Intrigue abounds, but Travis Barker remains calm. This guy is so in control of the universe and everything in it, that freaking out just isn’t an option — unless he’s getting paid to pound the crap out of a drum kit onstage, of course.
How cool is he right now? He’s so cool that his less famous band, Transplants, is a headliner on The Warped Tour. He’s so cool that MTV camera crews have documented every second of his waking life for the last year for a new show called Meet The Barkers. He’s so cool that he can honestly just shrug when he’s asked for the billionth time if Blink-182’s current hiatus means that they’ve broken up.
“People will obviously say what they want,” the fast-talking Barker says, as he fields The Question yet again. “The bottom line is, when we’re ready, when we feel we’re fixed and our family needs are taken care of, then we’ll feel like we’re ready to be in a band together again.
“For the last ten years, basically, we’d put out a record, tour for two-and-a-half years, write a record, tour, going nonstop. Everyone in the band has kids. We would come home and my son wouldn’t know who I was. Everyone has taken the opportunity to spend time with our kids, but now it’s getting busy for me. It was fun while it lasted. Anyway, Blink will probably, most likely, make a record in January of next year.”
Outside of wanting/needing a break from each other, Barker, with the wisdom of his 29 years, insists nothing significant has changed in the warm folds of Blink. “It doesn’t really affect anything. A band is just like a relationship: If your wife says to you, ’I need time to be with the baby,’ you have to grant her that time. You know, a band is the same way.
“But the rumors are retarded. It’s entertaining. No matter what, Blink was taking the time off. I took the time off for Transplants, and it was a known thing that Blink wouldn’t be working this year, regardless. All the speculation is flattering, but has it got spun out of control? Absolutely. Obviously, there’s rumors that we’ve broken up or that we hate each other or I left the band or Boxcar is working again. It’s just people making stories up. I wish there was a gnarly explanation of everything, but there’s not.”
So It’s Transplants TimeUnquestionably gnarly are the prospects of Transplants, whose unnamed-at-press-time record drops on Barker’s own La Salle label in May. The band plans to come out firing on all cylinders with this CD, so whatever you do, don’t call it a side project. “In no way, shape, or form is the Transplants a side project,” Barker says indignantly. “It’s as important to me as Blink, but due to Blink’s schedule, I wasn’t able to give Transplants the attention it deserves. So this year has been devoted to Transplants. It’s just like when I go make a Blink record.
“Basically, we’ve been working since December of 2004. We spent one week recording 26 songs, and 16 will go on the record. Neil Pogue is mixing, and it’s the best-sounding record I think I’ve ever played drums on in my life. Obviously, I’ve played on a couple of records, but this one is amazing. It has 60 tracks of instruments on some songs, and you can hear everything.”
For those unfamiliar with the history, Transplants formed one day back in 2000 when Rancid singer/guitarist Tim Armstrong called up Barker and invited him to play on some tracks he’d recorded. Inventive singer “Skinhead Rob” Ashton collaborated further, and the three declared a band had been born and an album was in order. Their self-titled debut was released on Epitaph in 2002, and after a warm reception, they’ve been chomping at the bit to go at it again, and just maybe show the world a new way to make music.
“What we’re doing in Transplants is groundbreaking, I think, you know?” Barker declares/queries rhetorically. “It’s such a departure from what I do in Blink. We’re influenced by drum ’n’ bass, rock, hip-hop. We’ll find this record crosses over not just to rock, but hip-hop stations. Not since nü metal have I heard a record played on rock and hip-hop stations.
“Everything’s outside of the box for Transplants. You’re challenged to make acoustic drums sound like electronic drums. We used djembes to sound like 808s. I used acoustic drums to play drum ’n’ bass, swing songs with raps swung over. It’s exciting, undiscovered territory for me. Things are built off beats. I can give Tim six beats and he’ll write to them. It’s such a different songwriting process: it’s so different from being in a room and saying, ’We’ll write a song.’”
Barker’s Basement BeatsThe markedly different creative process of Transplants starts with the fact that Barker can come up with beats on his own, record them, and shoot them off to the other band members for interpretation, rather than the familiar process of jamming in a rehearsal space and seeing what happens. What gets it all started for Barker is a basement home studio equipped with both an Orange County Drum & Percussion drum kit and a set of Roland V Drums (for 2:00 A.M. inspiration), a Korg Triton synth workstation, MPC 1000 sampler, and Pro Tools.
“I’ve really been busy producing beats for people,” he says. “I basically play everything on acoustic drums or V Drums, then go in and add sound sources like handclaps, 808s. Because I’ve also been taking piano lessons, I’ve been writing a lot. That’s something I can do on my own. I’m not dependent on a band. I can do beats all day long, and that’s something that’s been moving me. I’ve never heard of a drummer servicing beats to people like that, getting them to my hip-hop friends. I always listen to jazz as much as I listen to punk rock, and I’m influenced by other stuff, everything from Led Zeppelin, Roni Size, Goldie. I love hip-hop — I’ve been listening to Run DMC and the Beastie Boys since I was old enough to walk. I knew I could contribute something, I had time off, I started experimenting with it and fell in love with it. [Beatmaking] may be as important to me as Transplants or Blink.”
Besides having the right gear setup and creative situations, Barker has entered a zone of intense fascination with music. Not only is he taking piano lessons and learning fast, but he’s put himself on a relatively rigid routine to facilitate a high output of new concepts and recorded ideas. “Now I wake up at 5:00 in the morning,” Barker says, “make breakfast for my [18-month-old] son, and watch The Wiggles with him. Then I go to the gym, and then I go and make beats for five hours — a beat every 45 minutes. In the past, it would freak me out, I would go on tour, and between Blink, Transplants, and Boxcar [Racer, another punk rock project with Blink-182 members], I’m gone ten months out of the year, and all I’m doing is playing existing songs. My chops were always improving, but me being creative wasn’t happening until it was songwriting time. Then it just came to me. I knew in order to be the drummer I wanted to be, I have to pay attention to my other priorities. So now I have breakfast with my son, and then I have to go to the gym if I want to get through 90-mintue sets.
“Then I had my own personal challenges. I wanted to create beats and write music, and I knew the only way for that to happen was to devote time to it. Taking piano lessons definitely gave me another approach to the drum set. I’ll go and lay down the tracks to a whole song — that way, you’re taking yourself out of the box and listening from a piano player’s perspective. And writing the Transplants songs — going from old grimy jazz, to dancehall rhythms, tracks built from all percussion and djembes, punk tracks that make you want to knock someone’s teeth out — such eclectic songs challenge me as a drummer and a writer. Then at night when I get home from my drumming and music, I devote my time to my family. But then when I get an idea, I’ll run downstairs and record a beat — in the last seven years so much has gone by because I had no way of documenting what I wanted to capture.”
Eclectic For The Heck Of ItCapturing the essence of Transplants may prove to be a tougher task. According to Barker, the new CD should be ridiculously difficult to classify. “This album is going to be a smack to the face to a lot of people,” he says gleefully. “They’re going to be like, ’What the hell is going on with this record?’ There’s an oldies-style song with our friends from Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E, then hip-hop songs with B Real from Cypress Hill, and then songs like ’Doomsday,’ which has the grittiest, grimiest Gene Krupa jazz, and songs like ’Not Today,’ which are punk rock anthems that beat the s!%t out of the listener.
“Everything’s so different — it’s such an eclectic, diverse record. Transplants is such a good representation of what I am. I don’t listen to or play one style of music, and it’s hard for me to express myself playing just one style.”
While it may sound like Barker and the boys are going out of their way to be kooky, he makes it clear that the situation is actually just the opposite. “We don’t go in saying, ’This needs to be such a different record.’ This is what happens organically. I’ll come in with beats, Tim will come in with the most outlandish song that’s so brilliant that Rob and I couldn’t have thought of, Rob will come in with the craziest lyrics. We’re such three different individuals with strong personalities and different backgrounds, but yet when we come together, we’re three brothers. It’s just amazing what we do when we collaborate.
“Also, this record was made, without getting into numbers, for a quarter of what any other record out there is made for. Drums we did in four or five days, writing and recording 26 different songs. Nothing was written going into the studio. We move really quick, we thrive on being spontaneous and we capture that. I feel like a lot of people will go in, kill themselves for days and days on a song, whereas we have a deal that we’ll only spend so much time on a song, then we’ll move on, and then later we can change the arrangement, add verses, choruses or other parts.”
Not surprisingly, the recording of the songs was anything but conventional, resembling the scattershot techniques of teenagers in their first band as much as established rock stars with the audio world at their fingertips. “Well,” Barker says, “Tim has a basement in his house with no lights, and there were nights where I’d go in and set up my drums, then spend an hour recording because that’s all we had. Then we had a week in Conway [Recording] that we spent playing live, and then we did some vocals at America. Now we’re mixing with Neil Pogue [Outkast, En Vogue, Goodie Mob] who usually just does hip-hop, at Paramount. Everything we’ve done has been so different. How many rock records have been done by Neil Pogue? It hasn’t been done before.”
The Next StagePutting on a great live show, however, is something that Barker has done many times before, and plans on doing some more with Transplants. “We’re a three-piece so live we also have a rhythm guitarist,” Barker says. “All the other samples will be on a brain and I’ll play that too — some 808s, subs. Some tracks consist of 60 instruments we put on there, so we have to recreate that live with the help of the MPC or a brain that plays all the samples. The songs will be really close to the record. The new record actually lends itself to just getting the keyboard parts on a brain, playing out those parts. It’ll be so much better, so it’s consistent and it sounds like the record.”
From his drum throne, Barker has his own personal preferences for listening to the action. “What I hear through my ears is a click,” he says. “[I love] playing with a click. It feels so comfortable and good. I actually approach my drums differently when I play to a click: every time I play live, I change fills every night, restyle. It’s fun having a click there. You can experiment.
“Some songs start with keyboard. I’ll have keyboards in my ears, but for years, I didn’t use monitors. When I play live, I don’t listen to guitar or my drums. I just hear what I’m playing, and get enough from my stage volume. I have nothing behind me, but in Blink, a lot of times we’ll play almost like a jazz band. We look at each other for cues. I’ve never worn earplugs or anything. Mind you, I probably won’t have hearing at all in ten years, but I don’t like wearing earplugs. Usually [Blink-182 guitarist/vocalist] Tom DeLonge has four complete stacks onstage, [Blink-182 bassist] Mark Hoppus has two. I hit so hard because I need to hear my drums over all that wall of guitar, but it’s fun for me. I hate going and seeing a drummer that I can’t help but look up there and say, ’Why are you playing drums, dude? You look like you’re having a bad time.’ But I love hitting my drums, being onstage. I’d never be bored up there, you know?”
Media MogulUpping the pressure for Barker is the fact that the disc will come out on his own Atlantic-distributed imprint, La Salle Records. Named after a blue collar-targeted Cadillac model from the 1940s, Barker’s label has already given the drummer plenty to chew on. “I’ve signed two bands, The Kinison and The Nervous Return, whose record is out now,” he notes. “It may seem lavish to an outsider, but at the end of the day, you have to do a lot of work to make your label successful. Just like drumming, you have to work hard and be able to think out of the box. Well, it’s the same with my label. I want it to be a success, not cookie cutter. Most labels focus on one genre of music. I want to sign every style of band. If the next Frank Sinatra appeared, I’d sign him. I’m basically signing talent that moves me.”
But wait, there’s more! While Travis has been doing all this, an MTV camera crew has been following him and his family for the last year to shoot what is essentially the next Osbournes. Sounds entertaining to us. “It’s called Meet The Barkers,” he says brightly. “I don’t even call it a reality show. I call it a documentary, but mind you, it is a reality show. It’s a documentary of my family and my life from a year ago until now. It’s the craziest stuff you’ve ever seen on MTV.
“I have a friend over there named Jesse who invented shows like Diaries. During the time my son was born, my wife was in the hospital and he had footage of that. He said, ’You have the raddest family. This would be different than anything you’ve ever seen.’ I took some time to think about it. But everything I do, people can see. I have nothing to hide, and all they’re doing is documenting this, like the first time I throw up from drinking in 15 years. My wife is a Playmate, and it shows her doing a photo shoot for my clothing company. Our honeymoon is crazy.
“It trips me out. I meet kids who say, ’I thought you’d be mean because of the way you look.’ This gives people the opportunity to see I have kids, I make breakfast, I go to gymnastics with my daughter. I still do look like a hoodlum, but I have a whole life outside of music that has me being a different person than people would think.”
When Barker says “everything I do,” he’s not exaggerating. Cameras were with him 24/7 for the entire year. “I never felt awkward like they were being intrusive,” he says. “I just went on. If anything, they complained: I get up at 5:00 in the morning. Usually, my camera crew was tired by 4:00 P.M. This is what I do all day. If my fans love me, they have to love this show. This show is so sincere. It was never acted — this series is as real as any reality TV show can get. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m not a ham. In Blink interviews, people say, ’You’re the quiet one.’ I’m not trying to get people to stare at me. I feel more uncomfortable during interviews with someone sticking a mike in my face asking crazy questions, than having a camera following me being creative and doing what I do. I just got an episode last night, and it’s so funny. They just show them to me so I can approve or disapprove them. At the end of the day, what am I going to disapprove? It’s how I live my life. So if I don’t like these episodes, I don’t like me.”
More Than A DrummerWhile it may have seemed to us mere mortals that Travis Barker spread his wings a long time ago, the fact is that musically he’s only just now coming into his own. “I think for years, I was content with being what people would call a good drummer,” he reflects. “I was really happy and content with what I was doing, but I think I was just telling myself that. I was just lying to myself. I had no time to do anything but tour. I love touring, but at the end of the day I need to be creative. I need to challenge myself and be constantly progressing, or my body’s not happy. I need to be constantly learning.
“The piano is such an inspiration to me. Making beats is such an inspiration to me. The next Blink record, I look forward to doing something groundbreaking. I don’t like repeating myself. I don’t want people to say, ’Travis played like that on the last record.’ I always want to reinvent myself. It’s important to me.”
DRUMS: OCDP1. 22" x 14" Bass Drum
2. 14" x 6" Snare
3. 12" x 8" Tom
4. 16" x 14" Floor Tom
CYMBALS: ZILDJIANA. 14" Mastersound Hi-hats
B. 20" Medium Thin Crash
C. 21" Sweet Ride
D. 18" Oriental China Trash
Travis Barker also uses Zildjian Travis Barker Model sticks, Remo heads, DW hardware, and Audix microphones.
The Transplants: “One Seventeen”
By Brad Schlueter
Travis Barker has been a very busy drummer playing in the successful band Blink-182, and several other side projects like the Aquabats, Boxcar Racer and the band we’re looking at today - the Transplants. For this transcription, we’re looking at a track off the Transplants debut CD. On this disk the band shows two distinct sides. One side is an old school punk band that’s raw, uncommercial, and unpolished, and has absolutely no Pop in its Punk. The other side uses loops, has mid-tempo danceable grooves with a hint of reggae, ala Sublime. The song I chose “One Seventeen” comes from the raw side of the band. This fast garage punk tune (appropriately recorded in singer Tim Armstrong’s basement) begins with a fast, creative groove from Travis that deviates from everything you might expect from a Punk Rock tune. What’s creative and unusual is that Travis superimposes a groove in 5/4 over the top of the guitars, which are in 4/4, creating an interesting polymetric feel. As a result, his drum part continually shifts and ends up in a different place in each measure. I’ve written out Travis’ two measure 5/4 pattern at the top, and then wrote the song’s intro in 4/4 so you can see how his pattern moves through it. There are three beats remaining at the end of this intro pattern that lead us into a snare and floor tom crescendo. The verse has a very simple yet driving beat that ends with one of Travis’ trademark in-your-face fills.