Travis Barker is undeniably one of the most recognized and exciting drummers in the world, playing for bands like the Aquabats, Blink-182, Box Car Racer, Transplants and +44. He has appeared in television shows, commercials and videogames, started clothing labels and even has stakes in a fast food franchise. Travis Barker is aA modern-day magnate.
With his new, self-produced solo album, Give The Drummer Some, close to release and a new mix-tape, Let The Drummer Get Wicked, on its way, the mohawk-sporting, plane crash-surviving, ink-skinned, skin-bashing wunderkind took some time out to talk to us Nic Harcourt (KCRW and The Live Buzz) at the inaugural taping of Guitar Center's new podcast, At Guitar Center with Nic Harcourt, about his upcoming involvement in Guitar Center's "Your Next Record" and his new album.
Like previous participants: Slash and Keith Urban, Barker will handpick the winning band and appear on a recording with them. And added to that, this year Barker will also be producing a three-song EP for the winning band at Red Bull Studio in Los Angeles. Plus, the winning band will get a $10,000 Guitar Center shopping spree and worldwide digital distribution of their music from Tunecore.
"This opportunity is amazing," says Barker. "I mean for anyone. If I'd had it when I was a kid; my favorite band or favorite musician, my favorite drummer, an opportunity to make a song with them, or for him to play on my album? It's ridiculous. That was all inaccessible to me."
Barker is currently in the process of putting the finishing touches on his highly anticipated, drum-heavy, self-produced album titled, Give The Drummer Some featuring a number of well known hip-hop artists. In light of this and Guitar Center's competition, we asked what the producer in him looked for when working with a new band.
"I've worked with a couple of bands that I played drums with, but I never really produced a band before. I produced for a lot of hip-hop musicians and rappers and stuff. But I'll look for like song structure. I'll listen for the sounds of the instruments. I'll listen to the song itself, listen to the melodies everyone's playing," Barker says. "I'm not really specific to a genre of music. There's country music I like. There's metal I like. There's punk rock I like. There's rap I like. I like everything, kind of."
On putting a producer's stamp on the EP, Barker says: "I think it depends on the project or the group or the sound of the group. Stuff that Rick Rubin produces with Jay Z doesn't sound like the stuff he did with Johnny Cash, you know what I mean?" Barker continues, "I like being able to decorate someone's song; hear it, make it sound like how I hear it or how I envision it, or bring it to someone in a different manner than it's been presented in its original form and still keep it interesting and still complement the song, but still make people's jaws drop."
"One of my very first remixes, about six years ago," he recalls, "was a Soulja Boy remix (Crank Dat), and it was like the barest, kind of like simplest, almost like anyone could have made the beat, you know, which to me was like wide open, like an empty canvas for me to do whatever I really wanted to the track. It enabled me to have a lot of freedom in instrumentation and really make the song sound different than it was originally."
Moving onto his forthcoming album Give The Drummer Some, Barker talks a little about it's birthplace and launch pad, his own studio in North Hollywood called OPRA, "Yes, O-P-R-A, like ‘opera' spelled wrong. We named it that a long time ago and everyone else calls it that, but we just call it the lab," He grins, "We have an A and B room. We have it to where any room in the studio can be used as a live room, a drum room. It's pretty amazing," "Right now it's occupied by Blink 182, my other band, The Transplants, and me, finishing my album and working on my mix tape. We stay pretty busy there. I'm there every day. I leave there falling asleep. Rush back there in the morning."
With the variety of artists and tracks being produced there, what are some of the more interesting bits of equipment being used? "I have an old Neve mixing-board that I got before I even had a studio. Someone said look, this studio's closing in Los Angeles. This is the opportunity to go grab a board," he recollects. "Couple of Moogs. Couple of old keyboards and stuff, but other than that, no. A lot of like new equipment. A lot of synthesizers, a lot of drum machines. Just everything - a lot of plug-ins." We asked if there was one piece of equipment that Barker just couldn't do without? "Yes, the silver tambourine that I've had for like five or six years," he laughs, "Sounds good on everything. You'll just pick up a tambourine and it'll be dull or it'll be dark and this tambourine's just always been good. It's made it on I think every Blink album, Boxcar Racer album, Transplants album. It's live everywhere."
We asked Travis what equipment advice he would give to young musicians just starting out. "If I was recording live instruments I would just grab Pro Tools," he says, "Like before I had a studio we would just set up Pro Tools in an empty room and I would record as little as I could as best as I could. Or I mean so many people are just recording in Ableton, you know what I mean? Sitting on their laptop and recording an entire album. It's ridiculous... I know that's the direction everything's going."
Barker then launches into the content of Give The Drummer Some: "That's why my album – there's extra, extra drums! It's like marching drums. I don't care what keyboard or drum machine you have, you're not going to, you can't mock me," he laughs, "There's no way. You can't beat good, old-fashioned live drums and live quints and live marching cymbals. It's cool!"
When asked about the title of his much anticipated collaborative album; "You heard James Brown say it," says Barker in a reference to Brown's songs, "Cold Sweat Part 2", "and Public Enemy," Barker continues, "They'll say like, "Hear the drummer get wicked," or "Give the drummer some!" Like everyone had their own little things and when it came to do my album it was obviously going to be a drum-heavy album and it just made sense. It was like real obvious to me and I was like ‘I'd never call it that.' Then one of my managers said it. Paul had always liked "Give the drummer some,'" Barker says. "I have 35 guests on my album and there are 18 artists total that did artwork for my album. I had a piece of art created for every song on the album plus I did my album cover. So it was really exciting."
Much of the buzz about the album has come about through the association that Barker has had with the world of hip-hop. His collaborators are legion. Taking a deep breath, he fills us in: "To start with, I have Lil Wayne, Game, Swizz Beatz, Rick Ross, Pharrell, Lupe, Dev, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, E-40, The Cool Kids, Slaughterhouse, Tech N9ne, Bun B, Beanie Sigel, Yelawolf, Busta Rhymes, Twista, Little John, Corey Taylor, Clipse, Kurupt, J-Rock, Steve Aoki, Tom Morello, Slash, Transplants." He pauses for breath, then, "Oh yeah, and RZA and Raekwon from Wu Tang Klan. I worked with Pharrell on the Lupe Fiasco song on my album," Barker says. "You know, we're just on the same shows. We run in the same circle or whatever." But how did he get the others on board?
"It definitely evolved. It started with that Soulja Boy remix and labels would hit me up or an artist would hit me up or I would hit up the artist if I really liked the song. This is going on for a while and then I had all these records that I was accumulating besides all my remixes. I basically had all my friends or people that I knew in the industry, or people that I had played for, and asked them in return to just be on my album. And that's how it panned out," Barker smiles. "It was really, really, really fun because I've been a huge fan of a lot of these artists that I have on my album forever, so it was a big -- I don't know, cool time for me. I obviously didn't write any lyrics or anything like that for any of these guys, but had a hand in all the music and sometimes I wrote along with a couple of other producers. I played bass on a song, keyboard on some songs. Played drums, obviously, on every song, and then produced every track."
Barker's sense of excitement about the album is clear; "Everything that I wrote during the album cycle ended up being on the album, the deluxe edition. I would get the deluxe edition, just because there's more of a variety of music on it. The deluxe edition has like four extra songs that are all kind of bangers."
Speaking of bangers, what kits were used on the album? "So many kits! I used everything from a cocktail kick that Orange County Drum & Percussion built custom for me, to my Blink-182 kit that I had on tour to just odd-sized kits to marching snares, quints, congas, bongos, electronic kits, MPC's. I mean it's endless. I did a lot of marching. There's a lot of marching on the album."
So did the drums always come first in the recording process? "No, some stuff I'd be messing around with the keyboard and it'd start off with the noise and then I'm like, oh, that synth sound is crazy. And then from there I'd build drums around it or it could even be a vocal. Some were inspired by a vocal. Some were inspired by synth sounds. It could start from anything."
When it comes around finally to talking about his promoting of this much anticipated, but highly delayed, album, Barker waxes philosophical, "I'm not trying to, nor can I, control or revolutionize the record industry. I didn't make like pop records, you know what I mean? A lot of the records are really sincere and they're true songs. It was like true collaborations. It wasn't like a lot of things now are, like look like this and sound like this and so-and-so's going to write a song for you and you're going to sing it and you're going to dance and you're going to be a star. I don't fall into that category, nor do I want to be anywhere near it." He goes further, saying, "You can't question your integrity as a musician or as an artist and you want to stay true to yourself. I want people who love music and who really mess with music and who are confused and love every genre and they like them all mixed in and messing with each other, to enjoy this album. And anyone who doesn't understand it, I give them a high five and send them on their way. My goal isn't to take over the music industry or take over the world. It's just to have my fans who have stuck with me this entire time enjoy this pile of music because they know it's been coming for however many years."
When we question the album's delay and that fact that the release date had been pushed a couple of times, Barker responds that it's finally ready for people to start enjoying it, "Yes, I mean, knock on wood. It would have been out a long time ago. I had several bumps in the road. So it just took a minute."
It looks like the wait is finally over. Can we get a drum roll, please...