By Rex Rutkoski
You be the judge, invites Mark Hoppus.
Blink-182 is either an offensive trio that says bad words or a fun punk rock band.
"I think it really depends on who you talk to. I think itís different for every person," says the bassist and vocalist who, with Tom DeLonge (guitar and vocals) and Travis Barker (drums) comprise the multi-platinum rockers with a frat boy sense of humor who like nothing better than to keep us guessing what they are going to do next.
Donít look now, but they are back with a new album, "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket," (the title has to be said out loud to fully appreciate). Itís a follow-up to the flushingly successful "Enema of the State" which sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
They had considered putting a big bear on the cover of the newest collection and calling it "Genital Ben," but "Take Off Your Pants" won out over it and about eight other possible monikers.
Every album title has its own story, Hoppus says. This one was suggested by Blinkís guitar tech.
"We were laughing so hard when we heard it. It sounded perfect," Hoppus explains.
Behind the humor, though, there is substance, he adds. "The media plays up the humor as a band. Sometimes the music gets lost behind the sense of humor. For people who listen to us for more than the last couple of weeks, they know what we are all about, where the band is coming from."
And, what is Blink-182 all about?
"Basically our songs are pretty genuine songs about life and love and family and things in life that are important to people," he replies. Itís just that sometimes those songs come wrapped under some pretty wild titles.
Blink doesnít mind having fun along the way, Hoppus assures.
They started the band to have fun, he explains.
"Our first priority is music and the second is having a good time while playing it," he says.
A lot of people seem to be afraid to have fun. They take rock too seriously, he adds.
"Definitely, people take themselves way too seriously, especially in the music industry," he says. "People are so serious about themselves. They are full of themselves and start to believe their own press. We came up in the punk rock scene. There wasnít all that egotism."
Thatís helped Blink keep a sense of perspective, he suggests, as the band continues to be embraced by fans swelling far beyond a typical punk cult following. "I think more and more people are finding out about us as we tour and as the word spreads," he says.
Three singles Ė "Whatís My Age Again," "All The Small Things" and "Adamís Song" -- from "Enema of The State" took up residence on MTV and alternative, rock and Top 40 radio formats. The album stayed on the Billboard charts for more than a year.
Last yearís live "The Mark, Tom and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back)" sold more than 1.5 million copies, recorded on a tour in which 300,000 tickets were sold.
"When we first started the band all we wanted to do, the biggest dream in the whole world was to have a record in stores that people could buy. We thought it would be the be all and end all, a huge deal."
Nobody is more surprised at how it all snowballed than the band is, Hoppus says.
"I think we have reached people because we are very genuine as a band. We donít put on a front. We donít act like anything we are not. We write good songs. The lyrics are very genuine. People can totally relate with them. When somebody tells us, ĎWhen I heard your song it sounded like you were writing about me and my life,í thatís a huge compliment."
Hoppus wants people to feel a connection. "I want everybody in the world to feel like we wrote a song about their life," he says.
Hoppus and DeLonge write most of the lyrics. Barker handles the arrangements. "He knows what tempos work or donít work. Itís all very collaborative, very democratic," Hoppus says. Everyoneís opinion has equal weight, he says.
Like the album titles, every song has its own story too, Hoppus says. "Sometimes they come out of a practice jam. Sometimes they come as a complete song totally written."
Jerry Finn, their producer, is part of the bandís creative process. "Heís a good friend. He understands our sense of humor and our music a lot. He grew up in a punk band. He helped define our sound, what works and what doesnít about Blink-182. Heís one of our best friends in the world. Thatís very important when you are in a studio for 14 hours together."
DeLonge calls the new album the hardest, fastest record the group has ever made Ė "way more punk-rock than our previous records."
"Itís definitely a harder record and way faster than before," Hoppus says. "Itís pretty much up to the people to decide what they think about it. I honestly for real think this is the best work so far."
Blink-182 flies its punk flag proudly. "We grew up in the punk rock scene. I consider us a punk band," Hoppus says. "There are all the reasons other people tell us weíre not punk. Whatever people want to label us is fine."
The band is proud that they have encouraged more people to consider the punk genre. "We love being an avenue for people to be turned on to all the great bands and to find out how great punk is."
The artist believes the music scene needs a new direction. "Thereís way too much pop music. Itís not about songs or music right now," he says. "Itís about image and celebrity, finding good looking people who can dance and look sexy. We need another band like Nirvana that makes good music again."
He sees Blinkís role in all this as trying to keep rock music alive. "We are carrying a torch for bands who play their own instruments," he says. "We are definitely not the best, most accomplished band out there. At least we write our own music and our mistakes are our own, nobody elseís."
If youíve let to see them live, Hoppus offers this preview:
"Expect a lot of bad jokes, bad words, fast songs played mediocrely." He laughs.
"We just like connecting with people, offending people, making them laugh and think. Every time I step on stage, no matter how bad I might feel back stage, itís like the most fun I can possibly have. It makes everything, all the hard work, worthwhile."
SECOND FEATURE: TOM DeLONGE PLEADS GUILITY AS CHARGED
Tom DeLonge happily pleads guilty.
Hearing Rolling Stoneís assessment of his band, Blink-182, as "The class clowns of the Top 40, lobbing spitballs at the whole world," the guitarist and vocalist admits, "Thatís us."
Indeed! These California rockers take their music seriously Ė well, most of the time Ė but not themselves. The approach is resonating for enough people to turn this fun-loving trio into a legitimate success story.
Bathroom humor? Youíve got it by the toilet load from this band who write songs like "Dysentery Gary."
They sing about aliens and solo love and love gone good and bad. They sing about life with their own little twist. They crack wise. They entertain themselves, going for the outrageous to provoke surprise, shock and a smile.
They had an indoor BMX race in MTVís "Total Request Live" studio. Theyíve been known to shed their clothes in public.
"People who know us probably think of us as the little juvenile delinquent punk band causing havoc across the world," DeLonge says, laughing. "We have a lot of fun doing what we do. We really know how to relate to kids. We sing about specific things that they are going through."
That humor and ability to relate are strengths of the band, he says Ė "and the way we talk and present ourselves," he adds. "We donít act like weíre in a rock band. Weíre just three guys having a lot of fun. We take our music extremely seriously.
"We spend months as serious as we could writing and recording, and we reserve the other time for having fun and incorporating our personality into everything we do. We want kids to know what weíre like so theyíll have a special feeling like they are part of something."
Heís sure at least one segment of the public thinks of Blink 182 as "very juvenile, immature potty mouth guys that sing about love."
Heís sure another segment has no idea what the trio is about. And there are those who have preconceived notions, he says.
"They hear one song on the radio and see a funny video, then they come to the show and see us singing songs with cuss words and talking about masturbation. ĎOh, my god! What is happening to our kids!í íí
The important point is that the kids get it, he says. Hereís the "R" word again:
"They relate to us. We talk and act like them and we sing songs about things that pertain to their lives. We donít write songs for critics or adults, but for the kids and thatís why they are buying the records."
DeLonge is passionate about music. "I love music so much. A lot of people just love music," he says. "Iím the type of guy who has to listen and wants to be moved." Thatís why he has always liked punk rock, he says.
"It made me want to go out skateboarding and create havoc over my city (he laughs). I couldnít get enough of the music. I like music to move me for whatever mood I want."
When DeLonge was in junior high school he says he was always searching for a new style of music. "I wanted something that moved me. I didnít know what it was. I just wanted something to move me. I hope kids find music that moves them."
He doesnít mind that Blink-182 is referred to as a punk rock band. "I embrace that term, but not all the politics that people want to associate with it," he says. "I embrace the term just for the sense of what it means: doing what you want to do when you want to do it, having fun doing it and not caring what people think. Thatís how we are and a lot of bands have that spirit too."
The state of punk is evolving, he says. "Itís evolved, more than changed, like any other style of music; rap, metal or country. Itís gone from mid-tempo, anti-establishment type music to faster, more technical, melodic love songs.
"The angry government band is still there and so are bands that sing about love. We sing about anything having to do with kids growing up, things weíve gone through ourselves, and things we are feeling."
Bandmate Mark Hoppus has said that the biggest compliment Blink can receive is when a young fan says they opened up his eyes to a new style of music. DeLonge agrees.
"Definitely. When I was in high school I was always campaigning for punk bands I was listening to. Iíd tell people, ĎYou have to listen to this. This is the best stuff.í If someone can listen to other bands because of us, bands that totally, completely influenced us, thatís rad. Then we are doing something good. I think all we ever wanted to do was have kids hear a great scene they might not be exposed to."
Having young fans is a positive, he says. "I think they will grow with us. If there is one thing I hope they get from our music itís just to relate to us as people," he adds. "All kids joke and make fun of people and go skateboarding on the weekend and are girl crazy. Thatís exactly what we are (he laughs). We just happen to write songs about it."
There is a serious side to the band, to be sure. "Adamís Song," off the last studio album, is much maturer in its approach, says DeLonge. "Older people may launch onto this more than a younger listener. Every kid feels alienated at some point. At the same time most kids know there is something at the end of the tunnel. Thatís what the song is about. Older people understand it if they have kids or have friends who went through hard times. You listen more in depth as you get older."
Whenever he writes a song, DeLonge says, he tries to consider what he can write about that he knows to be sincere and genuine, "so that another kid can listen to it and know it is sincere and genuine." "We are able to help kids the most by relating to them first as individuals, and letting them know we are just like them and we went through the same things they are."
He believes the members of Blink-182 strike a chord with people because they are different than other bands, DeLonge says. "We come out on stage and play a song, we stop it, screw it up, blame it on each other, play it a couple times more because we want to prove we know how to do our own songs (he laughs). We fall on stage. We talk to girls, flirt with the ladies, just have a fun time."
Fans enjoy going to a Blink-182 show, he says, because anything can happen. "Itís a lot of fun, really raunchy and funny," DeLonge explains. Weíre just as much a part of the audience as they are a part of the show."
Bad mouths and bad jokes aside, he says, "We are good people." "Believe it or not, we have morals." He laughs.