Interview: Mark Hoppus of +44

This interview was conducted over the phone with Mark Hoppus on August 14th, 2006. A huge thank you goes out to Ingrid at Interscope for setting this up and of course Mark for participating in the interview with us. For those of you that don’t know, Mark Hoppus is the former bassist for Blink-182 and is currently finishing up work with Travis Barker on their new project +44.

Tell us a little bit about Plus44, and everything that’s going on with that, who’s in the band now, and what happened with Carol?

The band is currently me (Mark), Travis, and Shane Gallagher, and Craig Fairbaugh. Carol was originally in the band, when we first started recording this album – we were recording in Travis’ basement. We were writing everything on keyboards, electronic drums, everything was very electronic – by necessity. Because it’s kind of hard to have a drum kit on my dining room table. And we were excited because we were approaching all of the songs in a completely different manner than we ever had before. Sometimes I was writing off just a drum beat Travis had for me. Then I’d write a guitar part over that – and then maybe some vocals over that. So it was very different than just picking up an acoustic guitar and it was actually very exciting. We had a couple demos and an idea on this one song that, “how about if a girl sang on half of it.” So we invited Carol down, who was one of Travis’ friends, and she came down and I wrote the lyrics to the song – and it was kind of a call and response; the guy and girl back and forth. So, she was to sing the guy part and I sing the girl part. No, wait, just kidding. She sang the girl part and I sang the guy part – and we were stoked on it. And then I had to go to New York to do something – I think I was presenting the Motion City Soundtrack video to MTV or something. And then while I was there, they asked if I would like to do an interview – so we started talking about Plus44. I said it was me, and Travis, and Carol and we were all writing songs together and that we were excited about it and we can’t wait for the album to come out. So then I go back to California, and by this time Travis had done a couple of interviews as well. Then we were sitting in the studio and we started talking and we were like, “wait – we’re talking about something that we have 3 demos written for, and we don’t know where this band is going to go. Why are we talking about something when we have no idea what the finished product is going to be? Because we start writing something, and we think it’s going to be a soft acoustic song, and then you start adding elements to it and you build a fucking rock song out of it, you know?” So we decided, “let’s just not talk about it until the record’s done” and so we put a crematorium on any kind of press and told our management, “look, we don’t wanna do any sort of press, we don’t wanna talk about Plus44, or do anything until the record’s done.” So we stopped talking about it entirely. And now, well, now the album’s done – and we know what this thing is. Okay, now, we had done those demos, and they were all electronic, and we liked that idea. So Travis and I bought a studio, we went to the studio, and we started flushing out the record. And when we got to the studio we could play Travis’ drums, we could play a distorted guitar, we could sing, we could fucking yell, we could do everything. These electronic songs, sort of started turning into rock songs, and we started writing more strong rock-like songs. Now we started having a battle between electronic and organic instrumentation – it’s a rock record now, but it still has a lot of electronic parts. There’s some quiet stuff, some loud stuff, and this all changed as we moved into the studio. Furthermore, I started taking over a lot more of the vocals – and Carol wanted to start her family, and we wanted this to be a little bit more of a rock band. So we were trying to figure out what happens when we go on tour and maybe Carol only sings on two songs, what does she do, walk on stage for two songs, and then walk off again? And she wanted to start her family anyway, so – we talked, and she’s starting her family now, and we’re good – we’re still friends – in fact I talked to her today. Every thing’s great, we have nothing but love and respect, there’s no hard feelings or anything like that.

What about the album itself? Did you produce it, or how did that all come about?

We had pretty much written and recorded and produced it ourselves. Then, a couple months ago, Jerry Finn (who had worked on like the last five Blink182 albums) came in and he kinda oversaw the completion of the project and he’s basically helping us produce the record. We had the majority of the record written and recorded, and then he came in and there were some songs he had some ideas on and there were a few songs we then wrote together. I’m not exactly sure how he’s going to be credited on the new album, but he’s basically helping us produce the record.

Speaking of production duties, you recently worked with The Matches, any thoughts on that?

They’re awesome. I love The Matches. They are some of the most creative dudes I have ever met in my entire life. We recorded three songs together and they’re all completely 100% different from each other. I’m really proud of the work they did, and that we did together on those songs. “The Sunburn vs The Rhinovirus” is this weird, kind of punk rock song, then “What Katie Said” is like this 50’s do-op song, and then “The Barber’s Unhappiness” is this weird trippy electronic song that turns into this 90’s grunge rock chorus. And I love it, I love them, I can’t wait for their album to come out.

Will you keep doing production work, or is the focus now on Plus44?

No, I definitely still want to, I mean, Plus44 is certainly the number one priority for all of us. We have other stuff going on, Travis is producing beats, he has expensive tastes, and I have other things going on as well. But the number one priority for everyone is Plus44. We’re ready to tour, we want to go everywhere we weren’t allowed to go with Blink182. We’re gonna hit the fucking road and see the world.

So, where weren’t you allowed to go with Blink182?

Well, Travis and I love touring, it’s our job, our career, and we’re so lucky that we get to do what we love for a living. And there was a lot of resistance to touring a few certain places, or where we could tour, how we could tour, how long we could tour. And, now that that is no longer part of our equation, we are going to be everywhere.

Let’s talk about Tom’s Angels and Airwaves, and your thoughts on all of that?

My honest opinion of that Angels and Airwaves record is that it didn’t really do anything for me. After I heard the first single I thought that the verses were really good, and then it got to the chorus and for me it just fell apart after that. I felt there were a lot of ideas that were trying to work there way out, but none of the songs got to that part where they just opened up, you know?

Was this the direction Tom wanted Blink to go in?

Well, the thing is, some of the songs that were recorded and ended up on that album, were demoed as Blink182 songs on the last US tour. We took out basically a studio that we were setting up in dressing rooms and demoing songs. And when Tom quit Blink, a couple weeks later his manager called up and said “Tom’s taking some of those songs you guys demoed and is going to be recording them for his new solo project.” When the Angels and Airwaves album came out, I was listening, because I thought some of those demos were the start of something good, and I wanted to hear what they sounded like. And then when I heard the actual execution of them, I was kind of disappointed. But, with that being said, I want to say that I’ve always respected Tom as a song writer, and I know that he has the ability to write really good songs. But that record, just, well, didn’t do anything for me.

Are you and Tom on speaking terms, or what has happened with that friendship?

I haven’t spoken to Tom since before he quit. The last conversation I had with him was when he was telling us, we started arguing about the break we were forced to take after the last European tour, and the recording of the next Blink album. And Tom was saying that he would only record at his house in San Diego, that he wouldn’t go anywhere and we were arguing over all of this personal stuff while we were practicing for the Tsunami Benefit show. And, before that, we had been on tour in Europe and our manager at the time sat us down and said, “look, Tom isn’t going to tour anymore, he’s done touring, he’s burned out, he needs some time off.” And we were like, “yeah, we have time off, we’re about to have two months just to sit at home” and our manager said, “Tom needs more than that.” And at this point we already had a US tour lined up at this point that actual got canceled. So, we’re in Europe on this tour, and we just got told we were going to be canceling our US tour in the spring, and so everyone that tours with us, our family, the guys that set up and travel with us, and help us look and sound as good as possible – 2 weeks before Christmas – were told they were fired. And that we weren’t going to be doing any more touring in the foreseeable future. So then we got home, that tour ended, and took a 6, 8, 9 month break. And then the Tsunami hit. And I called up our manager and said, “look, I want to do something about this – whatever we can do to help, we have to help, I know that Tom’s during his time off right now but I’ll do an acoustic show by myself, or maybe Travis and I can get someone to fill in for Tom for that night, or whatever.. ” and our manager said, “no, Tom wants to do this, he’s watching the things on the news too.” So we rented a rehearsal space to get ready for the show, and while we were there we started arguing about the break, and the next Blink record, and Tom told us he would only record it in his house. So, at this point Travis and I were like, “wait dude we’re three people in a band, and we understand that you needed your time off, and that’s cool, but now it’s like you’re saying when we can and can’t tour, when and how we can record.” He was talking about us mailing pro-tool files back and forth and he would record stuff at his house and Travis could record drums in LA, and that’s not a band. That’s not Blink182. We were a band for 13 years before, and this is just not right. And, we’re a band when we’re all in the studio together, not this separate thing, you know? And he said, “well, that’s the only way I’ll do the band now” – and I said, “no, this isn’t right, we’re a three-piece, this has always been a democracy, we vote on things, we respect one another, and now it’s all about one person and you’re controlling everything.” And he didn’t want to to be a part of anything he couldn’t control. So – the next day, I get a call from our old manager and he says, “as of today Tom is no longer a part of Blink182.” And I was like, “uh, okay, shouldn’t I hear this from Tom?” and he goes, “well, Tom’s already changed all his numbers and he doesn’t want to talk to you, so I don’t think you should call him.”

What changed in the band? Fame? Popularity? Was there a moment you remember?

I really don’t know. It got very ugly at the end, it got bad. I think, in my own opinion, our old manager started just managing Tom. And instead of looking out for the band as a whole, it seemed as though he was managing one person in the band. And the conversation at the beginning of the European tour, it was honestly like, Tom and him one one side of the room and Travis and Me on the other – and our old manager did all of the talking for Tom. And we were like, “wait wait wait … why isn’t Tom saying this? We’ve been in a band together for 13 years, and when it comes time for him to say he needs 6 or 8 or whatever months off he can’t tell us this himself? You’re the one that has to talk for him?” This isn’t right, you know? I don’t know what the changing point was, but slowly it became .. we weren’t’ a band, it wasn’t the 3 of us working together for a goal, it was like me and Travis having to pull him along, and be like, “come on, let’s go, let’s do this that we all created and that we love” and we wanted to help Tom, we were like, “dude, if you need your family bring them along, get your own tour bus, we’re so lucky that we have the opportunity to do this, and take your family all over the world, show them everything” and we seriously did everything we could to keep the band together. But then, in the end, I don’t know if it was that. We were told that he didn’t want to do music anymore, that he was burned out, and that he just wanted out. And then, less than a month later, manager calls up and goes, “Tom’s doing a solo album” – and for me, well, I dunno. I mean, I haven’t spoken to Tom, so I don’t if the reason was that he was burnt out on music. All the interviews I’ve seen, don’t really lead me to believe that he needed to be with his family like he said.

So what do you want to do differently with Plus44? What have you learned, and how will you apply that to your new band?

Well, we just want to tour, we all love our families and want to be home with them, but, we just wanna tour the world and be supported by the most amazing fans in the world. And play music, and that’s it, we love playing music, and we’re very excited about our new record. And it’s forced us to do shit that we never thought we could do – and it was like the best thing being born out of the most ugly situation we were put in.

Will the “fun” and “humor” aspects of Blink’s live show be carried over to Plus44? Or is this going to be a “more mature” Mark?

Hahaha. You know, I haven’t stepped on stage in a year and a half, but I can’t help but think that when I do, I’m going to just be myself. We can’t help but all be ourselves. Fuck, we love to tour, we love to play, we love to have a good time. So I think we’re going to be ourselves.

Album release date? Any information on that?

It’s planned to come out late October, or early November. Our manager was just in the studio right now, and they were talking November 7th, or 14th, or it could be October 24th or November 21st – so it could be anywhere during that month.

Does it have a title?

As of right now, it’s probably going to change, because we’ve had three different titles already, but as of today, it’s called, “When Your Heart Stops Beating.”

Are there any closing remarks for the viewers of the website? Or anything you wanted to add that we didn’t touch on?

Honestly, I just can’t wait for everyone to hear the new album. We’re very proud of it, and hope that everyone loves it. And we can’t wait to get out there on tour, play the songs live, and we want to tell everyone thank you for being patient with our band.

The only music people have heard so far is “No It Isn’t” – is the new album going to be similar to that style, or can you tell us a little more about the sound of the album?

That song’s even different than it was when the demo came out – the record is really, really diverse. I’m really proud of my vocals on record and my lyrics. It’s the most personal stuff I’ve ever written, in Blink we all sort of fell into our each individual roles because of how we wrote songs or whatever – and if was in a certain key I would sing it or Tom would sing it. And on this I had to sing everything, so there were tracks where I am really quiet, and then there are straight out punk-rock songs where I am singing as hard and loud as I can. There’s a whole bunch of different stuff, some really electronic and then there are others with organic instruments. Five drums, guitar, bass … I mean, it’s the most diverse we’ve done – imagine the last Blink record, pushed even further than that. I mean, it still sounds like us, because Travis and I are 2/3rds of Blink182, we’re not trying to divorce ourselves from that and be like, “no we’re something totally different now” – we wrote songs that were completely different than Blink, and we were proud of those, and then we wrote some stuff and we were like, “man that sounds like stuff we were doing when we were in Blink” and we’re super proud of that too. It’s not that far from Blink, but we just took it further on this album. 

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