Our October 2011 cover (#279) turned to blink-182. The band connected with AltPress on the eve of their record Neighborhoods, recorded following a lengthy hiatus. In the interview, Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge discussed the challenging process that led to the new record. More than that, they spoke about the artistic journey that led to the new record, both the good and the bad of building a working relationship and a friendship during their time together.
Story: Scott Heisel
Portraits: Douglas Sonders
Candids & Lives: Jonathan Weiner
“I wish it were Carmageddon every day.”
Mark Hoppus is currently headed to the University of Southern California’s Galen Center, where his band are running through full-production rehearsals for the Honda Civic Tour. According to the bassist, the media-dubbed “carmageddon”—when a segment of the 405 freeway was temporarily closed for repairs—was “the best week of traffic ever. They scared everybody away, so nobody was on the freeway at all, and there was no traffic. The city was dead; it was perfect.”
Hoppus is in bright spirits, even though at this moment, he and his bandmates are 48 hours away from July 31, the deadline given by their label for turning in Neighborhoods in order to make its Sept. 27 release date—and it’s still not done. “I think that definitely we will be going right up until right then,” he admits, explaining how he’s juggling these rehearsals with going over multiple mixes a day as well as preparing for tour and packing up his entire house for a post-tour move to London with his family.
“It’s somewhere that we’ve always loved going, and the people there are really cool, and it’s always fun,” explains Hoppus of his new home, saying he and his family have plans to live overseas for at least a year—possibly longer, depending on how they enjoy the experience. “London is obviously laid out in no particular order at all,” he continues, laughing, “so it’ll be interesting to find our way around, but I think it’s all part of the adventure.”
As he did in the band’s last AP cover story, Hoppus again comes off as the member of blink most excited about being in blink, and the one most gung-ho about both preserving the band’s legacy and expanding their influence. The 39-year-old has kept Neighborhoods incredibly close to his vest throughout the extensive recording process, only letting an extremely select few even hear parts of songs. (“It’s like everybody holds a piece of the puzzle, but only the three of us see the whole thing.”) When we jokingly compare the situation to that of beloved TV show Lost—a half-decade-plus-long journey of trying to discover one’s purpose in life that includes time travel and a mysterious smoke monster—Hoppus laughs, but also agrees.
“We really relied on ourselves, and I think that’s why it took so long to record the album. Because we did everything ourselves, and we didn’t have that instant Jerry Finn decision or input as to ‘Is this working, or is this not working?’” he reasons, referencing the band’s longtime producer, who passed away in 2008 after a sudden brain hemorrhage. “I think we always got to the same spot that we would have with Jerry being there, but I think it took a lot longer for us to get there.”
“Where am I right now?”
Whether Tom DeLonge realizes it or not, he’s currently inside a quite-posh hotel room in New York City in early August—two days after Neighborhoods was supposed to be turned into Geffen. But he should be forgiven for not always knowing exactly where he is; bouncing between two active bands—blink-182 and Angels & Airwaves—would be enough to make anyone disoriented from time to time. But as he catches his breath inside his suite, we mention blink’s impending tour kickoff, which will feature the live debut of four new songs (sure to end up in various forms of crappy audio and video on YouTube), a performance on Late Show With David Letterman (which was later scrapped for unknown reasons) and the fact that, well, Neighborhoods isn’t technically done, and the butterflies begin to build within the 35-year-old guitarist’s stomach.
“Why are you pointing out where I’m really fucking making bad decisions?” he says, laughing, before explaining the status of blink’s new album. “No, [Neighborhoods has not been turned in], but we have leeway because it is finished, and we are approving mixes hour by hour. So our mastering date is in the next few days. It’s like you painted a picture, and all you got to do is frame it. So we’re framing it right now.”
DeLonge rarely has a moment’s rest: By the time you read this, Angels & Airwaves’ film LOVE will have premiered in hundreds of theaters nationwide, followed by a live performance from AVA—all on an off-day of blink’s current tour. In addition to that, DeLonge’s band will release a double album, LOVE II, Nov. 11. Factor in his continued involvement with entertainment website ModLife and shoe company Macbeth, and it doesn’t seem like the lanky singer will ever have a moment’s rest. “I kind of know what I’m doing for the next few years of my life,” he says, “which sucks because that means you age a lot quicker. But every week, I know what I have to accomplish. I try to think of it in little terms.”
While all of DeLonge’s other projects may hinder the progress of blink from time to time, there seems to be more bubbling beneath the surface. “We’re so dysfunctional, but in a really harmonious way,” he begins. “Beautifully dysfunctional. It’s like, [in] the bottom of the ninth inning, we’ll hit a home run.” When asked if there was ever a time over the past two years that he thought blink wouldn’t continue, he doesn’t hesitate: “Oh, there’s always those times. Yesterday was one of those times. We were on the phone for, like, hours… You never quite know what’s going to happen with this band. There’s a lot behind the scenes that makes it quite a fun ride.”
When DeLonge says “behind the scenes,” he’s referring to the cabal of publicists, managers, attorneys and the like who made this story so challenging to assemble in the first place. A few days prior, when Hoppus was asked what the least fun part of being in blink-182 is, he cites “a lot of the behind-the-scenes things” and the managerial “red tape” as being “frustrating for us as a band.” When this information is relayed to DeLonge, he immediately agrees.
“It’s the absolute diarrhea of bureaucracy that surrounds our band,” he says. “It’s ridiculous. It’s very hard to get things accomplished in this band because there’s so many of those groups of people. A lot of times, it hurts [band chemistry] because you’re hearing what people feel and think through other people. But we’re always fine when we’re together. All we need to do is to get on the road and start, just the three of us, and then we’re fine.”
Seeing as how these people work for the band, and not the other way around, why not get rid of them?
“I wish the world was that easy,” DeLonge resigns. “You would think so. Like, if it hurts to hit yourself in the nuts, then why are you still doing it? And you’re all, ‘Because it feels so good when I stop.’ I think the magic of this band is the compromise.”
We’re back in Orange County, it’s back in early July, and we’ve finally gotten our audience with Hoppus and DeLonge. They both rest on a black leather couch in the rehearsal studio’s green room, and what little time we have together is spent discussing the ins and outs of making Neighborhoods. In a few minutes, a publicist will barge into the room and order the interview to end, but until then, DeLonge explains what makes blink work.
“For me personally, the sense that I got is there is a lot of respect,” he starts. “We would pick and choose the things we would want to make an issue about [while recording]. As bummed as I might get [that one of my ideas would get vetoed], I knew they weren’t just throwing it out there. I knew they were picking that one because they really believed that, so I had to bite my lip a little bit and go for the greater good, no matter my emotional attachment to it.”
Hoppus agrees. “There’s songs that Tom brought that we changed and are vastly different than when Tom first brought them to us, and I think they’re a lot better. Likewise, there are ideas that Travis had or that I had that Tom gets in his hands… We all improve each other’s ideas.”
“That’s the difference between adults in the studio versus kids, you know?” DeLonge remarks. “We [used to be] like, ‘Dude, I wrote that song!’ As adults, we’re like, ‘Hey, I really like what you’re going for, but I really think it’s too much here or there. That kind of communicative spirit is why we were able to get back together after a breakup and really produce a record.”
Hoppus and DeLonge obviously have different approaches to songwriting; the former’s no-bullshit approach tends to be more literal and straightforward (and thus potentially more shit stirring, even though he claims none of the lyrics have any direct correlation to a specific person), whereas the latter tends to write in more grandiose, emotional ideas. Yet somehow, it all manages to fuse together into something that is undeniably original, unique and, most importantly, blink-182.
“I’m very proud of the record as a whole,” the bassist begins. “Expectations are giant for this album, and that’s a huge honor. People are this excited about our band even after eight years of not having a new CD. That being said, there are going to be some people [who are] like, ‘This record sucks. It’s not worth eight years of waiting. I expected so much more from them.’ We went into recording this album knowing that was going to be the case. Expectations are going to be really high, and people are going to read into everything we write. [We] just [have to] take it more as an honor than a burden.”
So you would say, unequivocally, this is the best blink-182 record?
“…That’s coming out this year,” DeLonge cracks.
“I think this is the best blink-182 record, absolutely,” Hoppus answers.
“To me, it doesn’t bother me if [fans] look into lyrics and they think Mark’s still pissed at me or something like that, because I know in my heart…”
“…that I am,” jokes Hoppus.
“…that he is,” DeLonge says, laughing. “But I know in my heart where we are as artists, and even if there was something in the lyrics about [me], I’d still be fine with it as long as it’s real.”
Hoppus isn’t kidding: Expectations for Neighborhoods are truly gigantic, both within the music industry and the record-buying mainstream, and it’s hard for most people reading (or writing) this to understand what that pressure truly feels like. But lest you think your cyberspace griping about canceled shows, new songs and other blink-related minutiae goes unnoticed, think twice.
“I read all my Twitter comments. I read the posts on Facebook. I talk to people,” Hoppus says. “There are some people out there that just want ‘What’s My Age Again?’ blink-182 in Dickies shorts and Hurley T-shirts, running around just being silly and screaming and whatever. We have always tried to keep our heads down and do our own thing.”
“You know what? We can’t please everybody, and the only people you can really please as artists are yourselves because you can’t guess what other people are going to like,” he resigns. “I don’t know what’s going to be popular tomorrow. I know what sounds good when Tom plays guitar on it. When I listen to something Tom just sang on, and I get goose bumps, I’m like, ‘That’s fucking awesome.’ I have no idea if anybody else is going to react that way, but the three of us all agree that this is exactly what we want the sound to be. This is exactly where we are right now, and we’re going to put it out, and hopefully catch people up to where we are.”