Travis Barker Tells Us the Story Behind Every Tattoo on His Body
We sat down with the Blink-182 man and picked out some of his best inks, unpacking each one to tell just a little of the story of Travis Barker’s life.
Travis Barker is a true punk leopard. Best known for ripping the skins in pop-punk kings Blink-182, he can also add a plethora of man-making experiences to his life resume: reality TV trailblazer, drummer in punk-rap supergroup Transplants, recovering drug addict, solo artist, lone plane crash survivor, restaurant owner, DJ-Rock pioneer in TRV$DJAM, fashion mogul, tattoo icon, son, father, and now author of a book.
Obviously, anyone even vaguely aware of Travis will know that he’s tattooed from head to toe, with various designs that symbolize the good times and bad times, ranging from religious iconography and full family portraits, to vegan restaurants.
Not surprisingly, these markings are something he’s deeply proud and loves to talk about, so with his relentlessly candid autobiography - Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums (which we interviewed him about in depth) - now out, we sat down with the Blink-182 man and picked out some of his best inks, unpacking each one to tell just a little of the story of Travis Barker’s life…
Noisey: Let’s start right at the beginning. Before you got any tattoos, you scratched your girlfriend’s name into your leg, right?
Travis: Yeah, I was 10 or 11, her name was Toni and I did it with a razorblade. I think its been covered with other tattoos now though. You must have done that, right?
No, Travis. I wrote their names on bad poems and on school desks.
Well that’s probably the better option. I actually only ever got the names of two girls tattooed - the ones I married [Melissa Kennedy and Shanna Moakler]. The Shanna tattoo is still there. I don’t know if I’m going to cover it up, but I’ve thought about it.
You starred in a reality show called Meet The Barkers with Shanna, it was only 16 episodes, but it must have had a huge effect on your private life.
Well, it never really tripped me out. I wasn't doing anything that I wasn't doing in normal life, that I was scared of being exposed. It was true reality - there wasn’t someone scripting or anything. It wasn’t really an issue until I realized Shanna and I were kinda on the outs. I don’t know if it was the show or the pressure of our relationship - she’d just had our son Landon - but I knew where I stood and I knew I had to leave. But I had to end the show before I could leave. I have no regrets. like, it’s all lessons learned. I honestly believe in my heart we wouldn’t have worked out regardless. We’re just two different people.
One of the sweetest parts of the book is where you and your dad each get ‘pal’ tattooed. [Pal is the name they used for each other since Travis’s childhood].
It was funny, ‘cos growing up he said “If you ever get a tattoo, I’m gonna kick your ass and kick you out of the house.” But many years later - 20 years - Pops had some tattoos of his own. It’s awesome. My mum passed away when I was 12, so my relationship with him is so important. He works alongside my business mergers. He helps me pay bills, keeps me organized. I speak to him every morning like clockwork. It’s always good to have a parent there to keep you humble, keep you grounded.
There’s a line where your dad says to the tattooist, “These are the last tattoos you’re ever going to give me. I don’t care what anyone says. It hurts.” Does tattooing still hurt you?
Well the pain doesn’t really bother me now. I’m so used to it. Make no mistake. When people say ‘It never hurts at all,” it does. But I was always a shop rat, so I would hang out at the tattoo shop, waiting for an opening, then I would jump in the chair. I was fortunate to get tattooed, so when you finally got it, you couldn't sit there and whine. I was in the shop when people did do that, and they’d get heckled, and people would talk about them. It’s just not a good look. I was always taught to be tough as nails: just shut up and get on with it.
What’s the longest you’ve spent in the chair?
I think 12 hours. That was for the Cadillac script going down my ribcage. It was actually a day where I was pissed off. So I kinda wanted it. The guy asked if I was sure - it’s a big one, with big bold black letters and lots of shading. All my ribcage bled. But it was fun. Those days where you’re pissed, it’s 12 hours to sit there, keep your cool and have someone else hurt you.
Do you have a Blink-182 tattoo?
No I don’t, which is kinda strange.
Even though, for most people, Blink-182 are the thing for which you’re best known, in the book it seems like the least significant of the significant parts of your life.
I could have written a whole book about Blink. When I first started writing it, Mark [Hoppus, from Blink-182], Tom [DeLonge] and I were actually talking about doing the official Blink-182 book, which would have been cool. I think it would have been lame for me to write a whole book about them, when it was just one sided. So I was very neutral. I didn’t talk bad about nobody. I kept it just as a part of my life. For me, Blink was a big part of my life, but I had "self-made on my knuckles when I was 18, before I was ever part of a band called blink-182. Transplants [one of his other bands who have released 3 albums] was just as big a part of my life. Everything was. Adam, DJAM and I, our years together [as TRV$DJAM) were just as important. We were doing something that no-one had done. and we were finding success in it. It was unique. We were breaking down doors and boundaries that hadn't been broken down before. So everything was equally important to me.
You don’t mention Tom in the acknowledgments at the end, though you do mention Mark.
I fucked up. I forgot my publicist as well so I’ll have to get it right second time round!
At length the book discusses your 2008 plane crash and subsequent recovery. [Travis was in a burns unit for four months and had 27 operations.] You lost a lot of tattoos in that.
Well all the tattoos were burnt off from my legs. and all the skin from my back had to be peeled off and used as grafts on other parts of my body. I had my first tattoos burnt off. One said ‘Bones’, which was my nickname when I was 16, because I was so skinny. The other was my Dag Nasty flame tattoo - they were a hardcore band that I loved when I was a teenager, and still love. The "can i say" on my chest is one of their albums as well.
Now you have the big family tattoo on your back.
Yeah, I have a big tribute to my family. Portraits of dad, mom and two kids - Landon and Alabama. I was getting tattooed by Franco Vescovi and Chuey Quintanar at the same time for 10 hour sessions. We probably did four or five of them.
After the crash, Adam [DJAM] and I played a show. And I had my shirt off and some idiot took a picture of my back saying “Look at all these burns on his back,” and it kind of bugged me. So I just thought “I’m just gonna tattoo my back. let’s work on it again.” It’s not like I’m ashamed of any of the burns: they are one big tattoo for me. They’re part of the story of my life, but a big back piece is really dope. I think it’s weird when people have tattoos on their head and their face, but they don’t have their back done.
You’ve got some pretty distinctive head tats.
There’s my Transplants gas mask at the back. There’s a script that says ‘one life, one chance.’ There’s praying hands from [tattoo artist] Mr Cartoon I got done when I was 19. There’s a rose from Chouey. On the top there’s the Virgin Mary.
How religious are you? Getting Virgin Mary on your head is quite a statement.
Well I got the Virgin Mary tattooed on my foreman when I was 18, 19. and I was brought up Catholic. I definitely pray; I believe in God. I definitely think I was blessed, and I’m here for a reason after being the only survivor of a plane crash. So I’m not at church every day and I’m not pushing religion on people. But I believe in God and I pray and my kids pray.
Has your level of belief gone up since the crash?
Oh yeah. for sure. There’s no doubt. I had a lot of survivor’s guilt in the beginning. I buried two of my best friends [Lil Chris and Che], then the two pilots passed away. I barely even knew them, but it affected me. And then when Adam passed away a year after the crash, I had to deal with that. I had a lot of people saying ‘Just be happy you’re here,’ but I struggled with that. It was like an identity crisis: ‘Am I supposed to be here, was I supposed to die, was it a mistake?” I obviously never take life for granted now, but at the same I don’t sit around every day going, ‘Should I have died in a plane crash?” There’s days I forget. And I’m happy I do. And then there’s days where it’s really bad and I can’t forget about it.
There’s an incredible part where you say that, because of your prior [prescription] pill addiction, anesthetic didn’t work for at least 12 of your operations, and that you felt everything. You must have taken a lot of pills.
Yeah. Well I think [prescription] pills are bit more popular than people give credit for. They’re just such a great drug that no one can smell on you. You can hide it from everybody. That was one of the greatest things about it. I never took drugs like heroin; I have too much of any addictive personality. I would have been dead within a year of discovering it. Pills were my biggest demon.
And you also smoked a lot of weed.
Yeah, it was crazy how abusive I was with it. It was like 20 or 30 blunts a day. I honestly thought I would be smoking weed until i was 90, if I didn’t have a scare with cancer [pre-cancerous cells were discovered on his esophagus] But the other stuff I touch on - pills, oxycontin, smoking PCP. That shit’s not good for you.
Quitting weed must have given you some horrendous nightmares after 20-odd years of constant smoking.
Ah man, terrible. Out of everything , quitting smoking weed and trying to wean myself off promethazine syrup, or lean, was really hard. Both of those were really difficult.
As well as quitting drugs, you are now completely vegan. You’ve even invested in a vegan restaurant called Crossroads, which you have a tattoo of.
Yeah it’s two crossed kitchen knives. I got it the first year we opened. I’m not like a psycho vegan, going to Sea World and fucking picketing or acting crazy. But I never liked the idea of eating an animal. It wasn’t until I was like 10 or 11 when I realized where ham came from, or where burger meat came from. I never liked the texture anyway so when I found out I no longer wanted to eat it. I was a vegetarian for years, then the evolution of being a vegetarian seemed to become a vegan. After having to eat meat in the hospital I got out and I never wanted to eat anything that came from an animal again.
How does it work with your kids?
My kids are vegan like half of time. Landon sometimes eats meat when he’s with his mum. It’s, whatever, you know? I think just a little bit of both. Being exposed to that way of eating is a good, positive thing. If they want to keep eating in that way where they're older it’s totally up to them.
Speaking of your kids, haven’t they each tattooed you?
Yeah they have a spot each on my thigh where they can tattoo whatever they want. Landon put a cross with his name, with an L and and A, and Alabama put a heart. There’s quite a bit of space left. I’m in trouble for a while.
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