Record Club: How ‘Enema of the State’ Changed Tom Delonge’s Life

Laura Leebove

By Laura Leebove

Managing Editor
on 10.17.14 in Features

[In each installment of Record Club, our editors take a month-long dive into an album we care about, culminating in an in-depth discussion and other supplementary features. Our first go is Blink-182's monster 1999 breakthrough Enema of the State. Read our roundtable here, and revisit a few more angsty pop-punk greats that turn 15 this year.]

‘There had never been a pop-punk band that sounded like nursery rhymes on steroids, on the mainstream level at least. And that’s what I used to have daydreams of.’

My earliest memory of listening to Blink-182 is at a shockingly unsupervised beachside party in the Detroit suburbs, playing Truth or Dare with a group of my almost-seventh-grade peers. It was late in the summer of 1999 and Enema of the State was a perfect soundtrack for a room full of preteens petrified by the opposite sex — I remember my crush had to practically be held down so I could kiss him on the cheek.

Blink-182 were crucial to my middle-school years: My BFFs and I bonded over their music and went to see them live as many times as we could; they inspired several of my friends to start playing guitar; I drew the cover of The Mark, Tom and Travis Show in colored pencil on my closet door (it’s still there). When I was 12 or 13 years old, I didn’t know what an enema was or what it meant to be a girl that one could train and I would have never dared to call anyone’s mom a whore. But while Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge’s lyrics were problematic for many reasons, you can play me the first shiny guitar riff of “Dumpweed” any day and I’ll still be as giddy to hear it as I was 15 years ago.

To round out our first Wondering Sound Record Club, I talked with Delonge about his childhood, being maimed by Congress and how Enema of the State changed his life.

So, the reason we’re talking today is because at Wondering Sound we’re starting a monthly feature where we pick an album, our editors spend a couple weeks listening to it, and we have a roundtable discussion about its impact on us and pop culture. The first one we picked is Enema of the State. I first started listening to Blink-182 when that album came out, when I was 12. My friends and I went to your shows, had T-shirts and posters, all of that. What bands were you really excited about when you were 12?

I got into my first punk rock bands when I was 12, when I was in seventh grade. I got into the Stiff Little Fingers, All and Dinosaur Jr. I went and visited [my friend] up in Oregon and he showed me these records and it changed my life. From that point forward I became a whole different person.

What were you like as a person at that age?

I was hanging out with the usual group of friends that you would at school, but I had just started skateboarding and I was getting really into that — none of my other friends really did that stuff. I was getting into a lot of shit that I shouldn’t be doing. I was just starting to get into a really hardcore rat pack of skateboarders, so I was just turning out of normal junior-high life into a little punk-rock skate kid, which was an attitude change, a personality change, a fashion change — as much lifestyle as it was a cerebral change.

How did you see yourself then? What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?

I just wanted to be the opposite of my parents. I didn’t identify with them at all. My mom was really into church, my dad wasn’t, they fought all the time, they had no money whatsoever — everything in my world was about getting away. So a skateboard was kinda like my first car. I would get on that thing and just leave.

‘We didn’t know the latitude that the labels worldwide would take in marketing us to make money. We had no clue. [They made] it look like we really were some kind of erotic boy band or some shit.’

How old are your kids now?

My daughter’s 12. And my son is 8. It’s crazy — I’m hoping that they don’t want to leave.

What kind of music do they listen to?

My son is getting into the certain songs he loves. He likes stuff that’s high energy. [When I play] the death metal station on satellite [radio], he thinks that’s awesome. My daughter, she’s more like a Vampire Weekend or Tegan and Sara kind of girl.

Enema of the State came out when you were 23. At that time, how did you envision the future of your band’s career?

I just knew it was our best record. I didn’t think it was gonna do anything crazy. I remember we went on tour, on the Warped Tour, and Eminem and us were on tour [laughs]. I wouldn’t have thought that either of us would have gotten as far as we did, you know? In retrospect, you look back and think, “Oh, I get it. I get why.” But at the time? A white rapper from Detroit and three ugly kids from San Diego that could barely play — I mean Travis could always play, but it didn’t make any sense.

What are your favorite memories from making the album?

We [worked in] three studios in the course of three or four months. Our first record took us three days, our second record took us four to six weeks or something, and Enema of the State was a three- or four-month thing. And then the next one was six months, and the next one was a year. I remember moving around a couple times in that three-month period, but we had a lot of jokes, we felt really good — we felt like we sounded good. It was the first time we felt we sounded good, so it was exciting.

What do you remember being the most challenging about it?

The most challenging thing was to play good. At that time it wasn’t on computers, it was all on tape, so your performance had to be spot-on, and that wasn’t something we were used to — we were just a garage band. So, doing something like that was a learning experience and taught us how off we were.

What do you wish someone had told you before the success of that album and the band?

To be in control of our image. Because we didn’t know the latitude that the labels worldwide would take in marketing us to make money. We had no clue. We were so naïve that we would run around naked, but they’d make it all glossy and put it on posters and make it look like we really were some kind of erotic boy band or some shit. We were coming from the punk scene, but the label fashioned a whole thing around us that we didn’t even understand; we were just kinda caught up in it. So it took us a little bit to dig out of that and come back to who we really were. And it’s hard to do that once people spend millions of dollars making you into something visually that we weren’t.

‘[Our label president said], “You are going to make more money than you ever thought you could make. You are going to be more famous than you ever thought possible. And you’re gonna be playing arenas by fall.”… I looked at him and I literally laughed out loud.’

What kind of stuff would the label ask you to do, or what surprised you about how they marketed you?

They would make posters off of weird photos or they would set up a photo shoot and you’d think you were being funny [but] you didn’t realize what happens later. On Take Off Your Pants and Jacket we came around afterward and made a lot of changes.

Beside the aesthetic change that came from the marketing, there was also a huge difference in the actual music compared to the band’s previous records. How conscious was that?

We just knew that punk rock was becoming polished. NOFX [was] a punk band we grew up listening to, and they had a record called Punk in Drublic, and it was awesome. It was game-changing; it sounded good. If you listened to it now it wouldn’t sound good, probably, but to the punk scene — all through the ’80s and early ’90s punk never sounded like that. We wanted to take it to the next level and [Enema producer] Jerry Finn, at the time, was doing Green Day, Jawbreaker and Rancid — he was involved with the cooler punk rock bands that were doing really big, produced albums. So that was the thing to do, was to elevate the art form, and we wanted to be on par with the most elevated [laughs].

When’s the last time you listened to Enema of the State?

Oh shit, I don’t know. Probably 15 years ago. Probably 14 years ago.

When you hear songs from it now, what do you remember about the people who were involved in making it?

Jerry Finn was super funny, very, very knowledgeable, great gut instinct. We trusted his opinion. We thought he was cool. The engineer did country records and stuff but he was a great engineer, but he was very straight and seemed like a great engineer. It was awesome to have a guy who was straightforward and hardcore about the engineering side of stuff and Jerry was cool and relaxed.

I remember that no one believed in us, I remember that at the label they didn’t believe in us. It took a year and a half but we got one hit on our first release, Dude Ranch. It took a year and a half to get ["Dammit"] to work but somehow it worked. It wasn’t a natural radio song…but it was by the grace of God and Allah working together. If Jesus and Allah came together as a bipartisan team and made the song work. So we come out with this record and out of nowhere, the label goes, “Holy fuck, there’s something here.” It caught them by surprise.

I remember I sat down in the [label] president’s office. I have a sideways hat, I have nose rings in and shit, and he goes, “I’m gonna tell you three things,” and it’s just me and [our manager] Rick. [He says], “You are going to make more money than you ever thought you could make. You are going to be more famous than you ever thought possible. And you’re gonna be playing arenas by fall.” And I sat there and I looked at him and I literally laughed out loud. I said, “You’re fucking nuts!” I looked at Rick and literally, it was an out-loud, guttural kind of laugh. I was like, “You’re fucking high!” If you would’ve told me a green Santa Claus was marching down the street with a UFO for a hat I would’ve believed that first. And all three of those things happened. They all happened. And that’s one of the most amazing moments of my life, looking back at that specific conversation.

‘We didn’t want to put on crazy leather jackets and act like we didn’t give a fuck. We didn’t give a fuck because we were having fun and we were so X-rated.’

Is there anything you think back to that you wince at thinking about it now or anything you regret?

I don’t regret anything, I just wish if anything, lyrically in certain places [I would change], but no, as a whole I think it’s a really great record. I think, for the time, it was phenomenal. There had never been a pop-punk band that sounded like nursery rhymes on steroids, on the mainstream level at least. And that’s what I used to have daydreams of. I used to think the radio could use that, could use a band that was really powerful and catchy and fast and youthful and angsty. Green Day wanted to be in the footsteps of the Clash, the Offspring…were more into the whole Epitaph Records-sounding thing, which I love, but we were caught up in the middle. Or, Rancid wanted to be the Clash; I think Green Day were more like the Ramones or some shit. It was just different. They were going after these really cool bands, and Blink, we didn’t want to elevate ourselves above the audience. We didn’t want to put on crazy leather jackets and act like we didn’t give a fuck. We didn’t give a fuck because we were having fun and we were so X-rated [laughs]. If a guy walked by in a leather jacket we would come up with 50 reasons to talk about leather on a naked body. But there’s a place for all of that. It’s all super important, the Green Days and the Rancids — we looked up to those guys. To this day, I’m close with Mike Dirnt and Travis is crazy close to Tim Armstrong of Rancid. We’re all buds.

When I posted on Facebook that I was revisiting your music, there were so many people I haven’t talked to in years who emailed me or commented just to say, “Yes! I was a big fan! I had to hide my records from my parents!”

Right after Enema of the State, we got maimed. Congress [listed us in their] top three explicit bands of all time, with 2 Live Crew and Eminem, and they were trying to censor music and using us as the example. And that happened on Enema of the State. I was pretty proud of that.

How much of your older music have your kids heard and what do they think of it?

They’ve heard most of it. We play it live a lot — I don’t think they’ve listened to the records but they definitely know most of the songs. I think they enjoy it. And it’s cool because they can tell the difference between [Blink-182 and Angels & Airwaves]. They like my music but they can differentiate the two things. Hopefully it inspires them to be diverse.

I know there’s a new Angels & Airwaves album coming out next month. What’s going on with that?

This is a huge release for me. We’ve been recording it for two years and Halloween is gonna be a big day, that’s all I can say. But there’s a lot of things that are associated with this. Angels & Airwaves has a whole company built around it, and we’re launching intellectual property that are feature films, novels, animation and soundtracks, so with this album starts something that’s bigger and more ambitious. And it sounds mad different, it’s a complete, complete evolution in the band, so I think people will be excited about that. Halloween will be Day 1.

Also heard that there’s a new Blink-182 album in the works. What’s the timeline for that looking like?

I am hoping that we can get this thing out by summer, but we will see.

Have you started recording yet?

We actually have our very first big writing session coming here in the next few weeks where we’ll get together and lay down our first tracks.