It made perfect sense that Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker lent a hand on the Willow‘s raging fourth album, Lately I Feel Everything. The project from the 20-year-old singer, who has embraced her inner rocker, is exactly the kind of album the in-demand producer and time-keeper loves: unexpected, genre agnostic and hard-hitting.
The pair discuss their unlikely collab as part of Rolling Stone magazine’s 2021 Musicians on Musicians package in next month’s print issue, which hits stands on Nov. 2. “I didn’t even think for a second that you were going to be on ‘Transparent Soul,'” Willow — previously best known for her unexpected break-out 2010 pop hit “Whip My Hair” — told Barker about his contributions to the album’s lead single and two other tracks. “That was kind of like a far-fetched fever dream for me. When I actually got in contact with you, I was so honored by the fact that you were even interested.”
Barker said he was super impressed with the sound Willow explored on the album, noting that he thought, “‘This is what she should have been doing all along, because it sounds so natural.’ It sounds like who you are, every time I’ve met you or I’ve been around you. Then, when I got into the studio and added some stuff to it, had an idea for a bridge or whatever, it turned out to be a song I was really proud of.”
He wasn’t the only one who was blown away, either, as Barker ticked off a list of other recent collaborators and friends — including Ho99o9, Ryan Tedder, Omer Fedi and MGK — who told him that “Transparent Soul” was one of their favorite songs the super-busy studio habitué had worked on recently.
In addition to geeking out about their studio process, mutual love of skate culture and Barker’s “magical” new recording space, the pair bonded over the hard work it takes to avoid being pigeonholed in the music business and in fans’ minds. “I’m sure you had to deal with this, too. Whatever your most popular song is, or whatever the most popular band you’ve played in is, that is what you are to some people,” Barker said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, he’s this — or she’s this.’ No, I’m not. I’m actually a million things that you don’t know about. It’s just what I got popular from, you know?”
Willow also gave Barker, known for his fierce, super soulful playing style, major props for making it look so easy.
“There’s this interlude on [Lately I Feel Everything]; two of my friends came to the studio one night and they just did this random song,” she told him. “And I’ve been playing the drums and screaming on the mic for like this interlude every night [on tour]. It’s so crazy. I was just thinking about you, because, like damn, this actually takes a lot of work. Playing the drums is really, really not easy, even though I’m doing, like, the most simple groove of all time.”
Given Barker’s emergence from the first pop-punk wave with the seminal Blink crew, Willow also dove into how important the genre has been over the past few years as she — and so many of her peers — tried to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement on a global scale.
“I think that’s why pop-punk and rock music is so important during this time,” she said, asking Barker for his thoughts about how the genre can inspire the current generation to rise up through trying times. “Rock — and pop-punk especially — has more feeling in a way. It’s emotional music. It’s super-honest,” he said of the genre he helped pioneer.
Willow couldn’t agree more, adding, “Through those dark times and through that pain, music — specifically rock and pop-punk, for me — just hits me in that place of, like, full and utter expression with no filter. Sometimes you need to let out that anger and sadness that you feel for the world, for yourself, and for everything that’s going on, so that you can be like, ‘OK, cool. I got all of that out. Now, let me try to make a change.'”
The work on Lately seems like it might not be the last time the two work together, either. Barker tells Willow that he was recently in the studio with his pal Illenium working on new songs and they came up with a scream-y hook that was perfect for the singer, while also noting that she appears on his friend MGK’s upcoming album, Born With Horns, as well.
“You making the music you make, and being this strong female who’s f—ing talented, writes her own music, and produces her own music says so much in a time that I think we’re just getting out of — when a lot of music meant nothing or had no message,” Barker said. “It’s amazing what you’re doing, Willow. I swear there’s nothing I’ve made or I’ve been a part of since ‘Transparent Soul’ that sounds like you — you’re meant to be on it.”
Click here to read the full interview.