The drummer-producer discusses the trio's new music, recent sessions with Kid Cudi & Hans Zimmer & why the Chainsmokers were dying to play the doomed festival.
Ask a random person on the street for one member of Blink-182, and the name you're most likely getting is Travis Barker's. We're talking an iconic rock band with numerous hits likely to go off in any karaoke room -- it's pretty remarkable when your biggest star is the drummer (and not even the original!). You don't get to that kind of celebrity just by practicing a lot.
Then again, all Barker seems to do is practice: when he's home by himself, waiting to pick up his kids, or in between studio takes with Kid Cudi. "People are like, what are you practicing for? There’s no show coming up!" Barker laughs, calling Billboard from his Los Angeles home. He's always ready: Ready to power through "All the Small Things" for the umpteenth time, to hop behind the kit to play along with some A-list DJ's set he's never heard before, or to lay down percussion for Hans freakin' Zimmer. This is all stuff he's been up to lately, or will be upon the arrival of Blink-182's follow-up to its 2016 chart-topper California -- their first album with Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba in place of guitarist Tom DeLonge. As Barker reveals, expect this more sooner than later.
The past decade hasn't been easy for Barker. In 2008, he narrowly survived a plane crash that left him with severe burns on most of his body and required months of grueling rehabilitation. After kicking addictions borne out of the trauma, he's ten years sober -- and ten years vegan, too. Matcha and CBD have replaced old habits. But speaking with him, you get the sense that more than anything, it's his 'round-the-clock, creative hustle that keeps him winning. "I'm blessed," he says. "Whatever's happening, as long as I can work through it, I'm good."
Your MUSINK Festival is coming up in March and you’re also performing there. What do you have planned?
It’s really cool having a festival that combines music, tattoos, and cars. I’m doing a DJ-and-drumming set in between all the acts. That date is really interesting because you have Ho99o9, who are creating a new genre of heavy, aggressive music that's influenced by rap. And also groups I grew up loving, like Dead Kennedys, Fear, The Vandals. I got to do a Vandals tour and play drums with them at one point. Being able to work with all my friends' bands doesn't really feel like work, you know?
How are you able to hop in and drum with people at a moment’s notice? Like, I remember reading you taught yourself Blink-182’s entire set list in 45 minutes right before you first played with them. How do you do that?
You know that saying, "Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready?" That’s the way I look at drumming, or life in general. I’ll be home and someone will come in or I’ll be at the studio, and in between takes I’m in another room practicing... I’m just practicing to evolve, to always stay on my A-game, continuing to challenge myself. If I’m not constantly practicing or staying ready, I get bored, and I don’t really feel creative and I don’t feel confident, either.
When they announced Suicidal Tendencies at MUSINK, [vocalist] Mike Muir said, "You gotta come up and play, do double drums with [drummer] Dave Lombardo.” I was like, “Done. I’d be honored to.” It’s good to be able to do that. All my DJ sets, I never practice. If I’m playing with a DJ, I usually don’t know what they’re gonna play. It’s like a freestyle set. I just go up there with a drum kit and wanna feel really comfortable and fluid, so whatever ideas I have in my head, my body can execute.
It sounds like practice and repetition makes jamming, ad libbing a lot easier.
Yeah, I think it’s the same for a freestyle rapper. When they’re called upon, if they’ve been freestyling all the time, it’s going to be pretty easy -- but if they’re not practicing, it’s going to be difficult. That’s kinda how I approach the drums. Even the last couple days, I’ve been so busy I haven’t gotten to play as much as I’d like to. And I don’t feel good [Laughs.]
At Back to the Beach Festival in April, you're playing the first Blink-182 set this year. What can fans expect?
It's at Huntington State Beach, literally on the sand. It's only the second year [John Feldmann and I] are producing that festival. I’m really excited because we’re about 70 percent finished with our album. I feel like this is the closest we’ve come to something like [2003's] Blink-182 since that album, which is one of my favorite Blink albums by far.
Interesting. What makes you compare it to the self-titled?
I feel like [2016’s] California was similar to [1999’s] Enema of the State and [2001’s] Take Off Your Pants and Jacket: reestablishing the band, giving fans what they really want and expect from Blink. Now that we got that out of our system naturally, we’re not writing like that this time. It’s more experimental. It’s not like you’re listening and thinking, "Oh I’ve heard that before, oh I can compare this to this other song." With this album we’re reestablishing new songs, new rhythms, new ideas.
Where I look back at California, you could compare “Cynical” to other fast songs we’ve done. I could put “She’s Out of Her Mind” down as a brother-sister record to “Rock Show” or “First Date.” The songs on the new album don’t have any brothers or sisters. They don’t sound like anything we’ve done before. Songs on self-titled like “Feeling This” and “I Miss You,” I really feel like those didn’t sound like anything Blink had touched on before. I just know were doing that again. That’s exciting to me.
When do you think fans might hear new Blink-182 music?
April, May or June, if I had to guess. That’s the target. It’s kind of loose. But I feel like it’s happening right around there.
Is there a new song you’re feeling as a single?
There’s a song that we refer to as “Paris” that’s really awesome. It was actually a beat I made for Juice WRLD and before I ever got in the studio with him, I played it randomly, and Mark [Hoppus] said, “Oh what are you working on?” They were like, “Whoa, we really like this.” And it morphed into a Blink song. It’s probably our favorite right now.
So it started as a hip-hop beat… That sounds in line with your comparison to self-titled.
Yeah. Self-titled was very inspired by the Transplants, which was very inspired by rap music and mixing genres. And I felt self-titled was very inspired by Boxcar Racer, which was also inspired by post-hardcore guitars over kinda-rap beats played on acoustic drums. I guess in a sense it’s very similar. Last week we turned some corners, too, where there are songs I think are [potential] focus songs, new singles as well.
I’ve been working on so much rap stuff, and it excites me to be able to include [its influence] in Blink the same way I did on self-titled. I’ve always known my role and what I should and shouldn’t do when it comes to Blink albums. I can give just enough to give it a vibe. There’s so much rap music that’s inspired by pop-punk and punk rock. I feel like Juice WRLD is very along the lines of pop-punk with trap drums. I just did a Kid Cudi session the other day and it was very rock-influenced. We’re in a great time where both styles of music can live together, create something natural that feels new.
Cudi has worked with some guitars before. What’s the new stuff like?
Cudi is so creative and so different, and I feel like he always has been. At a time when rappers were bragging about jewelry and cars, Cudi came out and said, "I’m depressed and I’m on drugs." Know what I mean? So many people can relate. Cudi has studied Nirvana and all these rock bands he loves and he’s let it influence his music. It sounds natural and organic. I’ve heard some of his new album and it’s incredible.
Another artist who compellingly combined emotional rap and rock, XXXTENTACION, is someone you’ve collaborated with. The allegations of and X’s confessions of domestic abuse -- do they change what you think about him?
No I never… Number one, I feel like X was one of the most talented artists of our time. I feel like, all my collaborations I did with him felt very unique and very organic. And he could have records on his album that were very beautiful, just him singing, just piano and guitar -- and the next minute he’s screaming over a beat with Kanye West on it. He was so versatile and so talented and he was very in touch with early hardcore music. I never guessed he would be referencing that. A couple times we FaceTimed we were talking about music before we made it, he was spot on. He was really listening to everything.
As far as anything else outside of music, I can’t… it’s so hard to really have an opinion, draw an opinion or even think about it because I didn’t know him like that. It was strictly making music together. He was never anything but nice to me, my kids, and I don’t know. Never a bad vibe once from him.
nothing,nowhere. recently shared a photo of you with him and his producer Jay Vee. What's going on?
We were in the studio two weeks ago and did a couple songs, three records from scratch. I don't know how you categorize it: he's not quite SoundCloud rap but not a straight up band. He's pushing the envelope.
He talks about depression and anxiety very openly: he recently canceled a tour and came back with a song addressing what he was going through. Someone like you can probably lend him wisdom on the touring life.
Yeah man, I gave it to him. You know how many times not only myself, not only nothing,nowhere., [but other artists] don't wanna go on tour, don't even wanna leave the house? For him to actually say, "I'm not touring; I don't even care how big these shows are; I'm staying home to deal with my mental health" -- at the end of the day, that's why he makes great music that moves people. He's writing from personal experience. He's not making records about flexing. It's real.
For anyone who does something like that... I was talking on the Joe Rogan Podcast yesterday -- from my friend [vegan chef] Ito's 22-year vow of silence [to protest animal cruelty] to Tom [DeLonge] not being in Blink anymore because he was really passionate about aliens and UFOs -- whatever it is, when you do stuff like that, you show the business doesn't control you. Because you need to respect your head and your feelings.
Is it tough for you being around musicians and festivals, since weed and drugs are so prevalent?
Nah, I love the smell of weed. Everyone smokes in my sessions. There’s times when I’ll smell a Backwood… They’re are something I crave more than the weed itself because I used to smoke a lot of Backwoods, used to smoke a lot of blunts back in the day. People can smoke in my sessions; they can do whatever. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve been sober for 10 years. I’m good in that sense. I'm used to sessions. If I’m over at Feldmann’s they might start at 8 in the morning with tons of coffee. I might have sessions with $uicideboy$ or Kid Cudi that lead to late hours of weed smoke. I welcome both with open arms.
You’ve worked with Lil Wayne before so there’s some competition here -- weed-wise, what’s the smelliest studio you’ve ever been in?
Probably my own. The amount of weed smoke in that studio is insane. Especially back in the day when I used to smoke myself. I think you know what you’re getting yourself into when you’re in a rap session: probably 80 to 90 percent of them smoke weed. It is what it is. I think Yelawolf’s the only rapper I ever worked with who didn’t smoke weed. He’s just pennin’. He’ll just sit there writing the whole time.
Everyone works different. You just get used to it. Everyone has a different kind of vibe and I guess that’s another part of what makes it exciting. I did a Hans Zimmer session about two months ago. That was completely different [Laughs.]
What was the Hans Zimmer session for?
A video game he was scoring. What I really get off on most is being able to have something different every week. It keeps things exciting and challenging. When you get a call from Hans Zimmer, you drop everything and do what you’re told.
Have you seen either of the Fyre Fest documentaries?
Yeah, both. I actually went to a viewing party. Bill Fold, my manager growing up, and Paul Tollett at Goldenvoice had a viewing party at his house. We watched both. You’re sitting there with the illest dudes ever in the festival world -- the guys who do Coachella! -- and they’re having a Fyre Fest viewing party. It was so funny.
Did you have a preference out of the Netflix and Hulu docs?
I enjoyed the Hulu documentary a little bit more. I thought it was more comedic. I thought it was more neutral, where the other one seemed a little one-sided. The Netflix one just seemed a little catered, you know?
Those docs really immortalize Blink as the first artist to pull out of Fyre Fest. How did that go down?
I really think it falls on me because I have the most difficult traveling arrangements -- I don’t fly. Mark and Matt can fly wherever. For me, it’s a three-day trip on the bus. So it did fall on me, which was even scarier at the time because I didn’t want to feel like I was bumming anybody out. But yeah, that was me. [Laughs.]
I told my manager, "Fuck this man, I’m not getting on a bus and driving to Ft. Lauderdale." Everyone felt a little sketchy about it. It was a matter of selling me on how I was getting [to the Bahamas] from Ft. Lauderdale. I usually take a boat there and they couldn’t show confirmation that I actually had a boat booked. I was so afraid I was gonna break away from the rest of the tour, drive to Ft. Lauderdale, and there’d be no boat.
There was a bunch of stuff, like our guarantee wasn’t there. They had already breached contract a bunch of times. A couple days later Ja Rule was hitting me in the DMs. It was just like, "This is so weird," you know? So to see how everything turned out, it was such a blessing I didn’t go.
Fyre Fest was planned as three days; did Blink even get to the point where you knew which day you were playing?
No, I don’t even think they had that information. It was so funny, I was talking to The Chainsmokers the other day. They were saying that [leading up to Fyre Fest] they we were calling their agent like, “What the fuck are you doing, bro? We should be on this festival! This is the spot to be in. The Chainsmokers should be playing it!”
I heard you're working on a documentary about your life. What’s that going to be like?
[We’re interviewing] everyone from my family, Mark [Hoppus], Tom [DeLonge], Matt [Skiba], John Feldmann… From people like that to Jon Jones from the UFC, Dana White from the UFC, my favorite drummers, everything.
I’m telling the story of how I differentiated myself from other drummers. I feel like one of the things that separates me from other people -- not intentionally -- is culture: me being heavily involved in car culture, tattoo culture, and drumming. I’d be a fool to sit here and say drumming alone has separated me from everybody else. It’s been the diversity of all the genres I’ve stepped into, whether it’s collaborating with DJ AM, Steve Aoki, Glitch Mob, Marshmello, the rap shit I’ve done, T.I. or Too Short or Lil Wayne or The Game.
I owe it all to everything. I’d be a fool to think it’s just me.