Punk, pop and potty mouths
Five years ago the joke was wearing thin for Blink-182 – the band that coupled melodic punk and schoolboy humour – and the members couldn’t look at one another. Then, spurred on by their producer’s death, they made up and reformed. So they’ve grown up? Not quite, Mark Hoppus tells TONY CLAYTON-LEA
IT’S TIME, people, to trade in your Jasper Conran slacks, Gucci loafers and Paul Smith tops for cut-off jeans, sweaty T-shirts and Converse runners – Blink-182 are back. Yes, the band that popularised the combining of schoolboy humour with melodic, sandblasted punk-pop have, following a nasty spat, shaken hands, kissed and made up. Reformed? Only in a manner of speaking.
“I can’t remember a time in my life when there wasn’t Blink-182, in some major way,” says bass player Mark Hoppus, taking time to talk backstage in Glasgow’s cavernous SECC during their successful European tour. He is reminiscing about the early days, and how the past 20 years have gone by in, well, a blink.
“It seems like only the other day when we started in a small garage in San Diego. Now we’re over here playing giant shows and festivals. Everything that we ever hoped for has come true. It’s crazy.
“I mean, there was nothing like a plan or strategy. We were just doing it because it was fun for us and we wanted to play punk rock music as fast as we could. Our biggest thing, our major ambition back in the early days, was to play a club in San Diego that held about 1,500 people. We got to play that club, and then we got to headline it, and then we started playing other small clubs around southern California and just worked our way up from there.
“We were kids from the suburbs, skateboarding and listening to punk rock. It was a lot of fun, hard work, travelling in vans, sleeping in vans, making no money and playing small clubs – clubs where, sometimes, nobody showed up, other times playing clubs that sold out. Every second has been the best time ever.”
Like all the best stories in rock music, it’s a tale of us against them, male bonding through adversity, community spirit, the cracking open of beer cans and as many boob jokes as they can get away with. Formed in San Diego in the early 1990s, the band’s name was changed from Blink to Blink-182 following the threat of legal action from the Irish band of the same name.
Despite the enforced name change, the band’s popularity showed no sign of dropping off. Influenced by southern Californian punk bands such as The Descendents, Bad Religion, Pennywise and NoFX (not discounting blueprints such as The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers and Buzzcocks), Blink-182 toured the skateboarding and snowboarding circuit. It was here that they developed a reputation as the party act that stripped off during shows and displayed a proclivity for puerile lyrics and some supremely efficient tunes.
The band got the breakthrough they deserved in 1997 with their second album, Dude Ranch, which set them off on a commercial blaze of glory that continued in 1999 with Enema of the State and in 2001 with Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.
By this point they were the darlings not only of the US punk-pop scene (sharing space with the likes of Offspring, Bloodhound Gang and Green Day), but were also, as proven by the album titles, the aural equivalent of the American Piemovies. While critics sneered and carped, Blink-182 burped and cackled all the way to the sperm bank.
Yet there is only so long anyone can get away with telling Viz-style rib-ticklers. By 2005 the jokes just weren’t funny any more. On top of that, the band members seemed to have become sick of the sight of one another.
Between a certain ennui, management difficulties and internal conflicts, the wheels had come off their skateboards.
“Yes, the fun left the band for a few months right before we broke up,” confirms Hoppus. “It was really starting to feel like work, and everything was very adversarial – a lot of vibes in the band. It wasn’t a positive environment at all. And then we broke up for five years, and that gave us the chance to step away and gain perspective on how great the band really was for all of us, what the band meant to each of us, and how much we all brought to the band.”
Side projects and post-Blink projects included singer Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker’s excellent Box Car Racer, DeLonge’s mediocre Angels Airwaves, and Hoppus and Barker’s less than thrilling +44.
While solo and side projects were continuing apace – effectively pushing the various members further and further apart – Blink-182’s regular producer Jerry Finn died of a brain haemorrhage. Around the same time, Travis Barker barely survived a plane crash, sustaining severe burn injuries. A chance meeting in the hospital between DeLonge and Hoppus allowed differences to be resolved.
“When something as horrible as that happens,” says Hoppus, “all the pettiness of arguing about whether or not we’re going to do a particular tour goes away. It brought us back together, however, on a friendship level. By the time we ended up talking to each other again, all the stuff we had argued about those years ago had long since passed. Everyone was in a much better head space, and ready to be friends again. There was no rehashing of old arguments, no old scars were opened. After the first day everyone was just laughing and hanging out together.
Ultimately Blink-182 is really about friendship, and when that started to suffer the band suffered. When the friendship came back the band came back, too.”
Will we get to see, then, with the new Blink-182, the juvenile delinquency of old? The trouble with infantile humour is that once it’s out of nappies it loses its appeal, no?
Hoppus is having none of this, and, cough, pooh-poohs the very notion of the band now playing it straight and serious.
“That’s always been part of the band. We’ve been written off largely as just a joke, but we’ve always had one foot firmly in the jokey world – that’s our personality. That said, if people take the time to listen to the albums, they’d know that we actually have some quite poignant songs, deep tunes such as Adam’s Song, Stay Together for the Kids, and so on. But you know, we’re not afraid to make fun of ourselves, and as much as people write us off for that, the people that like us relate to it and enjoy it. Essentially, we’re just being ourselves.”
Was there ever a sense of expectation within the band that you had to behave or perform in a certain way in order to appeal to people who liked the crude stuff? “We’ve always tried to dismiss what people expect us to do, because when you try to figure out what people expect of you, and then act or record or write in that manner, you’re missing the target.
“If people react more to honesty in music then it’s obvious that we want to do different things and evolve, and not to repeat ourselves. We’ve stayed close to the core of where we started, musically, which is very melodic, anthemic, upbeat, but we also want to move forward. At the moment we’re recording our new album, and although I’d like it to be out this year I can’t see it happening.”
In the meantime, Blink-182 are out there again, larging it up, dropping their trousers and making as many puerile jokes as they can get away with about the shape of that, the size of this and, whoa, bro, getta loada her. What profound life lessons, one muses, have they learned in the past 20 years? “Respect for one another,” replies Hoppus promptly, “and how great the band is in our lives.”
Blink-182 play The O2, Dublin, August 31