it's like being in a band. 

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"Built This Pool"

Feldy: "Built This Pool" [was a song] Mark had in his back pocket, brought it in one day, and I just basically had him record the guitar and vocals. Travis recorded a full three minute song. I told him to play whatever he wanted and gave him a click. He played the song, the guitar came in, he said "Yeah I get it." He played it once and was like "Is that it?" and we left it in. 

It was one of those songs we knew was going to go on the record but it wasn't going to be something we'd spend three days on, trying to get the hi-hat sound right. I knew it was an instant classic when Mark brought it in. At one point he was actually building a pool. It's just a really funny song and it's so real.

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"No Future"

Feldy: "No Future" was a song we cut off the record at one point. [We were] talking about the idea of how people absorb music these days. In the '90s it was very much album-based. You'd buy an album, grab a CD, put in your car and listen to it. It took effort to replace the CD with another CD, it took effort to burn a CD with a bunch of different artists. Now you just click a button and you've got a playlist of 100 different artists. The mindset I was going into was coming out of 5 Seconds of Summer's second album where there are 18 songs on that record to some extent, were probably hard to digest for some of their fans. To have that much new music in an era where people can only really tolerate two to three minutes of new music at a time. We thought we were going to do an 11-song record and an EP but Travis said "No, we're gonna fucking do this we way we want." I can't argue with the greatest drummer of our time, the legacy that he and his band has. 

My agenda was to have an album that was palatable for a generation of ADD kids. In the end, Travis was right. "No Future" could be my favorite song on the record. We were talking about punk rock history. For me, it started with the Sex Pistols, "God Save the Queen" has a "no future" lyric in it. The idea of a nihilistic society and punk rock coming along and saying "We don't believe in the government, we don't believe in society, we believed in free will and doing what we want," that concept of early punk came through in this song. 

We were going to call the album "No Future" for a long time. In the end, the guys debated the idea of what this is and in the end realized [naming it "No Future"] would be like shooting yourself in the foot—we're coming out saying "This is a new band, this is a new sound...but there's no future?" It feels very cool and young but the sentiment of it became negative and we made a very positive record. It didn't fit the whole idea of what the record is overall.

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"Home Is Such A Lonely Place"

Blink-182 (@blink182 on Instagram)

Feldy: We knew we needed a ballad, whatever that means for Blink, for the album. For two weeks we talked about what that could be, what does that look like for Blink, that mellow moment between the chaos of "Cynical" and "Los Angeles" and even "No Future," those big energetic moments. This song was Mark's idea, it was Mark's lyric of "Home is such a lonely place with you." His son is probably the smartest guy I've ever met, Jack [Hoppus.] He's a Mensa kid. He's literally studying at Oxford right now. He's 13. We were talking about what the day is going to look like when we've had our families for so long, what's going to happen when they leave? What are our lives going to look like when we built them around our children? He had this concept of our kids being gone. Everyone cried when we played it for them. Mark and Travis made it sound Blink to me. Skiba put his second verse into that song and made it his own. That song is a very special moment on the record.

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"Kings Of The Weekend"

IRVINE, CA - MAY 14: (L-R) Recording artists Travis Barker (on drum riser), Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba of music group Blink-1
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CBS Radio Inc.

Feldy: This is another song we didn't think was going on the record. We had too many songs. When listening back with the whole team, the management, the label, we realized the riff is so good, it just felt right. There are no songs on the record that have a great, classic guitar riff that people will recognize and so [it stuck.] This was song number three, Travis raised his hand and trumped us all and reminded us that this is what Blink is, this epic guitar thing. It's not lyrically as deep some of the other songs, but it's the party song. We've all had day jobs and we all know what it's like to have that day off to do what we want, this is that song.

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"Teenage Satellites"

Blink-182 (@blink182 on Twitter)

Feldy: "Teenage Satellites" was the last song we wrote for the record. Mark and I would start [working] at 7 in the morning everyday. He already had the guitar idea and when Travis came over around 11 he played that super fast, hi-hat thing. This is probably the only song on the record that was written music first. Everything else was a concept or a hook or chorus idea. This was the first with music, Mark's guitar riff, Travis' drums. All the lyrics and melodies came last. 

Mark had this idea of being kid and not knowing who you are, not having enough courage to say what you mean. That's "Teenage Satellites."

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"Left Alone"

via Mark Hoppus (@markhoppus)/Clemente Ruiz (@clemente_310)

Feldy: That was the second song we did together. Matt Skiba really put up his hand and said "Let me take this one," and came up with this epic chorus idea and chorus melody. Again, it was just one of those moments where we were really trying to figure out what Blink's legacy is...To me, this really a Matt Skiba-driven song. You can really hear when Matt is [singing] up there in that high register, just scratching to get the note, how cool it sounds, how desperate. To me it sounds like Matt's shining moment on the record. Because it is so similar to "Bored To Death" structurally, we were concerned if it was too similar to "Bored To Death" but in the end, with Matt's vocal performance we thought, "This has to go on the record." We needed to remind everyone of how much of a unique singer Matt is.

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"Rabbit Hole"

Feldy: That was an earlier one as well. It came together quickly. Mark and I were talking about depression and negative thinking, how one thought can spiral into thousands of thoughts of "What's the point of anything?" and "Fuck it all." As an adult, to go backwards and ask, "What was that first thought that caused me to go through this spiral of nothingness?" The idea of the song is "I'm not going to go down this rabbit hole of negative thinking." That's where the song started. Where it ended [feels] more playful, the logo, and we're talking about the O.G. skankin' rabbit legacy.

Travis Barker played "Rabbit Hole" in one take. I never know what Travis is really thinking or what he's going to play. I just give him a click or a guitar or a vocal and he just goes in there and does what he does. Think of that Zedd and Ariana Grande song "Break Free." Ultimately whoever wrote that song is the songwriter but Zedd really brought that production and made the song. It's weird and cool and electro yet musical, just great production. To me, Travis is like the Zedd of the band. Travis is like the producer of the band. When he adds his drum parts it makes the song just completely different from what anyone expects. 

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"San Diego"

BLINK 182, a rock band, lñr are members Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus pose for picture at the Argyle Hotel in We
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Feldy: The history of the song [is about] growing up in San Diego, having so many of their work partners being from San Diego and having a member who lives in San Diego who is no longer in the band...it was a song that Mark didn't want to write. I brought up the idea that you have to write about shit you don't want to write about. You have to write about shit that's right there on the surface.

There's clearly a lot of feelings involved with having a best friend who is not in your band anymore, having a best friend with all that stuff that went down. Every band has these issues. To write a song, now, in their minds, to go back to San Diego, playing shows and tipping their hat to the city that allowed them to be a band...to me, Blink put San Diego on the map. If you think of its geographic location, they're the band that made San Diego relevant as a city. I say that with the utmost respect to San Diego because I was born in San Diego, I grew up in San Diego but no body gave a fuck about San Diego. It was just like a place and suddenly Blink happened and it was like Seattle. 

The song acts as a bittersweet homage, a goodbye to this city that none of us live in anymore but owe so much to, while acknowledging the interpersonal relationships within the band. 

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"The Only Thing That Matters"

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 28: Matt Skiba, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker arrive at Blind Dragon on April 28, 2016 in West Hol
Harmony Gerber/Getty Images

Feldy: Collectively we all hated this song, up to a certain point. Then all of the sudden Mark rewrote the bass part and we all loved it. One day it just turned into this song. Mark originally had this cow punk, Social Distortion but in the Country-iest way that none of us felt a connection to at all. It had this yeehaw-vibe to it but none of us hated the music or the melody, we just didn't connect to it then. Mark had the song mapped out and then he went back and re-wrote the whole thing and it became a song we all loved. 

There aren't a lot of really classic, fast pop-punk song on the album and this is one that fits the bill of what Southern California pop-punk feels like when I was growing up. 

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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 21: Drummer Travis Barker of Blink 182 and The Transplants performs onstage at Exposition Park on
Scott Dudelson/WireImage

Feldy: That song started out like a Broadway song. It had this shuffle, almost like [Wham's] "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" feel to it. It was very jazz-hands. We all liked the idea of writing a song about our state, where we live and love. To me it's the most beautiful place in the world, this song was us giving credit to how lucky we are to have lived here and grown up here, raising families here, the whole thing.

When Travis played that almost-trap beat in the verse, that's when it shifted from a B-Side to a song that was actually going to make the record. It was a big crescendo. There are some Smashing Pumpkins moments, in a really subtle way. The way it grows from nothing into this big, huge drum solo, it reminds me of all the stuff I love. It's modern with Travis' production but it reminds me of The Who because it has the big Keith Moon shit at the end. 

To name the album after that—Mark had a bunch of classic joke-y titles, OBGYN Kenobi, Nude ErectionOne Direction, taking a stab at the boy band thing—he had a bunch of ideas that were great but ultimately [with] "Built This Pool," "Brohemian Rhapsody," there are joke-y moments but to sell the record short wouldn't be fair. The record wasn't No Future but it also wasn't OBGYN Kenobi, California summed the record up.

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"Brohemian Rhapsody"

Feldy: Mark and I are coffee fanatics. Verve is one of my favorite coffee places in L.A. We were there before a session one day, drinking coffee and talking. We had "Cynical" and we thought we needed another fast one. He had the lyric, "There's something about you I can't put my finger in," he has these classic one-liners, so we said, "Alright, let's do a fast punk song." We were jacked on espresso, we knew we were going to use that lyric, and that one came together from start to finish, from the inception to the mix, literally in nine minutes. It was over before it even started.

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