Blink-182: The Billboard Cover Story
Blink-182: The Billboard Cover Story

It's Sept. 3, and Blink-182 is about to tear through a bunch of snotty anthems and trademark masturbation jokes during its show at Salt Lake City's USANA Amphitheatre. Hours before the concert, bassist Mark Hoppus is sitting outside in a black T-shirt and gold sunglasses, drinking bottled water and talking about a few of the gut-wrenching tracks on the band's new album, "Neighborhoods."

"I couldn't," he says, "write a happy song for this record."

Everyone gets older. But when did Blink-182 -- the band that ran around naked in its most iconic music video (for "What's My Age Again?") and titled its 2001 fourth album "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket" -- get so damn serious?

"As people and performers, we definitely still have some stuff we need to work out, and we need to grow up with," says Hoppus, 39, via Skype. "[The album] is lyrically pretty heavy in a lot of places. Maybe that's where we are in our heads. We've gone through a lot of stuff over the past few years. We're in a better place because of it all-but we've gone through some shit."

Pop-punk fans who are still humming "What's My Age Again?" and "All the Small Things" won't find a single sunny ode to immaturity on "Neighborhoods" (due Sept. 27 from DGC/Interscope). Over spiky guitar blasts and bashed cymbals, the lyrics linger on restlessness and regret. The chorus of the album's first single: "And all these demons/They keep me up all night."

Hoppus, guitarist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker could have made "Neighborhoods" an even darker album -- or never have made it at all. An indefinite hiatus that began in late 2004 ended only after Barker survived a plane crash in South Carolina on Sept. 19, 2008. The tragedy claimed four lives and left the drummer in an intensive care unit for months with severe burns.

And when the members of Blink-182 reunited in 2009, they faced a future without Jerry Finn, their longtime producer who died in 2008 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. The band also returned to Interscope-the label that helped its 2003 self-titled album sell 2.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This after the landscape of majors had drastically altered. "The label itself has no resources or capital to do what they used to," DeLonge says of the band's current label situation. "They just have you locked up on a contract."