Blink-182's 'California' turns one today (July 01)! To celebrate, here's a revealing look at the frame of mind Mark, Matt and Travis were in a year or so ago, courtesy of Rock Sound #215.
It’s February in Los Angeles, around late morning. The sun is shining – because it always shines in Los Angeles – and Mark Hoppus is making his way to Blink-182’s rehearsal space in the city’s sprawling, urban San Fernando Valley. He’s going there to start again.
Mark and Travis Barker had been fighting for what seemed like an eternity to get their band going again, and now it’s time to see if they can do something they’ve never done before – play a show without founding member Tom DeLonge.
A few minutes later, someone else is standing in what used to be Tom’s spot in the rehearsal space.
That someone is Matt Skiba.
The Alkaline Trio frontman was initially drafted in to cover guitar and vocal duties while DeLonge was in self-imposed exile.
“The first day of rehearsal is definitely burned into my memory,” says Matt.
“Everybody was psyched that I was there to help. It was me, Mark and the crew. It was fairly low key. I remember walking in there with my manager and seeing Mark’s manager… but we were all already friends. It wasn’t like I was walking into Battle Royale or something.”
For the two weeks that followed, Matt and Mark ran through the band’s setlist for their show at Travis’ Musink Festival a month later. So far, so good.
Travis – who spent that time rehearsing with Yelawolf (among the thousand other things he had on his plate), turned up a couple of weeks later to slot into the happiest Blink-182 he’d seen in years.
“My first rehearsal with Matt was really fun,” grins Travis.
“Hearing him play all of those parts for the first time was awesome and he just killed it. His voice is so honest and earnest. Hearing him singing all the Tom stuff was really cool.”
“At the time it was just to get through a show – three shows ultimately. Once we started playing it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s working and it sounds awesome.’”
“It’s just like hanging out with a friend,” grins Mark, broadly.
All of this, as you surely know by now, was made necessary by the most public band fallout of modern times.
Played out on social media and through interviews in the days, weeks, months (and now years) since Blink announced their intention to play a show with Matt Skiba, the band fell apart in front of millions of people.
“I never quit,” said Tom. “Why Blink even got back together in the first place is questionable,” countered Travis. And so the mud slinging continued.
It’s taken until now – a full year and a half after shit very publicly hit the fan on January 26, 2015 – for either party to give their side of the story with anything even approaching clarity.
“I didn’t think that Tom was going to quit,” begins Mark. “We were negotiating our contract with our current label, and we’d been negotiating with this label for months and months and months, and had come to an agreement.”
This was mid-December 2014, just months after the band’s shaky appearances at Reading & Leeds Festival, and the only thing the band had on the horizon was a headline appearance at Musink Festival in Orange County, California.
“Everybody was about to sign the contract, then all of a sudden I was getting a call to say, ‘Tom won’t sign, he doesn’t agree to the terms.’ Travis and I were confused because they were terms that we’d all agreed on – we’d been talking about it for months.”
Mark went on holiday with his family for Christmas with a cloud over his band’s future as managers and lawyers frantically tried to work things out behind the scenes.
Then, just before 2015 began, he and Travis received an email they’d been expecting for a long, long time.
“We got the email from Tom’s manager saying he was out and that he wasn’t going to do the shows. I know we asked, ‘Is he just out of the shows? Or is he out of the whole thing?’ and they said, ‘Tom’s out, he’s done’ so that was when I found out. I was in Hawaii on vacation with my family.
“It was a frustrating and angering few hours when we got the email, but to be honest I was more relieved that Tom finally admitted to himself that he really didn’t want to do it,” continues Mark. “I don’t know, not in an angry way, but just like, ‘Okay, cool. He finally said what he really thinks.’”
For Travis, it was a frustrating reflection of the two sides he’d seen of Tom since their 2005 breakup and subsequent reformation.
There was the occasionally interested, motivated man he saw on the band’s touring stints, and the absent, ambivalent one that emerged once the trio had returned home – Mark and Travis to Los Angeles, and Tom to San Diego a couple of hours south.
“On tour he was so hyped,” shrugs Travis. “He was like, ‘Dude this is so fun, we could make a great album, we’ve got to get in the studio when we get home’ and then we’d get home and I’d never hear from him.”
There’s a clear difference in the way Travis and Mark talk about Blink. Mark has only seen Tom once in the past year and a half while Travis still sees him, counts him as a friend and talks candidly about the breakdown in the band’s relationship with Tom.
“We actually talked about it the other day and [Tom]’s like, ‘Well you never called me either’” he insists.
“I’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It’s like a girlfriend. Who knows why exactly I didn’t call him as much as I should have or he didn’t call me as much as he should have or Mark didn’t call – whatever – you just don’t know, but it just wasn’t happening and there was this disconnect. He lived so far away from us – two and a half, three hours away.”
“Everything was just always very difficult,” adds Mark. “Everything was always very contentious. There was always just a strange vibe. I didn’t know that Tom was going to quit necessarily, but I knew there was something wrong.”
It was a slow, painful journey towards their divorce, but when their relationship did end for the second time, it wasn’t with a bang. There was no big fight, bust-up, heated words, or even a phone call or single text. It just… happened.
Travis and Mark played their shows with Matt Skiba, then waited for Tom to check back in. And waited. And then they waited some more.
“We never heard from him and we never heard from his manager. You could tell it was pretty much a wrap,” says Travis.
“We didn’t have anything planned, either,” he points out. “We had those three shows and then we were pretty much done until we decided to get in the studio on our own and see what we came up with.”
The grim inevitability of it all seems to have numbed the shock of being shunned by their friend of two decades. Having been calloused and hardened by Tom leaving the band before – both back in 2005 and other times behind the scenes, according to Travis – the whole saga wasn’t a gut-wrenching shock or stunning revelation.
It was just sad.
“I was kind of used to it because it had happened a couple of times, so it just was what it was,” shrugs Travis.
“To this day he says, ‘My manager did it. I never even told him to do that,’ there’s so many different stories of how it went down but no matter what, for me, when someone’s manager calls you and tells you that a person won’t be playing in the band indefinitely any more it’s a bum out. Probably more of a bum out than if he had just called. But there’s so much confusion going into it now that we talk about it today. It’s just a mess.”
The whole thing was a mess. It kind of still is. At a time where so much of inner-band conflict is kept behind closed doors, one of the biggest rock bands in the world have aired their dirty laundry in public and made a huge spectacle of themselves.
But it’s a mess that in a way, Travis wishes had been created years ago.
“For years I was saying to Mark and Tom, ‘We actually need to record when we get home from this tour.’ Someone would be all hyped and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to record. These shows are amazing, we’ve got to get home and get right into the studio’ then I’d do interviews and I just felt awful for fans because they were promised albums for years and we couldn’t do it. So I guess in one sense I wish we we’d done this a long time ago.”
But whatever their frustrations over recent times, kicking Tom out of the band was never, ever an option.
“Mark and I would have never pushed him out. We never conspired like, ‘Dude, we’ve got to get rid of Tom.’ I could never even think of it,” Travis insists.
This stalemate meant Tom could essentially dictate what Blink did and when, but it says a lot about Travis and Mark’s loyalty to their former bandmate that they never considered ousting him.
“I never even pictured it,” stresses Travis.
“I honestly never pictured him quitting or taking time off again. I knew it was dysfunctional, I knew towards the end there were a lot of crazy requests from his management to make another album that was changing weekly, but number one – I never dreamed he’d quit again and number two – I never really thought about how we’d go on until Mark and I had that conversation like, ‘Are we going to try to play these shows?’ and Mark said, ‘Yes.’”
That ‘Yes’ effectively brought Mark, Tom and Travis’ 17-year history together to a close, and started a whole new era for Blink-182.
There was never any doubt about Matt Skiba. For Travis and Mark, he was the guy. The first and only person they considered for the role, they decided to ask him to play Musink Festival with them in a meeting at Travis’ restaurant – the upmarket, refined Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles.
“Mark and I looked at each other and went, ‘Do we love playing in this band?’ and we were like, ‘Fuck yeah ,we do!’” says Travis. “‘Well, let’s keep playing in this band and keep making rad music.’”
Two days later the pair called Matt Skiba to a dark, candlelit private room in the very same restaurant and asked him to be in their band for a little while.
“It was very Mafia-esque,” chuckles Travis, remembering that night.
“Mark and I had a couple of different musical projects we were talking about doing when the opportunity with Blink came about,” explains Matt. “Mark called and asked me to have lunch, so I assumed it was about something we’d already discussed or we’d been working on together!”
“When those guys asked me to do that I thought Aston Kutcher was going to come rappelling out of the ceiling or something,” laughs the singer. “I didn’t know that it would work! Once we started playing the songs, I went into survival mode, like, ‘We’re just going to do this and hope for the best.’
"There was certainly trepidation, but there wasn’t hesitation. I just had to put my head down and charge.”
Nobody had anything to worry about. Matt’s relationship with Mark and Travis goes all the way back to when Alkaline Trio opened for Blink-182 a decade and a half ago, and the two bands had featured on compilations, tours and all sorts of festival bills together in the years since then.
He was the safe pair of hands the band needed, and the shows were a roaring success.
“He was stepping into what could potentially be an awkward and difficult situation,” says Mark, “but he’s done a great job of coming in and being very respectful of the 20 years of Blink-182’s history but also making it his own and stepping up.”
“It was sort of like being the new kid and you’re immediately the cool kid,” offers Matt, who was taken aback by the chant of “Skiba! Skiba!” at a small warm-up show in San Diego.
“There was such an overwhelming positivity about Blink continuing that it just felt like the thing to do,” says Mark, while Matt confirms, “It wasn’t long after those shows that we knew we had something special.”
Time was ticking. All three men are in their forties these days, so the trio decided to take advantage of that something special and start making music. To that end, the band got together at Travis’ studio and started writing. Before long, they had 30 songs in the bank, but little idea of what to do with them.
Enter John Feldmann. The super-producer who’d played shows with Blink with his band Goldfinger, who’s worked with everyone from 5 Seconds Of Summer to All Time Low and Sleeping With Sirens, and the man who seems to turn everything he touches to gold.
“I really wanted to bring him in,” says Travis. “I got Mark and Matt to agree that they’d give it a shot , so we went in and then never left his studio for a month and a half because we loved it.
In three months with John Feldmann, they wrote 26 new songs, some of which make up new album ‘California’.
“Our self-titled album took a year and a half to write and we had no tracks left over,” notes Travis.
They were back in their groove for the first time since long-time producer Jerry Finn passed away in 2008.
“I know a lot of bands had trouble making records after Jerry passed – Alkaline Trio included,” says Matt.
“It was like, ‘Where do we go now?’ Most importantly, our producer and friend is gone and that’s heartbreaking, but also how do we physically do this without his guidance, without his everything?”
With Feldmann at the helm and everybody in the same room in mind, body and spirit, Blink thrived.
“With some of the other albums there was a disconnect because everybody had their own studios, we were never in the same place,” explains Travis.
“Tom wanted to record in San Diego, Mark and I live in Los Angeles so we wanted to record there, and sometimes we would end up in a weird studio in Orange County where we have zero history and it’s just weird and sterile.
“There was definitely a push and pull in the band when we were with him for the last couple of albums, where we would have a cool, fun, straight-to-the-point song and then he would propose a three minute intro to it. We would try to come up with an idea of how to say, ‘We don’t love the three-minute intro’ without hurting his feelings.
"I think it was one of those things that was hard for – I can’t speak for Tom, but I think it was tough for him to be the person calling the shots in Angels And Airwaves then coming back to Blink and share ideas with people and them having input too.
“There was no fighting over this one. It was like, ‘Let’s all meet up at John’s studio every day and goof off and come up with ideas and just hang.’ There’s like four joke songs that aren’t on the album, there was an excess of everything, from really really great songs to joke songs,” he grins.
It was a happy and – as attested by the heavy presence of Matt’s musical influence and vocals throughout the album – collaborative place to work.
“We were like three sticks of dynamite, and John was the book of matches,” nods Matt.
New album ‘California’ finds Blink-182 in the form of their lives, arguably even surpassing their glory days and becoming less of a scrappy pop-punk band, less of a lofty, airy prospect and more of a straight-up fucking great rock band.
It’s also a very angry album in places. Has the door been firmly closed to Tom DeLonge? Is that classic iteration of Blink-182 dead and buried for all time?
Mark confirms that Tom is most definitely not in the band any more.
“Legally we are still finalising our deal with Tom, so I guess legally he is still a member of the corporation that is Blink-182, but that’s not really what I consider being in the band Blink-182, and he certainly has not participated in the band in any manner in almost two years or whatever it is now. So I think when people say Tom is still in Blink-182 it’s more of a legal thing.”
“Never say never but for this point in time, yes, it’s done... but I never rule anything out,” offers a pensive Travis. “I don’t have anything against Tom. I love him as a friend, he’s a good guy and a great songwriter, but he was gone for over a year and during that time we played three amazing shows with Matt, and wrote this incredible album together...”
Put simply, Blink-182 are happier now.
“I just think after the first break-up things never really got mended,” admits Travis.
“We got back together because I was in a horrific plane crash and it opened everyone’s eyes, but maybe it wasn’t time. It’s awesome now and it’s a pleasure to go to rehearsal to write songs and to tour. It never feels like work.”
And it turns out that the trio being locked in the same room together means Matt is just one of the boys now, too.
“In the short amount of time that we’ve been together we have been through a lot together and we’ve become really close friends,” he says.
“There’s a lot of trust that goes into making any kind of art with other people. With music it’s a potentially difficult thing and I’m really blessed to say that it [difficult] isn’t with these guys. It isn’t with Alkaline Trio and it isn’t with Blink, and those are the only two bands where I’ve heard it isn’t difficult. Almost every band that I’ve ever met, there’s some kind of…”
“I’m just really blessed to feel as close to these guys as I do.”
Now, Blink-182 have a truly remarkable album under their belts, three committed members and a total lack of ego.
“Ego is just fear,” offers Matt. “And I can safely say that all three of us are pretty fearless when it comes to writing music and being honest with each other. It’s really amazing,”
One of the most important bands in the history of rock just got great again.
This feature is taken from issue 215 of Rock Sound magazine, which is available worldwide at shop.rocksound.tv.