Cynical about another return of Blink-182? Don’t be. ‘California’ sees the trio excited for the future.
"Fuck, I said excited again. I can't believe it, I'm sorry," smirks bassist Mark Hoppus. "I keep saying excited, but it's the word I'm looking for." "That's what it is though," reasons guitarist Matt Skiba, as excitement is very much the flavour of the new Blink-182 album. Following years of see-saw emotions and soap opera twists, the band are back on the same page with a slightly altered line up. It's a change that's rejuvenated the band, forced them to question what Blink-182 should be in 2016 and united them under a single aim: to make a great album.
"It's been, what, five years since the last Blink-182 record? It's been a really awesome transition into this new iteration of the band. People have been very supportive and very embracing of Matt coming in. They've been very positive about this new chapter," offers Mark. What started off as a handful of shows with Alkaline Trio's Matt standing in for founding member Tom DeLonge slowly shifted into something they wanted to put to record. "It was very gradual. When Tom left we had these shows booked and Travis and I didn't want to cancel them. We were talking and we said, ‘What about Matt Skiba?' It was the only choice. The reception at those shows was so overwhelmingly positive, it just felt right."
"We walked in every day not knowing what we were going to create."
Taking that energy forward, the trio wanted to go into the studio to see what happened. "Everything was incremental, but it was just ramping up the whole time and by the time it got to January of this year [when the band started to record new album ‘California'], it really took off. It felt like the right decision from day one. It really felt totally natural from the time we sat down with Matt, to asking him to fill in for the shows, to being onstage with him, to recording an entire album with him, it's been very natural."
And despite the whole world watching, Matt wasn't apprehensive about stepping up to the plate: "I have such huge respect for Mark and Travis [Barker, drums]. We've been friends for such a long time, we've toured together and I'm an enormous fan of the band so y'know, the only thing I was worried about was how anyone else was going to view this. But I had to believe in myself. If these two amazing guys believe in me then I've just got to go with it." Piling on the pressure, Matt knew he had to kill it. "I had to give them everything and make sure they don't start asking, ‘What have we done asking this weirdo to join our band?'" Luckily, "it felt like home very early on. It was great and it still is. It just gets better."
And that feeling of home can be felt throughout ‘California'. Beyond the name, Blink-182's seventh album takes lessons learnt from across their twenty-one year legacy and brings them full circle. If you're wondering whether Blink have anything left to say, you're not alone. Under the direction of producer John Feldmann, the band "had a lot of theoretical discussions about what Blink is. What really is Blink? What do I like about Blink? What do people like about Blink?" The answer, ‘California.'
"It's a rare problem, having too many good songs."
"I tend to write a lot about miscommunication, loss of identity and questioning of identity which is a process we went through just by being in the studio, writing a new Blink record and having a new iteration of Blink," ventures Mark. "I asked myself, what is Blink? What do I bring to the table? What does Matt bring to the table? What does Travis bring to the table? And just looking at life. I think that's something I probably question a lot. What is my purpose here on this rock? I'll think about things that happened a long time ago and wonder, did I do that right? Was I the arsehole in that situation or was I the hero? I don't know."
Asking those questions means ‘California' is very self-aware. The skits of ‘Brohemian Rhapsody' and ‘Built This Pool' are delivered with a tongue-in-cheek smirk, while that reflective nature creates a dark edge. ‘California' is a more (whisper) mature Blink-182 record but that doesn't mean they've slowed down or got boring. It's a record that feels like the band are still searching for something. It feels like it's running towards, not away from, the future. It feels exciting.
"Recording ‘California' really felt like the energy and enthusiasm of when we first would go into the studio and write songs. When we wrote ‘Enema of The State', we went into the rehearsal spot and wrote that record in a matter of weeks. When we wrote ‘California', we wrote the entire album in a matter of weeks. There was an intensity, a solidarity of purpose and everybody's head was right there nonstop from the second we walked into the studio to the minute that we left at the end of the day, and it was awesome."
With a catalogue of thirty demos already down, the band looked to John Feldmann to cull those songs and take them forward towards an album. For fun though, he invited Blink to his studio to write something from scratch, just to see what would happen. The band obliged, writing two songs that first day. They wrote another two the next and it just carried on. "Those songs were so magical from the very beginning that we never even talked about the other demos. They're just sitting on a hard drive somewhere. There are some awesome ideas in there and there's a lot of great stuff. Maybe we'll go back to it someday, but the stuff we wrote with John was so…" pauses Mark, searching for the right words.
"Powerful and immediate," picks up Matt. "The record sounds like the process. It was very fast and energetic."
"We went in with no preconceived notions other than to write the best music that we could," explains Mark. "And that changed from day to day. We walked in every day not knowing what we were going to create. We just wanted to write a great record. We ended up with thirty songs, all vastly different. Some songs were almost heavy metal, some were acoustic. We had originally set out to make a ten track record but it was so difficult for us to figure out which songs were going to make it and which ones weren't."
"It was impossible," adds Matt. "The cool thing about all the different types of songs that if we were to add one, it would change the whole temperature of the record. That's a great problem to have. It's a rare problem, having too many good songs, but it's awesome.
"I start every song with this fear, thinking I'm never going to write another good song."
Despite the many pieces to the puzzle, as soon as ‘Cynical' was locked into that opening slot, "everything else started fitting together like Lego. It's such an incredible opener. Every great record needs that, it's like a signature. It's just off to the races in a very unconventional way."
"It does set the mood and the pace of the record; it starts off self-questioning and then Travis' phenomenal drumming kicks in, then the guitars and it just takes off," adds Mark. "The intro is me talking about myself and the creative process I go through every day. I start every song with this fear, thinking I'm never going to write another good song, and then we go into the studio and things fall into place. There's a moment when you're driving home from the studio with a brand new song playing on your car stereo, and there's such a feeling of joy, accomplishment, pride and excitement. Then I wake up the next day, thinking I'll never write another good song."
"I didn't know that until just now," admits Matt. The pair fed off what each other was singing across ‘California', but they never spelled it out for one another. "For me, ‘Cynical' is about the moment of panic when the phone rings. It makes me think of when I was going through a divorce and I wouldn't check my email because I would just be getting legal bills and requests. It was a fucking mess. An uptown mess, in retrospect it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was that panic of what is this going to be? It really struck a chord with me and the rest of it wrote itself. That happened throughout the whole record and I think we make a really good team, all three of us."
"When I listen back to this record, I feel the same joy I did when I heard Blink-182 back in the day," reflects Mark. "And I want people to have that same excitement and experience when they listen to ‘California'. I want them to get excited on the fast songs, I want them to feel unstoppable when they hear some songs and I want them to feel sad when they hear others. For me, a great record is when you go through an entire range of emotion when you listen to it and I think that this album does that."
"You want to write a record where the whole thing is great but that hardly ever happens," says Matt. "For me, Bowie's ‘Ziggy Stardust' is one of the very few records that, front to finish, there's not a bad song on it. And I can say that about ‘California'. I listen to it all the time, I work out to it. I'm a fan."
"I want to be on the cutting edge of things."
And fans are who ‘California' is for. The legacy of Blink-182 is something Mark worries about. "Travis does as well. Our whole thing was that we never want Blink to become a greatest hits band. We don't want to be one of those bands that just goes out and plays the songs from twenty years ago. We love playing the songs from twenty years ago, and we will always do that, but I really want to continue to write new music and be excited by new things."
Refusing to sit back and cruise, "I want to be on the cutting edge of things. I am so thankful and feel so blessed that our band has come to this point where, when we play a concert, there are people who have been there for twenty years and there are people there that it's their first concert. To have this multi-generational thing, I don't know how we're lucky enough to have that happen to our band. To have new fans coming in and having people reacting to these new songs in such a way, it's amazing and I am thankful for it every single day."
With a summer tour of America growing more extensive by the day and plans falling in place for the same in Europe next summer, Blink are keeping busy. This chapter of the band, despite the dark prologue, is set to be a long one. But if you're wary about investing in a band with a turbulent past, don't be: Blink-182 are here to stay. "That's what we plan to do. We don't know if, for the next record, we'll use the songs leftover from this record or, well, obviously we'll write a bunch more new ones. But the future is wide open," promises Mark. "We have great positive energy within the band, we have great support from the fans and we couldn't be more excited. I'll say excited one more time, why not?"
Taken from the July issue of Upset, out now - order your copy here. Blink-182's new album ‘California' is out now.