No Rest For The Righteous
DRUM! caught Travis Barker before and after a short tour with his newest band, the Transplants. Yes, that makes three – count ’em, three – bands he is in. He spoke freely and enthusiastically about drumming and his numerous projects in punk, hip-hop, education and, even more inexplicably, big band, and generally about life at the top. But Travis doesn’t call it ’life at the top,’ His modesty remains as intact as his chops. So does his busy schedule.
It wasn’t easy to get some time with him. He’s often commuting, in one of his 12 collectible Cadillacs, between his beloved 909 area code and the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Barker, winner of numerous awards, including DRUM!’s 2002 Drummer of the Year, isn’t resting on his laurels – he’s burning them as fuel. In addition to three bands he’s also got a clothing company, a record company, nine Rottweilers, the 12 Cadillacs, a partridge in a pear tree and several guest appearances, both recorded and filmed. Is he driven? Obviously. But he’s driven towards communal expression. Travis Barker likes being in bands.
Besides the well-established Blink 182, Barker also keeps time in Box Car Racer, a more-than-punk rock band with his Blink bandmate Tom DeLonge. Box Car, with its grooving, colorful and less, er, snotty songs, is a welcome change from the simple joys of Blink. Blink’s adolescent sound is now so successful that it’s unlikely to change. Box Car Racer is the place to go to hear Barker play unbounded and “outside the box.” His grooves are musical and interesting – and still youthfully aggressive. They have also become popular challenges amongst bedroom drummers. But wait! There’s more!
Barker’s newest band is the Transplants – a hip-hop punk blend made with members of Rancid. Our first hook-up with Travis was at a rehearsal/photo session just days before the Transplants hit the road. In true rock and roll fashion, the hours got mixed up, and we had to squeeze in questions as the camera flashed. During the faux-action photos, we got to sit back and listen as Barker played. He’s fun to listen to. Not in a “young Billy Cobham is playing and I see Jesus” way, and not as revolutionary as say, Stewart Copeland with the Police. But he reminds you of the old axiom, “a bad drummer makes a good band sound bad and a good drummer makes a bad band sound better.”
Travis Barker is a good drummer. Oh, we can hear the Blink fans whining already. Get over it! Blink is fun, sure, but they’re made notches better by the skill and intelligence of Dr. Barker. He elevates the form. Dig: On some other DRUM! business we were in the studio of a noted L.A. film/jazz/session guy. In his CD racks, next to Blood, Sweat & Tears, Adrian Belew, and not too far from the Beatles, Basie and Bozzio, was Blink 182’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Session man said, of Travis, “I love what he does with that band’s tunes. He really helps clarify the arrangements.” It’s true, and even more evident on Box Car Racer’s CD, where Barker plays in a much broader, albeit still rock-and-roll, musical setting. Throughout the body of Barker’s recorded work, the technical difficulty of the beats doesn’t enter into the listening – until you stop to think about it. Barker, on this subject, referred to one of his early heroes, Stewart Copeland. “Before I knew, technically, what he was all about,” he says, “I just loved his feel, just loved the way he played.” The concept apparently sunk in. Barker feels right for the music. Travis Barker is a man who does a lot of things right.
But thank goodness Barker hadn’t quit smoking yet. We followed him outside on puff breaks and asked about songwriting and his newest band, the Transplants.
“In Blink and in Box Car I help with the writing, bring in some ideas, tell them my ideas around the drum parts. That’s how we wrote all the Box Car songs. On this Box Car CD every song was different. It was the best it’s ever been for that. There’s no two bridges that are the same. Those are my goals when I’m writing. I don’t like to hear the same thing over and over, here’s that bridge, here’s that verse. Box Car is sort of experimental like that. Mostly I think of stuff while I’m driving around, and then I sing them to the guys and we work out the parts. Right now I’ve got some crazy neighbors at home and I can’t play drums there. I do most of it in my head. Sometimes it works against me. In Blink we play everything faster live, sometimes 200, 210 [beats per minute], and I’ll go, ’what was I thinking?’ But your adrenaline is pumping, too, so ... it’s fun.”
Thinking of Box Car Racer songs like “I Feel So,” with it’s fast rolls, we chided Travis about the hours of practice it must have taken. “You know something? I didn’t spend crazy hours on the kit. Not that crazy. I read about someone like Marco Minneman, spending 11 hours a day. I never did that. In drum line [at school] I spent two hours a day and then about an hour on the kit. I grew up playing jazz, reading jazz instructional books, but, actually, I really wasn’t fond of it. I would never try to write something around a technical thing; I write stuff that sounds good to me and feels good, too.”
Travis reached over to stub out his cigarette in the ashtray on the plastic patio table. We asked him, what else do you do to stay in shape besides smoke?
“Well, I smoke. I don’t want to talk about whatever bad things I do. Whatever bad I do, I try to balance it out with good. I run every day, I do pushups, whatever. It’s like Taxi Driver. That’s what I’m going through right now. I’ve got a picture of De Niro from Taxi Driver, looking in the mirror, with guns in his hands. My dad saw it and said, ’Where did you get those guns? Why’d you take that picture?’ I’m like, ’Oh my God.’ The last week I’ve been living out of a hotel, trying to balance out the three different things I’m doing right now. Thank God Blink is totally done for the year now. So I’ve got Box Car and the Transplants. And I just recorded the Black Eyed Peas album. I did a couple tracks on there. I’m getting ready to start DJ Proof – he’s like Eminem’s sidekick. I’m going off to Detroit to play on that.
“I like being able to play with Transplants, Box Car, Blink, and then, on the other hand, I love hip-hop and I love drum ’n’ bass. I love to go on the other side and play around so much. I don’t know, it’s just so exciting. It’s super cool. I try to be super-selective about what I do. I don’t want to blow myself out. I want to play with bands that I really, really like. If a certain band that I wasn’t really fond of wanted to pay me to do their album, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like the music. It’s got to be ... like a full circle. Like I liked the guys, liked the music before I would do anything. I would hate to start three bands that all sounded like Blink. I love doing it with them but I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
Barker had to go back inside and rehearse with the Transplants. We asked about the kit he’d be using on their mini-tour.
“I’ll be playing my new lime gold OCDP kit with all gold hardware, a four-piece kit. It’s going to look like a low rider. I’m playing less cymbals now and more drums. DW hardware and pedals. I love the DW 5000 pedal, but right now I’ve got the new one, the titanium one [DW 9000]. It’s almost too smooth. I’m used to working harder. I don’t do anything to my pedals. I just take ’em out of the box and adjust the beater so it’s way back where it smacks me in the knee. I don’t mess with the tension or anything else. I think that once you start adjusting too much then you get, I dunno, suspicious. I don’t own any electronics except the TR808 for low bass sounds. There’s a lot of 808 on the Transplants stuff. I use it in Box Car, too.
“Transplants is definitely versatile, and different than anything else I’ve done. We’re doing a handful of shows and this rehearsal is for those shows. We’ve never played together as a band before, we’ve only recorded. I wasn’t there for the rest of the recording. So, live, I’m sure it’s going to be crazy. With Blink we write everything a week before we record, so I just play what comes to mind, and then live it all changes. Live, with Blink, there’s no guitar solos, no bass solos, so I just overplay everything, but it works, because there’s a lot of room. It’s real basic. With Box Car, we have a little more time to adjust everything, so it’s pretty busy and I pretty much stick to my drum parts live. On the Transplants recording, we recorded me playing, and then looped, like, eight measures of it. So I’ll just play the loop stuff live. It’ll be good to be playing with live musicians. No one knows about the Transplants, it’s sort of a secret little thing...”
And off he went into the sunset, umm, rehearsal studio. We next caught Mr. Barker on the telephone at the warehouse of his clothing company, Famous Stars and Straps, where he was tending to business after the conclusion of the Transplants tour. We asked how it went, and he was ebullient.
“We did ten shows, it was like an all-star punk band, a good group to play with. Matt [Freeman] and Tim [Armstrong] from Rancid, it was a lot of fun, real organic. We traveled in a van. We even played in a barn, in Fresno.
“It took me back to being seventeen again, just keeping it humble, riding in the van, doing shows. I had a great time, a really great time. It’s hard to describe the music to people, since there’s no record out yet, but it’s like hardcore with hip-hop. Loopy-bassy, sort of trance ... I use a lot of TR808 on it. When I hit that thing I can see the glasses rattle off the bar.
“It felt really good to play on this tour. I didn’t smoke, I felt good. I played at the Roxy a while back and had a coughing fit after the show. So I quit smoking. I had a great time. I played my new OCDP kit, the low rider kit, yellow acrylic with gold tube lugs, Cadillac emblem.
“Right now I’m at the warehouse. I have some drums here. I can play after everybody goes home. This is the Famous Stars and Straps warehouse. My clothing company. All my friends who can’t get regular jobs work here. It’s different, the clothing industry, but we’ve been focusing on the same stuff I loved when I was growing up – BMX riding, skateboarding, surfing. I’m here all the time, like four days a week.
“I’ve started a label, too. MCA gave me my own label to do everything, just like a big label only smaller. I’ll sign some cool bands, a good punk band, a good speed metal band, a good mellow band. I’m real excited about it.”
Hold the phone. We knew Travis had a good head for business, but we don’t see any evidence of rock star living at all. What up?
“My pool is rad. It’s a rock pool, made by the guy that did Disneyland. There’s skulls in the rocks. I love my house. But I might buy one in L.A., or near there. I do my own laundry, clean my own house, pay my own bills. I’ve always been like that. I mean, I come from blue-collar roots. I’ve always been humble about that. I’d rather just do it myself. Plus, I don’t trust anybody. I keep the same circle of friends I’ve always had. It keeps you level-headed.”
We could see that Barker, in this glaring moment of confession, was ripe for true dirt. What, exactly, we asked, do you do when you practice? “Last year I didn’t practice a lot. I was more focused on developing a sound, working on my style. But this year I’m super focused. I want to spend a lot of time on the kit. So on a practice pad I like to do a bunch of rudiments I’ve put together, just crazy hard stuff, to build chops. I’ve been putting them together for a while now and I hope to put them out in a book, like Stick Control. I wouldn’t try to compare myself to Stick Control but you know, a book like that, that builds up your chops. I hope to get that put out.
“On the kit, sometimes I like to just play single strokes all around the kit. It keeps me loose, because I overplay like crazy on the gig, I’m changing my parts all the time, and I don’t want to get hung up. So I might start at 180, then work up to 220, just going around the kit.
“Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of hip-hop music, I just love hip-hop. I’ve been listening to DJ Shadow, DJ Sparky, Beat Nuts – Meshugga, Jack Johnson – I love that mellow stuff, too, I like to fall asleep to it; and Elvis Costello, and PsychoRealm. I’ve been playing the hip-hop stuff live, figuring out how to play it live. Not kind of like the recording, but exactly like the recording. I studied Johnny Rabb’s stuff, and I really respect what he’s doing. So I’ve got different snare drums, different sounds, and I’m mocking up these hip-hop beats. I used to think the multiple snare drum thing was retarded. But then I got used to having a floor tom on the left side, and playing it, and then I added another snare and an octoban. Now I think it’s cool.”
Once we got on track with practice, with growth, with cool new things to do, Travis had a grocery list of news. Barker likes “busy.”
“I’ve gotten to do some stuff I never expected to do. I did a hip-hop video, and it was like hip-hop heaven. I looked around – there was Ice Cube, Mike Tyson, Puff Daddy. It was a whole different world, and I felt lucky to be a part of it. I was glad they asked me to be in the video.
“Cathy Rich was talking to me about being part of the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert. I don’t know for sure if it’s going to happen, but that would be awesome. When I was growing up I played in marching band, orchestra, concert band, all of it. I just wanted to be as good as I could be. I would totally love to do that concert.
“In October the Transplants CD will come out on Hellcat Records. We’re doing a Box Car Racer tour in the fall, and then at the end of the year we’ll write and record the next Blink record, and my drum tracks take, like, two days. Then when Tom and Mark are doing their tracks I’ll be out on a Transplants tour. I like to keep busy. I love hotels. I love driving. I am deathly afraid of flying. With Blink we flew a lot, but since 9/11 we’ll bus more. I love touring.
“I used to practice all day when I was on tour. I have a little mini-kit and a room I play in. I used to wonder, is this ever going to pay off? Because other guys were out drinking or hanging with chicks, and I’m being a practice dork. And then Dan, my drum tech [from OCDP Drums], shows me the magazine polls, and he’s all proud of me because I won, and I was impressed that maybe all my hard work was paying off, and that people were digging what I’m doing. And I never, ever thought I’d be blessed with being on the cover of a drum magazine that I subscribe to! That I used to spend every penny I’d saved on! So I guess it’s cool to be a practice dork.”
Mike Fasano: Barker’s Studio Secrets
By Andy Doerschuk
To push the envelope for Box Car Racer’s eponymous debut CD, Travis Barker asked his old buddy, L.A. studio drum tech Mike Fasano, to bring everything and anything in his quirky drum collection. The weirder the better.
He got what he asked for. Literally, truck loads. “I brought down some old Gretsch drums that I have,” Fasano says. “We had some of the Orange County stuff. I had a Vistalite kit down there. I had some old Tosco cymbals, and Camber cymbals. We would throw up whatever just to create a vibe and a texture.”
In the end Barker set up three kits in the studio – one to record verses, another for choruses, and a third to create loops. But it didn’t stop there. Each kit was scrutinized, and pieces interchanged, from song to song. “We did crazy stuff,” Fasano says. “Every kit was different, with different kick drums, different toms. We would go, ’What’s this song like?’ Then we’d find the right cymbals, and the right drums, and the right effects for each song.
“On some songs he does a lot of the military-style rolls and stuff. So we put an old ’40s Ludwig snare drum in the center of the room with one microphone in the midst of all the kits – and he would just play that.
“We did a punk rock kit with an old 24" Gretsch bass drum with a Duraline head, a little sandbag pillow pushing up against the front head, no logo head, a 15" Gretsch rack tom with a blue old-school Evans hydraulic head that somebody had given me. And then the floor tom was an 18" floor tom with a Duraline tom head on it.”
Duraline heads? They went extinct long ago. Why vintage heads? “I had them and I thought to myself: ’Why not?’ Listen to those records and the drums sound amazing.” Fasano flashes back. “Hell, why not? ’Let’s take the kick drumhead off and put the Duraline head on it! Let’s use a hydraulic! Whoa, that sounds great!’”
Ilan Rubin: Barker’s Drumming Disciple
By Andy Doerschuk
Travis Barker fans can begin to hyperventilate. Believe it or not, when he isn’t on the road, the punk superstar tutors drum students in his Famous Stars & Straps merchandise warehouse in Orange County. It’s not open to the public. And safe to say, there’s a waiting list.
A recent protege is Ilan Rubin, 14, who travels an hour and a half up the coast from San Diego for his lessons. Rubin drums with F.o.N., a punk band that will soon release its fourth CD, Adventures in Boredom. He first met Barker while F.o.N. performed on the 2000 Warped Tour, and started lessons soon after.
Talented Rubin already could shred splinters. Instead the practical teenager asked Barker to teach him how to read. “That’s something I’m still not too good at,” Rubin says. “I’m still practicing every day to get my sight reading better. I want to learn how to read different types of music. I want to learn how to play jazz, play some funk.”
He came to the right place. Barker does it – and teaches it – all. “He was in marching band for many years, and he knows all that stuff, so every time I go in, the first thing he does is tells me what he’s written out for me,” Rubin says. “When I first went in there he wrote a triplet accenting on the 1. He just wanted to see how I could hold up.”
Satisfied, Barker started running Rubin through a regimen of conventional drumming method books, including Jim Chapin’s Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, A Funky Primer for the Rock Drummer by Charles Dowd, and Future Sounds by David Garibaldi.
Rubin tries to pack in more than one lesson per week when Barker’s home, and averages between one to two hours at a pop. “Before he goes out on tour he just loads me with stuff,” Rubin says. “I just have to keep practicing until he gets back so that I can get it down perfectly. That’s what I do.”
Daniel Jensen: Barker’s Double Duty Man
By Andy Doerschuk
No one knows the intricacies of Travis Barker’s setup more intimately than his touring drum tech Daniel Jensen. But Jensen doesn’t just set up Barker’s drums. As the founder and principle craftsman at Orange County Drum and Percussion, he builds them, too.
Their relationship goes back to Barker’s days with the Aquabats, when Jensen was “still building drums in the garage.” They’ve collaborated on more than a few kits since then. “He plays kind of an unusual setup – everything is really flat and very low, like his rack toms are a little smaller, a little more shallow, but still give him the sound he’s looking for,” Jensen says. “Travis has a pretty distinctive snare drum sound. He likes his stuff to be really cracky and tight. He likes to hear all his ghost strokes.”
Jensen takes charge of the equipment on the road – changing heads, polishing cymbals and such – so that Barker can concentrate on drumming, which is something he evidently likes to do all day long. “Travis likes to practice a lot,” Jensen says. “We have a compact kit set up in a warm up room. He’ll definitely spend many hours a day playing, while most guys go off to the mall or whatever. He’ll get in there early and he loves to practice and study and watch videos and get books – anything he can to suck up more drum knowledge.”
As one of the only drum builders in recent memory who actually goes on the road with his endorsers, Jensen is able to road test his own creations. “I see everything firsthand,” he says. “It definitely makes a big difference on how I look at things. I deal with the drum techs for all the great drummers I work with, and they all know I understand where they’re coming from because I’ve been in their shoes. I can help steer a drummer in a better direction.”
Drums: Orange County Drum & Percussion
1. 22" x 22" Bass Drum
2. 14" x 6" Vented Chrome Metal or 14" x 6" Acrylic Vented Snare
3. 8" x 6" Octabon
4. 14" x 12" Floor Tom
5. 12" x 6" Tom
6. 16" x 14" Floor Tom
A. 20" Crash of Doom
B. 10" A Custom Splash
C. 12" A Custom Splash
D. 14" Projection Hi-Hats
E. 19" Z Custom Medium Crash
F. 19" Z Custom Rock Crash
G. 21" Brilliant Sweet Ride
H. 18" Oriental China Trash
I. Roland V-Drum Brain triggering 808 sound
Travis Barker also uses Zildjian Travis Barker Model sticks, Remo heads, DW hardware and pedals, and Audix microphones.