"I’m not doing something I haven’t ever done before; it's just on a different scale..."
Back in March 2015, Matt Skiba stepped in to Blink-182, filling in for two shows in the wake of Tom DeLonge’s departure from the band.
What began as a temporary arrangement quickly became a full-time fixture. The chemistry between Skiba and his new bandmates Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker was so apparent that the trio jumped into the studio under the watchful eye of producer John Feldman and had a new studio album on the shelves by the summer of 2016.
The album, entitled California, marked a reassuring return to form for Blink after the disappointing, pieced-together Neighbourhoods. The band had clearly regained its mojo, so much so that they have just dropped a deluxe edition of California.
That’s no great surprise in itself - a ton of bands tack on a new track, the odd remix and maybe, if you’re lucky, a smattering of demos and repackage it as a must-have deluxe version. The difference here is that the all-singing, all-dancing version of California has a whopping 11 new tracks, plus an acoustic, live re-working of Bored To Death.
It appears that this is a band jam-packed full of material. And so when we sat down with Skiba ahead of the band’s recent show in Birmingham, we wanted to find out just what else Blink has up its sleeve. But we started with Skiba’s secret past…
You started out as a drummer; how much of an impact does that background have on you as a guitarist and songwriter?
“I think that the more that you play and the more instruments you play and the better you get at them then you will be better off for it as a guitarist.
“The key is the piano, no pun intended. My mom made me take piano lessons, and that is why I am sitting here talking to you right now. As a kid, I took piano lessons and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t cool. I was into Duran Duran and rock music. I didn’t have any interest in piano. I did it for three years and because of piano I learned percussion, I learned scales, I learned how to sing. Piano gives you all of the basics of those things.
“Being a drummer definitely influences how I play guitar. And then piano influences drumming and vice versa.”
Do you still write on piano?
“I write on a MicroKorg. I have a project called the Sekrets and I wrote both of those records on a MicroKorg. The first record sounds a lot like Alkaline Trio. The second record, it doesn’t sound like Bowie but that was an influence and I went for something a little more angular and spaced out. The MicroKorg informs the Sekrets songs.
“People ask me how I know which songs are right for which band. For Trio, I just write whatever I want. With Blink, it was really fun as being a fan of Blink, and coming in as ‘the new guy’, I can think as a fan and also as a member of the band. I don’t want to speak for Mark or Travis, but I think we made a great record together so something is working.”
It seems that your transition into Blink has been pretty effortless…
“The thing that sold me on it was Travis and Mark’s certainty that I was the right fit. When they asked me, I thought that if those guys thought I could do it then I would do it. I didn’t know what the fans were going to say.
“But it was an easy transition in the same way that when Trio makes a new record, at some point you want to keep the fans in mind but you also want to make something that means something to you. This new situation, it seems, thinking back, that a lot has transpired, and a lot has - my life has changed completely, but at the same time it is familiar.
“I’m not doing something I haven’t ever done before; it's just on a different scale and with different guys. I’m really lucky that lightning struck twice in my life. When all is said and done, it was a pretty easy transition. Yes, there were moments of total terror and panic, but that’s life. That’s just wanting to do a great job.”
"We had so many songs that we thought about doing a double album"
Was the musical chemistry there between the three of you right from the off? The fact that you’ve just released a deluxe version of California with 12 extra tracks suggests that it was…
“Yeah, we had so many songs that we thought about doing a double album. That discussion didn’t last very long! We knew that we had a lot of really good songs, though. We had a progress chart so we could see what we had tracked drums on, guitars, etc.
“We had all of these songs and we would take a song and give it a sister or brother song where they were similar tunes but maybe with a different progression or a different drum beat or a different song completely but we felt we couldn’t have both because they had a similar feel. We had these twin songs, and when we decided to do the deluxe thing we had those to use.
“We could have held onto them and put out a brand-new record with those, but I like to write music that is time-stamped; you’re writing for yourself and the fans in the present. If you’re a working band you want to be relevant to the time. Plus, this crazy fucking world that we’re living in is always changing; there’s never a shortage of inspiration.”
Was it difficult to not second-guess what fans of Blink, or Alkaline Trio, might want or expect?
“We got together in Travis’s studio for several months. I was writing a song a day, not necessarily always a good song but I wanted to go to the studio every day with a new idea. I would get home from the studio, pick up my guitar right away, knock something out, send it to the guys and we would work on it the next day. Mark would do the same thing.
“We had a group of songs that we still may or may not use, I don’t know. There’s way more material than just what is on the deluxe record; there’s a whole other record’s worth of material that I personally thought sounded too much like Alkaline Trio.
“That’s how I write; it’s hard to change. It’s like you can’t just change your fingerprint. We discussed the record at length and made sure that we didn’t just really like it, we had to love it. You can’t put something out that is anything short of true love and true pride.”
How was your experience of working with John Feldman? Was he hands-on in the studio guitar-wise?
“For tones, he has a team of people at the studio. There’s the A room where John is and a B and a C room where someone is editing, and then there is the live room. I would be in the B room going through guitar stuff. Me and our friend Zack would have a guitar, or me and Mark would have a guitar just adding little bits. John is very hands-on with everything, but he has his ninjas in waiting for tone and editing.”
Did you have a go-to California rig, or was there lots of experimenting with gear in the studio?
“There was a lot of experimenting. Blink has a tone. We emulate a lot of Tom’s tones from the older Blink stuff, because that is Blink. It needs to be a new thing and have its own life but it also has to hark back to the old stuff and the feel with the older songs.
“I feel like it is two different bands. It is called the same thing, but luckily I’m here. I don’t mean that in a snide way at all. Tom and I are friendly acquaintances - he has always been very nice to me - I am just saying that on my own I am very proud and happy to be here.”
"I’ve had some bad shows so I don’t drink before a show any more - I just don’t do it"
Was there any crossover between your studio gear and what you use on tour?
“The stuff I used in the studio for Blink is the stuff that I’m using on tour. I also brought in a couple of my Alkaline Trio amps: a Bogner Shiva and a Fender Super-Sonic.
“We used the Super-Sonic a lot on California. It’s a really strong, beautiful, warm, crisp amp. You can hear the notes, but it sounds big. We used that in a lot of choruses. For Trio and Blink, I have two different guitar setups and two different guitar tones.”
Are you a collector of gear?
“No. I collect motorcycles and art. With gear, I have a lot of nice gear at my disposal in the studio and on the road. I guess I collect some but if you’re a music gearhead you wouldn’t call me a collector. I have acquired a lot of gear.”
If you could go back to when you first picked up a guitar and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
“Don’t drink so much. It’s natural that young guys and young women do that whether you’re a journalist or in a band or whatever. If you’re in your twenties and people are partying, it’s fun but it can also go sideways on you and lead to bigger, badder things. Booze is everywhere; you can get it anywhere.
“Luckily, I have learned from my mistakes. I’ve had some bad shows, so I don’t drink before a show any more - I just don’t do it. Last night, I was out at a friend’s festival; I was out late, but usually if we have a show I get to sleep early. If I could go back, I would tell the younger me to chill out.
“I drink on a very rare occasion. If I go out to a party or a music venue, I will have sparking water with a lime in it and people could think that’s gin and tonic. To me that doesn’t make people feel awkward to be drinking around you when you’re sober and it breaks down that, ‘I’m sober and you’re not.’ You just have to do what’s right for you. If drinking turns you into an asshole, don’t drink, because it’s probably not good for you.”
What’s the key to playing a great live show?
“Warm up - you’ll have a way better show if you do. Someone comes in and lets us know when it is one hour to stage time, and that’s when I start playing scales and warming up my voice.”
Do you have any set routines or songs/parts from the show that you will run through while warming up?
“I play Rock Show like five times because it’s early in the set and it’s not crazy-fast but I have to keep up with Travis; it has to be locked in. There’s a lot of palm-muting in it as well, so I play that a few times, and I will play Anthem Part II a few times because that is all real fast downpicking, so I get that muscle memory warmed up so I’m all ready to go.”
Will you do some vocal warming-up as well?
“Oh yeah. You have to warm up everything. Every part is important, but I think to sing well is the most important part of the show.”
What's coming up for you later in the year? Are there any thoughts of getting back into the studio with Blink?
“We have been talking about getting back in the studio next year, but there is nothing set in stone.”
California (Deluxe Edition) is out now via BMG.