Hoppus + Skiba on Blink's new album, Tom DeLonge + 25 years of punk
Drew Heatley

08:00 20th June 2016

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The next two weeks mark the culmination of a whirlwind 18 months for Blink 182. Tom DeLonge’s well-publicised departure in January 2015 set a series of events in motion that saw the band recruit long-time friend and Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba and finally enter the studio to record Blink’s seventh album.

That record, California, is released on 1 July – and it’s the world’s first real look at the next chapter of this storied band. The signs are already positive, such is the way Blink fans have accepted Skiba into the fold.

“Ever since Matt joined, people have embraced him wholeheartedly,” Mark Hoppus tells Gigwise when we meet in West London. “People were excited that he was filling in for those (initial) shows, people were excited that we were getting in the studio together. They had a lot of questions, but when the first single came out I think it explained a lot of things, just by the song.”

Skiba nods, adding: “Obviously we were hoping for a good response. Of course there are people who will talk shit, but the good thing about it is that it was never specific. If someone came in to one of my favourite bands I would be sceptical, but there was never anything specific that was discouraging.”

DeLonge’s second exit from the band caused shockwaves among fans, but Hoppus insists that while there might have been some early misgivings, there’s no ‘camp Tom’ and ‘camp Matt’.

“I think it started off kinda like that, but it’s really not – at least not in my mind. This is Blink-182, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, it’s something that Travis and I love and it’s something that Matt is a third of."

It was DeLonge’s unique vocal style that characterised Blink’s near 25-year history, leaving big shoes to fill. And while Skiba’s contrasting sound breathes new energy into Blink on California, he understands that he has a certain responsibility to honour the band’s back catalogue and the sound DeLonge brought.

“I can’t completely abandon some of the inflections, but at the same time I’ve been a Blink fan for so long and to be able to sing some of my favourite songs and put my twist on it is a great deal of fun and an honour,” says Skiba. “But I also feel like there are certain things that Tom would do that without them, the song would lose something. It’s not trying to sing like him necessarily, but annunciating things certain ways or pronouncing certain words – if you don't do that it’s not going to sound right. It’s emulating it to an extent, but also making it my own without destroying it – hopefully!”

Skiba’s respect for the past is one of the many positives he brings to the reborn Blink – and Hoppus is quick to sing his praises.

“Matt has one of the best voices in music; everything he sings sounds like it’s coming from the depths of his heart," smiles Hoppus. "He’s an amazing lyricist; his turn of phrase is so clever that when you hear one of his songs you think ‘that’s one of the most genius things I’ve ever heard” and it’s done so simply, which is a difficult thing to do. It’s hard to make something so complex seem so simple. And he’s a great guitarist; he has a great sense of melody and balance in music.

Photo: Daniel Quesada

Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker were able to witness Skiba’ talents first-hand while recording California. It was a stark contrast to the recording of previous LP Neighborhoods, released in 2011, when a strained Blink recorded tracks separately. This time they went back to basics.

“(For Neighborhoods), we’d get together in Travis’s studio for a couple of days, then everyone would go off to their own studios and work separately for long periods of time,” Hoppus recalls. “This record was written all in the same room with everybody all-hands-on-deck, focused on the record at all times.”

The result is Blink 182 at their finest - mixing the frenetic, banter-filled style of their early days with the more measured and searching sound of their later years.

“There’s an immediacy on this new record; there’s an energy,” Hoppus says. “It sounds like Blink-182 should sound in 2016. It’s fast, it’s angry, it’s angsty, it’s troubled, it’s conquering – it’s all the stuff I would want in a Blink album.”

Skiba adds: “This was a very unique process. You can hear it – punk rock should sound immediate, it shouldn't sound like it’s been churned.”

Blink had recorded nearly 30 tracks prior to bringing in producer John Feldmann, who took the band back to the drawing board. Will these songs ever see the light of day?

“I think they might,’ Hoppus teases. “We brought John in with the intention of him taking those 30 ideas and helping us translate them into an album. He listened to the songs and said: ‘There’s some really cool ideas here. Let’s go to the studio tomorrow and you guys can write a song from scratch and we’ll see where it takes us’. The next day we wrote two songs, we went back the next day and wrote more, then two more the next day. It just kept going.

“It’s not that we scrapped the other 30, we just forgot about them. They’re still on a hard drive, there are some great ideas in there, but I feel like they’re sketches – they’re us practising, throwing ideas around and getting comfortable playing music with one another.”

August sees Blink 182 celebrate 25 years in the business – and Hoppus insists that the impending milestone definitely had an impact on the creation of Blink’s latest album.

“Every record we release has to be the best one we put out – and to be able to do it 25 years in is even better,” he says. “For a lot of people, this will be their first Blink-182 album and that’s exciting. If a kid goes out and buys California as their first Blink-182 record, I want them to have the same experience as someone who was growing up and bought Enema of the State as their first album. They put it on, they get excited and they want to go out with their friends and conquer the world and go destroy the weekend.”

So, what artists are making Blink want to destroy the weekend?

“Mark and I really like Savages, they’ve been making a lot of noise and doing really well,” Skiba enthuses. “I’m a huge Nick Cave fan and he has a new album coming out, which I’m ecstatic about. If I could change places with anyone – and I wouldn't do it in a million years – but if I absolutely had to, it’d be Nick Cave. He’s the coolest motherfucker ever. The new Kills album is also great. And I’m a really big fan of this record we just made – I listen to that a lot…”

Photo: Daniel Quesada

There’s no Nick Cave on Blink’s mammoth summer tour, of course, but they will be joined by host of pop punk legends including All-American Rejects, Simple Plan, The Used, A Day To Remember and All Time Low. And Skiba’s already thinking about the tracks he’s looking forward to playing live.

“I love playing ‘Dysentery Gary’ – that’s always been one of my favourite songs. I really love playing ‘I Miss You’ – I love playing songs where Mark and I harmonise and share vocal duties. There isn’t a song I don't like playing. The whole thing is really special to me, being such a huge fan and playing these amazing songs.”

Skiba’s addition to Blink brings together two of the most iconic punk rock bands of the last two decades. With such extensive back catalogues, it’s tough to pick some favourite songs, but for Hoppus there’s a standout Alkaline Trio track.

“My favourite Alkaline Trio song is 'Sadie',” he says. “It highlights everything I love about the band and Matt specifically. I love that it’s a catchy, sing-along song and then you realise that you’re singing about the Manson family.”

Skiba adds: “There was a girl that named her daughter Sadie after the song. I said: ‘You know what that song’s about don't you?’ And she says no! I was like: ‘never mind! Sadie’s a nice name – Charles Manson thinks so too, apparently!’”

Throughout our conversation, there’s a lot of mutual respect and admiration between Hoppus and Skiba. It’s clear Blink is in a happy and optimistic space right now. And Hoppus is confident that the release of California will silence any lingering doubts about Blink 2.0.

“The proof is in the album. When it comes out all suspicions will be put to rest. We stand by the record and we stand by the music.”

It's that defiance that’s made Blink 182 such a force for 25 years. And they’re not ready to stop yet – they’re just getting started.

Blink 182 release new album California on 1 July

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