Travis Barker has been on our cover four times. In the past he usually appeared as one of the world’s most admired drummers, seemingly always at the top of his game. But for our October 2009 cover story we talked to a different Barker. He’s been through celebrity wars and life-threatening injuries from a plane crash. He’s reuniting with band mates from whom he’d been alienated for a few years. He’s a father, and he’s older. And, tragedy continues to unfold for him. After this interview was done he lost current musical partner DJ AM to an apparent drug overdose.
In the following excerpts we include the intro to the October cover story and some of his comments about going on tour with Blink-182 again. The issue will be available mid-month. The article also includes a kit diagram and a career timeline.
Unlike the usual drab boxes that house recording studios, the Blink-182 compound is a tasteful structure on a hidden corridor in the San Fernando Valley. Maybe it’s the wrought-iron door orshiny rides parked in the drive that makes it seem more like a reclusive actor’s home in the Hollywood Hills instead of an incubator of creativity.
The foyer’s hard-wood floors and high ceilings belie the man cave of separate tracking rooms, a sound booth, a design space for clothing line Famous Stars And Straps (where two employees pore over fabrics), chill-out room, and so on. While an assistant burns me a CD of Barker’s latest mixtape (more on that in a second), I peruse the unusual keyboards arrayed against the wall.
There is a disconnect between the real Travis Barker and the guy you see in the media. Can this polite, humble 33-year-old be the same attention-seeking fashion victim who invited a reality TV crew into his home to film Meet The Barkers?
And surely this small-ish dude is not the source of the ear-splitting din on a custom acrylic kit — a guy pivoting his entire torso with each stroke — as the photographer snaps away. After the shoot, I spy the sticks sitting on his bass drum and snatch them up. Maybe cradling them, totem-like, will provide insights into this man of many contradictions. Nope, the wood is silent.
[Ed. Note]. In the issue Barker talks extensively about his work with DJ AM, the crash and his recuperation and reinvention of his drumming style in the face of serious injury, and his musical and personal relationship to Blink-182. This next segment comes as he’s heading to Las Vegas for a reunion concert.
Bringing His Game
For Blink 2.0, Hoppus, DeLonge, and Barker comport themselves with a greater degree of professionalism than in the hey day of Blinkmania. The band is still the soundtrack to frat keggers and Jell-O shots, rom coms and Warped Tour, but these days they actually rehearse. The words “click track” are barely out of my mouth when Barker interjects, “I love ’em. I mean, I prefer them, but with AM there is no click track. I’m just, ‘Oh, s–t, what is he going to throw at me? What are we going to do right now?’ With Blink everything’s a click track [snaps fingers rhythmically]. I love that.
“Last Blink tour was just us four times as fast, five times as fast as it was on records. Like, we’ve practiced more for this upcoming tour than we have anything we’ve ever done in our whole life, so it’s pretty funny.”
So why didn’t the band use the metronome in the old days?
“Back then we wouldn’t even think of that. Like, we were so into breaking down every song and playing them at the tempos we wanted. There was no practice to get a click track to play with to see if we liked it, to be honest [laughs]. I was the click track, but I think if we would’ve tried it back then, yeah, we would’ve liked it.”
The absence of a click in TRV$DJAM notwithstanding, Barker credits the project for his newfound discipline with Blink. “It’s like writing an hour-long song with one of your homies,” he explains of the mixtapes. “And then you think of how long it takes to write a three-minute song, but you have to compile 50 minutes worth of material together. So we end up playing a lot before we figure it out and then rehearsal takes an hour to go through the set, so it’s an hour worth of practice. That’s more than I’ve put in since I was 13.
“I try to get to a place where I think of something and then I think about how to execute it onto the drums and make sure my chops are capable of pulling off what I thought,” he continues. “I fight with it, but I’m pretty much there. I think [the ideas for beats and my chops] grow at the same speed. I haven’t thought of way out sh–t that I can’t pull off yet, so I think I’m even right now.”
In case you thought Barker’s “leg up” approach to footwork was some juvenile urge to play as hard as he can, you’re only partially right. “For the most part I’m trying to make sure my bass drum, my snare drum, and every fill I do is the same volume, you know? I would always hate it when I’d go see drummers play and you get to their fill and you couldn’t hear it no more [laughs]. So I always try to make sure everything cuts.”
The Blink setup remains oddly fixed in time. The logic behind the one-up/one-down configuration is, he says, to “keep it simple.” And no matter how often Orange County Drums builds him one-of-a-kind tubs, the tops of his drums will always be perfectly horizontal and lie low. To underscore the point, he mentions a video from ’95 he recently posted on the Net. It’s a pre-Blink Barker playing a skateboard party and the kit arrangement is almost exactly the same as the one you see today. “I grew up seeing Mike Bordin from Faith No More,” he says. “He pretty much played flat, and that was the one thing that caught my attention. Then being in marching band, everything is flat. Stewart Copeland was flat. All my favorite drummers were flat. Mikkey Dee: flat. It was just the way I wanted to go. I always thought it was weird when I saw the drummer where their drums were, like, eating them.”