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Travis Baker is arguably one of the most popular and creative drummers to walk our planet. He started getting noticed as the brains behind “blink-182’s” innovative punk driven rhythms, but is becoming one of today’s most influential musicians in the rock and pop fueled world of music.
Travis Barker was raised in a poverty stricken neighborhood in Fontana, California by parents Randy and Gloria Barker. His father worked as a mechanic, and his mother as a babysitter for local kids. When Travis was 4 years old his mother gave him his first drum kit, which was the only one he had until he was 15. With only 5 years of age Travis Barker started taking drum set lessons with a jazz drummer named Michael Mai, who exposed him to a lot of different styles of music. It was also at this time that he began taking trumpet lessons. Barker’s mom made sure she attended Travis’ lessons, so she could keep tutoring him at home in between lessons. Gloria Barker enjoyed listening to Elvis Presley and “The Beatles” among a lot of different types of bands/musicians, and was the main driving force behind Travis’ initial stint with music. Travis Barker showed great potential in his early years playing drums. He caught on things pretty quickly and learned how to read music really well.
Besides music, Travis Barker found another passion in skateboarding, which would later motivate his craving for a life as a professional skateboarder. However, as he was always being plagued with injuries while skateboarding, he ended up by quitting on that idea. In junior high school Travis Barker was once more introduced to other musical options. He started learning how to play the piano and began singing in the madrigals men and women’s choir. He ended up by quitting on them both, but not on music. It was around this time that a 12 years old Travis Barker started taking his drumming more seriously. Barker studied with Allen Carter, an established and well respected percussionist and jazz director, writer/arranger, and professor.
Travis Barker lost his mother the day before starting his freshman year on Fontana high school. She died with a cancer she had been diagnosed 3 months earlier. Before her untimely death, Barker’s mother encouraged him to pursue drumming. It was at this time that Travis Barker had one of his first tattoos made – a tattoo honoring his mother. In the first year he spent in high school, Travis Barker joined the school’s jazz ensemble and auditioned successfully for the Fontana’s high school drum line, gaining a spot as second chair playing snare drum. He played for both ensemble and drum line for the 3 years he was in high school. His drum line instructor, Perry Hall, made him practice 3 to 4 hours a day, which enabled him to acquire wicked chops. During this period Travis gained a lot of experience by performing at regional competitions and festivals. In 1993, his last year of high school, Barker was invited to tour with his first punk rock band, “Feeble”. He ended up by passing up drum corps tryouts for touring locally with them.
After high school Travis Barker started working as a trash man in Laguna Beach while drumming for “Feeble”. At a given point Travis decided to take a job that would keep him from spending anytime whatsoever behind his drum set, which would terminate his aspirations of having a drumming career. “Feeble’s” vocalist Neal, was adamant in keeping Travis’ mind focused on his drumming. He offered Travis a chance to live with him, to keep his job as a trash man, and just keep working on his drumming in his spare time. Travis acknowledges Neal’s intervention as one of the most important moments of his life, since ultimately kept him drumming. In 1995 “Feeble” launched an EP called “All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go”, comprising 6 songs featuring Travis’ drumming.
In 1996 “Feeble” disbanded and Travis found a new band to play with – “The Aquabats”. This band is best known by its theatrics. Its members represent superheroes on a quest to save the world from evil through music. As a result, the band members adopt superhero pseudonyms and dress in matching costumes. Travis Barker pseudonym was “The Baron Von Tito”. He recorded one album with this band in 1997, which is also their best selling one to date – “The Fury of the Aquabats!”. During this time Travis would work odd jobs and give some drum lessons to be able to support himself.
In 1998 Travis Barker’s big break came when “The Aquabats” were invited to tour with “blink-182″ as their opening act. At a given point in the tour, “blink′s” then drummer – Scott Raynor – was fired from the band. This happened a couple of hours before one of the shows, due to issues stemming from Scott’s drinking problem. Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, respectively the guitarrist/vocalist and bassist/vocalist for “blink-182″, invited Travis to fill in for Scott Raynor for that night’s show since they were in desperate need of a drummer. Barker was required to learn over 20 songs in about two hours before the start of the show. The seemingly impossible assignment was accomplished with a remarkable aplomb. This earned him great respect and admiration from the band’s members, and for the remainder of the tour he played for both bands. Some time after the end of the tour, Travis Barker was offered a spot as “blink-182′s” full time drummer. He decided to leave “The Aquabats”, and joined “blink-182” just in time for entering the studio in October of 1998 for the recording of their breakthrough 1999 album “Enema of the State”. After the release of this album his career took off.
Before joining “blink-182” Travis Barker also played with bands “The Suicide Machines” and “Hooker”, and toured with the punk rock band “The Vandals” for a while. He collects art pieces, socks, bicycles, and “Cadillacs”. He’s also a collector of tattoos. He has most of his body covered with them. Tattooing his body represented the commitment Travis Barker had already made with his life when he was still working as a trash man – never give up fighting for the dream of making a living out of his drumming. The last thing he wanted was to work a normal job from 9 am to 5 pm.
On September of 2008 Travis Barker had a near death experience. He was injured when the Learjet 60, which he boarded, crashed outside Columbia, South Carolina. The plane was departing the airport when air traffic controllers saw sparks emanating from the plane. It went off the runway, smashed through a fence, crossed a nearby road, slammed into an embankment and caught fire. Travis and DJ AM were the only survivors of the accident. Barker sustained second and third degree burns on his lower body and torso, but was able to fully recover.
Travis Barker has been a rock drummer for the majority of his life. However one thing is for sure, he’s planing on spending his last professional years as a very different type of drummer:
“Ever since I started playing music, I had this idea of what I want to do, and it was to graduate to playing in a jazz big band, because that’s what I started playing [in] when I first learned drums“.
Travis Barker has recorded 4 albums with “blink-182”. “Enema of the State” is their best selling album with over 15 million copies sold worldwide. In 2000 he was part of the band’s only live album – “The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show”. 2001 saw the release of “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket”, which has sold over 14 million copies worldwide. In 2003 their self-titled album was released, having been sold over 7 million copies worldwide. “Blink-182” has been nominated for a total of 10 awards – MTV Europe Music Awards (2), MTV Video Music Awards (4), Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards (1), and Teen Choice Awards (3) – from which they have won 7 – MTV Europe Music Awards (2), MTV Video Music Awards (1), Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards (1), and Teen Choice Awards (3).
With “blink-182” Travis Barker has performed on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show”. They have appeared in the movie “American Pie” and opened the “Billboard Music Awards”. The band has also graced the covers of “Rolling Stone”, “Alternative Press”, and “Teen People”, while Travis alone has been featured on the covers of “The Score” – a magazine whose primary focus is Hip-Hop music – “Modern Drummer” magazine, and “DRUM! ” magazine. He stared on “Meet the Barkers” a reality television series that was aired on “MTV” from 2005 to 2006. The series followed the everyday life of Travis Barker and his then wife Shanna Moakler. In 2006 he guest starred on the popular crime drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” playing the role of a rapper.
After his first two successful albums with “blink-182”, Barker engaged on two side projects. The first one was called “Box Car Racer”, and was created by Tom DeLonge by the end of 2001. The project resulted in a self-titled album released in May of 2002. DeLonge asked Travis Barker to play drums on the album so he wouldn’t have to find and pay a session drummer to do so. “Box Car Racer” was an experimental vehicle for Tom DeLonge that ran its course and purposes by early 2003. The second side project came in 2002 when Travis Barker was invited to drum for punk/rap band “Transplants”, featuring “Rancid’s” Tim Armstrong, and “Skinhead” Rob Aston. Travis joined this band after the completion of their self-titled album, which was released in 2002 and only contained programed drum tracks. The Transplants briefly disbanded in 2003 due to other projects the band members were involved with. They reunited once again in 2004 to record their second album – “Haunted Cities” – before going on hiatus for the second time. In 2010 the band reunited to start recording new material.
In 2005, after “blink-182” disbanded, Travis Barker took part in two more bands – “Expensive Taste” and “+44”. The first one was a hip-hop group he formed with Paul Wall and “Skinhead” Rob Aston. From this endeavor resulted a 15-track mixtape produced in 2007 and named “DJ Skee Presents: Expensive Taste”. The second band was formed with “blink’s” ex-bandmate Mark Hoppus, former “Transplants” touring guitarist Craig Fairbaugh, and the lead guitarist of “The Nervous Return” Shane Gallagher. They released one album in 2006 called “When Your Heart Stops Beating” and have been on an indefinite hiatus since 2009.
Travis Barker has been collaborating non-stop with other artists on their albums since 2001, handling either production duties or drum set playing. Some of the names he has worked with include – N.E.R.D, Pink, Avril Lavigne, T.I., Game, Eminem, Slash, and Lil Wayne. Travis also had a lengthy collaboration with Adam Goldstein, also known as DJ AM. Together they formed “TRV$DJAM”. They performed live on clubs with Travis on a drum set and DJ AM on turntables. They released two mixtapes for free download on the internet, consisting of what they usually played on their live sets – “Fix Your Face” in 2008 and “Fix Your Face Vol. 2 – Coachella ’09” in 2009. Their project ended abruptly due to AM’s death. He perished on August of 2009 at his apartment in New York City as a result of a drug overdose.
As his collaboration work started developing, Travis Barker found a new market of his own for session work. He felt something more was needed to spice certain hip-hop/pop songs, as he listened to them. He started approaching musicians with the idea of making remixes of some of their original work by adding different instruments, like electric guitar, piano, or acoustic drums. He’s been doing this with a lot of success since 2004 and since then has worked with the who’s who of hip-hop and pop music – Bubba Sparxxx, Pharell Williams, Black Eyed Peas, Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, Rihanna, Katty Perry, Flo Rida, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Eminem, Snoop Dog, Game, Ludacris, and Drake, just to name a few.
In 2007 Travis Barker gained YouTube celebrity status because of some of these remixes. A friend and director named Haven Lamoreux posted a low quality video clip of Travis’ playing drums in the recording session for the remix of the song “Crank That” from “Soulja Boy Tell’ Em”. The video was an absolute success earning millions of views. Six more videos like this one ensued. In 2007 the video for the remix of “Flo Rida’s” “Low” was launched. In 2008 the videos for “Busta Rhymes'” “Don’t Touch Me” and “Game’s” “Dope Boys” remixes. Lastly in 2009 Haven uploaded the videos for “Eminem’s” “3 A.M.”, “Slaughterhouse’s” “The One”, and “Drake’s” “Forever” recording session, before shutting down his account in 2010.
Through the years Barker has been developing other business interests apart from playing music. At the end of 1999 he created his own line of clothing called “Famous Stars and Straps”, also known as “Famous”. Travis is also business partners with skateboarder Rob Dyrdek. They’re investors for the clothing label “Rogue Status”. In 2009 they started investing in another clothing label called DTA, which stands for “Don’t Trust Anyone”. Travis Barker has collaborated with “DC Shoes”, designing two limited edition shoes – the “DC Alias Remix” and the “DC Remix” – for their “Remix” line of shoes. In 2004 he started “LaSalle Records” to whom the band “Transplants” is signed to, and opened a “Wahoo’s Fish Taco” restaurant in Norco, California.
After disbanding in 2005, “blink-182” reunited in 2009. 2011 will see the release of their newest album, and of the documentary “Blinkumentary”, in which we’ll get a glimpse of the band’s life through 2009 and 2011 after reuniting.
Travis Barker’s first solo album is due to be released in early 2011. It’s called “Give the Drummer Some” and encompasses tracks featuring collaborations with some of his friends, and favorite musicians.
Although having a heavy drumming background unrelated to rock or hip-hop, Travis was not the biggest fan of styles like country, latin, and even jazz when he was a kid. His father was very important in what concerns this aspect of his playing. Randy Barker taught Travis the importance of being a very well rounded player if he wanted to make a career out of drumming. Travis eventually started appreciating these styles of music. Ultimately he was the drummer in a Soca (Soul-Calypso)/ Latin based band called “Flash In The Pan” from Laguna Beach in his early years, and more recently we watched him playing some Buck Owens country music in a tribute held on the “41st Annual Academy of Country Music Awards” in 2006.
His growth as a musician seems to be in part responsible for his biggest feature as a musician, his creativity. Throughout the projects and bands he has been a part of, his roots as a musician have served him well, and have contributed to some of the most cool and original drum tracks he has come up with. He started getting noticed by his very unique style of playing punk rock when he started performing with “blink-182”. Still, it was actually with “Feeble” that Travis Barker started showing his different approach to rock music, more specifically in the track “Song For My Father” from “Feeble’s” EP. In this particular song Travis Barker starts by playing some bossa nova patterns on the drums, before exploding with the rest of the band to a full fledged punk song.
With “The Aquabats” and “blink-182” he continued using this trait of his. In the song “Attacked by Snakes” from the album “The Fury of the Aquabats!” he mixed rock with tango on the drum set, creating some very cool sounding grooves. The “blink-182” songs “Obvious” and “Anthem pt.2” have some very unique reggae based grooves during the verses and the bridge respectively. Taking a look at “Obvious”, which has a darker and heavier atmosphere to it adding these reggae based grooves gave depth and an almost schizophrenic feel to the song. So using things a bit out of context – reggae based beat in a darker rock song – can make a world of difference in the overall feel of a song. In the tune “Story of a Lonely Guy” Travis Barker used a very common fill in the world of soul and funk music, which was created by “Motown Records'” staff drummer Benny Benjamin during the 1960’s.
Learning different styles of music can be very beneficial, especially for a rock drummer. Not only do you become a well rounded player, with more dynamic control and independence, but you can also gain a lot more of creativity from it. Don’t put yourself inside of a box. Reggae, bossa nova, jazz, rock…these are just names, labels. At the end of the day it’s all music, and the more styles of music you get exposed to, the better drummer and musician you’ll become. Travis is a good example of this, and one of the things that’s more appreciated about his playing – his creativity – his related to just that.
Another very cool feature he shows in a lot of the tracks he has played in is the use of intricate instrumentation and rhythms for creating unique tom-tom beats. For some of his most famous tom grooves he added strokes on the cymbals, snare, and hi-hat to increase the pattern’s flavor. The most famous groove of this type he has created can be heard in the verse of the track “Adam’s Song” from “blink’s” album “Enema of the State” – besides the toms he plays the ride bell, a china cymbal, the open hi-hat, and a splash cymbal. You can find other very creative tom beats on the verses of “blink’s” songs “Always”, “Anthem pt.2”, and in the bridge section of “Roller Coaster”. Take you favorite tom beats and experiment spreading the strokes through the different voices of your drum set. Another cool way of adding excitement here is to replace some strokes you would normally play with your hands with your feet. Once again, be creative and think outside of the box.
Travis Barker performed in a drum line as a snare drummer. As expected, this experience gave him a great set of chops. He plays lighting fast single stroke rolls. Flams also seem to be a favorite of his. He usually plays a version of this rudiment nicknamed “power flams”. It consists of playing a flam by elevating both sticks at almost the same height before bringing them down on the drum. This creates a very powerful and thick sound. Although he’s not a fan of drum solos he’s unquestionable a fan of rudiments, and tries to spend as much time on a practice pad as he can. This is one of the things that has helped him the most in achieving the speed levels he displays on the drum set.
Another attribute worth mentioning here is Travis’ readiness for playing with a click on studio or even live. He doesn’t mind working with a metronome at all, and because of that has developed a pretty advanced and accurate sense of time when playing live (with or without a click track) or in a studio. Travis Barker is a perfectly well oiled machine in the studio, and has gained a great repute as a studio drummer in the process. So as you can see don’t be afraid of a metronome. In the long run practicing with it will help you attain a higher degree of steadiness when it comes to laying down consistent time for a band.
After all said and done, there is still one other thing very important to mention when it comes to Travis Barker’s style of playing, and surprisingly it’s everything but technical. He’s a very flamboyant drummer and loves to feel the music. He plays with a lot of energy, easily gelling with his drum set and with the music he’s playing with. Besides his unique approach to writing drum parts, this is one of the factors that has made him so popular with drummers and music fans around the world. People tend to latch on to performers who feel their music more than anything. Travis makes drumming look so much fun that a lot of drummers have picked up a pair of drumsticks to start learning this beautiful instrument because of it. This is the most important thing you can take from him, above all else, to have a ton of fun and give your all while you play. We’re all very fortunate to be able to play this instrument. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.