Travis Barker is very nonchalant about the state of his hands. Fresh from a tour with Machine Gun Kelly, the ferociously talented Blink-182 drummer is back practising again, despite having a broken thumb and a torn tendon. It is par for the course and it’s no bother really, Barker tells me over Zoom; he has superglued all the various bits back together so he can keep going. “I couldn’t stay away,” he shrugs. “I was gonna do a few days but then I ended up doing a week out there. It’s sore, but whatever, it hurts more not doing the shows. I don’t feel anything once my adrenaline [gets] going at night.”
There is a sincere method to the madness this time around. When we speak, the 46-year-old is due to be playing at September’s Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts with the Foo Fighters, and the late musician, who died earlier this year aged 50, was a dear friend of Barker’s. They first met when Barker was a teenager, living in Laguna Beach, just south of LA. “I was playing in a punk band out there, and he would come to watch me play. Years later, he wasn’t in Alanis Morissette’s band any more and I wasn’t in that punk band – I was in Blink and he was in the Foo Fighters, we were touring the world together as drum geeks and great friends,” he recalls. “Recently, he was living right by me and I was just starting to see him more. It’s a shame, it’s sad. I would rip my arm off and give it to someone for Taylor, and doing these tribute shows is a little like closure. I’ll leave it all out on stage for him.”
Barker, of course, is no stranger to grief. In 2008, the drummer was involved in a near-fatal plane crash. After playing a show in South Carolina with his friend and TRV$DJAM collaborator, Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein, they boarded a private jet with two close friends, Chris Baker and Charles “Che” Still. During takeoff, tyres blew, the plane skidded and then crashed through a fence onto a highway, hit an embankment and burst into flames. Goldstein and Barker escaped – with the latter covered in jet fuel, running out onto the highway engulfed in fire. Goldstein used the shirt off his own back to put out the fire, likely saving Barker’s feet and legs with his quick thinking. Baker, Still and the two pilots lost their lives.
The recovery was difficult. Barker suffered third-degree burns on 65 per cent of his body and had to undergo 27 operations, which kept him in a burn centre for months. He had to teach himself to walk again, and upon learning, a fortnight after arriving at hospital, that his two friends had died, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and survivor’s guilt. He was unable to attend Baker and Still’s funerals, and then, one year after the tragedy, Goldstein, the one person who understood what he had gone through, died of a drug overdose. Barker, who already had a fear of flying, refused to step on a plane again – instead, he travelled on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship for ten days when he had to go to Europe to tour. “I had every reason why I shouldn’t fly again,” he says, and for 14 years he didn’t, until love changed everything.
In August 2021, after being in a relationship with Kourtney Kardashian for seven months, Barker boarded a plane, and he’s been flying regularly since. “It’s a beautiful thing I can fly again,” he says. “Kourt not only cured me, but my children too – they’d never flown before. We’re healed.” There are wobbles, of course. Barker knows that he will always suffer anxiety around flying and he hasn’t had exactly the smoothest of starts. “On my fifth flight we lost cabin pressure oddly, and we had to do an emergency landing – what are the chances? Then two trips after that, all of the engine lights came on right before we took off. Both of those experiences had me shook, and at times I second-guessed it – am I playing with fire? But I have the resilience to do anything now. Even those few bumps in the road aren’t going to stop me, I know what it sounds like… but the power of love.”
Like the start of all good romances, Barker and Kardashian were friends, and coincidentally neighbours in California’s Hidden Hills, for more than a decade before hints of anything more. The musician does not hold back when speaking about his new wife – he practically gushes. “I was friends with her for ten years without any expectations. I would try to take care of her as much as I could from afar, and she would do the same for me,” he tells me. “I was completely content being a great father and producing as much great music as I could, but love just fell into my lap and I couldn’t be happier. We’re ten years younger since being together. There’s no age, no number attached to Kourtney.” It is seemingly a match made in heaven. Barker and Kardashian, 43, found each other later in life after both being single parents and in high-profile relationships. And as the musician stresses, they have a lot in common: from exercise to their love of architecture, fashion, wellness and most importantly, their children. But despite their vast displays of PDA, the public aren’t privy to everything. “No one knows the full story,” Barker trails off, “but it’s one of the most amazing, beautiful stories ever, with the way everything happened… Kourtney says it’s like a fairy tale.”
It would be easy to pigeonhole someone who has more than 100 tattoos, plays in a pop punk-rock band and has the kind of history Barker does – but you can’t. He is a master of contradictions, he cannot be tied down to any one scene or label. He is famously one of the fiercest, most visceral drummers alive, yet when we speak he is disarmingly soft-spoken and polite. He has been vegan for 15 years, owns a CBD company and generally leads a Poosh-approved lifestyle. He is incredibly vocal about his love for his children and stepchildren. It is quite the change from his hedonistic youth, where he developed such a tolerance to certain medicines that he would later wake up in the middle of surgery. But he is keen to stress that those who dabble in punk pop and punk rock aren’t to be painted with the same brush. “Without sharing too much, I do everything in moderation,” he tempers. “And you know, a lot of the bands I grew up within didn’t eat meat – that was surprisingly really big in the punk rock and hardcore scene. Some of my friends didn’t even cuss or have sex. I like to enjoy myself, I don’t do hard drugs anymore, but I have an edible from time to time. My wife and I have three, no, six beautiful children, and I want to stay healthy for them, but I still want to play the drums like an absolute animal and do whatever makes me happy. The days of abusing my body or making bad decisions are pretty much over with.”
Barker is generous with his time, his responses and, in particular, when speaking about his trauma. I ask him whether it’s difficult to be so open about his personal life, as well as the plane crash and its aftermath. “I think the more you talk about something that was traumatic, the easier it is to put it behind you,” he explains to me. “You know, I had a couple of traumatic experiences growing up and I’ve learnt that you really can’t let them have power over you.”
Barker’s relationship with Kardashian, who he married in a lavish Italian ceremony in May, thrust him back into the public eye in the most visible way since his early days with Blink-182. Back then, the musician had been working as a binman and playing in various punk and ska bands in LA before he was recruited by Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge to join the band. One year later, their 1999 album, Enema of the State, went platinum and their strain of pop punk, and thereby Barker’s drumming style, went onto define a generation’s musical tastes and references. It’s not out of the ordinary to hear the thrashing beats of “All the Small Things” on a night out, and the album cover image, which features the porn star Janine Lindemulder in a nurse’s uniform, can still be found on the walls of flatshares all around the world 23 years later.
It has been nonstop from there. In addition to helping to spearhead the second wave of pop punk, Barker was prolific in other ventures too. He founded a clothing line, joined the punk-rap group Transplants and even starred in his own MTV reality show, Meet the Barkers. It’s all wonderfully on the nose given where he’s ended up now, and who with. Prior to achieving astronomical fame and influence, a young Kim Kardashian actually went to Barker for advice before her family was approached to make what would become Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Funnily enough, Barker admitted to “secretly checking out” the Skims founder in his 2015 memoir, Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums. “I don’t care if she’s the closet girl, she’s fucking hot,” he said of Kardashian, who was then working for Paris Hilton.
Meet the Barkers was one of the first celebrity reality television shows after The Simple Life and The Osbournes and paved the way for Keeping Up with the Kardashians, but Barker isn’t purposely courting celebrity. “Honestly, I don’t think about the fame thing. I play the drums. It’s completely and purely 100 per cent about the music with me,” he says. “And when it comes to my relationship with Kourt, I don’t think of her as being famous and she doesn’t think about me as being famous. It just happens to be the way things are. I don’t do any of it for any other reason.” There is also his intense commitment to living in the present, something he has been cultivating since his near-death experience. “I don’t look back and I don’t look forward,” he states. “I’m very present and I’m at peace with being so. If you’re thinking back too much, you can’t get out of the past, and if you’re veering too far into the future, you’re giving yourself anxiety. It’s taken me so long. My head is down and I’m completely engulfed in the moment and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Working hard and his commitment to drumming are at the centre of everything Barker does. It’s a work ethic that was partly inherited. Born in Fontana, California, to Randy and Gloria Barker, things were tough. “I got it from my Pops,” he says. “I saw my dad really, really, struggle. He was stressed all the time – like we didn’t have hot water in our house, but he always provided. He built the house we lived in with his bare hands.” Barker was given his first drum kit aged four – and he continued to practise on the same set until he was 15. “Even as a kid, my mum and dad would say, if you want to play the drums, you better practise for hours till your hands are bleeding. I think that just gave me this great work ethic with whatever I do.”
But Barker is trying to incorporate more play. Since his relationship with Kardashian, and being able to fly again, he’s been given a new lease of life. “I’ve been touring since I was 19 and travelling meant seeing the parking lot of the venue and then going to the next show,” he says, telling me that he has just gone wake-surfing and zip-lining for the first time. “I’ve never been to a lake in my whole life – that was the first time I’ve ever been in lake water. I’m learning how to travel and vacation for pleasure, and it’s oddly something I’ve never done before. You could never get me to leave the studio, but my wife has shown me this beautiful side of life that doesn’t involve work. Obviously I get to fly now, and Kourtney did the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible with that… I still look out of the window of the aeroplane and I am in disbelief.”
That doesn’t mean Barker is slowing down. There’s a forthcoming documentary on his life, which among other things focuses on his relationship with his father following the death of his mother when he was 11. “There’s also the beautiful story of me. The documentary was done and I got on a fucking flight and it changed everything. The ending is a lot different now.” He’s also hard at work on his record label, DTA Records, which works with the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and Avril Lavigne. With it, Barker is committed to doing things differently. “It’s very common to drop an artist from the label when it doesn’t work. I take care of my artists, I go out and tour with them if they need me to. Labels need to remember that every artist is different.”
Still, life through the rose-tinted glasses of true love is a wonderful thing and Barker wants to savour every moment. He’s aware of how lucky he is, how many lives he has led, how nothing is guaranteed, and accordingly, his gratitude is endless. “All I wanted to do when I was a kid was find a way to play the drums and make enough money to eat and have somewhere to sleep,” he says with a sense of awe that is palpable through the screen. “I surpassed that years ago and I didn’t have big expectations. So I consider myself truly blessed and, you know, my life is a candy store. It’s the most beautiful scenario I could have ever dreamed of… I am so, so grateful.”