What’s drummer Travis Barker’s beauty? His ability to vacillate between genres. Case in point: His new EP, Psycho White, with rapper YelaWolf. And his ink.
Travis Barker’s spirit animal must be a chameleon. His extensively tattooed skin demands to be noticed, just like the lizard—but, like a chameleon, the drummer has also found a way to fit into almost any musical situation, as a chameleon is wont to do. Over the course of his career, Barker has proven that he is just as comfortable pretending he is a superhero while playing ska with The Aquabats as he is pounding out the beats that provide a backbone to the fierce rhymes of Yelawolf. “Growing up I listened to everything. I was happily introduced to all genres of music and I embraced it all,” Barker says. “I never felt that one style was right or wrong as long as I liked it.”
Embracing such a multitude of musical genres has allowed Barker to avoid being pigeonholed into one genre and enabled him to pursue almost any path he chooses. Arguably, along with his gift, his adaptability has also made him one of the most popular drummers ever. “Drums are such a versatile instrument in so many types of music,” he says. “With guitar or some other instruments you can’t do it—there’s music that doesn’t have guitar in it. But with drums it’s all wide open.”
In addition to his main bands, the pop-punking Blink-182 and rap-rock act The Transplants, Barker has a list of collaborators that reads like a who’s who of music in the 21st century: Lil Wayne, Tom Morello, Britney Spears, Steve Aoki, Rihanna, Slash, Mary J. Blige, and even The Muppet Show’s Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. He’s the musical Kevin Bacon (no offense to The Bacon Brothers); it’s easy to play Six Degrees of Travis Barker.
Yelawolf recently lowered his Barker Number to one with Psycho White. The EP was much more of a happy accident than a planned project. When- ever the two friends would get together, they would end up going to the studio to jam. Eventually they realized that what they were doing could be something far more substantial than two skinny, tattooed dudes goofing around. “A year and a half later we were in the studio and decided to just play everything we had ever done together,” Barker says. “And we thought we should do an EP with all these songs. They need to be heard. We really have some dope stuff right here.”
In order to package Psycho White—the title, Barker says, just fit—in the best way possible, Yelawolf and Barker enlisted the help of mutual buddy and tattoo artist Franco Vescovi. While Vescovi was tattooing Barker at his house one day, the drummer played some of the tracks from the EP for the artist. On the drive home it hit Vescovi that the perfect cover art (see page 30) would be a portrait of each man split right down the middle and placed together so as to look like one. “He just killed it,” Barker says of the cover art. Done in pencil, in a tattoo-realism style, the piece captures not only the faces of the two but also all of their intricate ink.
As a man with a tattooed head, Barker is running out of un-inked real estate. Other than a little patch on his back, he only has empty space left on his legs—and that space was once filled. In 2008, Barker survived a plane crash, and the burns he received in the accident removed some of his earliest work. “All of my first tattoos were gone after that plane crash and my skin grafts,” he says. “So I have a second chance to do my legs all over again, which is kind of cool for that to come out of a bad situation.”
He is, however, left with a bit of a quandary as to what to fill the space with. Should he try to re-create what he had lost, or start anew? Currently he’s leaning toward the former. “I think I might get my first tattoos all over again in the same places,” Barker says. “I get tired of being asked, ‘What was your first tattoo?’ and not being able to show anybody.”
His non-permanent style is on display in his clothing line, Famous Stars and Straps. When he first became a rock star and had to consider fashion, he says he thought, “‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a brand that was into everything that I’m into? Tattoos, skateboarding, dirt bikes, lowriders, everything.’ What I was trying to get into was a lifestyle brand where it wasn’t just one thing, it was everything.” And Famous Stars and Straps was born.
With the company, his Psycho White project, two bands, and two children, it is a wonder he even has time for a tattoo appointment. “Sometimes everything is perfectly balanced, and other times I am just tired as hell,” Barker says with a laugh. “There are times when it almost seems like it’s too much, but then if I don’t have it like that I get really bored. I just like staying creative and being productive.” In addition to leg ink, a new album from The Transplants is on the horizon for Barker. He’ll also be touring, writing, and recording a new Blink-182 album in the not too distant future. After that there are projects that he hasn’t even begun to flesh out but are on his to-do list. “I grew up playing jazz, so I’d love to do that eventually. … I never really got to be in a metal band. … And I’m a big Prince fan, so I would love to collaborate with him,” Barker says. Blink, and the chameleon does his thing.