When Mark Hoppus (blink-182) and Alex Gaskarth (All Time Low) formed what would become Simple Creatures around late 2017, they didn’t expect it to go beyond two friends making a handful of songs in their downtime. “We sounded rad together and there was chemistry,” Gaskarth says, but it took months for the pair to realize they were onto something bigger.
That “aha” moment came when they wrote lead single “Drug,” which flutters and pounds with such a specific pop-punk energy that there’s no mistaking who created it. “That was the one that defined the project,” Gaskarth says. “We wrote that one, and we both knew we had something. Simple Creatures was starting to take shape. It was more than two guys writing in a room.”
From there, the material poured out. Their debut EP, Strange Love, is out today (March 29), but Gaskarth and Hoppus say they have a follow-up already banked. “We have the flexibility to be fluid and do things when we please,” Gaskarth says.
Below, the pair — in separate interviews edited together — tell Billboard about the project’s origins, figuring out their new creative process and what’s next for blink-182 and All Time Low.
Whose idea was it to start Simple Creatures?
Hoppus: It was my idea!
Gaskarth: I got a text one day that Mark was working on some music outside of blink-182. They had finished up a tour, and he needed to get some stuff out. At first, he posed it as a Mark & Friends project — no genre lines, no parameters, just him and a bunch of people he knew in music doing songs. I was the first one he hit up, and I obviously love working with Mark and have known him for a long time. We got in with our friend Zakk [Cervini], who ended up producing our project down the line.
Was there a song that worked right away, or did it take a while to formulate the sound you were looking for?
Gaskarth: The first song sounded too much like blink and All Time Low, so we took a hard left turn, and that became the ethos for the entire project — if it sounds too similar, take a turn. That’s what started forming the sound, and we walked away with cool songs. A few months later, we were like, “This feels like a project, it’s not just a few songs here and there.” It was one of those perfect moments. We sounded rad together, and there was chemistry. It was a big “Why not?” moment.
How long did it take to record the EP?
Hoppus: We did it in between touring, so about 6-8 months. I went from rehearsing with Simple Creatures to touring with blink-182.
Did you divvy up writing lyrics and melodies, or was it totally split?
Hoppus: Responsibilities were divided 50/50. One of us would come up with a line or an idea about subject matter or noodle around on the guitar. Alex is a great writing partner. He’s a foil to me in the studio. He has no problem saying, “That’s not a great idea,” and I challenged him as well.
Gaskarth: The vibe in the studio was amazing. We’d sit there, he’d write part of a verse, I’d finish it. I’d write something and be like, “You’d sound better saying that,” and vice versa. It happened that way with lyrics and music. He’d pick up the guitar, I’d be on bass. It turned on its head what we were used to doing in the studio.
It’s interesting to hear you talk about avoiding the familiar, because these songs do strike me as the perfect marriage of both groups — there’s no mistaking that this is the Mark Hoppus/Alex Gaskarth brainchild.
Hoppus: We really tried to do something different here. It’s going to sound familiar to fans of our bands, but we wanted it to sound so different that no one thinks, “This one’s an All Time Low song,” or whatever. We want [the band] to have its own identity.
Gaskarth: Sometimes an artist does a side project, and it just sounds like their band — we didn’t want that, and we bonded over that. We wanted it to feel like something completely left of center. In the end, it scratched an itch no one knew we had.
Are there more videos planned?
Hoppus: Yes. The next video will probably be for “Adrenaline,” which is very dancey. There’s also the more ethereal, weird, dark and spooky “How To Live.”
Gaskarth: We’re super excited about making a bunch of content for as many of the songs as we can. We’re not beholden to putting a CD out — you have a single, blah blah. It’s a whole new baby. We do that in our other bands as well, but this feels like the same rules don’t apply here.
What was it like working with producer Zakk Cervini?
Hoppus: He’s a great friend and really great engineer, songwriter and collaborator. Zakk is going to be the most important producer over the next ten years. We also wrote with our friend Dylan [Bauld] from the band Flor on “Adrenaline.”
Gaskarth: Zakk is so talented. He’s so collaborative, so quick to understand and wrap his head around what we were trying to do. It was a dream working with him. Dylan is also great!
How did you come up with the name Simple Creatures?
Gaskarth: It was on a long list of names we went through. We couldn’t get a bunch, because it turns out that in 2019, you can’t name bands, everything’s taken. Some of the rejected names are Modern Medicine, Fun Police and Hot Cousins. Everyone has a hot cousin, so that was taken.
We landed on Simple Creatures, and it fit. It fits the project and the theme of the music, and it’s what we’re talking about in the lyrics — carnal desire, the things we want the most on the most basic level and how that shapes who we are as people. It’s an exploration into our darkest wants and needs and how that affects us.
I particularly love the lead single “Drug.” It’s really the catchiest song.
Hoppus: We always played that for people first. It was the obvious one to introduce people to Simple Creatures. I like the programmed drums and how catchy it is. We call it “trash pop.”
Who is the song “Lucy” about?
Hoppus: Zakk’s girlfriend! They had been dating for a while, and I was like, “When are you gonna marry her?” It started as a joke and got built into a bank heist song.
Gaskarth: We actually had Lucy come in and sing vocals, so on certain songs you can hear a woman singing, and it’s her. She’s basically the cornerstone of the band.
Were there any particular musical influences that guided the project?
Gaskarth: The Cure. I tell people that, and they’re like, “It doesn’t sounds like The Cure.” But we weren’t trying to sound like The Cure; it was more about taking the sensibilities of having a cool, grimy pop thing and lacing it with these darker themes. Marrying these two ideas is something The Cure did really well and something we took inspiration from.
Mark, you’ve mentioned that this band pulled you out of “a very dark place.” How has working on these songs helped?
Hoppus: I figured out that going to the studio with no expectations but writing something cool was a great way to start the day. I like how it pulled me out of a dark place that I was in. It’s a totally different experience. I love blink, and it’s my main love, but this is an awesome band to be a part of as well.
What were your friends and peers’ reactions when you first played them Simple Creatures songs?
Gaskarth: It was really inspiring and encouraging. We had a lot of self-doubt about it, and whenever you start something new, there’s some worry. It made us really happy, and when we shared it with people, there was a surprised happiness to their reactions. No one knew what to expect. It wasn’t safe and didn’t cater to what people would assume we’d do. The love and support people have shown us have been mind-blowing.
I was laughing at a comment on Genius. A fan wrote, “And they say father-son duos never work out.”
Gaskarth: [Laughs] Hoppus being my music father is something we’re going to have to get used to. It’s nice to have his wisdom and sagely advice. He’s raising his son to be the spitting image of him. Not on a physical level, though, because he’s much more handsome.
Will there be another EP after this one?
Hoppus: EP 2 is already in the can! We’ve been writing more songs, too, so depending on how things roll out, another EP or an entire album could happen in the coming few months.
Gaskarth: We have a lot of music already written, which is cool. Whether that takes a form of another EP or we go straight to a full-length, we have the flexibility to be fluid and do things when we please.
You’ve announced a few festival shows and other US tour dates. What sort of work is going into rehearsing for a Simple Creatures live show?
Gaskarth: We’ve been thinking about how to make shows different and perform in ways people haven’t seen us before. We’ve been rehearsing for the past few weeks. That’s the most exciting part for us right now, gearing up to take this thing on the road. We’re super stoked and can’t wait to see everybody out there.
Mark, have you reunited MCR yet?
Hoppus: No. Oddly, despite not doing anything or trying at all, I have not.
Finally, can you each share updates on blink-182 and All Time Low?
Hoppus: The new blink record is almost done. It’s a little darker and more akin to the untitled blink record. We were in the studio with Pharrell yesterday — he’s so inspiring and amazing.
Gaskarth: We are basically standing by. We spent two years touring Last Young Renegade, and it was a rad record cycle for us. We got to try some different things. Where we go from there will be exciting, because we’ll bring that energy. We started writing a little bit already, and it’s been cool to see the picture take shape. But there’s not a ton on the books this year.