“Usually, when it’s time to make a blink-182 album, we never go far beyond what we set out to do,” says Travis Barker, who has served as the band’s drummer since 1998 and appears on five of their seven studio albums. “If it’s an 11-track album, we’ll probably write about 12 – and that’s if we’re lucky. This is the first time that we’ve ever had a surplus of songs to choose from. By the time we had finished writing for the album, we had ended up with about 30 songs. This is the first time that this has happened. We had to cut that down, obviously, so it was a matter of everyone in the band picking their favourites. It was honestly the toughest part. I fought for a few songs on this album. I fought for ‘She’s Out of Her Mind’, I fought for ‘San Diego’, I fought for ‘Sober’. Ultimately, the selection process was about being a team player and knowing when to pick your battles.”
The resulting sessions at Foxy Studios in Woodland Hills saw the band put together their first album in five years, California, which took 16 of the aforementioned 30 songs that were written throughout the second half of 2015 and recorded several weeks earlier this year. Overseeing the album’s recording was producer John Feldmann, who many punk fans would know as the driving creative force behind Goldfinger and who many pop fans would know as a co-writer for the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer.
“When I suggested him, the other two needed a day to think about it,” says Barker. “I could see where they were coming from – when people think of Feldmann, a lot of the time they’ll only think of Goldfinger or the bands he’s done production work for. I feel like a lot of people don’t realise what Feldmann is capable of. There’s so much more to him outside of the stuff he’s popular for. John’s a good dude, man. We all went to breakfast, and then the next day we went to John’s studio. We wrote three songs that day, and the other two were instantly convinced. The original plan was to be with him for a week or two, and ended up staying for a month and a half. It went well beyond what any of us could have anticipated.”
California sees the band – completed by bassist, vocalist and sole original member Mark Hoppus – attempting to encompass everything that has come to define the band in its 20-plus years of existence. There are free-wheeling skate-punk numbers, some vintage rock moments, a ballad or two and the inevitable 30-second gag songs. Despite the album not coming from a place of the “classic” line-up, Barker believes that this is the closest the band have gotten to truly sounding like itself since reuniting in 2009.
“Mark and I have wanted to write an album like this for a long time,” he says. “We felt like we were finally allowed to make an album like this. We weren’t arguing with someone about what the band should or shouldn’t sound like. There was no fighting like there was on the last couple of blink-182 albums. I love Tom, and he’s a great songwriter, but we knew we didn’t want the band to sound like Angels & Airwaves. By the same token, I never want this band to sound like the Transplants or like my solo material. I want this band to sound like blink-182. That’s all I want.”
There’s a genuine sense of enthusiasm around the release of California from Barker, which is more than can be said about the previous blink-182 album, 2011’s Neighborhoods. Produced entirely by the band itself and recorded completely separate from one another, the album was met with critical indifference and a commercial slump when compared to the multi-platinum sales of previous albums.
“There were a few pretty clear problems with the Neighborhoods record,” admits Barker. “Jerry [Finn, the band’s longtime producer] had just passed away, and we were all disconnected – Tom had his studio, we had ours. I had survived a plane crash and was out of my mind. We were just trying to pull ourselves together. We had nobody there to be like, ‘That chorus could be bigger’ or ‘this intro shouldn’t be so long.’ There was no producer doing that, which I think is instrumental. You need that extra set of eyes and ears.”
Although he’s never asked about by name, Barker brings up Delonge several times throughout the interview. He appears to have an on-again-off-again relationship with him, noting his songwriting skills while simultaneously pointing to him as the reason for the schism between the three of them.
“Tom wanted the band to be different,” he says. “It didn’t make sense to me. We could sell out Reading and Leeds, play to 100,000 people – look at what they go crazy for. It’s all the fast, fun songs that people know this band for. I think Tom’s time away from the band will help him to realise what blink-182 does really is awesome. I hope it convinces him of that. I’m really proud of who we are and what we sound like.”
California is out now via Liberator Music/ Vagrant. For more details, head to blink-182.com.