Backstage With Blink 182

Mark Hoppus talks life lessons, new songs and where to find the best Mexican food in the world

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No band from the early 90s through to the 2000s tapped into the psyche of teenage boys around the world quite like Blink 182. When they weren't running around naked in their music videos or hanging out with a monkey in American Pie, they were penning lyrics about the important things in life – friendship, girls, drinking behind rock clubs – that were both brilliantly juvenile and oddly pogninant, before taking a darker turn with a new album in 2003 (with help from The Cure’s Robert Smith, no less).

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Now a heritage act for grown up former pop punk aficionados, Blink have been warming up for a headline slot at Reading and Leeds Festival in August with a pair of intimate shows at London's Brixton Academy. Esquire attended and, after shaking off some mosh pit cobwebs, were delighted to find the band as on form as ever. Guitarist Tom DeLonge referred to each song as a "piece of art" (certainly true of Enema Of The State), drummer Travis Barker performed a break-neck solo and bassist Mark Hoppus lead the band in a double time rendition of their 2001 album track, "Happy Holidays, You Bastard" in the dark. Oh – and the whole thing cumulated in the band performing Dude Ranch single "Dammit" backed by a flaming "FUCK" sign. 

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Before the show, we sat down with bassist and vocalist Mark Hoppus to talk forgetting lyrics, headlining festivals and the long-awaited seventh album.

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Brixton Academy is becoming a regular haunt for Blink when you come to the UK. What is it about the venue that you like so much?

I just love the atmosphere here; it’s like a dirty, sweaty, beer-stained box. There’s so much history here and it’s a good venue to have these shows that are just about the immediacy of playing music in front of people before we play Reading and Leeds.


Last time Blink played Brixton you got out the acoustic guitars for some deeper cuts. Are there any older songs that you wish you could play more often?

I wish we could play 'Apple Shampoo' more, but that song’s really hard to sing and it’s a long one. For a fast song, that song is long. It has like five different sections to it.


The flaming “FUCK” sign is back. What was the thinking behind that?

It’s like a “throwback Thursday” on stage. It was the centerpiece to our whole 2002 world tour. I remember was driving home from recording for Take Off Your Pants And Jacket and I had this idea to start a show with that sign It was so ridiculous and such a non-sequitur to start off with a flaming, huge sign that just says “Fuck” that I thought it was really funny. Tom and Travis thought it was cool so we made it happen.


This year's Reading and Leeds will be your second headline slot. How do you make it bigger and better each time?

It’s the fourth time we’ve played and the second time headlining, yeah. This time we have the flaming Fuck sign, we have pyrotechnics, we have a bunch of stuff. I think we have a really good set put together. I think the set encompasses everything from Neighborhoods all the way back to Chesire Cat. I think it’s a strong set and I think it’s what people like.
 

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What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?

I was in college and Blink was just starting to do kinda well. We’d play San Diego on a Friday night, then San Diego and Los Angeles the next weekend and these little runs started getting longer and longer and it was hard for me to maintain being in college and also touring as much as Blink needed to tour. We made no money – like $50 a night – so I couldn’t support myself and I was living at my mom’s. One day I said to her, "This band thing is kinda starting to go, but I don’t know what to do about school', and she said “You have the rest of your life to go back to college, this is your one chance to be in a band”, so she’s the reason I got to do what I do now.


Tell us about your solo project Nothing And Nobody.

I’m working on it with [Blink and Nine Inch Nails engineer] Chris Holmes and possibly one or two other people. I can’t give you any clues. Until it’s confirmed I don’t want to say anything. It’s always weird when you go, “Oh yeah, Eddie Vedder’s going to be part of this” and then it comes out and he’s not part of it and everyone goes “what happened to Eddie Vedder?” It’ll be electronic mixed with guitars. It’ll be poppy and dark and weird.


When you’re writing a song how do you decide if it’s for Blink or something else?

I haven’t really been faced with that so far. The things I write for Blink I write for Blink and the things I’ve written for other things have been written specifically for them. I don’t write a song and then go “Oh this is gonna go here, and this is going to go here.” I pretty much write for each project.


For Blink’s Untitled album, you guys holed up in a house together in California for eight months. Do you see yourselves doing that again for the next album? 

I don’t know how we’ll do it. I think we might do it for like a week at a time. We’re still talking about it. Tom and I were even talking about that tonight, how we’ll make it work, but I think better work happens when Blink’s all in the same room at the same time.


How do you write together as a band?

The thing with Blink is, I pull one direction, Tom pulls a totally different direction and Travis is like the X factor – you never know what he’s going to come up with. So Tom tends to write these really anthemic, theatrical, stadium-style song and he’ll literally say, “imagine walking out at Reading festival, with this beat going, and the lights are flashing…” So that’s how Tom thinks about writing songs – in terms of how it’ll look live. I just want to write a concise, fast, angry, punk rock song. Travis has hip-hop and rock and classic rock. Lately he’s been really into aggressive rock like The Misfits and things like that. I don’t know how the new record will end up being, but hopefully it’ll be edgy and cool.


Do you have a time frame for the next album?

We’d like ideally to have it out by next summer so that we can tour next summer. We don’t know at this point where we’ll tour. Hopefully it’ll be everywhere. 


After 22 years of being in a band, how much has your approach to music and writing changed?

Not much. I mean my approach to music is still to start the song on acoustic guitar, how I’ve always done it. But I think I’m a lot broader minded now about influences and sounds and things like that. When we first started out all we wanted to do was play as fast and for as long as we could. It was fun and great. Now we want to play fast sometimes, play cool sometimes, and play, I don’t know, clever sometimes. But I still think the core is there, there’s this angsty, weird, teenage fuel, this snarky, snotty, punk rock element.


What’s the worst part of being in a band?

There’s no worse part. I’d have to think of stuff to complain about, and I’d sound stupid because it would be stupid. Being in a band is the best thing in the world. I couldn’t imagine being happier with anything that I do.


Finally, when was the last time you had Mexican food from Sombreros?

Sombrero? Not for a long time. Probably a year ago when I was in San Diego, but I had really good Mexican food in Los Angeles just like two weeks ago. Everyone says they’ve found the best spot in London, but it’s never the same as whatever the Southern Califonian take on Mexican food is.


Blink 182 play Brixton Academy on August 8. They headline this years Reading and Leeds Festival from August 22-24. Dogs Eating Dogs is out now. 


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