Linchpin of blink-182, family man, reality TV star, entrepreneur, label founder: Travis Barker has many titles. Just don’t call him a celebrity. Ahead of the band's comeback album, he discusses the way tragedy brought the group back together and marraige to Kourtney Kardashian.
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Words BEN TIBBITS
“'Parker…?” the mild-mannered concierge at The Savoy Hotel questions when I tell him who I’m here to see. “B-a-r-k-e-r,” I spell out, enunciating my diction. “First name Travis.” He nods in understanding, a smile appearing at the corner of his mouth and asks me to take a seat.
Directed, minutes later, towards a corner booth of the Covent Garden hotel’s bar by expressionless plain-clothed security, I find the subject of my visit sitting quietly towards the centre of a horseshoe-shaped couch. He’s sporting black dungarees atop a black hoodie. He orders an oat cappuccino, emphasising the oat (he’s a vegan of 15 years after all), and we begin our tête-à-tête on the topic of his current visit to the English capital.
Travis Barker, that night and the following evening, will headline The O2 Arena with his band, blink-182. The pop-punk pioneers are in the midst of a world tour in the run-up to their forthcoming comeback album, One More Time, the first LP with its three staple members since 2011’s Neighborhoods. The tour kicked off in May and “I’ve got seven shows left this year and then next year I have like 50 more,” he tells me breezily. He’s soft and measured throughout our chat, in a way that makes the knuckle-shattering gusto with which he plays to crowds later that evening almost inconceivable.
However, Barker’s so renowned for giving his all when on stage, with literal blood, sweat and tears as regular by-products, that pictures of blood-splattered hands shared on social media in the aftermath of the gigs that followed our conversation don’t surprise. After more than 25 years in the industry and hundreds, if not thousands, of live shows to his name, fans flocking to see the trio know exactly what he’s capable of behind the kit. “I’m not seeking attention or anything like that. The people in the crowd, our friends, our fans, they want to see a show,” he explains. “Some people will be like - ‘He’s hitting way too hard, he shouldn't have blisters on his fingers.’ I’m like - ‘Shut up, I’m having a great time!’”
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I’m curious how he retains the same zeal for playing live that he’s been known for since the early days. “It's pretty easy for me,” he replies, shrugging amicably. “It's all I've known since I was a kid. I feel like I've finally got my routine down. I like to run every day before I play, pray before I go to sleep, and practise every day to get better.”
Born in 1975 in Fontana, California, Barker’s initial interest in drumming arose thanks to The Muppets character, Animal. He later discovered more traditional masters of the instrument like Alex Van Halen, Buddy Rich and Stewart Copeland and was captivated by the often overlooked heartbeat of modern music. “The drummer was what I looked at in whatever group was on MTV when I was a kid,” he says. “I didn't care about the singer, the guitar player or the bass player.”
Immersing himself in the world of rhythm, Barker developed a unique and striking approach to the sticks, proving dextrous in his technique and eclectic in his tastes. He was a member of both a jazz ensemble and marching band during his high-school years. “I loved so many different types of music, I couldn't just pick one,” he recalls. “I think that significantly influenced my drumming style.”
The style in question arose from an amalgamation of discipline, intensity and showmanship. He, to this day, sets his drums up flat rather than tilted towards him like most kits, increasing the difficulty as if attempting to give himself some added challenge.
After a stint with the gloriously bizarre ska-punk act The Aquabats, Barker was recruited by Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus as the new member of blink-182 in 1998. He’d impressed them not long prior with his ability to learn their 20-song setlist in 45 minutes in order to stand in for previous drummer Scott Rayner for a show. The addition of Barker’s supreme technicality and theatrical live performance not only augmented the group’s sound but made way for their unrelenting knack for captivating ‘90s/’00s teenage culture that led them to global stardom a year later with their third and breakthrough record, Enema Of The State.
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They became the most ubiquitous and influential pop-punk act of their time, but “We're a band that never lost our integrity or changed our style to be on the radio or to be successful,” the 47-year-old reflects. “It's just what organically happened. We're still just a three-piece punk rock band that fires off songs one after another. Punk is the spirit in which you do something, it's not necessarily the sound or the way it looks.”
However, following the seismic success of albums like Enema of the State and its successor, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, the band took an indefinite hiatus in 2004, with the three members tackling individual creative pursuits instead. For Barker, these included diving into his rock-rap project, Transplants, two seasons of an MTV fly-on-the-wall reality show Meet The Barkers, collaborating with Hoppus again on electronic-leaning outfit +44, forming drummer-DJ collaborative duo TRV$DJAM with friend DJ AM, developing an enviable discography of hip-hop remixes for the likes of Eminem, Lil Wayne and XXXTentacion, and eventually releasing a long-awaited debut solo record, Give The Drummer Some, in 2011.
“I love collaborating,” he offers on the seemingly endless diversification of his musical portfolio. "It’s so fun and when I get to do it in other styles of music, it's really satisfying to me. I was always passionate [about music] even when [blink-182] weren’t together. It never left me; I was just doing it through different mediums.”
Addiction also touched his life within the band’s first fallow period, as did tragedy, in 2008, when he was involved in a fatal plane crash following a TRV$DJAM gig. Four people died, including two of his closest friends, whilst the only other survivor, DJ AM, passed away from a drug overdose the following year. Barker miraculously recovered from life-threatening injuries, spending months in hospital and having to relearn basic human functions like walking. “There's no way it couldn’t,” he says when I ponder how the crash altered his perspective on life. “Being on your deathbed and being the only survivor, it really makes you think. It helped me be sober for like 10 years which I think I needed and was a huge wake-up call for me. I'd do anything to go back and make it not happen, but I also learned so much from it.”
The crash was the catalyst for blink-182’s first reunion tour in 2009, followed by album Neighborhoodsin 2011. However, in 2015 the classic line-up separated again when in-house friction saw DeLonge leave and Barker and Hoppus enlist Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba to replace him. It would be another incident of tragedy that brought the band back together to their current iteration in 2021, when Hoppus was diagnosed with cancer, from which he has now recovered.
Barker told Hoppus at the time: “I only really see us doing [blink-182] if it's the three of us,” he remembers. “Even though Matt Skiba was such a great addition to the band and is a great dude and a great songwriter, it was just like - ‘This is blink-182, this is the DNA.’
Fast-forward to last October and they’d announced they would be hitting the road again and by this September, shared that a new album One More Timewas on the way – on 20th October to be exact. Not only does Barker consider it their most personal record yet, but he also feels that the time they spent apart has resulted in them making some of their strongest work to date. “We had a lot to say, to write about and to experiment with after not being in the same band for however many years,” he says. “It was really exciting.”
“Everything has just been really organic,” he affirms. “If you're just doing album cycle after album cycle, you do lose inspiration. For me, I’ve got to get out and live and experience something. I need some ups and downs. I need some of the best days of my life, and I need some tragedy.”
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To say it’s been a whirlwind journey to this chapter of their story for Barker and his bandmates is an understatement, but they now seem to have found a balance that promises consolidation with only progression on the horizon. “The band is closer than it's ever been. It's the most comfortable and best it's ever felt on tour. I mean, we were here playing clubs at one point,” he says, gesturing to the city he finds himself in. “I can't describe the feeling of coming here for the first time and playing clubs with a few hundred kids and now coming back and doing two shows at The O2. It’s insane.”
At the root of Barker’s contributions remains an unfaltering dedication to continue nailing his craft, to the point of almost obsessive perfectionism. “I’ve made 17 different versions of certain songs,” he recounts. “I think anyone with a vision can relate. Sometimes you write and record something and it's not quite there and you ruminate, wondering why it's not. It's figuring out a puzzle; sometimes you need to explore more and that's another amazing part of the journey.”
Satiating his need for exploration is achieved also by being a multi-disciplinarian, with Barker rarely lacking a new creative or business endeavour. Not only a sought-after producer and the man behind the buttons for blink’s new LP, but he also recently launched Barker Wellness, a vegan wellness company whose cannabinol-infused products aim to help with relaxation and pain relief. Forays into fashion have come also via his brand, Famous Stars and Straps, founded in 1999, but his perhaps most notable business venture of late leads him inevitably back to music with his record label, DTA Records.
“I just wanted to provide a home for artists,” he offers. “The president of [blink-182’s] label, my friend Ron Perry, is a great record label president. But in my 25 years of being in the music industry and navigating through it, I've also been on the opposite side thinking - ‘This is what I need.’ So I committed to doing things differently.”
Founded by Barker in partnership with Elektra Entertainment in 2019, DTA (or Don’t Trust Anyone) Records boasts the likes of TikTok-turned-industry singer-songwriter Jxdn and Canadian heavyweight Avril Lavigne among its roster (as well as Barker’s own son Landon, who, according to his father, is shortly “putting out a project which is amazing”). The label’s ethos is grounded in Barker’s devotion to musical discovery and artistic nurturing. “DTA is only artists that I'm really passionate about,” he explains. “Sometimes I’m their producer, their friend, their therapist, just everything, you know? It's not really narrowed down to one genre of music.”
Over the past few years, Barker’s fame shot to newfound heights when he began dating and, in 2022, married Kourtney Kardashian, becoming a regular on her family’s Disney+ reality TV show in the process. “My wife is the most down-to-earth person so it's the easiest to navigate,” he says, visibly overjoyed to be discussing her. Their relationship has been undoubtedly beneficial to Barker’s life and mental health – it was Kourtney who helped him overcome his fear of flying and return to an aircraft for the first time since his crash, for instance. In June, Kourtney announced to Travis and the world that she was pregnant with their first child together, from the audience of a blink-182 concert of all places. This would appear to be the most stable Barker has ever felt. “I’ve known her for like 10 plus years. Ending up married to one of my best friends is the coolest, craziest thing ever. We've been together for three years and we're like - ‘Can you believe this? This is great.’”
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The extensive press attention their relationship commands, one might imagine, would come with downsides, however. “It is sometimes weird when you're walking down the street and there's someone being intrusive or taking photos,” he says. “I'll never miss that.” But Barker, now, is largely at peace with the madness. “Travis ten years ago, he would have tried to fight the photographer or whatever,” he laughs. “Now it doesn’t bother me. I can compartmentalise and go on with my day.”
In some form, Barker has been a tabloid fixture on and off since the noughties, and its perhaps that experience that equips him for handling the uptick in attention that occurred when his new relationship began. Does he at times feels misjudged by the media though? “People care so much about what everyone else thinks. I think it doesn’t really matter,” he replies resolutely. “No one's going to remember what stupid outfit you wore today or what stupid thing you said yesterday a year from now. As long as I’m making good decisions and focusing on what I love and what I want and I’m not hurting anybody in the process, I’m happy.”
With 20,000 people to perform for a few hours later, I’m eager not to take up too much more of his time, but he leaves me with a note on notoriety. “I was doing an interview yesterday for this fashion brand that I have, and they asked me how it feels to have a celebrity-owned fashion brand... I'm not a celebrity!” he exclaims. “I'm a drummer, a husband, a father, a creative and a producer, but I don't consider myself a celebrity. I’m unapologetically me. I'm just like anybody else.”
He shakes my hand, smiles courteously at me with his pale blue eyes and wanders off towards the hotel lobby, leaving the still wordless security detail in his wake. As I gather my thoughts and head out into the rainy Wednesday afternoon, I can’t help but disagree with his final words to me. I don’t think there’s anyone like Travis Barker.
Interview taken from Man About Town Autumn/Winter 2023.