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.”