Interview: Mark Hoppus of Blink-182

Mark Hoppus

Mark Hoppus touches on a little bit of everything – including life in the U.K., the next Blink-182 record, the future of (+44), a new musical project with Chris Holmes, his obsession with the octopus, the differences between him and Tom, exploring dark lyrics, and why he thinks he will never write another good song again.

So how do you like living in the U.K.?

It’s really good. I like it a lot. I like the history. I like how close it is to everything in Europe. I like the countryside. It’s a good change from growing up in Southern California. I loved growing up in Southern California, but this is a nice change of pace for a while.

Originally you were only planning on being over there a year, but I think it’s been a little longer than a year now. Is this a new permanent home for you?

We don’t know. We originally came over just for a year, and now we’re entering our third year of being here and talking about staying either for two more, or maybe longer than that, or maybe coming back to the States this summer. We don’t know.

Are you guys making fun of our government shutdown over there?

People over here seem more confused by it than anything. It just looks like idiocy. Why can’t the U.S., this amazing, huge government, seem to even pass a budget?

Outside of friends and family and stuff, what else do you miss about the States?

Good Mexican food.

There’s no good Mexican food over there?

No. The sad thing is everybody we meet is like, “Oh, I know the one spot in London with really great, authentic Mexican food. It’s these people who moved over here five years ago and they started this place.” And you go there and it’s like pasta sauce instead of salsa.

So Blink just did that short U.S. run of shows last month. I know you did that 9/11 show in New York and you did a show up in Santa Barbara, too. How did that go for you guys?

The shows were super fun. It was great to go out on tour and play some shows. I don’t know. I just like playing shows. I like touring. I like being there. I like performance. It was a lot of fun.

Outside of that, Blink has been keeping a pretty low profile this year. What have you been doing to fill all that time?

I have no idea. What have I been doing? We’ve gone on a lot of trips here. We bought a house in the English countryside, so we spent the summer setting that place up. It’s been chill, but it’s starting to pick up again and I think the next year is going to be very busy.

I know you’ve been doing a lot of stuff with your Hi My Name Is Mark brand and getting that off the ground. How has that been going?

It’s going really well. The response has been great and I’m really proud of the way it’s coming together. I think we offer great products and I think we offer great service. It’s been a good start.

I’ve always been curious but how did your obsession with the octopus start?

When I started scuba diving I wanted a logo or something to put on my box for my scuba gear. I was talking to my friend and we were joking about this adventure society, and he came up with this design of the octopus. I thought it was really cool and I wanted to put it on more stuff. I kind of took it on as my logo for a bunch of stuff that I did, and then when we started the brand it just seemed a natural carry over to continue this image with the octopus. It’s kind of this dark mysterious creature that I like.

Have you been able to do any producing still while you’re over there in the U.K.?

No, I’m doing less and less producing as time goes on. I love it but there’s just no money in it for bands. There’s no money for recording. There’s no money for producers. I don’t want to price a band out of producing. I don’t want to be an expense for a band. If a band came along and asked me to, I would do it just for the fun of it, but I’m kind of doing less and less of it now it seems like.

Have you done anything since My Dinosaur Life?

I don’t think so, no. Was that before or after the New Found record? I think it was after.

Yeah, that was after.

OK, yeah. I don’t think I’ve done any major production stuff since then.

The last main thing Blink did was Dogs Eating Dogs at the end of last year, which was the first time you self-released as a band. Looking back on that now how do you think that whole thing went?

It was cool. I like Dogs Eating Dogs. I like the creative energy. I liked how it was just impulsive. We had just gotten off the label, and Tom called up and was like, “Why don’t we record an EP in time for Christmas?” We were like, “All right, cool.” I got on a plane to L.A., we recorded it in about two weeks, and then it was out.

The downside of us not having a label was once it came out we just got lazy and never printed actual CDs or anything. You can only buy it online. It was great because of the immediacy of it all, but it was kind of a drag because of the logistics of it all.

I know a lot of fans are going to be curious about the next record. How far along are you on that whole process right now?

We’re just talking to labels now. We met with a bunch of labels while we were out on tour. We’re getting offers from labels right now. We’re figuring out what the recording schedule is going to be and going from there.

I think the plan is to start recording sometime early next year, right?

Yeah, after the holidays I plan on flying out and getting into the studio with Tom and Travis and starting to hash out the next record. I’m excited.

Are you still planning on writing most of it when you’re all in the same physical location?

I hope so. I think that’s when we do our best work. When we did the Untitled album, we had some riffs and some parts here and there. Tom had some skeletons of songs, I had some skeletons of songs, but basically we wrote all together and it was really a great creative process. I want to do more of that rather than everybody going into their own corner, working on stuff, and then coming back.

It seemed Neighborhoods was a pretty natural progression from the Untitled record, even though it was eight years later, and then I know some of Tom’s Angels & Airwaves influences were in there as well. Do you see the next record going in that direction, continuing that stuff, or do you see it veering off and doing something completely different?

For me, personally, obviously we still have to get into the studio and hash everything out, but I want to push it edgier. I want to push it a little faster, a little harder. I want to still do rad experimental stuff, but I want it to be more edgy.

My personal favorite record of yours is the Untitled record, which is when you started to play around with song structure and arrangements a little more and all that kind of stuff. Do you want to mess around with that more?

Yeah. Not necessarily take a step backwards, but to do what we do and continue to push forward, and to add a little bit more of the angst back to it.

I also heard that you want to bring in an outside producer on this one, because I know the last two has just kind of been in-house with you guys and Chris Holmes. What do you hope to get out of that and how far along are you at looking into that?

We are talking with different producers. We have a wish list of probably six producers at this point. We want to have different people come in and out of the studio for different vibes. Not necessarily to use one producer for the whole thing, although we’re definitely open to that option, but maybe working with three or four throughout the course of the album for songs with different tempos and different moods.

Are you looking more at rock producers, or pop producers, or indie producers?

All different kinds. We’re looking for rock producers. We’re looking for indie producers. We’re looking for pop producers, hip-hop producers. Whoever’s going to come and help us have a fresh take on an idea, we’re open to working with.

On the Neighborhoods record there wasn’t a ton of vocal interplay between you and Tom, and it seemed there was a little bit more of that on Dogs Eating Dogs. Is that something you want to add in more on the new record?

Yeah. I don’t think it was a conscious decision on Neighborhoods to have separate songs more than we did in the past. I always like when we use both voices in songs because Tom’s voice and my voice are very different. I think they add different textures to the songs, and I like when we sing in the same songs. It’s a little difficult when it’s love songs, because then you have a dude singing to a dude and it doesn’t necessarily translate very well, but sometimes it does.

I think most people kind of assume that you sing what you write and Tom sings what he writes. How accurate is that, and then how do you divvy up who sings what verse or what chorus and who writes what?

It’d say that’s true probably 70 percent of the time, that what I write I sing and what Tom writes he sings. It’s usually pretty easy for us to figure out who’s going to sing what. I’ll write certain parts and say, “ I think you should sing this part,” and Tom will write other songs and say, “I think your voice would be better in this.” If it’s a smoother, deeper register, then obviously I’ll sing it. If it’s more angsty then Tom will sing it.

So while I’m a big fan of Neighborhoods and Dogs Eating Dogs, the one caveat I had about them was on all the songs there were no vocals on any of the bridges, except for that one song with Yelawolf. Was that something you intentionally wanted to do, or something that randomly just ended up happening?

No, it just kind of ended up happening. I hate bridges. They’re my least favorite part of songs to write. I always struggle with bridges. For me, when I write songs my verses and choruses are so packed with lyrics anyway that the bridge has to be a break from that, otherwise it’d just be a wall of vocals the whole time.

I wanted to talk a little about (+44). I was a huge fan of that record. I think some of the best lyric writing you’ve ever done was on that record. Now, looking back, what do you think about that record? Are there any plans to do something more with that release or band?

First of all, thanks very much. That’s nice of you to say that. I have a special place in my heart for the (+44) record. I’m really, really proud of that album. I’m proud of the work that we did. I like listening to it. I think every song has its own strengths. I really hold that album in a special place.

I would love to do more (+44) stuff. Actually, Travis and I just reconnected with Shane on this last tour and hung out with him for a while. He said he had some song ideas that he wanted to show Travis. I don’t know if that leads to another album or what but I would love to keep that opportunity open for the future, although I don’t have any plans for it right now.

I know there’s been a few people asking about a vinyl release for that record. Do you think that’s possible at some point in the future?

We did, we had a vinyl release. It might be sold out somewhere, but I know we released it on vinyl because I have it. Yeah, maybe we should rerelease it.

After (+44) you did that City (Comma) State project for a little bit, which ended up not really going anywhere. I think I’ve heard most of those songs and thought it was a pretty cool record. Are you bummed that ended up just fizzling out?

Only because I thought that there were some really good ideas in there. I don’t know. It just kind of melted down in the end. It’s a shame to see some good ideas not get any attention and fizzle out, you know?

I don’t know if you remember that song “Rebel Base,” but I thought that song in particular was really killer.

Yeah, me too! I like that song. That was a good one.

Travis and Tom obviously have a lot of other musical projects right now. Do you ever see yourself having another side band or doing a solo album?

I don’t think I want to do a solo album. Right now I’m actually working on tracks with our engineer/friend/producer Chris Holmes. He’s on tour with Nine Inch Nails and I’m here in London, so we’ve been trading song ideas back and forth. We want to put something together probably in the next few months if we can just for fun, just to put it out there and not be stagnant during the fall. So, we’ll see how that goes.

Are you singing on all that stuff?

I think that we both will sing. I don’t know if I’ll do the majority of the vocals or if we’ll split it half and half, but I think we’ll both end up singing on it.

What style of music is it?

Right now, it’s programming and guitary. He is a great programmer and I am not a great programmer. He plays guitar and so do I, and then I play bass, so it’s kind of all over the place right now. It’s just an experiment to have fun.

Sounds cool. So one of the more interesting things when looking at your career is that in the latter half you’ve made the switch to combining these really melancholy, and at times pretty dark, lyrics with these catchy melodies and driving rock songs. Looking back at the early days of Blink, that wasn’t really there at all. Then, you had a few albums where it would show up on one song, and then that was really unleashed on the Untitled record and the (+44) one. Was there a particular moment in time where that style of songwriting became more attractive to you and you gravitated towards it?

I don’t know if it seemed more attractive to me. During the Untitled record I focused more on a dark subject matter, and I haven’t come back from that. I have to struggle to write a positive song. I think it’s more interesting to explore the dark side of thinking and of humanity. I still like writing upbeat songs, but for some reason, like on Neighborhoods and the Untitled record, I just didn’t have happy thoughts to write down. I was more obsessing on the dark side of life, I guess. It’s not that I’m really in a dark place or anything like that, it’s just more interesting for me to write.

I think it’s more interesting to listen to and interact with as well.


Do you think there was maybe something subconscious about it, where you felt the need to write quote-unquote “mature” stuff so you’d be taken more seriously as artists?

No, I’ve never second-guessed that at all. I’ve never cared when people thought we were just a joke band. We always have just done our thing and written what we like and what was important to us. Luckily, people have stood by us. I feel like the people that marginalized Blink back in the day have now seen that we actually have staying power, and it’s kind of a good feeling.

What’s your songwriting and lyrical process like? Has it changed a lot over the years from what it was back in the day?

No, it’s still pretty much how I’ve written always. I pick up and guitar, noodle around until something sounds cool, and then build on that. I suffer every day under the fear that I will never ever write anything good ever again. I’ll have a little song idea and go from there. I’ll be like, Oh, this is terrible. I’ll build on it some more and go, Wait, that’s kind of cool.

Then, I’ll finish a song and there’s hardly anything better in the world than driving home from the studio, listening to a mix of a song that didn’t exist two weeks prior, and thinking, “Wow, this song really turned out well.” You go home, and I play it for my wife and I play it now for my son, get their feedback, and go to bed happy and proud. Then I wake up the next morning and think I’ll never write another good song again. That’s kind of been my songwriting process, and it continues to be.

As far as lyrics go, are there certain things you look to for inspiration these days?

When I feel like I get writer’s block I’ll go to a bookstore or I’ll go to a museum. I’ll look around at different things. Sometimes I’ll buy a bunch of art magazines or art books and I’ll look at paintings. Sometimes I’ll just buy works of literature. I’ll look through different pages and I’ll look for words that will spark an idea, just something that will get me out of my normal thought process and my normal lyric writing. So I’ll go in and have a stack of books to leaf through, and hopefully that will jar something loose.

Now that you three guys have all these different musical outlets that you didn’t have back in the day when it was just Blink, has that changed when you come together to write? Has it changed your outlook on music in general?

Not too much. All the things we do outside of Blink end up benefiting Blink because we come back with new ideas and different perspectives and different skills. It just ends up enriching everything that we do in Blink. It’s always good when we come back together and Travis has done Transplants, or Tom has done Angels, or I’ve worked with other bands or produced things. You get different ideas from working with different people that you end up bringing back to Blink.

So I just wanted to ask one quick question about the break-up. A lot of fans are under the impression possibly that a lot of that stuff started with the Box Car Racer record, where you allegedly felt alienated and left out of that whole process. Looking back in retrospect now, is that when things started to go south for the band?

That was a hard part in the band. I don’t think that’s what ended up leading to the band breaking apart, though.

It seems a lot of people hold you and Tom up to these two completely different standards, which I find pretty unfair. A lot of people view you as the cool, laidback guy who is more reasonable, while Tom is often seen as being really uptight and making these wild declarations, and then he gets some flak for Angels & Airwaves and his live singing and stuff. How much do you pay attention to that, and then how do you handle it?

The roles that Tom and I play in the band are very different from one another. You never know what Tom is going to come in with on any given day. He’s very frenetic. He’s very focused on something and then he’s focused on something else, and then he’s focused on a different thing. He wants to write a book. He wants to go into outer space. Then, the next day he wants to write a movie, or whatever it is. That’s his energy. I’m not like that. Tom pushes me to do different things than I normally would do, and I kind of pull back on Tom and make his ideas more reasonable.

My favorite line on the Neighborhoods record was from the song “MH 4.18.2011” where you say, “Stop living in the shadow of a helicopter.” How did you come up with that imagery?

When I was writing that song I was driving home from the studio early in the day. I was at a stoplight and a helicopter flew over me. I could see the shadow of the helicopter pass perfectly over my car and continue down the street. I thought, “Wow, that’s really weird. You never ever see the shadow of a helicopter.”

I started to think about it more and realized there’s actually a lot of places in the world where they deal with helicopters all the time. People that live in war zones or people that live in high crime areas, people that exist in these really hard areas deal with helicopters almost daily. They see helicopters flying overhead all the time. For me living in Beverly Hills, I don’t see a lot of helicopters flying over my head. It was kind of like a lot of people deal with helicopters in a negative way every single day.

Then one other line I’ve always been really taken with is on the (+44) record where you say, “The past is only the future with the lights on.” How did you come up with that one?

I was talking to a friend on the phone. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I was talking about how what has happened before will happen again. I was like, “The past in only the future but you can see it,” or something like that. Then that kind of sparked the idea where the past is only the future with the lights on. I thought that was a cool idea. There’s a line in Shakespeare that says, “What is past is prologue,” and it’s kind of along the same thinking as that. If you look back into the past you’ll end up being able to figure out what will happen in the future, because it’s pretty rare for humanity to fix its mistakes.

My favorite Blink song has always been “Adam’s Song,” and it’s pretty understandable why you don’t play that song anymore. Do you think at some point down the line you’ll be comfortable playing that song live again?

I don’t know. We don’t talk about that song. It doesn’t really come up. We’ve put it aside for right now. It’s a special song and it’s a song that I love. It means the world to me, and to us as a band, but it seems right now we just need to put that aside for a little while.

One of the big trends in music these days, especially among bands that have been around as long as you have, is doing special anniversary tours or anniversary re-releases of albums. Would you ever consider doing a re-release of an album or playing an album front-to-back live?

Haha! Can’t tell you!

Whoa, so I’m assuming you guys have thought about that then [laughs]?

We are open to the idea.

I know the 10th anniversary for Untitled is coming up in a month or so…

Yeah, like November 13th? 18th?

Yeah, the 18th I believe.

Yeah, around then. It’ll be 10 years.

The last tour you did you ended up playing one old song acoustically every night and that seemed to get a really positive response. Have you ever thought about doing more of that, either like an acoustic show or an acoustic release of some kind?

I don’t know if we’d do an entire acoustic show. It was fun to do on the last couple tours, just because it was something we’d never done before, but it’s kind of how we’ve always started writing songs. I’ve always thought that if you can write a song that sounds good on an acoustic guitar it’s going to sound great on an electric guitar, so that’s how I’ve always started song ideas.

I don’t know. It’d be fun, but I don’t know if a lot of our songs really lend themselves to acoustic performances. That was cool because we’d leave the stage and go out into the middle of the crowd and have this intimate, almost like a club experience, in the middle of an arena or an amphitheater. But, I don’t know if we’d ever do a whole show acoustically.

One thing I’ve always liked about you, back to the podcast days and that column with Spin and obviously the TV show, is hearing what your music recommendations are and what you’re listening to. Has there been anything lately that you’ve been really impressed with that you think more people need to check out?

I haven’t heard a lot of small bands, but there’s a lot of good bands coming out. I don’t know if they’re underground or unknown. I loved that Alt-J record. I thought that was amazing. I really like the Bastille album. The 1975 are pretty good, and I really like Holy Ghost!

Now that you’re over in the U.K. are you listening to more U.K. bands?

Not necessarily. I listen to the same vein of bands that I always have.

The TV show has been off the air for a year or so now. Do you miss doing that?

Yeah, it was great. I loved it. It was a great experience. The people there were all really cool people and I learned a lot. We were the first TV show that ever had Mumford & Sons on. They had never been on a TV show before and we had Mumford & Sons on. The same with Imagine Dragons and the same with Neon Trees. We had a lot of good bands on there. It was cool. It’s just living here, it’s so expensive to make that show it’s prohibitive.

It seems, at least based on your Twitter feed and such, that you don’t get a lot of sleep these days. How do you function and do all this stuff with so little sleep?

[Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t like to sleep. Sleep is boring. If I get five or six hours a night, I’m golden.

Are you a nap person at all?

No. I get up early with my son every day to get him ready for school and see him out the door, so I usually get up at six in the morning.

You guys are kind of seen, especially within the Absolute Punk scene, as being this huge influence on all these younger bands coming up. Is that something that is possible to get used to or wrap your head around, or does it still mess with your mind that you’ve had such an impact on all these different people?

It’s cool. I like it a lot. It’s a big honor. It’s a compliment. For bands to say we influenced them, or they grew up listening to us or whatever, it’s an honor. It’s great.

I’m sure there were bands you looked up to when you were first starting out for influence and mentorship and all that. Do you feel you have the privilege now to pass that torch on to the next generation and next crop of bands?

Oh yeah, we’ve always thought that. That’s one of the things I loved best about coming out of the punk rock community was there was a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood. If you got a chance to shine then you brought up all your friends with you. Before we were anybody at all, we were worth no tickets anywhere, Pennywise took us on a bunch of tours. They took us down to Australia. They took us up to Alaska. When we started to get some success, we always took our friends out. That was just how things are done.

If you could only play one Blink song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

One Blink song for the rest of my life? [Pause] I’ll go “Feeling This.”

What about that song really sticks out to you?

I think that that is a perfect representation of the transformation of Blink-182. I think it shows the forward-thinking push that we had on the Untitled album, but it still feels like old school Blink-182. It has Tom and me both singing in it. It has great drum parts. It has great guitar parts. It has the a cappella outro at the end with the three-part harmony. I just think that’s a special song.

Blink has been around for 21 years now, which is pretty insane to think about, so you’ve seen the music industry and technology completely change. You’ve been around long enough to probably even see music trends come and go and then come back around again. Outside of taking away that the music industry and mainstream tastes are incredibly fickle, is there anything substantial you can take away when you look at the broad picture?

No, not really. We as a band have always tried to just focus on what we do and not second-guess what is going to be popular or what people expect us to do or expect music to do. We more just like to push ourselves and do our thing, because otherwise it felt disingenuous to us to try and second-guess where the industry is going.

Looking ahead to the next record and beyond, what kind of headspace are you in as a band? Where would you like to see Blink go in the future?

I just want to keep doing what we always do. I want to keep playing shows. I want to keep writing songs. I want to keep playing the old songs. I want to keep going out there and working.

Well, that’s all I got. Do you have anything else you’d like to close with?

No, that’s great. Thanks for the interview. Thanks to Absolute Punk for always supporting us and for everything that you do.

It’s been a huge pleasure and we really appreciate you fitting time in to talk with us. You’ve been such a huge band for me personally and for the site, so we greatly appreciate it and are really looking forward to what you come up with in the future.

Thanks very much, man. I really appreciate it. This has been the longest interview I’ve done in a year.