Travis Barker's guide to staying fit on the road
16th Oct 2012 | 10:48
The drum powerhouse discusses fitness, life on the road and recovering from his tragic plane crash
The Rhythm team's jaws are on the floor. We're at Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena witnessing Travis Barker put in an unbelievable display of power and panache with punk rock funboys turned experimental rockers Blink-182.
Watching from a balcony high above the stage we have the perfect view of Travis as he blasts through a near two-hour set filled with ridiculously speedy singles, primal punk rock energy and an incredible, hip-hop flavoured solo. Needless to say, we were pretty darn impressed.
A few short weeks later Blink-182 are back in the UK and Rhythm are being led through the dank corridors of Brixton Academy to Travis's private dressing room.
After the phenomenal feat of endurance, fitness and all-round prowess that we witnessed in Cardiff, we are keen to learn how Travis stays in such premium condition and just what you need to do to be able to power the punk trio through 120 minutes of hits each night.
And that's before we even get to the stamina-testing stints at the drum stool he puts himself through with all manner of side projects - from Transplants to his hip-hop heavy solo work.
As we wander into Travis' two-room dressing space - passing the drummer working out on an exercise bike before sitting beside the Yamaha DTX kit that he takes with him to each venue - we get the impression that it's sheer bloody minded hard work that has put the sticksman at the peak of drumming fitness. As you'll see from the following interview, it looks like we were right.
The right diet
The shape that we find Travis in at the Cardiff show is all the more impressive given his less than ideal preparation for the European jaunt. His fear of flying, understandably brought on by the tragic 2008 plane crash in which four of the aircraft's six passengers were killed and Travis sustained second and third degree burns, means that European travel is a long-haul commitment.
Travis explains: "Usually, if I'm coming to Europe I'm on a boat for seven days so I spend the seven days doing a bunch of things. I'll do cardio for an hour or an hour-and-a-half and weights, just light weights.
"I'm probably at fault for warming up too much. I'll play the entire set one time before I go out there, but it makes you feel confident."
"This tour has been a little different because I had my tonsils out so I was actually bed-ridden until the day I left for the boat. That sucked. I just went hard on the boat, just shedding whatever tonsil weight I had from eating ice cream and crap for two weeks."
Travis reveals that while he keeps as active as possible, there's also plenty of chance to rest up during the week-long sea voyage.
"You can get plenty of rest on the boat! There's not a lot else to do. There's a gym and there's food. Other than that you're just chilling watching TV. I bring my [Yamaha DTX] kit though so I can mess around, as long as my neighbours are cool.
"You never know, it all depends on who's next door. I can just play and I don't have to worry about getting ready for a show, I can just practice. That's cool."
The pop punk king-cum-hip-hop guru tells us that once he has arrived, trips to the gym play an important role in keeping his fitness levels up for the grueling schedule of shows that Blink pack in.
"I try to do an hour of cardio on the days that I have off and then I'll do 30 to 45 minutes on show days. That's the first thing I do when I wake up, I have breakfast and then I'll hit the gym. If I'm lucky enough to be in a hotel with a 24-hour gym, that helps me sleep. I'm so wired after a show that I can't sleep straight away. For the most part though that isn't really available so I come and kick it, jump in the shower if there is a shower, or if not just sit on my bus, dirty as hell, watching TV!"
As well as hitting the weights, Travis ensures he stays in shape by putting the right things into his body. Although he acknowledges that his vegan diet can come up a little short on this count.
"I'm vegan so for the most part I stay on that diet as much as I can while I'm out here. I juice a lot, I get as much protein as I can because being a vegan there isn't much protein. But that's pretty much it. I just drink lots of water, too. I'll have a protein shake as well every morning.
"Once in a while I'll slip and get off my vegan diet and have egg whites in the morning, that's a good source of protein while I'm out on the road. If I can feel my body starting to tire those are good to keep you healthy. I have some joint supplements, that helps take away the pain a little bit and helps keep everything moving."
Travis also admits that a recent wake-up call has left him with a new outlook.
"I had a health scare earlier this year. I went to the doctor and found that I had eight ulcers in my stomach and then I found that I had a condition from it, from excessive smoking and possibly eating acidic food, but I don't really eat acidic food, so it was probably just from smoking. I had pre-cancerous cells in my throat – right there that was a game changer.
"I quit everything immediately. It's made a difference. I feel 100 percent whereas before I'd think, 'I feel good but last night I went hard.' It's a lot more consistent like this, you don't really have good and bad days, you don't wake up blaming something on a hangover or you did this too much or that too much. I like it, it was a good, positive change. Some people don't get that wake-up call, they just go straight to the bad news, so it's a second chance. I definitely feel better than years ago when I was smoking heaps of weed and drinking. It's much easier to play when you're not recovering from a hangover or whatever else."
Commitment and practice
It's impossible not to grasp Travis's commitment to putting on the best show he possibly can night after night. It all starts with a mammoth warm-up.
"Practice routines have always been cool, whether it be this [his Yamaha kit], a practice pad or a full kit, I was always pretty much warmed up by the time I got on stage. I'm probably at fault for warming up too much.
"I'll play the entire set one time before I go out there. Plus at the end of the tour I've done it so many times I get bored and time stands still backstage so I'll go through the whole set before I even get up there. But that's good, it makes you feel confident and comfortable because you've done it all.
"Sometimes if we have four or five shows in a row I'll think, 'Damn, I shouldn't have warmed up with my marching sticks today,' during the middle of the set. My body is pretty much used to it. My wrist makes noises, you can tell that they're fed up with me by the end of the tour. It's the same with my shoulders, my rotator cuff went out four shows ago. Once you're up there you're in the moment and you forget about it and go back to hurting after the show."
It all takes its toll, and Travis is candid about the brutal nature of life on the road.
"I feel like when we have a two month or longer tour, either my right or left rotator cuff goes out. I pinch something right in the middle of the show and I know when I do it. I'll soak in really hot baths and cold baths to get it loosened up a little bit. It's bound to happen by the end of a tour.
"Massage as well sometimes if it's available, I try to do that as much as possible. I had my back broken and two herniated discs from my plane crash that were never treated, so it hurts like hell some days. But, like I said, once you're out there you don't really notice it."
Ouch. Again our attention is brought back to Travis being happy to put himself through the pain if it means he can be at his best on stage.
"I never want to go out there and give 50 percent, I always try to give 120 percent. I don't play comfortably if I'm tired or if I don't feel well. That's always my goal, to make sure my stamina's up, my chops are up. My kit is kind of uncomfortable, my cymbals are really high, my drums are low. These last shows we've been playing for two hours so it's good to be prepared for it and not get half-way through a show and you're aching and your arms are tightening up. I stretch a lot."
So is pacing important when you have a two-hour show of energy-sapping tunes to play?
"Nah, I say go for blood on every one. There's not a lot of dynamics, besides bridges where I'll close it down and make it all really small. For the most part the job calls for bam, bam, bam, keeping it moving. We're not playing some of the slower songs like 'Stay Together For The Kids' or 'Adam's Song', which are kind of the ones where the set will go down. But every time we put those in the set we think the set drags but in reality it's just a slow song and dynamically a mellower song. I think we've been drawn to keeping the set more fast-paced."
Keep in shape
With that outlook it's no surprise that Blink have kept their sets below the 60-minute mark for so long.
"As time goes on the set gets longer. The longest we'd ever played before this tour was probably an hour, and that was long, we were like, 'How can we make it 45 minutes?!' We'd try to cut songs or whatever. Now we're into two hours. It's good, but I couldn't do it if I didn't keep my stamina up.
"Even when I don't have shows back at home I try to stay fit. It's like fighters that have an off-season and then when it's the time to fight again you have 12 horrible weeks of hell. Whereas, if you just keep up the momentum the whole time it's not that hard.
"Transplants is pretty much the same thing, actually all of my projects are like that. When I play with Mix Master Mike everything is on 100 the whole time. Transplants is like hardcore, especially the new stuff. All of my gigs are like that - one day I'll get a mellow gig!"
With some Blink downtime on the horizon does that mean a chance for Travis to rest up and take it easy? No, it seems not. With an ever-growing list of side projects on the go (a new Transplants record is in the can and he's also working on other solo endeavors), he'll continue to put the work in once he gets home.
"I'll go running in my neighbourhood, there's lots of hills and stuff. I do MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] every weekend at home, so that's a good workout and it's fun and keeps your arms and upper body good. One day I'll run for an hour, the next day I might ride my bike for an hour. I switch it up. If you do the same thing your body gets used to it, so I try to switch it up."
It's a good job Travis puts so much into keeping himself in tip-top shape, because it seems he has plenty on the way.
"There's always something coming up. I get home from this tour and then I have a couple of shows with Mix Master Mike from the Beastie Boys, so I've got to be ready for that. That's 45 minutes straight with no stops, that's one I always have to keep my chops up for. I have Transplant shows coming up when I get home so I've got to keep up for those.
"Then I have a project with Tony Royster Jr, we're doing this thing called T&T. That'll be really exciting. Then I have Blink shows in September, we cancelled a couple on this tour because I had to have my tonsils out so we're doing those shows, and when we get off tour we have four weeks off and then we have those shows. So if I don't play for weeks when we do those shows I'll be paying for it. Or at least I won't be as well-tuned as I'd like to be. I don't like to stop playing, unless it's due to a health concern or I'm having surgery or something."
There's also the little matter of another Blink record. Despite the scattergun nature of how they went about recording their comeback Neighborhoods album (which saw each member regularly working on ideas separately, with only a handful of weeks spent together in the same room),
it was a critical and commercial success, and Travis is eager to get back in the studio.
"We had seven years off and the last album I think was us barely getting back into the rhythm, recording an album because it was expected of us and we'd gotten back together and everyone wanted to hear new music. I feel like the best is yet to come, the next album is going to be exciting. For the most part the last album was recorded in different studios, we weren't always in the same room. We made it happen and it was the best it could be at the time with us three. I think in the future it can be crazy."
The craziness, of course, brings us back to Travis' punishing travel schedule.
"I don't like travelling. I love coming to Europe, the fans out here are awesome, but I hate travelling. I hate being in a car unless I'm driving it, I hate being in a bus unless I'm driving it, I hate being on a boat unless I'm driving it. I have control issues when it comes to travelling, I'm constantly waiting for some awful negative s**t to happen.
"As of now, the goal is that I'll try to get on the plane. Obviously I haven't flown since my plane crash, so it just depends. I could get to the airport and be like, 'No, I'm not doing it.' The last time I was on a plane I had to say goodbye to three of my partners. It's a tough thing for me. Plane crashes suck regardless. It's going to be a tough one.
"I've tried to think positively about it and hopefully it'll be something that's an obstacle that I'll overcome and put behind me. Maybe if I do get on the flight maybe I'll be able to do my tours in other countries and go to South America, Australia and not sit on a boat for eight days to get to Europe. I'll just have to see what happens when the time comes."