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The Bands, The Breakdown & The Return
By Joe Shooman
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 Joe Shooman
All rights reserved.
Thomas Matthew DeLonge Jnr was born on December 13, 1975 and raised in Poway, California. It's a town of just shy of fifty thousand inhabitants in San Diego County. A nice place to be, if a little on the slow side in comparison to the bright lights of bigger cities nearby. Poway is an ancient Native American settlement with the name meaning 'the two little valleys' and many spear points and arrowheads have been excavated along Poway Creek, making it a valuable and historical place. All of which was probably known by a teenage Tom who got expelled from Poway High for turning up at a school basketball game drunk. Not a good thing for his high school career; eventually brilliant for his musical career. Necessarily, DeLonge had to subsequently register for another school and that was Rancho Bernardo High. In 1992 it presented Tom with a second chance and an opportunity to indulge in his growing musical appreciation, which at that time had expanded toward punk rock (Descendents being a particular favourite at the time). The best thing about Rancho Bernardo, however, was their propensity for arranging Battle Of The Bands competitions. For a kid with a growing anti- establishment attitude – and a brand new, brand old guitar as a birthday present – it seemed a gift from heaven. He immediately set about writing some material to play on his acoustic, and when show day came around he was ready to rock, as were many other young bands at the school.
"My band, The Necropheliacs, played a cover of Metallica's 'Creeping Death'," recalls local musician and original blink-182 drummer, Scott Raynor, exclusively for this book. "Tom played an original song called 'Who's Gonna Shave Your Back Tonight?' which was just him and his guitar, to a basketball auditorium filled with people." This performance – which may have been under the temporary moniker Big Oily Men – made an impression on the crowd, and also on Raynor, whose own group was soon to be destabilised by the departure of founder member Paul Scott, who was moving out of the state. But not before Paul introduced Raynor to DeLonge at a party where the two found they had plenty in common. Tom explained he was a guitarist/vocalist looking for a more permanent band and so he and Scott decided to get together and jam.
"We started writing songs at my parents' house," recalls Raynor of these very early sessions, which at that point didn't have any ambition other than having a blast and playing some loud music for the hell of it. Scott William Raynor Jnr was born on May 23, 1978, was keen to develop his drumming chops even further, having been brought up on a steady diet of metal in a succession of youthful groups.
"I had been playing the drums for about three or four years before I met Tom," continues Scott. "Mostly my friends and I playing cover songs. The first song I played was with my friend Ryan Kennedy; we were both eleven and had recently been inspired by Metallica to pick up music. Metallica was far too technical, so we learned 'Twist of Cain' by Danzig and 'London Dungeon' by the Misfits. We played those songs at school in a kind of 'show and tell' thing. The first song I played at a real show was 'Vlad The Impailer' by Gwar. But I hadn't been in any bands that I would have considered 'serious' in the sense of successful."
Raynor and DeLonge's ad hoc sessions with a variety of bass players (as legend has it, there was even one called Derek, although this could be a subsequent in-joke reference to Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls, of course) weren't getting anywhere all that fast, aside from a lot of joking around and skating. But that was soon all to change.
Enter Mark Allan Hoppus, older than the other two guys, born on March 15, 1972. Hoppus had been living in Ridgecrest, California, which was brilliantly once named Crumville. Mark had been playing bass since being bought one as a gift for his fifteenth birthday, and by the time his family upped sticks to move to San Diego, he'd already played in a series of bands including Pier 69 and a group called The Attic Children, who in 1988 recorded some demos of their act – largely based round covering songs by UK goth grin-avoiders The Cure. Another band was Of All Things, which by 1992 was going so far as to play actual mini-concerts at friends' parties and The Oasis venue in Ridgecrest, albeit mainly covers of tracks by Descendents. But a gig is a gig, and the experience left Mark with a thirst for live performance. For a time after the move to San Diego, Hoppus would head back to Ridgecrest on a weekend to continue rehearsing and playing live with Of All Things, but after a while it became too much distance to bear so that band inevitably fizzled out. Also a good thing, because otherwise he wouldn't have had time to spare when his sister, Anne, introduced him to Tom DeLonge through her beau of the time.
"Tom and Scott met at a party a long time ago and started talking and decided that they wanted to start a band," recalled Mark later. "At that same time, my sister was going out with one of Tom's best friends, so she introduced me and Tom and we started writing songs together, and it just began from there." The banter began immediately: one of the pair's early meetings was at a local skate park where Hoppus, in trying to out-trick his new buddy, managed to spectacularly crash and burn, falling from a lamp- post and cracking his ankles, an injury that put him in crutches for three weeks. But bass players are nothing if not fearless, and the pairing of DeLonge and Hoppus was a comedy duo who hit it off from the first moments.
Scott Raynor for one was delighted at this development in his musical world. "I really enjoyed their company. I thought they were hilarious although I was only fourteen or fifteen when I met them. I mean, I didn't even have a driver's licence yet, so I gained a lot of agency through hanging out with them and their group of friends."
Tom and Mark also, crucially, instantly found each other's musical muse a real kick, easily meshing in with each other's riffs like they had played together for years. "We started out practicing in my room," says Raynor. "My parents even stuck up for us when the neighbours complained. I'll never hear the end of it from my family though. It was hard enough to listen to the band live when we were practiced, let alone when we were just starting out."
That summer, the new band-mates hung out together, playing music constantly and goofing around as much as possible. "We went to a lot of punk shows and movies," continues Scott, "and ate a lot of fast food. We did stupid stuff like prank calls and practical jokes. I remember the first night I went to Mark's house, he and a bunch of Tom's friends told another friend who had never been to Mark's to come over, but they gave him the address of the house next door. Then they went and put a sign on the neighbour's door that said, 'Don't knock, just come in.' We all waited outside in the bushes for him to arrive, to see what would happen. He walked up and tried the door, but lucky for him it was locked."
The love for hi-jinks may have been based round simply having a great laugh, but the pranks were also inventive. "Tom used to call local businesses posing as a pest control salesman," laughs Raynor. "He tried to convince the owners of a local pizza hut to pay him to spray their property with 'synthetic coyote urine' in order to keep rodents away. Just stupid stuff, but [those guys] were a lot of fun to be around." Occasionally, they'd even play music, too.CHAPTER 2
Even at this exciting nascent stage, the new band could have eroded when Mark Hoppus' girlfriend of the time asked him to essentially choose between hanging out with her or continuing with the band. Even though he'd only just bought a new bass amp and despite his initial protestations he decided to make a go of things with his lady. So reluctantly he left Tom and Scott to their own devices. But in the same way that the split with Of All Things hadn't stopped his musical pulse beating, the brief time away from his buddies (and their music) quickly became unbearable.
"We did record a couple of demos on a four-track with the aid of [friend and occasional musical collaborator] Cameron Jones," recalls Scott Raynor. "One was Tom and I, and I think maybe Cam on bass. However I don't really remember the chronology of their completion."
Before too long, Hoppus heard that Scott and Tom were recording their songs in a rehearsal space in Scott's bedroom and Mark was tempted back into the fold. When he returned, the three made a vow to get things moving properly at last. First port of call – find a name for their project. The three were toying with the names Duck Tape and Figure 8 at this stage, but hadn't decided on anything concrete yet. When I asked him, Scott Raynor said that at one particular rehearsal, DeLonge came armed with an idea.
"Tom came with the name 'blink' one day," explains Scott. "He said he liked it because it was a fast action verb." The others agreed. Newly christened Blink, there was a need for another demo tape to celebrate the return of Hoppus. As with the original Cameron Jones/Scott Raynor/Tom DeLonge tape, it was recorded on a four-track – a strangely anachronistic piece of gear in this computer-based, Pro-Tools age, but at the time it was an essential part of any budding band's armoury (in 1992 computers ran on bits of string and hope, and the very idea of recording multiple tracks of audio on a PC was as preposterous as, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the governor of California).
For those born after 1990, a four-track used a regular audio tape as its recording medium, recording across both sides of the tape and therefore allowing for multiple tracks of bass, guitar, drums etc to be laid down separately on to the cassette. It was and is a resolutely analogue medium, in which noise levels increase with every pass through the machine and degradation and distortion of the music is an inevitable (and sometimes a creative) part of the process. But on the other hand, in common with today's digital recording practices, it was a relatively cheap way to reproduce your music and for a band at the start of their careers it was essential to produce a tape to send round to promoters, venues, journalists and even record labels.
This new demo was dubbed Flyswatter by Blink, and comprised the songs 'Reebok Commercial', 'Time', 'Red Skies', 'Alone', 'Point Of View', 'Marlboro Man', 'The Longest Line' and 'Freak Scene'. It was a mix of covers and bedroom originals but with a terrible sound and a performance quality that is at best naïve. Blink have subsequently been rather keen on distancing themselves from it by pointing out precisely what it is – youthful and raucous first steps. The tape, which was 'released' by the band on their made-up Fags In The Wilderness Records (complete with cover drawn by Mark), captures a certain excitement but also includes one heck of a lot of bum notes and muddy recording standards. It sounds as unfinished as you can imagine, and though of historical note in certain regards, you wouldn't necessarily want to put it on the stereo. Indeed, Mark told an interviewer in 1996, "Trust me. We sucked way worse then than we do now."
Another tape, cunningly dubbed Demo No.2, was invaluable in assisting the band in their live aspirations as the Blink name started to spread. An early supporter was Mark Hoppus' boss at his record store job, one Patrick Secor.
"The store [we worked at together] was called The Wherehouse – Where? The Wherehouse!," Secor explained for this book. "They're a chain that back then was like Tower-lite, a regular record and video store in North County San Diego. I'd been assistant manager at another location and got transferred to the store where Mark was, so that I could be the manager there and that's where I first met him. It was the coolest job you could have compared to what everyone else was doing and all the people who worked there had an interest in music. I was just out of high school so it was great as far as jobs go because you could order things in and get discounts! Every day you had exposure to music, you were right in the middle of things."
The guys hit it off straight away, despite Secor's seniority of post. The manager recalls that his first impressions of the young Hoppus were good ones. "Mark was very charismatic, funny, easy to get along with and we hit it off right away. He was a good worker and we never had any issues as far as that went. We had a lot of similar interests. He'd just got together with the other guys and started the band and at the same time I wanted to start my own record label."
The youthful, can-do attitude and shared excitement about the possibilities in music was one thing but in the early 1990s getting gigs was another matter entirely in a town with very limited options in terms of venues. "The first Blink show was at a high school," recalls Secor. "They played at a lunchtime concert. Frankly, San Diego was very conservative and there weren't many places for underage people – at the time two thirds of the band were too young to play a real club. There were benefit shows, one with Bad Radio which was Eddy Vedder's first band. It's so different from today and the Bay Area where there's tons of places to play. It was absolutely DIY – when you were small and starting out there was a limited amount of clubs and places to play, so you had to be creative if you wanted to get your band out there, [find] places where you could get an audience together. Obviously after a while they could play anywhere they wanted but [initially they] had to create [their] own audience."
Early Blink appearances are recorded at San Diego's Spirit Club – their (non-school) debut – and the influential local shop, Alley Kat Records. 1993 saw the band consolidate and begin to perform at The Dungeon, a side stage of the city's biggest club, SOMA, where on April 9, 1993 they were on a bill with fellow local hopefuls Papillon, Product, Grip and Loophole.
"SOMA was just getting started and it was a small basement of a building," explains Secor. "It was kinda raw, and the only place that was all ages in San Diego. There was a lot of good energy. You could either go to SOMA or to [Mexican border town] Tijuana if you were underage so it was nice to have that kind of a place in San Diego."
Secor's part in the tale at this point is that of facilitator; he was into Blink's music and also wanted to start his own record label. Soon the idea came into focus: to get Blink into a 'proper' studio with a view to releasing material on Secor's brand-new label, Filter Records.
"If you could get one good microphone in those days you were far and above everybody else," remembers Secor. "These days anybody could probably get some free software and a coupla cheap mics to hook into your computer and get good results but back then I had an old 386 computer that I used to type out college papers on. There was no real public internet. The problem was, 'How the hell do I get people to listen to my band?' Whereas now you can just upload it to MySpace for people to listen to. But in those days you'd spend hours every night recording tapes to give to people. My thinking with Filter Records was to start small, get the band out there, get people to hear it, start getting reviews which would kick you up a level and start sending those tapes out to get gigs. Also to play anywhere you can as much as you can and that's how the word would spread. It was very local."
"I'd go to Scott's house to their practices. I'd hang out with them; they were fun and catchy and I thought this would be a great band to start a label with. The whole purpose was to sign them, put out a record and keep going. They got a bunch of songs together, Mark and I talked about it so I said, 'Let's put out a record'. At that point they'd played around enough to get their chops up so I took all the money I had in savings and we went into the studio for two days." It was understandably a time of great excitement in the camp.
That studio was Santee, California's Doubletime, where the engineer was Jeff Forrest. "They were playing a lot at SOMA and drawing a lot of people," Forrest explained for this book. "They were still in Poway High School but they drew really good crowds. The idea with the demo, like with every other band, was that they needed it to go out and get other shows. So they'd hope to widen their audience and get shows out of town, stuff like that."
It was already working; the group had branched out to places like Soul Kitchen in El Cajon. Tom himself had returned to Poway High and was selling copies of Flyswatter at lunchtime to get kids into liking his band, as well as putting up flyers wherever he could. And the crowds were increasing steadily as a result.
"I went to a few of those shows," remembers Jeff Forrest. "It was crazy; when they would play they would pack the place, there was probably about six hundred kids there going nuts. I believe they were all skaters at that time."
Six hundred fans? More than enough to justify that frantic studio time. The project would be dubbed Buddha. "The Buddha tape was basically a collection that represented almost all of the songs that we had written up to that point," explains drummer Scott Raynor. "Mark had a friend that put up the funds for recording and we went in to Doubletime and put them down. It was factory pressed. I can't remember now if we hand-made the covers and packed them ourselves or if they just came that way. We started selling them at shows and at school, and it helped us get some people out to see the live show."
Excerpted from blink-182 by Joe Shooman. Copyright © 2010 Joe Shooman. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Episode IV: A New Band,
Chapter 1: First Steps,
Chapter 2: Steppin' Out,
Chapter 3: Grin To Win,
Chapter 4: What's My Name Again?,
Chapter 5: Out On The Road With A 182 In Tow,
Chapter 6: Sign Here,
Chapter 7: Warp Speed, Part 2,
Chapter 8: Man Overboard,
Chapter 9: A Disturbance In The Force,
Chapter 10: Oh Buddha!,
Chapter 11: Finn-land,
Chapter 12: Grinning Like A Cheshire ...,
Chapter 13: Small Things And Big Things,
Chapter 14: The Show Must Go On,
Chapter 15: Reality and Extra Curricular,
Chapter 16: Battle For The Empire,
Chapter 17: Surgery,
Chapter 18: House Band,
Chapter 19: All About The Drummers,
Chapter 20: What's My Name Again (Again)?,
Chapter 21: 2004,
Chapter 22: Implosion,
Chapter 23: What's Your Number?,
Chapter 24: The Race For Release,
Chapter 25: Absinth Makes The Fart Grow Honda,
Chapter 26: The Empire Bites Back,
Chapter 27: Politics And Mixtapes,
Chapter 28: Farewells,
Chapter 29: Family Reunion,
Footnotes & Index Of Articles Referenced,