“That album[Untitled] changed everything for Blink-182. The way we write songs, the manner in which we record them, the way we think of ourselves as a band, everything. It marked a huge turning point in our career.” – Mark Hoppus in conversation with MTV
Next week, the revamped Blink-182 (Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio replaced Tom DeLonge in March of 2015) release their 9th studio album Nine. But before taking a glimpse into the band’s future, let’s take a closer look at Blink-182’s seminal release, Untitled. Below is a collection of quotes from interviews, videos, and album liner notes revealing the history behind Untitled.
We were no longer the silly skate punk kids from California.
After five albums of teenage angst, dick jokes, and three-chord progressions, bassist Mark Hoppus, drummer Travis Barker, and guitarist Tom DeLonge locked themselves inside a San Diego mansion to unknowingly record Blink-182’s magnum opus – Untitled.
321 days later, the punk-pop trio cooked up a combination of mature lyrics and experimental sounds culminating in the album that forever changed the future of Blink-182.
“I think it changed the way people thought of us, too. We were no longer the silly skate punk kids from California. Well, we were — and we still are — but from then on there was something more,” Hoppus told MTV.
“I was getting kind of bummed out in the studio.”
“We were just trying to write songs that were better than Enema… but we weren’t taking any leaps and bounds creatively. There was pressure, but not too much. I mean, we wrote songs about f**king pirates and dogs. I remember the label came down to hear the big follow-up and those were the only songs [bonus tracks F**k A Dog and When You F**ked Grandpa] we played them. Oh my God, they lost their minds. We had this song about f**king Hitler – we changed it to ‘when you f**ked grandpa,’ but it originally was, ‘When you f**ked Hitler did he tell you that he loved you?’ They lost it,” said DeLonge.
Rolling Stone describes Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, Blink-182’s fifth studio album, as “happy songs about girls they like, sad songs about girls who don’t like them, serious songs about divorce, dysfunction and the end of the world, plus one really funny song.” Each track on TOYPAJ flows seamlessly through the rest of the band’s discography, hitting the same punchy harmonies and breakneck pace fans of the group had fallen in love with.
But lead guitarist Tom DeLonge wanted more. “I was getting kind of bummed out in the studio [with Blink]… It’s probably my fault because I never said, but I just wanted to get in there and try things out, but you feel like you can’t because the band is paying for studio time.”
DeLonge wanted to go in a darker direction to fulfill his desire of weighty lyrics and giant heavy guitar riffs. So after the release of TOYPAJ, the guitarist started Box Car Racer with fellow Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and David Kennedy.
“It’s almost like you have a canvas and all of these paints but somebody says, ‘No, don’t touch those now, we’ve just got to get the blue on the canvas,’ And you say, ‘But there’s red!’ ‘No, get the blue done, maybe they’ll be time for red later.’ And with Box Car I just wanted to do that” Tom told MusicRadar.
May 2002 saw the release of the Box Car Racer’s self-titled debut, peaking on the Billboard 200 at number 12. Singles such as “I Feel So,” and “There Is” were audibly grungier from the traditional pop-punk music DeLonge and Barker fans were used to. “This record is directly influenced by the bands that mean the most to me — Fugazi, Refused and, of course, Blink-182,” DeLonge told MTV.
In an Ask Me Anything Reddit thread from 2002, Mark was asked how DeLonge and Barker’s side project made him feel. Earnestly, Hoppus responded, “weird, betrayed, jealous. probably more than i should have…the whole situation sucked. but i sang on the track because, at the heart of it, tom and travis are my friends. i’m sure tom felt the tension and asked me as an offering. i was glad to have done it, and i was glad that he asked.”
“One of the craziest things about Box Car Racer is that it was the both greatest and the worst thing for Blink. It was obviously the reason why we made that last record, which I thought was a masterpiece, but it also caused a great division in the band. It was really hard for Mark. He thought it was really lame Travis and I went and did that, but it was a totally benign thing on my part because I only asked Travis to play drums because I didn’t want to pay for a studio drummer,” DeLonge said.
The tension between Mark and Tom continued to simmer throughout the recording of Untitled, up until the band’s first breakup in 2005.
It was like a musical laboratory.
“Travis was like, ‘Don’t think of this as the next blink-182 record — think of it as the first blink-182 record,'” Mark said. “So we had this mindset that we weren’t going to second-guess ourselves … [or] worry if people are going to accept it or if it sounds like blink-182. If it was an idea that we wanted to pursue, we were gonna pursue it. And so we tried out all these different ideas, and it was like a musical laboratory.”
Mark, Tom, and Travis began recording Untitled in 2003 in the space of change: longtime (and despised) record label MCA folded into Geffen, and the result was a burst of creative freedom that Blink-182 had never received before. Geffen executives told the band to take as much time as they needed to record the follow-up to TOYPAJ.
That wasn’t all. Hoppus was on the wrong side of 30, and all three members of the band had become fathers. “I think you do things better when you have children. It’s weird, but somehow it gives you extra energy or extra power or something,” said Barker.
With newfound freedom, the band rented out a house and went to work recording their new record. “We are actually recording in this house out in the middle of nowhere. It’s so comfortable that we’ve been there four months [and] we have six songs done. So in a year, we might be done,” Hoppus said in an interview with MTV.
A new location, a new record label, and fresh inspiration challenged Blink-182 to deliver their most robust record yet. Barker reflected, “Our previous records, like Enema Of The State/Take Off Your Pants And Jacket, were recorded in like… Here’s what would happen. We would take some time off, like a couple months. We’d get together to do the record. We’d write the whole thing in two weeks, and then we would record my drums in a day, and we would record guitars, bass, and vocals over the next month. This record [Untitled], we recorded over a year’s time. We wrote a song and then recorded it, took as much time as we wanted.”
Inspired by his time working on Box Car Racer, DeLonge brought some of those vibes into the Untitled recording sessions. “That’s the time we started doing lots of weird stuff: acoustics, clean, pedals, mic’ing techniques, everything was weird. Even doing the song All Of This with Robert Smith from The Cure, that song was really hypnotic and all acoustic, and then on I Miss You there’s not one electronic instrument.”
“I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Tom said. “There’s… a lot faster stuff, there’s a lot slower stuff, and Travis has been doing a lot of different beats. And we have some acoustic stuff in there. We have some keyboard stuff in there. We have some electronic stuff in there. I think it’s going to be pretty cool.”
“Are we going to joke on this one, are we not going to joke on this one?”
“Actually, the worst thing in the world that could happen is people think we are trying to make some big, bold statement,” says DeLonge. “That’s why we try to say it is not self-titled, it is just untitled. We didn’t want to label it with anything. We didn’t want to label it with a joke title that people might expect. We didn’t want to label it with some serious phrase that the whole record would have to somehow relate to. We left it untitled, so it would speak for itself.”
“When we did the untitled record, we just didn’t feel like putting joke stuff on it, so we didn’t,” Mark told Spin. “It wasn’t really a deliberation or a real introspective [thing like,] “Are we going to joke on this one, are we not going to joke on this one?” We just didn’t feel like it on the untitled one, so we didn’t.”
Untitled opens with “Feeling This,” a quintessential Blink song with Tom’s verses bouncing off of Mark’s choruses all the while Barker’s intricate drumming providing the spine of the track. “Let’s pretend that this is our very first record. Forget what anyone expects from us. Forget what anyone thinks about us. Fuck everything. Make this record and don’t second guess yourself. Have no concerns but to make yourself happy. And that’s what we did, and that was like the first song we wrote, and that was the perfect example. It gave everyone a perfect idea as to what this record’s about,” said Travis about “Feeling This.”
During the writing of the song, Mark and Tom wrote their particular parts in separate rooms only to realize they both wrote about sex (DeLonge wrote about lust, Hoppus focused on passion). “The chorus with me screaming was done in a 30-foot long living room with microphones that were 10 to 15 feet away from me,” said DeLonge.
What follows is nearly 50 minutes of the Mark, Tom, and Travis show at their absolute best: pushing the boundaries of what Blink-182 could be. Track 2 “Obvious” begins with a broody intro and crescendo into a wall of sound. “[“Obvious”] was a really dark song on the album, we were thinking Failure meets Led Zeppelin meets the Police. I love the verses in this song,” Barker said in the album’s liner notes.
“It was so weird because we’d all be glued to the TV, watching these bombs explode over another country,” Tom said. “So I’d see all this and wonder where he was at, and then we’d have to go into the next room and sing or finish writing lyrics. I think it affected our moods throughout the day.”
“Stockholm Syndrome” begins with an elderly woman reciting a letter Hoppus’ grandfather wrote his wife while fighting in World War II. “Real sincere, genuine letters from the worst war in history,” DeLonge said. “So we created this really sad soundtrack beyond the letters. And then it goes into the most aggressive punk rock anthem you’ve ever heard.” To deliver the track’s experimental sound, the band used a microphone dating back to the 1950s, and the reverb on the vocals was achieved by playing the recordings into a shower.
“I think that our lyrics before were about things that happened a long time ago, ‘Hey, remember that awful feeling in high school?'” said Mark. “I wanted to write about exactly what’s going on in my head right now.”
That mindset led to Untitled’s two most unique tracks: “I Miss You,” and “All of This.”
Inspired by The Cure’s “Love Cats,” “I Miss You” was a mainstay on modern rock radio throughout 2004. “I’m a really big The Cure fan, and one day I was listening to their song ‘The Lovecats,’ and I loved the idea of using a stand-up bass guitar and jazz brushes. So what we ended up doing was writing a song with all acoustic,” said Tom.
The entirely acoustic track featured an acoustic-electric bass, cello, and brushstroked drum loop. “This song is played with brushes and is the only loop on the record. The part in the first verse about Jack and Sally I directed towards me and Shanna,” said Barker. “Once the lyrics start singing about a spider eating the insides of a bug, I think people take that and go, ‘Maybe it’s not about their families,'” DeLonge said, “And it talks about [celebrating] Halloween on Christmas and all these different dark kinds of things. The song’s more about the vulnerability and kind of heart-wrenching pain you feel when you’re in love and when you’re a guy, and you’re trying to tell a girl, ‘Don’t waste your time coming and talking to me because, in my head at least, you probably already gave me up a long time ago.'”
Robert Smith, the lead singer of The Cure, influenced a lot of Untitled but none more than “All of This” which features his vocals. “We are all huge fans of The Cure. Having Robert Smith collaborate on a track is a total dream come true for us. We recorded this song in a rather unconventional manner. Travis recorded the kick and snare together, then went back and overdubbed the high hat, then overdubbed the ride cymbal, then overdubbed the ribbon crasher,” Hoppus said. “Tom went in and recorded the acoustic guitars and the electrics. I went in and recorded the bass, using a new discovery for this album, which is a 1963 Fender Bass VI. It is exactly like a guitar in that it has six strings, but is tuned an octave lower. It wasn’t amplified. We plugged it directly into the board. Then Roger came in and added the keyboards. Tom sang the lead first two lines for the chorus, and then we sent the track to Robert over in England. He recorded his vocals there and sent the track back to us. We added drum fills and harmonies and added mellotron. The song was recorded in 4 different studios on 2 different continents and is one of the best on the record.”
What follows is a haunting, gothic pop song that symbolizes the maturation and growth on Untitled.
A defining moment not just for the band, but for the genre of punk, in all its permutations
“Most people when they get out of high school, get into college and start families, start new jobs, music becomes less and less important,” DeLonge says. “What we’re trying to do is present something that counter-baits that audience enough to where when they get to that point, they stay with us. And that’s how a band has a legacy and can last as long as we have, 22 years now – take risks like that.”
Untitled released on November 18, 2003. Initial fan response was split between folks who wanted another Enema of the State and those who welcomed the change. But as the tenth anniversary of the album’s release passed by, critics reminisced about Blink-182’s masterpiece.
“It’s a fitting tribute to an album that, in the decade since it was first released, has become a bit of a touchstone — a defining moment not just for the band, but for the genre of punk, in all its permutations,” wrote James Montgomery.
After the release of Untitled, Blink-182 was never the same. In 2005, Blink-182 and Geffen Records announced the band was on an indefinite hiatus. While Tom focused on his solo project Angels and Airwaves, Barker and Hoppus stuck together releasing music under the name +44.
Things continued to get worse for the band in 2008 when longtime producer Jerry Finn was taken off of life support. Finn produced Untitled, as well as Enema of the State, The Mark Tom, and Travis Show, and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. A month later, Barker and Adam Goldstein were involved in a horrific plane crash killing four people and severely injuring Barker. He required 16 surgeries and 48-hour blood transfusions.
It was during Barker’s hospital stay that DeLonge, Barker, and Hoppus reunited for the first time since 2005 culminating in a disappointing album and friction-filled tour. Once again, Blink-182 announced in 2014 that the band as we knew it would be ending. Replacing DeLonge in the band would be the lead singer of Alkaline Trio, Matt Skiba.
Despite positive reviews for the new-look Blink’s album California and anticipation building for the release of NINE, fans of Blink-182 still long for the banter of Mark, Tom, and Travis together.
“Punk rock is so easy to do that with because the music by itself is by nature a pretty simplistic form of music,” DeLonge points out, “but the bands that are really good in that genre are the ones that have incorporated other styles of music into that form. If we would have done the same record again, not only would it have helped the demise of the genre, it would have definitely accelerated ours.”