The drummer talks about the near endless projects he's involved in, including writing a book, putting on a music festival, running a clothing line, playing in bands, and of course, getting tattooed.
“I can’t rest for a day without being in the studio, that’s just me,” Travis Barker says, sitting on a couch in the lobby of an Austin hotel, sipping a coffee, his bodyguard behind him, snapping pics constantly during a half-hour chat with the drummer.
For Barker, that restlessness applies to all aspects of his working life. In Austin for two days to play a show with Yelawolf that Barker curated as a way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his Famous Stars And Stripes clothing line, he headed back to LA the next day to work on the Musink festival, which he also curated.
The three-day fest in So Cal this weekend celebrates music (including a performance by Barker’s Transplants), tattoos, and cars. “It entails everything I love: music, cars and tattoos. So it was really easy for me to want to be a part of it,” Barker says.
His love of tattoos, an upcoming autobiography due in June, three new albums, including the latest on new music from blink-182, and coming to grips with the 2008 plane crash that killed four are just some of the many topics Barker delves into as he hangs with myself and a friend for our revealing talk.
This is the first year you are working with Musink, how involved are you in the day-to-day of curating it?
Man, leading up to the lineup, every day they’d hit me, “What do you think of this?” So I was very involved and Tech N9ne is a dear friend of mine, I hit up Bill from the Descendants and asked him if they’d play, kind of everyone. My friend books Gorilla Biscuits and I never got to see Gorilla Biscuits. I grew up a straight-edge kid that was all into hardcore, so that meant a lot to be able to get them play. They actually let me have a lot to do with who played. And all my tattoo artist friends were already involved so I didn’t need to do anything different with that.
How close is this lineup to your dream festival?
Sometimes it would suck if it was your dream festival, right? But luckily not every band worked out. We had to go through some stages of: we want this person, but they’re not available, so let’s get this person. But it worked out. Like, Transplants day, we didn’t want it to just be a normal punk rock day, because Transplants are able to share with so many other bands because the genres of music are kind of meshed together. So having Tech and Rittz, which are good friends, made sense. And then all the other days, like H2O, Strife, and Judge on the Gorilla Biscuits day is crazy.
So who are your go to tat artists?
[Mark] Mahoney did some of my work. Some of my work I lost in my plane crash, but I always used Mahoney, Mister Cartoon, he’s the one who’s really responsible for getting me really loving black and gray again, cause I had a black and gray piece, one or two when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I got older and I sat with Toon a whole bunch that I really fell in love with it. And then Franco Vescovi and Chuey Quintanar, they all three did my head really, Chuey, Franco, and Mister Cartoon.
Is there a favorite tat?
It’s like picking a favorite kid, you can’t do it. They’re all pages out of a scrapbook to me. I guess some people get just a bunch of tattoos cause they’re like, “Oh, it looks cool.” But to me, they were all documenting a time in my life. When people ask me, “Would you ever get anything removed?” I was like, “That’s like tearing out a sheet in the book, you can’t do that.” At least for me, I got it for a reason, I can’t just go, “That’s not cool anymore, I’m gonna take it off.”
That’s why I only have four, takes me forever to figure them out.
Did Mahoney do them?
He’s the best, and just for the time with Mark, when he’s talking with you, is well worth it. I’d almost get my whole body tattooed just for that. He has the best stories, whether it can be being on a jet with Biggie during the height of it all tattooing him, there’s so much stuff. He’s been the man for a long time and he’s sober, I honor him, that’s awesome.
I was just going to say there’s a guy who should write a book, and then I remembered you are doing a book.
Yeah. It wasn’t hard to write, but I’d get stumped and people would remember things I didn’t because of the amount of drugs I did back in the day. My memory was just shot. I have a lot of sidebars in my book, where it’s like Skinhead Rob, Mark Hoppus, or Tim Armstrong, just all my friends, saying their side of the story too. And it was interesting because just me reading their sidebars would lead to like, “This happened, and this.” And stuff happened I would just space on, but literally every day, there is something that comes up when I am just walking through a hotel or doing something with my kids or I’m at rehearsal and I have to hurry up and bust out my phone and write it down, cause there’s something new every day. I’m near the closing stages, but I had a week off from sitting with Gavin [Edwards] and I had an envelope I filled from front to bottom with all these notes that I had. But it’s cool, I wanted to wait until I was sober to do it and I didn’t know if that was ever going to happen. But it happened sooner than later because I had a health scare it was just perfect timing.
Were there any stories that came up that surprised you?
I don’t have anything I absolutely don’t remember, it’s more just people chiming in on events that took place in my life. But it documents everything. It documents from me growing up to my mom passing away at a young age to me becoming a trash man in Laguna Beach, living in a studio apartment with my punk rock band I was playing in, to touring with the Aquabats, then filling in for Blink, being in Blink, all the way up to my fear of flying for years, having nightmares of flying to ultimately being in a plane crash, my recovery, everything, it’s crazy. It was therapeutic for me because I had so much I needed to get off my chest and I never really spoke of my plane crash besides, “Yeah, I was in a plane crash, it sucked.”
What are some of the things you learned in writing the book?
Man, I think just finally writing it all down and kind of talking to someone about it, whereas I would never have done that before. I suffered from post-traumatic stress for a while and like, survivor’s guilt, there was just a bunch of stuff. I never sat down and had a therapist where I talked to anyone. So that was just a huge weight off my chest.
You guys are working on the new Blink album, I’ve seen on social media.
About to start it. Right now I’m doing a covers album with Transplants. We have something called Transplants Tuesdays, and we get together for about two hours every Tuesday and we knock out a new cover song.
What was the most recent one you did?
“Gratitude,” by the Beastie Boys, it was awesome. Hearing Tim [Armstrong] and Rob [Aston] sing it is like, the fucking best.
Are there any songs you’d love to do but haven’t worked out for some reason?
We don’t want to cover anything exactly like it was. “Gratitude” is probably the closest that we’ve come, but I guess there’s some stuff that’s untouchable. Like one time I did an American Idol performance with Mary J. [Blige] and she covered “Stairway To Heaven” and I was like, “Oh shit, this could be really bad or really good.” And Mary is such a great vocalist and just understands music and understands Zeppelin and that era of music that she killed it. But that was the one that worried me. Transplants, we can kind of do anything. Like, nothing is off limits. We could really fuck with any genre of music and we don’t feel out of place.
So is there one song you are really excited to try?
There’s a Geto Boys song called “Fuck 'Em” that we haven’t tried yet, but that’s gonna be awesome. We have a bunch, we literally just go in, nothing’s planned, let’s say she’s [the friend sitting in on the interview] in the band, she throws out, “I like this song.” We’re like, “Fuck it, let’s listen to it, let’s see how we reinterpret.”
I’m thinking of a Tom Waits song.
That’d be interesting.
I like that because you wouldn’t expect it. I don’t think anyone should do “Stairway”, but at least no one would expect Mary to do it.
She knew all the lyrics, I was stoked that she was so in tune with another genre of music that she doesn’t really live in and she was just cool. We knocked that out in like two hours in the studio.
Is there an idea of when the album will come out?
We had talked about, “Do we release a song every couple of weeks or whatever?” But I think we’re actually gonna do an album and either come out independently or through Epitaph.
Did the writing of the book influence your musical writing at all?
I don’t know if I can apply that to the music process because I’ve been in the studio lightweight starting on the follow up to my solo album, Give The Drummer Some, but it really hasn’t had anything to do with it. It’s just different, it’s just grueling sessions, you’re just sitting there talking to someone, they’re asking you questions and you’re re-reading chapters and you’re going, “No, no, this happened too.” For me it’s like listening to a song over and over again and going, “That should’ve happened in that part, that bridge could be longer.” That’s something that I noticed with the book.
So maybe it helps with the editing process?
Yeah, for me, I’m a details person, and with my book, it’s an album to me. It’s not like I’m 50 years old talking about stuff that happened 30 years ago. It’s like, still so close to where I am. So for me it’s gotta be an album, something I’m proud of and something every step of the way I’m stoked on.
I love the idea of books having soundtracks, so would you ever do one for the book?
When we started Transplants Tuesdays, it was like, “Fuck, why couldn’t there be a soundtrack to go along with this or I put a CD along with it?” But I’m so much further ahead in my book than I would be in my album and then one of them would be rushed. I guess I could do it after the fact or something.
When does the book come out?
June. It’s creeping up. Right now, I’m doing artwork. I basically reached out to Chuey, Franco, Skinhead Rob, Tim Armstrong, just all my friends that are artists and I’m having them do little pieces of artwork for every chapter cause I don’t want it to be just generic writing for each chapter. It’s like little details like that, I just want it to be special.
Are there any ideas of where you’re going musically with the Blink stuff, I know you are doing Reading and Leeds so originally there was talk of that deadline?
I definitely wanted new stuff, it’s just not everything worked out to where in the band could be available to record new stuff, so it’s been kind of a challenge.
How much does it keep music fresh for you then, to be able to do all these different projects?
When I was home, I played on a Rusko song, I played on something for Datsik, I played on a bunch of albums all week long because the end of the day, man, Blink, you gotta have three people that are all willing to record and write music at the same time. If it can’t happen, that can’t be the end of the world for me. I gotta have other stuff to do or I would fucking claw my eyes out. So being with the Transplants, working on my solo album, until the stars align for Blink to be in the studio I gotta just stay busy. We’re supposed to go in before Reading or Leeds sometime so hopefully it happens.
Steve Baltin is on Twitter, playing airdrums along to "Mutt" - @SBaltin