On the Plus Side
Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus have weathered the public breakups of a band and a marriage. With the new (+44), are the clown princes of pop punk finally settling down?
Sooner or later everyone leaves the frat house. Even blink-182. While the pop-punkers did eventually grow up — eschewing the potty humor that made albums like Enema of the State multiplatinum smashes for the darker sound of their final, self-titled 2003 studio release — they also began to grow apart. By mid-2004, guitarist Tom DeLonge had become tired of touring, while bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker still loved the road. In February 2005 the band was on “indefinite hiatus.”
The day after DeLonge quit, Hoppus and Barker went back to their Los Angeles rehearsal space and started (+44), thinking, “We don’t know what this will be,” says Barker. At first they wrote songs on keyboards, experimented with beats, and recorded with singer Carol Heller. Then they recruited guitarists Craig Fairbaugh (who toured with Barker in Transplants) and Shane Gallagher, and came up with a sound that adds dance-rock texture to melodic punk. The result, When Your Heart Stops Beating, is the closest thing Hoppus and Barker have made to an album for adults. Just don’t expect them to act their age.
So, explain the band name.
BARKER: We were in England on the last blink tour, and I kept seeing the dial code for England: +44. I thought it would be a rad name for a band or a clothing line or something. I liked the way you can’t go, “That’s a death-metal band,” or “That’s a punk band,” or “That’s a hip-hop band.” And when all of this happened, I asked Mark what he thought of the name, and it stuck.
When you say “all of this,” you’re talking about Tom quitting blink-182. How did all of that happen?
HOPPUS: We were on tour in Europe in 2004, our manager flew out, and he and Tom sat on one side of the dressing room, while Travis and I sat at another. He said, “Tom needs time off, he’s burnt out.” So we started this forced six- to eight-month break. Then the tsunami [in Southeast Asia] happened, and I called my manager and said I wanted to play a benefit, and if Tom doesn’t want to play, we’ll get a replacement for the day or I’ll do an acoustic set. He said Tom wanted to be a part of it, so we rehearsed for a few days and we started arguing. Tom said he would only record the next album from his home in San Diego — he’d work on his stuff, Travis would work on his stuff, and I’d work on my stuff — and we were going to mail the [sound] files to each other. We tried to talk to him: “We’re a band and you’re trying to control everything.” The next day the manager called and said that Tom quit. We said, “Shouldn’t Tom call himself? We’ve been in this band for 13 years.” The manager said, “He’s already changed his number and doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.” [At press time, DeLonge had not responded to requests for comment.]
Did you think about keeping the old band name?
HOPPUS: As a fan of bands that have had members leave, I couldn’t do it. We’re going to play all our own songs.
What if you’re doing a show and someone yells for a blink song?
BARKER: We’ll just play another (+44) song.
HOPPUS: They can buy the [blink] record and hear it.
The song “No, It Isn’t,” from When Your Heart Stops Beating, has pretty harsh lyrics: “Let’s slit our wrists and burn down something beautiful” and “This isn’t just goodbye / This is ‘I can’t stand you.'” And you posted the demo online on Tom’s birthday.
HOPPUS: When I first wrote the song, it was so personal that I didn’t want people to know it was about blink. It’s called “No, It Isn’t,” so when people asked if it’s about him, I could say, “No, it isn’t.” But that is how I felt. These are things I would have said if he had called: “Your selfish nature is destroying everything that the three of us, our crew, and everyone else worked so hard to do. Name anyone else in the world who gets to travel, gets paid ridiculous amounts of money, brings their family anywhere, and then has two months off just to chill. And that’s not enough for you?”
Have you heard Tom’s new band, Angels and Airwaves?
HOPPUS: When I first heard the single, I thought the verses were really great — I’m a fan of Tom’s songwriting. But I don’t feel like the whole record caught me. That echoey U2-style guitar is going the entire time, and I thought, “Have I heard this song before? Is it the same as the last one?”
This (+44) album is pretty complex coming from two guys who almost called the last blink album Use Your Erection.
HOPPUS: We were proud of the music we wrote, so we just called that album blink-182 — we were over the joke title thing. But I’ll never be able to escape the jokes. We were just shooting a video for [the single] “When Your Heart Stops Beating” in a warehouse, and there were these six-foot bags of Styrofoam peanuts. So we took 11 bags and filled up our manager’s Escalade through the sunroof. It was a great joke. And it was environmentally friendly, because we used the kind that’s biodegradable.
In this spirit of blink-182, what’s your age again?
HOPPUS: A happy 34. But on this trip to New York, I’ve embraced my junior high self. I bought all these graphic novels — Watchmen, 100 Bullets, Powers — and we went skateboarding all through the city.
BARKER: Thirty. But I’m like a 12-year-old. I go skateboarding every morning. And I have three kids who keep me young — one who’s three, one seven, and an eight-month-old.
Travis, you’re now separated from your wife, Shanna Moakler, with whom you were arguing on your respective MySpace pages. What was that about?
BARKER: I had publications calling me and asking about things she had said — that I abandoned my family and left my kids — which weren’t true. So I figured, rather than calling back, I would let everyone know the story, whether that’s ten people or ten million.
Couples on MTV reality shows seem to have a tough time of it. Was it hard doing Meet the Barkers?
BARKER: It turned out to be fun. My goal was to help my wife in her acting career — there was nothing I was trying to get out of it. That doesn’t break up relationships. What breaks up relationships is when people are concerned with being some crazy celebrity. And my wife was.
When was the last time you ran through the street naked, like you did in the video for “What’s My Age Again”?
BARKER: Deliberately, or when we just happened to be out there naked? Some-times it just happens. I was with my ex-wife, we were coming home from a bar, and we ended up naked. That was at the peak of our relationship, when I really felt like a 16-year-old. I don’t think any of the neighbors saw or heard anything.
HOPPUS: It was at our manager’s office. I had to use the restroom, and he was at one urinal and I was at the next, so I pulled my pants all the way down like a little kid.
BARKER: He does that in airports, too.
HOPPUS: It’s a hobby. We used to have a lot of fun in airports. One time back in the blink days, Tom had a porn magazine, and as the luggage came out on the conveyor belt, he would tear pages out and put them on people’s suitcases so every fifth bag would have a page from a porn mag on it.
Blink put out an album called Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. What did your mothers think?
HOPPUS: Mine is really supportive — she let me live at home until I was 26 so I could be in a band. She thought it was funny when I made jokes about her from the stage about oral sex.
HOPPUS: At a concert I said, “Hey, all you guys out there — I want you to know that my mom gives great head.” I look over and she’s pumping her fist in the air going, “That’s me.”