blink-182’s Travis Barker: “I looked death in the face and I survived”

From rap to running to owning a restaurant, blink-182 drum legend Travis Barker looks back…

blink-182’s Travis Barker: “I looked death in the face and I survived”
Matt Allen
Jonathan Weiner
Originally published:
September 2019

Travis Barker has done a lot throughout his career as blink-182 drummer, solo artist, producer, actor, reality TV star and restaurant owner. But it’s the title of his 2015 autobiography where the major talking points are covered off in dramatic fashion – Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, And Drums, Drums, Drums. Talk about a scene-stealer! The core components of Travis Barker’s incredible life, one that’s been undoubtedly played out at full tilt, are plastered across the cover for everyone to see.

The sticksman has certainly experienced a lot since emerging in oversized skate shorts and a severe Mohican as blink-182 burst on to the pop-punk scene with their genre-defining breakout record, Enema Of The State, in 1999. The album eventually went on to shift 15 million copies worldwide as the trio – Travis Barker plus bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge – sold out arena shows across the planet. His spoils in the financial upswing included “art and work on old Cadillacs”, plus one or two risky trappings. “Oh, yeah, make no mistake, I got rich, I did a lot of drugs and I almost died,” he says. “But, you know, it was all a symptom of what was going on in my life.”

Despite blink-182’s incredible success, all was not well behind the scenes. A series of personal disputes caused the band to split in 2005. In the meantime, Travis threw himself into a string of solo ventures, including a collaboration with Adam Goldstein, the artist also known as DJ AM. Their union, named TRV$DJAM, was tragically marred by a 2008 private plane crash in which the pair were passengers. The accident killed four people – the two pilots; Travis’ personal assistant, Chris Baker; and his security guard, Che Still. Travis and DJ AM escaped the wreckage, but Adam died a year later.

In the aftermath, Travis Barker cleaned up and focused his energy on to more positive pursuits. He concentrated on running and martial arts. A blink-182 reunion then thrust him back into the limelight in 2009. These days, Travis’ life is more drums, drums, drums than ever before.

“Any near-death experience is going to shake shit up,” he says. “There was loss. I lost one of my best friends, my assistant. I lost my security guard. A year later I lost DJ AM. He was one of my best friends, too. So I had a lot of people that were really important to me in my life taken away. Beyond that, I looked death in the face and I survived.”

How did cheating death change your life?
“Oh, it absolutely changed my life, 110 per cent. There was just a lot for me to deal with, from survivor’s guilt, to watching my assistant’s son grow up without a father. He’s the same age as my daughter. I know every day since that crash has been a blessing. I just had to convince myself that I walked away still-alive for a reason, and I should make the most of every day. But until you almost die, until you look death in the face, you can’t honestly say, ‘I cherish every day like it’s my last.’ I think people that have cheated death just do it in a different way.”

You changed your diet, started to exercise, quit medication and the drugs that had got you in to a bit of trouble previously. It was a real turning point…
“The only negative thing I can say is that, looking back, I’m struck that it’s really sad that it took all of that for me to open my eyes. But some people need a swift kick to the face, and I was one of them.”

What was the main difference you noticed when playing drums sober?
“It just takes a little bit. Anyone that’s newly sober, you have to re-teach yourself how to do everything really. Going to the studio was different – you have a routine where you sit there, you roll up, and you smoke. There was a lot of relearning to do. I didn’t have that little upper hand in making myself a bit more relaxed, or calming the nerves. I would do that routine before everything. I know I have a lot of friends who are sober and they’ve also struggled with that same adjustment.”

One of your first clean performances was with Lil Wayne, Eminem and Drake at the 2010 GRAMMYs. What was that like?
“I was doing a lot of collaborating with Wayne at the time. Then seeing Drake come up, who was really recognised in the beginning as one of the best new lyricists around, was so cool. And Wayne and Eminem collaborating onstage together was just crazy. For me to be there and be chosen to be the drummer for that was really cool. I was still wrapping my head around being sober, like, ‘Oh shit! How do I do this?’ Just figuring out, ‘How do I even do all this, not medicated?’ I remember that as being one of my first big achievements after I stopped everything. But make no mistake, I owe everything to blink-182. There would be no highlights like that if I wasn’t in this band to begin with.”

Away from music, what inspires you?
“I really like mixed martial arts. I like all the hard work and the training that goes into it. I love boxing. I love spending time with my family most of all, and my friends. I guess that’s probably what moves me the most.”

What do you do to keep your mind steady on the road?
“I run a lot. I run four to five miles a day. It’s great when I wake up. Before they ask me to do anything, I just say, ‘You should give me 40 minutes to run.’ That lets me start my day. On the road, I love it, because I’m major focused. I run, and I have a studio set up in my room, so I’m constantly writing. I have a table set up in my room so that when I’m not writing, I can take a break and listen to music. And if I’m not doing that, I’m playing drums.”

You’ve played with a broken arm and torn ligaments in the past. Where does that energy and resilience come from?
“I don’t really know, I just know that it’s in there and I have to acknowledge that. I guess the one thing that I’ve done over the past couple of years is really figure out how to focus that energy inside of myself. I know that the best way to do that is to be in the studio and play the drums, go running, to be producing records, and DJing. When I throw myself into music I’m a lot happier. It’s therapeutic for me.”

Is it important for you to have that therapeutic element to your life?
“Absolutely. The days when I don’t get to play the drums are so shit. It’s really strange. Even yesterday, I went to a festival out here and I brought some practice pads in the bus. I felt amazing after an hour of just turning on a metronome and practising.”

When you first got together with Tom and Mark in 1998, did you feel like you were on the verge of something special?
“Oh, absolutely. I was touring with them, so I’d already seen what they were doing. Mark and Tom were so funny and they were always so nice to me, too. I was just some scrub in the opening band [the Aquabats]. They were always so cool, though. And I was the same as I am now, where I would just sit around and play drums all day. If anything, I probably felt a little bit out of place when I first joined the band, because they were so, so close, and they were really comedic. I don’t know… It was a lot. But yes, I knew there was something special, and I knew the potential. When I joined the band, I was like, ‘Watch out, it’s about to go crazy.’”

What music were you listening to when you first started playing with blink-182?
“Probably 80 per cent rap music, even though I had listened to punk rock and hardcore for years. But for whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn to that music during my workouts, or when I go skateboarding, or I’m riding around in a car. Even when growing up. I think I realised that everything influenced me and inspired me, whether it was early jazz, or the Rat-Packers [Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr]. I’ve always let everything inspire me. But not much has changed since the year 1999 and now, as far as who I am or what I listen to. I was raised on rap music and I also loved punk rock, metal and country. I was always inspired by everything, but I didn’t let music dictate who I was.”

What drummers first got you fired up as a kid?
“I don’t think you’re thinking about it like that at a young age. You’re just in the universe, and you want to pick up an instrument. Of course I also saw cool things, like Animal from The Muppets, Buddy Rich, Tommy Lee [Mötley Crüe], Stewart Copeland [The Police], John Blackwell [The Vanguard]. All these great drummers inspired me. I saw Alex Van Halen. But I guess those people are the things that keep you going.”

How did your life change once blink-182 became a massive success?
“I didn’t really let it change too much, in the beginning. I was a hired drummer, so I was really only in the places they were supposed to be. I was at shows, but I couldn’t really tell what was going on. Then we all saw it getting much bigger, the attention, MTV… it was so popular. Everything happened so fast. I guess I never sat back and went like, ‘Oh, shit, this is massive, and this is how I’m going to react.’ There was never really time to think, I just kept moving. At that point, after you are successful, they’re like, ‘Okay, get back and write another album.’ And that’s been my life ever since, pretty much.”

When blink-182 went on their extended hiatus, how did that affect you?
“It wasn’t really an issue for me. Transplants [Travis' band with Tim Armstrong of Rancid] had broken up, and I had talked to DJ AM about doing something together. He was the best DJ and he was all over the place musically. He really spoke to me with all of the genres he was including in his set lists. Literally, blink broke up and the next day I called my manager and said, ‘That same rehearsal studio we were in? Just keep my drums there, because I’m going to be going back there tomorrow.’ I got in with AM and we totally shut down. We played for, like, five hours without saying a word to each other. Then I thought, ‘This is what I’m doing!’ That turned into a monster that was just so fun for us. I worked on my solo album. I worked with a ton of rappers. I worked with even more rappers than when I was working in blink, because I was producing a lot of music then and I went on tour with Lil Wayne. Of course I was sad that blink went away, but at the same time it was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to go about pursuing a couple of your other dreams.’”

Was the reunion a massive lift?
“I had already accepted that it was over, so when it did come back and we did a reunion tour, that was cool. It was fun to be around Tom again, and it was fun to be around Mark again, but I could always kind of feel the vibe that Tom really liked doing his own thing – probably even more so than blink. Whereas I always kept it as a priority, even if I was on tour with Wayne or if I was working with whoever, whatever rapper, whenever I was doing Transplants, whatever people would see me doing. Whenever blink came around, it was always my priority. Tom – and I love him to death – but I felt blink was no longer the priority for him. It was like, ‘Oh, let’s do this reunion tour, but I really want to get back to doing my own thing.’ And I respected that in some ways, and I guess I could see Tom’s focus was somewhere else. Then eventually I felt like I had even more respect for him because he was like, ‘Look, I don’t want to actually do this anymore, and I want to go do this, this and this.’ For him to walk away from such a big monster, a big machine like that, I have nothing but respect.”

Do you still keep in touch with Tom?
“Yeah, I do. We talk, even if it’s only through text, like, ‘Hey, are you cool? How’s the tour?’ I’ll say, ‘Man, everything’s great, and I hope you’re doing good.’ Whatever. It’s just small talk really, but yeah, we definitely keep in touch, just to check in.”

You’ve always seemed like quite a spiritual person. How big a part does that play in your life?
“I think whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I have of course learned that lesson in the most traumatic of ways, by experiencing the worst thing that can ever happen. So I just live every day to the fullest, and whatever happens, happens, you know? I only have so much control over that. Obviously I’ll always try my best to keep my side of things clean, but that’s all I can do. There’s no point sweating the rest.”

You once owned a taco restaurant. What did you learn about the restaurant trade?
“That was my first real experience of going in, of just trying to invest my money into something cool outside of all this. Now I own a restaurant with a few friends called Crossroads Kitchen, which is a vegan restaurant that’s really popular out in Los Angeles. The chef there is like a vegan food god. He’s amazing. I really love the investments I’ve made into the lifestyle that I live and eat now. The taco restaurant was kind of a bad experience, ultimately. I was young, I made an investment, and I got screwed. But it was a learning experience and it’s one I’m grateful for now.”

Are you a good cook?
“I prefer just getting takeout or whatever. I don’t have a lot of free time to cook well for myself. I just consider how shitty the food would taste if I did try to cook it, versus the gorgeous food made for me by someone who knows what they’re doing while I’m busy making music. I’m probably a lot better off sticking to that! I don’t like spending time doing stuff that I know I’m not good at. Just concentrate on what you’re good at and you can’t go wrong.”

You appeared in the U.S. TV show CSI. Did you enjoy that experience?
“I did it with my assistant, Chris, who passed away in the plane crash, and with my wife [Shanna Moakler] at the time. Basically, she was an actress, and she said, ‘Look, they’ll get me this part in this TV show if you’ll be in it with me.’ So I said, ‘Sure!’ And I did that, and they have me playing a rapper! It was pretty hilarious, so Chris and I thought, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it.’ Like any acting thing you’ve ever seen me do, I say, ‘Look, I’m a drummer, tell me what the fuck you want me to do, tell me what you want of me and I’m going to give the best to you. But I am not an actor, I do not take this shit seriously, but I will try my 110 per cent best.’ That’s how I walk into any situation, really.”

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