On the eve of the release of their most ambitious record yet, everything is coming up roses for the quadruple-platinum, potty-mouthed lads of Blink-182.
The Lords of Flatulence
At 2 o’clock on a Monday afternoon at a state-of-the-art recording studio in North Hollywood, there’s a ruckus in the lobby as three musicians from Blink-182 make their way up the stairs to the loftlike lounge. As they settle down on the thick-cushioned armchairs, bassist-vocalist Mark Hoppus is offered a stick of gum. “No thanks,” he says with a cherubic grin. “I’m working on my bad breath.”
Hoppus starts talking about one of his original tunes, “Can’t Hardly Wait,” when all of a sudden he raises his right butt cheek a few inches off the chair to release a pent-up fart, which sends his bandmates up into the laughter stratosphere. “Fans love that,” Hoppus says.
“Tell him about the hummus,” says guitarist-vocalist Tom Delonge.
“Oh yeah,” the bassist replies, excited about further discussing his flatulence. “This guy almost died one time when we all ate a bunch of hummus.”
That wise-guy attitude, coupled with their penchant for relentless references to whacking off, taking dumps, pulling off-the-wall pranks, and getting hummers, is what has made Blink-182 — Hoppus, Delonge, and drummer Travis Barker — arguably the most successful pop-punk band in history. And these guys are no slouches when it comes to lyrical depth and musician-ship. Their catchy melodies about adolescent soul searching, heartbreak, and confusion — delivered with soaring vocals, frenetic energy, and hooks to die for — have struck a nerve with millions of teen- and college- age fans, a phenomenon that, in turn, has led to quadruple-platinum album sales, multiple hit singles, sold-out arena shows around the world, and numerous accolades and awards from the likes of MTV
That fan base is destined to expand even further, thanks to the June release of Blink-182’s most ambitious studio album, to be called (as we go to press) Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Although thematically, lyrically, and vocally similar to their three previous studio releases, Take Off marks a clear departure, as they opt for an edgier sound marked by off-kilter time signatures, polyrhythmic workouts, thumping basses, and harder, fuller-bodied guitar playing.
“It’s probably the most collective, collaborative, of any of the records we’ve done,” Hoppus says. “Our previous records consisted of songs that Tom has come up with or songs that I’ve come up with. This time, it was a lot of, ‘Well, here’s an idea for a song,’ and then we’d all contribute as a group. We worked a lot of different ideas into this one.”
“It’s rad,” Delonge says with enthusiasm. “When I’m writing songs on the guitar, I can’t play them in weird timings because I have to sing at the same time and think of the melody and the words and all the changes. What’s worked really well this time is, we’re all in the studio going through the songs together, where Travis can say, ‘Well, here’s a way to play this tune a little differently,’ and then he can concentrate on making the timing kind of fucked up, but sounding cool and different. That’s what makes each of the songs more unique. I think the record represents another step forward for us.”
I ask if other titles were considered. “Absolutely,” Delonge replies. “What Rhymes With Venus; We (Collectively) Love Your Mom; and Genital Ben.”
“I wanted to call it If You See Kay,” Hoppus adds. “Get it?”
Delonge grew up in the San Diego suburb of Poway. “I was your typical middle-class, suburbanite skate-boarding kid,” he remembers. “In fact, skateboarding was my number-one priority. Every day, every night. I skateboarded the whole entire time. What we used to do for fun, too, was cause havoc around town. We’d make these dummies and then beat them up in front of cars, or throw them on cars on the freeway, or hang them from telephone poles and traffic lights. We would also demolish people’s mailboxes.”
Delonge also began taking more than a passing interest in music. After striking out with trumpet lessons and getting kicked out of the school band for screwing around too much, he became obsessed with the raw, turbo-charged energy of various Southern California punk-rock bands. “When I was in seventh grade I heard the Descendants, Dinosaur Jr, and Stiff Little Fingers, and those bands would influence me tremendously,” Delonge recalls. “After that point, it had to be punk rock. That’s all I liked, that’s all I listened to, and it summed up what I was all about. My parents never listened to music, and maybe that fueled my passion too. But I was destined to learn about this music. I started playing guitar later on, and I found I couldn’t put it down. I played it every single day. When I’d come home from school, I’d lay down on my bed and I’d just play. I’d fall asleep playing, and when I’d wake up in the morning, I’d find that my hand would still be on the guitar, and I’d start playing again. I just loved it.”
Hoppus, who bounced back and forth between Washington, D.C., and the desert community of Ridgecrest, California, after his parents’ divorce, shared an affinity for punk rock and raising hell. “I was totally an outcast in high school,” Hoppus says. “There were five or six of us who used to try to piss people off. I didn’t want to fit in with all the other kids that were popular. One of my friends used to sneak out at night and steal his mom’s car. He’d pick me up, and we’d go out in the desert and just burn things. Mattresses, bushes, trash piles. Anything we could find.
“My dad, who builds missiles and bombs for the Department of Defense, was always listening to Neil Diamond, so I constantly heard tunes that you could sing along with,” Hoppus continues. “Then I started getting into the Descendants and all the Southern California punk bands. I was listening to a lot of melodic stuff, and then two of my friends and I started a band called Of All Things, and we covered songs that we liked to listen to.”
Barker, the mellowest of the trio, was raised in Fontana, California — a tough town, he says, where “you either play football and you’re really popular, or you’re involved with some kind of gang.” At his mother’s insistence, at the age of four he began studying drums, piano, marimba, and voice. Later, he too was heavily into skateboarding, and participated in his fair share of vandalizing surrounding neighborhoods. “We used to do really horrible things to people, like throwing boulders at moving cars,” Barker says ruefully. That all changed when his mother died of cancer the day before he began high school. “I started figuring out what was really important to me,” he says. He realized it was music, and he never looked back. In addition to joining his school’s drum corps and jazz ensemble, he hooked up with a Soundgarden — like grunge band, which allowed him to hone the out-of-time, back-of-the-beat time signatures, blazing speed, and thick rhythmic textures that would eventually become his trademark.
“It became this half-circus/half-music routine. We’d run around naked and talk about masturbation.”
Meanwhile, Hoppus’s sister Anne, a punk rocker herself, was dating one of Delonge’s best friends. Anne knew that the guitarist was interested in starting a band, and she immediately thought of her brother, who had just dropped out of college. The men were introduced, and their personalities blended perfectly. They enlisted the services of drummer Scott Raynor, then began playing various clubs around San Diego, calling themselves Blink-182.
“I was out skateboarding one night, and I was trying to think of a name for the band,” Delonge recalls. “Because we play fast songs, I wanted a quick action word and I thought ‘blink’ was cool. So I told Mark, and he said, ‘Yeah. That’s cool.’ And so it stuck, and then later on we were on the road and we were tossing around some other ideas and Mark says, ‘It sounded 182.’ I went, ‘All right.’ The significance is really nothing, but we tell everybody it means something.” (There was also another band called Blink, so the guys had to add something.)
In 1993 the band made its recording debut with the self-issued EP Fly Swatter; which was followed in 1994 by an indie release titled Buddha, and by Cheshire Cat in 1995. That CD, with its in-your-face vocals, punchy rhythms, and aggressive chord progressions, garnered Blink-182 critical acclaim and established it as one of the more musically engaging up-and-coming pop-punk bands; MCA signed them. In 1997 the threesome recorded the Beach Boys-meets-Bad Religion-tinged Dude Ranch, which featured the hit single “Dammit.” Creative differences with Raynor, however, were mounting, and he left the group. Delonge and Hoppus then tapped rhythm meister Barker, and the band was back in action. They raised the roof in 1999 with the brilliantly frenetic, multi-textured Enema of the State, and in 2000 released the live slam-dunk collection The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back).
Thanks to the hard-candy infectiousness of the smash singles and accompanying videos spawned by Enema of the State, such as “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things,” a wide audience has become exposed to something that sets Blink- 182 apart from its competitors: a penchant for potty humor. “We’ve always had shit-mouths,” Hoppus concedes. “We have always wanted to be onstage and say the most ridiculous things we could think of.”
“When I first met Mark, we not only had the exact same songwriting style, but also the exact same sense of humor,” Delonge adds. “It was a perfect fit. Anyway, we’d go up onstage, and we really didn’t even know how to play, so we started cracking jokes. And people got a kick out of it. It was just so different. I remember saying to an audience one night, ‘Hey! You can all go fuck my mom!’ and people were like, ‘What the hell are you guys talkin’ about?’ It became this half-circus/half-music routine. We’d be running around naked onstage and talking about masturbation and having sex with our parents or something. And we actually got better at writing songs, and at the same time the jokes started getting more disgusting. It was really a weird contrast.”
But there’s a serious, sensitive side to the band too. Check out Hoppus’s “Adam’s Song” from Enema. Although largely interpreted as a suicide note from a kid who’s had enough of life’s slings and arrows, the song is actually an autobiographical snapshot of the sense of loneliness Hoppus was experiencing (“I couldn’t wait till I got home / To pass the time in my room alone”). “The song was about me being on tour and being lonely and not having a girlfriend when I got home,” Hoppus explains. “Things like that happen and you get super bummed. It’s just about going through hard times in general, and yet finding the strength to go on, realizing that there are better things on the other side.
“One of my favorite songs is ‘Going Away to College,’” Hoppus continues. “I wrote that on Valentine’s Day. I remember that I was super sick and I was watching the movie Can’t Hardly Wait. Anyway, the song is about the end of high school and how it’s hard when all your friends are going their separate ways. The song reflects that feeling of being happy that you’re getting on with your life and becoming an adult, but it also reflects the loss of innocence and the safety net of your parents, your family, and your friends.”
And then there’s the upbeat megahit “What’s My Age Again?” — although Hoppus admits that the tune’s universal message is light-years away from its inspiration. “It started out as a joke song that I wrote about a girl giving me a blowjob when I was actually more interested in watching TV.”
“The joke was that Mark was actually getting a blowjob,” Delonge pipes in. “Like, there’s no way.”
“The success of the band is a lot to take in. Had this not happened, I’d be masturbating and playing video games all day long.”
“Anyway,” Hoppus says, laughing, “the riff in the song was so catchy that we decided to make it about enjoying being young. It changed from a joke song about oral sex into a celebration of youth. Go figure.”
Asked if they think the audience is latching on to the jokes or the songs, Hoppus replies, “I honestly feel that we write good songs about relationships or life or friends, and I think people genuinely relate to those themes.”
Delonge concurs: “People ask us sometimes, ‘Now that you guys are getting older, how do you feel writing about heartache and high school dating and things like that?’ and my answer is, ‘Everyone’s affected dramatically when they’re at that age. No matter how old you are, you’re gonna remember those times.’ Everyone can relate to feeling awkward on a first date, no matter how old you are. That’s the kind of shit that we write about.”
The members of Blink-182 definitely aren’t feeling awkward in the romance department. Hoppus married his sweetheart of two years, Skye Everly, an MTV employee, this past Thanksgiving weekend. Delonge has been dating girlfriend Jen Jenkins for nearly five years, and Barker has just become engaged to his steady of two years. psychology major Melissa Kennedy; they’re getting married in September. “She’s great.” Barker says. “She’s just real down-to-earth.”
The women have to be great in order to handle all the estrogen-laden adoration of the fans, especially when their significant others are being flashed by hundreds of female fans more than 300 days a year. “Not only is it hard for our ladies — because that [flashing) does happen — but it’s gotta be worse because we actually request it,” Hoppus concedes. “I mean, Tom’s up on-stage and his girlfriend will be sitting off to the side and he’s goin’, ‘Show me your boobs.’”
“It’s a celebration of beauty,” Delonge responds. “Mark and I are very fond of what the world has to offer and how beautiful it is, and we think that clothing inhibits people.”
Hoppus adds, “We’re not asking them to do anything. We’re just providing a forum in which they can do whatever they want.”
Delonge agrees: “We’re like the Colosseum of sexual dysfunction.”
The boys’ fidelity was tested when erotic film star (and 1990 Penthouse Pet of the Year Runner-Up) Janine Lindemulder agreed to be photographed with the band for the covers of Enema. “She was super funny, super cool, really intelligent, well-spoken, quick-witted … and we got to see her panties,” Hoppus says. “Plus, we got to ask her questions that all men want the answers to, like ‘Do the people in the films really have orgasms?’ and ‘Is the sex real?’ She’s like the Yoda of sex.”
“And does she ever envision us during her work?” Delonge adds. “We thought that maybe she was a big fan and always fantasized about us, but it turned out the answer was no.”
“She said that, yes, she really has orgasms,” Hoppus says. “And she told us stories about how she’d go out and find girls and then do threesomes.”
“But,” Delonge continues, “the main thing we wanted to know is if she really enjoys her work, and, of course, the answer was yes.”
Hoppus, Delonge, and Barker have a number of interests that have kept them occupied during their breaks from recording and touring. In addition to teaching drumming technique to 36 students around Southern California, Barker runs a clothing company that designs and manufactures T-shirts, sweatshirts, purses, belts, and belt buckles. “I just got sick of wearing stuff that I didn’t really like,” he says. “So me and a cool bunch of friends from my hometown started Famous Stars & Straps, which has a lot to do with tattoo art. It started out as a little thing, but now we’ve got accounts in England.”
Delonge spends his time reading about his favorite obsessions: aliens and conspiracy theories. According to his findings, the two are intricately related. “I bought a computer specifically to go online and do some research,” he says. “Then I started reading more books on the subject. which directed me toward government conspiracy theories, which directed me toward world affairs, which directed me to secret societies, which took me to ancient Egypt. It’s all intertwined. It’s all the same thing, and it’s really interesting. One of my favorite compositions is ‘Aliens Exist’ [from Enema of the State]. It’s my little conspiracy song, and the dynamics, the arrangement, and the words and everything came together perfectly. It’s cool because I wrote a song about something that I’m really passionate about.”
Hoppus has found his calling by playing the stock market, but with mixed results. “I’ve been buying stocks because I want to invest wisely in my future,” he says with a grin. “But pretty much everything I buy turns to shit. If I buy stock in a company, it’s definitely marked for destruction.”
Now that Take Off Your Pants and Jacket is on the shelves, Blink-182 is embarking on a whirlwind world tour that is scheduled to end by the fall of 2002. Then the fellows will begin working on their next studio album. “The success of the band is definitely a lot to take in,” Hoppus says. “Had this not happened, I’d probably be living at my mom’s house rent-free, masturbating and playing video games all day long.”
“And at the family dinner table, too,” Delonge adds.
“Yeah,” Hoppus says, laughing. “At the family dinner table. But seriously, it’s hard because it seems like we’re always getting good news. And there’s no place to go except down. But we’ve done so much more with our band than we ever thought possible. So much so that whenever it does go down, I can’t be upset about anything. I got to do everything I ever wanted to do in my life.”
Oddly enough, after all these years, Blink-182 has not advanced even a single blink. You can still find them around, though, and you cannot say that about many bands from 20 years ago. Should you find yourself in the mood for more of this folksey soft rock sort of thing, you might consider renewing your acquaintance with Godsmack too.