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.”
The group announced its reunion at the 2009 Grammy Awards, and Hoppus says that all three members agreed that Blink-182 should tour and restore some chemistry before creating new music. With tickets priced $20-$70 and acts like Weezer and Fall Out Boy serving as support, the 2009 North American reunion tour focused on amphitheaters and visited only six arenas in the 41 dates reported to Billboard Boxscore. Of those dates, the band managed 22 sellouts and a gross of $21.2 million. Comparatively, Blink-182’s summer 2000 tour, which followed the 1999 release of the band’s most successful album, “Enema of the State” (4.5 million sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), featured $20-$25 ticket prices and hit 15 arenas during 30 reported dates, but sold 80% of tickets and grossed $7 million from those dates.
Although the band did big business touring its hits, the plan was always to return with a new set of songs, according to Rick DeVoe, Blink-182’s manager since 1993. “It seemed like the right thing,” he says, “to show fans, ‘We’re coming back, it’s going to take a minute, but our plans are to . . . go in and make a record and tour that record a couple years later.'”
Blink-182’s new partnership with AT&T may have led to the band unveiling live content on AT&T’s Facebook page. And the trio appeared in a national spot for the HTC Status phone. A partnership with Best Buy will let fans buy a uniquely colored HTC Status complete with preloaded Blink-182 music at the big-box retailer.
But the deal also led to the release of a “fan montage” for “Up All Night,” in which the band put together a three-minute tribute clip after sifting through more than 10,000 “unauthorized” Blink-182 fan videos on YouTube. “To launch our first single in eight years, AT&T helped us search YouTube for every instance of fans using our music without our permission,” a caption in the video reads. “And then we rewarded them for it.”
In addition, Hoppus and DeLonge appear in a “film festival” for the fan montage currently on AT&T’s YouTube page, in which they honor YouTube users in tongue-in-cheek categories like “Least Tattooed Travis Barker Impersonator” and “Best Fan Parody Video That Almost Ended in Manslaughter.” “We’ve been able to integrate a number of different things across AT&T’s different platforms,” says Brian Frank, head of rock and alternative marketing for Interscope Geffen A&M.
Dennehy says that “Up All Night” has been primarily pushed to alternative and rock radio, helping the track reach No. 2 on the Alternative Songs chart and 116,000 in sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, however, the next song released from “Neighborhoods”, the non-single “Heart’s All Gone,” was unveiled online without warning through Hoppus’ Google Plus account on Aug. 5.
“We decided we wanted to release ‘Heart’s All Gone,’ and the next day we had it up,” Hoppus says. The band members have stayed active on their personal Twitter accounts (Hoppus is in the lead with 1.8 million followers), and after releasing the “Up All Night” video online, the group challenged fans to post their favorite screen shots of the clip on Blink’s Facebook page, and received 6,000 responses. “Now it’s about getting directly to the people,” Hoppus says. “It allows artists more direct access and a lot more control over their music.”
Although Modlife won’t be involved in the release of “Neighborhoods,” the members’ personal business ventures have been integrated into the 2011 Honda Civic tour, which Blink-182 is currently headlining alongside My Chemical Romance. Macbeth Footwear, which DeLonge co-founded in 2002, has had Blink-182 tour updates on its site’s home page. Famous Stars and Straps, Barker’s skater-focused apparel company, has tents at the band’s recent concerts and sponsored a Blink-182 ticket giveaway in early September. According to DeVoe, giant airplane banners promoting Fuse’s “Hoppus on Music” have flown over audiences at recent Blink shows.
Last May, the band announced its spot on the Live Nation-promoted Honda Civic tour after serving as the annual trek’s inaugural headliner in 2001. Although the album will be released well after the 41-date tour’s Aug. 5 kickoff, Dennehy sees the band’s return to the Honda Civic tour, which has previously featured acts like the Black Eyed Peas and Paramore, as a key partnership in the album rollout. The tour, meanwhile, continues the less-is-more venue strategy of the band’s 2009 comeback trek: The group is playing four arenas and 37 amphitheaters, with tickets starting at $20.
As Blink-182 maps its future, and the end of the Honda Civic tour (Oct. 15), one factor has put a kink in its international touring plans: Barker’s decision to no longer fly. For the postponed European dates next summer, “I’ll be taking my Queen Mary ship over,” Barker says. Hoppus adds that the band likely won’t tour again before next summer, but hopes to visit places like Australia and Japan soon.
Meanwhile, the band is eyeing synch placements on ESPN and TV opportunities for the week of release. Indie retailers like Hot Topic and Interpunk.com will carry different-colored vinyl editions of “Neighborhoods” that include MP3 download cards.
The trio will also spend time on solo endeavors – Hoppus will return to “Hoppus on Music,” DeLonge will continue working with Angels & Airwaves, and Barker hopes to wrap a new Transplants album shortly. They have lofty individual goals outside of Blink-182, but none of them believes that “Neighborhoods” is the end of the band’s recording career, or just a stopgap before their next large-scale tour. DeLonge describes the group as “funny and relaxed, and exactly back to where it was before things got crazy.” Barker says the three are “cracking jokes, like it always was.”
“We’ve always said we’d continue to do Blink-182 as long as it’s fun,” Hoppus says, “and when it wasn’t fun we stopped it. Now that it’s fun again, I want it to keep going for as long as I can.”
Jason Lipshutz (@jasonlipshutz) works for Billboard.com and edits singles reviews for Billboard magazine.