Seriously, Blink-182 Is Growing Up
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004; Page WE06
TO SUGGEST BLINK-182 has grown up is oversimplifying, says guitarist-vocalist Tom Delonge, calling from Virginia Beach, where his band has just kicked off one of this summer's most anticipated tours, co-headlining with No Doubt.
Sure, the San Diego-bred punk-pop trio chose to follow up its most successful albums, the mischievously titled "Enema of the State" and "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket," with a recording that sported no title at all. On the other hand, they did toy with such titles as the Guns N' Roses-taunting "Use Your Erection I and II" and "Vasectomy, Vasect-a-you."
Such titles would have reflected more of the South Parkian frat-boy material fans have come to love, but Blink-182's album, released in November, suggests its once-proudly arrested development has given way to a wiser worldview, evident in darker songs and more ambitious arrangements that expand the band's musical roots without abandoning them.
"We didn't just say, 'Hey, let's make a mature record!' We don't think like that," Delonge says. "We are multidimensional people, and we're not running naked and happy all the time, contrary probably to what most people thought about this band a good 10 or 12 years ago when we started."
Blink-182 was formed in 1992 by Delonge, bassist-vocalist Mark Hoppus and drummer Scott Raynor, who was succeeded in 1999 by Mohawk-sporting madman Travis Barker. The band's high-energy sound was popularized through several independent albums and appearances in numerous skate, surf and snowboarding videos. Its first "hit," "Dammit (Growing Up)" from 1997's "Dude Ranch," caught the ear of MCA, and it was big-label clout that got MTV airplay for "What's My Age Again?" The video, a "Total Request Live favorite, featured the band members running around the streets of Los Angeles, mostly naked (skin-colored Speedos kept them from getting arrested). They actually did "TRL" naked.
But while it was good for Blink-182 (a recent Google search of "Blink-182 naked" produced 85,600 hits), it became something of an albatross as band members grew up, got married and started families. Delonge, 28, and Hoppus, 31, are fathers, as is Barker, 28, who will marry former Miss USA (and Playboy's Miss December 2001) Shanna Moakler this Halloween.
"A lot of people don't know I'm as into politics as I am," says Delonge, who has actively campaigned for and with Sen. John Kerry since before the Iowa caucuses. "A lot of people don't know that Mark's studied Japanese literature. A lot of people probably do know that Travis lifts weights all day long," he adds with a laugh.
"My point being that when it came time to do this new record, we definitely had this sense of change embedded in our musical DNA," Delonge explains. "We needed to make ourselves passionate about the record, we needed to be excited about music again, we needed to challenge ourselves to evolve. Yes, I guess it can all be pushed together and lumped into the words 'more mature.' "
Not that mature material has been wholly absent from Blink-182's oeuvre. Even 1999's "Enema of the State" -- the one with porn superstar Janine on the cover in a nurse/dominatrix uniform -- contained "Adam's Song," a powerful exploration of exhaustion and depression based on a letter from a Blink fan who, fortunately, survived a suicide attempt.
But after 2001's "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket," Blink was beginning to feel straitjacketed by juvenilia expectations, as well as feeling rushed into a quick follow-up by MCA. According to Delonge, "the president of MCA was penalizing us an obscene amount of money because our record wasn't going to be out in time for them to make their quarterly revenue statements. . . . And we were saying, 'Hey, we can't do this right now, we need to reorganize ourselves and really think about what we want to do and write the best record we can.' They didn't agree with us."
But MCA "crumbled," Delonge says, mostly because Universal put it out of the band's misery by shuttering the label. Universal moved MCA's more successful bands to Geffen.
"Geffen came down and heard three songs and they said, 'This is the best record you've ever done, this is the record of your career, take as much time as you want, call us when it's done.' It just completely outlined the perspective of putting accounting before creative, and when you're in the entertainment business, you've got to put creative first. It's an art, you've got to look at it like an art, treat it like an art, and then you'll get the best product in the long run."
During the break between albums, Delonge and Barker formed a side band, Box Car Racer, while Barker also teamed up with Rancid's Tim Armstrong in the Transplants. The music these bands made wasn't miles away from Blink-182 but it was apparently just far enough.
"When I did Box Car Racer, it was a huge growing time for me," Delonge says. "I was able to experiment with my instrument, to experiment with my voice as an instrument. I was completely able to try different things. I had songs with completely different forms and methods of music than I ever did with Blink. . . .Yet the experimentation that went on with the last Blink record is so much further."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
On their new album, Blink-182's Mark Hoppus, left, Travis Barker and Tom Delonge act more their age.