On the books, blink-182 never broke up.
They called it an "indefinite hiatus." But fans heard the details, like a tawdry tabloid report, and knew the truth. Singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge quit in 2005 over arguments about control of the trio's music and spending more time with family. He'd even changed his phone number to cut off his former bandmates. Near the crest of their popularity -- after years of cheeky teen anthems like "Dammit (Growing Up)," "What's My Age Again?," "All the Small Things" and "I Miss You" -- one of the most successful bands in new-school pop-punk was gone in a blink.
But nothing in pop music stays away for good, and two tragedies brought the band back together.
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The band's favorite producer, Jerry Finn, died in 2008 of a cerebral hemorrhage. One month later, blink-182 drummer Travis Barker (last in Chicago with Lil Wayne) survived a deadly plane crash. As DeLonge and singer-bassist Mark Hoppus visited Barker in the hospital, after not speaking in a few years, the friendships were rekindled and the band eventually was restarted. By February 2009, the three appeared at the Grammys, on stage together for the first time in nearly five years, and Barker said, "We used to play music together, and we decided we're going to play music together again." Hoppus sounded more excited: "blink-182 is back!"
Announcing, though, is the easy part. In the interim, what turned out to be an actual hiatus, each member had gone off to other projects. Hoppus and Barker formed a new band, +44, and dabbled in producing. DeLonge returned with an ambitious band called Angels & Airwaves, featuring members from the Offspring and 30 Seconds to Mars.
Now the blink-182 guys had to get their groove back.
"I think it took a while to get to that point," Hoppus told the Sun-Times during a national media teleconference this summer. "I think it took, first of all, reconnecting as friends after not having spoken for about five years, and then it took getting back into the studio, as well as getting back out on the road. I mean, it all felt really naturally right at the beginning -- it felt like home because I think we all feel like blink-182 is our real home -- but at the same time, after not really having worked together or even been friends for a few years, it took a couple of months to kind of find that, 'Oh, yes. This is how it all works.'"
"A band is an odd entity because you are a business and you are friends, but you're also supposedly in this ... in a constant state of 'not really' -- of no responsibility in many ways you know because you're in a band," DeLonge added. "You know, we joined a band to not have to do things."
The a-ha moment, DeLonge said, came as they usually do -- on tour in front of very large crowds. The band toured European festivals last summer. "[There] was 100,000 people a night on some of these places, and it's just insane," DeLonge said. "At that point you kind of feel like, OK, now we're at the biggest part of our career ever and we haven't even ... we feel like we haven't even started yet."
Once back in gear, blink-182 set about recording a new album, "Neighborhoods," due Sept. 27 from Interscope Records, their first album of all-new material since 2003.
To satisfy the family issue, the band members have mostly recorded separately, with DeLonge in his studio in San Diego and the other in Los Angeles. "Having two separate studios I think has been a really great way for all of us to be able to both work intensely and also be able to spend time with our families," Hoppus said.
This interview took place just as the band was careening toward a July 31 deadline to finish the new album. They said they would barely make it.
"The cool thing is it's going to be everything our fans want it to be," DeLonge said. "It's going to be exactly kind of stepping off where the last record was with sensibilities of all three of us individually and sensibilities of the three of us coming together and it was really cool because we separated the record kind of into thirds, like Mark was saying, where each guy can work on stuff on their own."
But are those sensibilities really still intact? With all three guys in their mid- to late-30s, how much heart can you really pour into songs like "First Date" and, perhaps especially, "What's My Age?"
"That's something that I even personally wondered about when we were getting back together," DeLonge said. "But I remember the very first time we played the songs together when we got back together and it made me feel exactly the same way I feel the hour before we go on stage. And before I go on stage with whatever I do, any of my bands or whatever, but I always have this very specific hour where I blast music and I listen to old punk rock music that I listened to in junior high and high school. And when I listen to those old punk bands, it gets me so excited because the whole idea is that it makes me feel the way I felt when I started playing guitar and my whole reason for wanting to break out of suburbia and go do something bigger.
"When we start playing the Blink songs or when we play these, I totally feel that same way. It's like that's the most exciting thing about it. It transports you back to a time when you just had so much angst and you need to change things up in your young adult life or teenage life and that the best thing about this band -- it's like eternal youth and we play so loud and so fast it's like it's just ... it's captivating to be a part of it."