In the early ’00s skateboarding was everywhere: the X-Games were gaining traction on TV, boards were selling, and skaters were becoming household names. At the same time, a new generation of pop-punk bands were on the scene — and they claimed to have roots in skating. Leading this wave of bands was Blink-182, known for their melodic anthems and potty humor, two things that helped push the skater-pop punk archetype to the mainstream.
Tom DeLonge was a vocalist and guitarist of the band, and while we had heard he skated a lot growing up as a kid, we weren’t sure what was truth and what was just marketing.
We initially hit him up to discuss his early years skateboarding, but ended up getting lost in conversations about fame and adolescence and how the two converged when Blink hit it big. If you ever wondered what it would be like to be 23 and have every young person in the country know what you look like half-naked, this ones for you.
Have you ever skated fully nude?
Many times! There’s this parking garage at a place called The Concourse in Downtown San Diego. You’d take an elevator up to the tenth floor, and you would just spiral all the way down as fast as you can. Wearing your birthday suit was the way to do it for a while.
You call being naked your “Birthday Suit?”
Yeah, I don’t know. I just didn’t want to tell you I had my dick out.
I wanted to do this interview because I saw that you posted a picture of you skating, and I felt like that wasn’t talked about over the years. Does that sound right?
When we were first becoming popular, it was very much a subject that we were skateboarders. It’s funny, every music video we did they were always trying to throw skateboards in and we thought it was stupid.
Every interview we did they would say, “Oh, you guys are skateboarders?!” but no one really dug into it. It kind of faded away. But for me, skateboarding was a major, major part of my life from seventh grade until I graduated. I even skated quite a bit after I graduated. It was when I started touring, around 19, where I stopped skateboarding. Skating is how we started the band.
You grew up skating around Dan Rogers, Jeremy Klein and Birdhouse related guys?
Yeah, there was one main pro in our group, and it was Dan Rogers. Dan was good friends with Jeremy, Willy Santos, and Tony Hawk because Dan was riding for Birdhouse for a while.
I saw Jeremy all the time and skated with him quite a lot, but Dan was like an everyday thing. Some people would stay at Dan’s house, or we would skate Tony’s ramp up in Fallbrook. Stuff like that. One time we went to Tony’s house and he was editing a Birdhouse video going through Dan’s part. I think that was one time that we saw him at the house.
But our group, we were just a bunch of derelicts. Just up all night prank calling people, fucking with security guards, and coming home at 3am after we got donuts. You know, when they make them fresh.
Did you ever beat up a rollerblader?
No, but we definitely made fun of them. We would drive around and anybody we saw riding a bike, we would scream, “Get a fucking seat for that bike!” It made no sense.
Do you think making fun of other subcultures is dead? Like in the “All The Small Things” music video you were mocking popular boy bands at the time. These days it seems like that spirit isn’t held up as much anymore.
Yeah, cause people are a bit more woke. People realized that some of the things you said are pretty hateful, depending on who hears it. We were very, very rude to people. Everything that Blink did was very XXX on stage. I think Congress labeled us, Eminem, and 2 Live Crew as the three most explicit bands of all time. But, we were literally just being who we were – a group of skateboarders. That’s how we talked.
I just directed my first film and I wrote it. It’s about skateboarders in Encinitas and they talked the same way. Everyone’s like, “Shut the fuck up,” and “Fuck your dad.”
I did a lot of shit with my brother, like breaking the law outside of that group too. We were bored kids out in the middle of suburbia. We could have really hurt somebody, physically, or you could have really crushed somebody emotionally who didn’t deserve it. But, that’s part of growing up and maturity. There’s a way to be rebellious and be anti-authority, but you don’t necessarily need to pick on the old guy walking on the road. We were just pissed off kids.
“I would skate through the Kmart aisles with my arm out and knock everything down just screaming laughing.”
What sort of trouble and antics did you end up getting into?
With skateboarding all you’re trying to do is get out of the house and get a laugh, but you’re so angry because you find yourself getting yelled at everywhere you go. Getting kicked out of spots or getting yelled at for skating. Then you just start fucking with them and the next thing you know you’re just getting into trouble. We would skate through department stores, like Target or Kmart, and I would skate through the aisles with my arm out and knock everything down just screaming laughing.
I remember one time I came busting through the door grabbing my board and my buddy followed me. Then this security guard followed us and I just tackled him with a headlock right on his face. His whole face was bleeding and yellow and cops came. And we’re screaming at this asshole and we’re kind of forgetting that we started it.
I find that skateboarders push their anger out that way because a lot of them come from broken homes and stuff like that. Was that the case for you?
Oh, absolutely. Some of us had domestic violence in our house. Some of us had dads that just abandoned everyone in the family. Everyone had a story that was difficult, so the way we celebrated getting out of that was just extreme humor all the time.
That’s the thing that a lot of people got wrong about Blink. They thought we were just being funny to be funny. We were being funny on meth because we were so pissed about where we came from. It was our coping mechanism. We wanted something that was joyful to the extreme all the time because all of our families were fucked up. I think that’s partially why Blink worked and resonated.
“We wanted something that was joyful to the extreme all the time because all of our families were fucked up”
Did you have domestic violence or abuse in your family as well?
I didn’t have domestic violence in my family. We definitely had a broken family.
My dad had other women on the side and he was in and out. He was also battling cancer every once in a while. There was a lot of screaming, a lot of anger. My mom was a super born again Christian and my dad wasn’t, so they had these different belief systems. The codependent relationship and the extreme abuse of authority in that household was just to try to control everybody and make it ok cause it was out of control. I had to rebel against that control, and then I got kicked out of high school.
There was a kind of physical abuse where your parents just smack you right across the jaw or pin you down and whip you when you’re a kid [laughs]. All that kind of shit was game in the ’80s. Now, could you imagine holding down a seven-year-old kid with one hand and whipping them with a belt? I mean, oh my god, dude. If anyone attempted that on my kids, I would fucking kill them.
I have empathy for my parents, as fucked up as my childhood was. The more you realize that everyone is just human and they had their own issues when they grew up. Everyone’s just trying to get by the best they can.
Back then skating was mixed with punk rock music. In Southern California, it was the same thing. That’s why when you see old skate videos it’s all punk rock music. Now you look at somebody you don’t really know what they listen to or what they do for a hobby or what defines them.
Most people I’ve talked to with success or fame came from a turbulent upbringing. Have you met any “well adjusted” successful people who come from good families?
In my experience, not really. Every artist that I know in rock bands, the ones that I like, are ones that have something to say. If you grow up and you have no pain, no obstacles and haven’t had to deal with anything, then what the fuck do you have to say to get people to rally behind you and resonate with you?
That’s what makes me want to listen to what people have to say because they’ve experienced something. Wisdom comes specifically from trials of the human soul. If you have none of that, then you have no wisdom to depart on people.
I grew up on “Enema of the State” with millions of other people, and I’m just trying to imagine, you were 23 then?
Yeah, I think I was around 23 at the time.
Did you hook up with a lot of girls at that time? At some point does that become boring because it’s so accessible or unchallenging?
[Laughs] No, at that point it was really hard to get near the band cause we had so much security and people just didn’t have interactions with us. It’s not like we were just hanging out in a club and people were walking in and out backstage. There were serious relationships and there was always one of the wives or girlfriends around. Everyone always took their relationships pretty seriously.
Do you look at a lot of hot girls and think, “That would be fun?” Yeah! Of course! You’re a guy. But, at the same time, a lot of them are psychotic, or they’re younger, and you don’t know if they’re just trying to wear your skin. Honestly, the fame got so crazy in those days it’s the last thing you want. Are they going to accuse you of something? Or are they going to get pregnant and say you’re the baby daddy? It’s scary.
So you were really isolated and not interacting with many fans?
Yeah. We were alone. Literally, we showed up to the venue as late as we could, warm-up, and play. And then walk off stage right into a van. Get to the hotel and we’d have security at the hotel and there are people trying to get us to sign things. Even if we just left the stage, they were already there. So we would go straight to our hotel room and hide under our fake name.
You’re really standoffish to people because everywhere you go people are staring at you. I couldn’t go to malls. I couldn’t go to movie theaters. I couldn’t go to restaurants or grocery stores. It was insane. So, I definitely wasn’t hanging out with many people by any means.
When you were younger, did you always want to be famous? Or was that just a byproduct of being in a band?
Never ever thought of being famous. The only thing I thought of was I dreamt of being as big as the band NOFX. That was it. They played in front of 1500+ people a night. I thought if I could ever get to that size like they were, that would be just the most amazing thing ever. I never thought of fame. I never thought of money. I just wanted to take care of myself and have a decent fan base.
I listened to a famous actor say, “Being famous in the ’80s kicked ass. Who would want to be famous now in 2020?”
Yeah, it sucks being famous. Having people stare at you. Imagine you walk into a California Pizza Kitchen and a hundred people are staring and whispering about you, and you’re just trying to order a salad. They’re all trying to act like they’re not looking right at you. So, every time you look up, one person at the table side-eyes you and they whisper about it. I have many times just gotten up and left cause I just couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want it.
“Imagine you walk into a California Pizza Kitchen and a hundred people are staring and whispering about you, and you’re just trying to order a salad.”
Have you ever worn disguises to get by?
Oh yeah. Mark [Hoppus] and I used to wear disguises at our own shows. He would put on a security guard shirt and a wig and go out and direct cars in the parking lot. I would wear a wig and a weird hat and weird clothes and I would just walk around the audience and talk to people.
I remember this one time, I sat with these girls and I tried to talk to them. They were literally so annoyed that they turned their backs to me. There are twenty thousand people waiting for us to get on stage and I’m just trying to talk to some hot girls and they wouldn’t even give me the time of day. We did shit like that.
Usually, when I went out in public I would wear a hat, keep my head down, or a hoodie where the hood is covering my whole head. A lot of times I would wait in the car until someone went in and made sure the coast was clear, and I would race into like the movie theater or whatever it was. It still never worked. They always found out I was there. Those days were really difficult. It’s not like that anymore but those days it was crazy.
Are you happy those days are behind or would you welcome more attention again?
I’m way happier now. You can’t live your life normally. I got things I need to do [laughs].
When Blink got popular, did you get really annoyed with copycat bands?
I was annoyed only because I felt that they could do better. But, we all steal from things that were influenced by, so it is definitely a flattering thing. What I was annoyed by is that I didn’t see a progression in music. To be exactly like somebody else doesn’t do much. Granted, I have been exactly like somebody else before too and I’ve learned to grow out of it or change it and make those mistakes here and there. So it’s not like I’m removed from that. I think that every artist does that at some point. We also didn’t own pop-punk, we stole from other bands. I can’t pretend that we didn’t do the same thing, but we definitely gave it our own spin.
Yeah, you guys didn’t sound like other bands.
We were better [laughs].