MusicTravis Barker Talks Tattoos and Pain
The Blink-182 drummer shows off his extensive ink collection. Plus: His plans to hit the water park with Tom DeLonge, and the possibility of recording another Box Car Racer album.
The history of punk rock can be divided into two parts: punk before Travis Barker and punk after Travis Barker. The California born-and-bred drummer has been a stalwart in the game for at least two decades, and is known for, among other things, his technical chops (usually delivered with military precision), and his sadomasochistic approach to beating the shit out of a drum kit. He’s also the backbone, workhorse, heart, soul, and, frankly, the best musician in the venerable pop-punk trio Blink-182 (their latest album, California, claimed Billboard’s top spot in July, putting an end to Drake’s nine-week run). So it should be no surprise that Barker happens to be one of the industry’s most sought after drummers. (I mean, just look at his resume: The Aquabats, Transplants, Box Car Racer, +44, Yelawolf, Antemasque, not to mention collaborations with Rihanna, Lil Wayne, and Afrojack.)
But even to die-hard fans, Barker is something of an enigma. He’s always been considered the quiet one in Blink, holding down the fort of mysteriousness while his bandmates made dick jokes in front of a giant flaming "FUCK" sign. Now Barker’s life is an open book. He published an autobiography last October called Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, And Drums, Drums, Drums. Barker doesn’t hold back, recounting his early days of debauchery, countless sexual conquests, addiction, ex-wives, and surviving an airplane crash that claimed the lives of two close friends.
The book is one of the realest music bios out there, but honestly it doesn’t take 400 pages to really understand Travis Barker. All you need to do is look at the guy, namely his skin. Nearly every inch of his body is covered in tattoos, except for a portion of his legs, which sustained third degree burns from the crash and required painful skin grafts. Tattoos are, and will always be, part of his DNA. “They’re all memories,” he wrote in Can I Say. “They’re all experiences I went through.”
We met up with Barker backstage before Blink-182's Barclay’s Center show on Wednesday night to get the full rundown of his extensive ink collection, and the possibility of recording another Box Car Racer album with an old friend.
Let's start with a basic question: How many tattoos do you have?
I probably have like . . . 70% of my body done.
Landon Barker (Travis's son): I think more than that . . .
Well I have to take into account the one's I lost in the accident. There's still pieces of tattoos everywhere. But for the most part I lost everything on my legs besides my tributes for Lil Chris and Che and my tribute for [DJ] AM.
When did you decide to get your first tattoo post recovery?
I wanted to right away. Once I realized I'd lost two of my friends, I was like, "Can I get a tattoo artist to come in right now?" I missed their funerals, so I guess I was looking for some kind of closure. A month or two after the grafts, I was ready. My back was a skin donor site, so when I tattooed over my back it was because everything was discolored. They took lots of skin from my back and my thighs to cover my feet and my legs. The back was the first thing I did. I put my family on there.
What's your philosophy when getting tattoos? Are they always an ode to something important to you?
For me it's documenting part of my life or people, things, times in my life. When I'm dead and gone I want people to be able to look at my body and basically relive my life in some ways.
Was there any strategy in placement or did you just go all out?
I started when I was 15, and it was like "Okay, let's figure out if this hurts." I was skateboarding every day, so I got a Bones tattoo and a Dag Nasty flame right on top of it. And then once I figured out it didn't hurt, it was sort of a wrap after that. After that, I think I'd pissed my sister off, and she called me out one day in front of my dad. She was like, "Hey, dad, did you see Trav has a tattoo?" And he goes, "You better not." He said he'd kick me out of the house if I got another one. I just started testing the waters [laughs]. He said something that resonated with me: "You'll have no Plan B. You have tattoos like that, and you're fucked. You won't be able to get a job."
"I don't care if I have nice, shiny tattoos. Mine all tell a story and make up who I am."
To me it did the opposite, and a light bulb went off in my head. This is exactly what I want. I don't want a Plan B. I don't want a fall back. And I didn't have anything to fall back on. We didn't have money for college or anything. It really narrowed things down for me in the best way possible. Play music or die.
He eventually came around and got a tattoo himself.
Yeah, he got a Famous [Stars & Straps] tattoo. One day he came home with an F on his arm, and I was like, "Why do you have a sticker on your forearm, Pal?" He goes, "No, I went and saw Franco Vescovi and he gave me a tattoo.” I was tripping! But it was so cool to see pops come full circle.
How old was he at the time?
Probably in his 60s. I think for my dad he just wanted to make sure I'd be okay, that I wasn't going to end up in jail and that I'd actually play music. Once he saw how dedicated I was and how hard I worked he wasn't so worried about me anymore and we could both enjoy it.
You let your kids tattoo you, right?
I have this portion on my thigh where basically anytime I get tattooed, if they're around and they want to, they can grab the gun and doodle on me. It's like a sketchbook. Those are the memories that are really priceless. It all started because Landon wanted a tattoo. He didn't understand why he couldn't. He was worked up and in tears. I had to explain that I'd go to jail if you get a tattoo. So I said “Let's make a deal, you tattoo me.”
Do you have any go-to artists?
I grew up getting tattoos from John Sanchez, Mike Dewey, Larry Garcia, Mister Cartoon, Franco Vescovi, Chuey Quintanar, Mike Giant, Mark Mahoney. Those are my guys. There are a lot of great tattoo artists out there, but those are some of my favorites and they're really close friends.
Have you seen any fans with your signature ghetto blaster?
Yes! Tons. And lots of portraits.
I'm probably going to start on my legs, my feet, then my armpits.
Armpits? Sounds painful.
Oh yeah. It's painful. At one point before the tour I was going to do my eyelids, but I just couldn't narrow down a concept. I usually don't think long and hard about stuff. I just do it. At this point I don't have much room left [laughs]. I want to think them out.
Are there any tattoos that you regret?
I mean there are people who've come and gone, an ex-wife, but it's all memories. It is what it is. You know, you see these kids who get the best tattoos from the best artists and they let them heal properly. I don't care if I have nice, shiny tattoos. Mine all tell a story and make up who I am.
Did you get any ink to celebrate finishing up an album?
There's The Transplants gas mask on the back of my head. I'll probably get something from California since D**Face did it. He's a great friend and one of my favorite artists. Ever since the self-titled album I've taken care of all the artwork and quarterbacked it. Me and my buddy Max did the logo for self-titled. I had Mike Giant do Neighborhoods. Franco Vescovi did Dogs Eating Dogs. The albums before were quarterbacked by the record labels, so I wasn't personally attached. I might get an Antemasque tattoo.
How's [new vocalist and guitarist] Matt Skiba? Has he settled in nicely?
It's been awesome. Originally there was no talk of ever continuing after the Musink show. Mark and I were like, we still really want to do this, but how? We weren't expecting anyone in the band to decide they didn't want to play these shows we booked and take a little hiatus. So we thought about it for 24 hours and I said, "There's no one except Matt Skiba." If you really think about it, he was the only one who could really pull it off and do it justice.
You guys dethroned Drake.
That's insane, right?
How'd that feel?
I love Drake, so it wasn't anything malicious. But he was in the number one spot for so long. To dethrone him felt pretty cool, especially since rock music is dead sort of. It's nonexistent on the charts. I can't lie and say it didn't feel awesome.
Any chance of another Box Car Racer album?
You know, it's been mentioned [laughs]. That'd be cool, but it's hard because the last one caused so many problems with Blink. It was weird because at the time I was listening to Stanford Prison Experiment, Pitchfork, Quicksand, Fugazi, all these bands, and Tom [DeLonge] was like, "What the fuck is Quicksand?" He heard it and fell in love and really dived right into that whole post-hardcore genre.
We started writing and had no idea what it was going to be for. I think we were both under the impression in the beginning that it was going to be a Blink album. Then it was like, no let's do this cool little side project, but we won't put an album out. Then the label heard it and wanted to put it out. Then there wasn't going to be a tour, but they were like ah, you can do this tour. It just spiraled out of control. . . But I don't know. [Mark's] not in the band, so would it cause a lot of problems? Would it not? I have no idea. It's something I can't even wrap my head around just because I'm so proud of this album that we're currently supporting. But I love Box Car. It was a cool album and cool sound.
So did you ever hit the water park with Tom?
No, we're going to though! I have been to water parks with kids a couple times on this tour though. We hit one in Ohio called Kalahari and it was fucking awesome. As an adult, you and I going to a water park together is kinda weird [laughs]. But when you go with your kids, you get a free pass. We just have so much fun.
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