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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blink-182 Buries the Hatchet

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Guitarist Tom DeLonge's relations with the rest of Blink-182 had so soured by early 2005 that he was no longer on speaking terms with his band mates. It was only through the group's manager that bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker learned DeLonge had quit. Amid the bitter war of words that followed, played out through the press, DeLonge criticized Blink-182 as embarrassing and sophomoric while he promoted his punctilious, humorless new band, Angels & Airwaves. It was a little like if Moe Howard quit the Three Stooges, denounced their humor as too broad, then launched a dubious Shakespeare theater company.

Hoppus maintains that he always believed that Blink-182 would eventually bury the hatchet and reunite, but it took a tragedy to expedite that process. Last September, a private airplane transporting Barker crashed and combusted, killing four of the six people on board, including Barker's personal assistant and bodyguard. Since the two had continued playing together as the 44, it was a given that Hoppus would visit Barker in the hospital while the drummer recovered from severe, full-body burns, but news of DeLonge's visitations sparked immediate Blink-182 reunion hopes.

"Even before Travis' accident, I think we were all in the mind-set that we were ready to let bygones be bygones and at least reconnect as friends," Hoppus explains. "And I think that, inevitably, that would have led to us playing together again at some point."

During the uncertain months following the crash, Hoppus, Barker and DeLonge reconciled but never addressed the elephant in the room: the possibility of playing together again. Before Blink-182 could even consider reuniting, Hoppus maintained in interview after interview at the time, they'd first have to reconnect as friends.

"From the beginning, the band has always been about us being friends, working together and laughing together while on the road, so if we had reunited without recapturing that friendship, it would have just been a strict money play—I don't think any of us would have enjoyed that," Hoppus says, explaining that he feared reliving the band's tense final tour.

"Just before we broke up, we were all off on separate pages, and I don't know if people could sense that from the crowd, but back stage it was hell," he recalls. "I think we probably could have sucked it up and toured and done another album, but I think people would have seen through it. The album would have suffered."

Though all parties were clearly interested, it was DeLonge who finally proposed playing together again—perhaps it had to be, Hoppus considers in hindsight. With Barker appearing healthy and recovered, save for an arm sling, Blink-182 announced their reunion at the Grammy Awards to great fanfare this February, and last week they launched a lavish comeback tour, with a high-tech stage from Daft Punk and Kanye West set designer Martin Phillips. The group's hope is to find their footing before returning to the studio.

"We actually started writing and we have a bunch of new ideas," Hoppus says. "Everyone came in firing with a lot of enthusiasm, but after being in the studio a couple months, we thought we should get back on the road. It lets us reconnect a bit, and play some of the songs we've been playing for the past 15 years instead of overwhelming the crowd with new material."

Hoppus says he has no idea what the new Blink-182 album will sound like, but he's eager to continue bouncing around ideas to see what comes of them. He scrapped plans for a solo album to give the band his full attention.

"I'm not one of those people who feels like my vision needs to be seen through my way," Hoppus says. "I really like having other people there to put in their own contributions. I think that's really the magic of Blink-182, is that we all bring something different to the table. We're this weird little puzzle, and we all fit into each other's creative parts.

"Wait," he pauses. "That sounds dirty."

Blink-182 headlines a concert at the Marcus Amphitheater on Tuesday, Aug. 4, with Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco and Chester French.