To listen to this profile, press the play button below:
There are things Travis Barker does that make it OK for him to fly. He never schedules his own flights; it feels too much like he’s booking his destiny. Before takeoff, he calls his kids, his dad, his wife. Then he says a prayer for everyone he’s lost and listens to some guided recordings that were sent to him by an energy healer.
As the plane lifts from the runway, he puts on noise-canceling headphones so that he can’t hear the landing gear retract. Keeps his eyes shut. Breathes.
“It takes a little piece of my life every time I fly,” he says. “The amount of stress and anxiety it causes is just unbearable. It brings up all this old trauma, and sometimes I’m like, ‘Is this worth it?’ But I don’t like anything having a hold on me, either — I don’t like being afraid, and I don’t like having things from my past control my future.”
Who are the people shaping our culture? In her column, Amy Kaufman examines the lives of icons, underdogs and rising stars to find out — “For Real.”
Barker has been an irrepressible force for years. The kid who covered his body in tattoos to ensure he would never be tempted to work anywhere but the music industry. The musician who glues the skin on his knuckles together after drumming too hard. The one member of Blink-182 who has never quit, even as his two bandmates, Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge, got stuck in a toxic cycle of breaking up and making up.
Then, after surviving a 2008 private plane crash that left four others dead and 65% of his body covered in third-degree burns, the man who flushed 19 prescriptions down the toilet after getting out of the burn center because he overheard his friends saying he seemed “slow.”
Now, at 47, it seems Barker is being karmically rewarded for that perseverance. Blink is back together, the result of a harsh wake-up call that came after Hoppus was diagnosed with stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in 2021. The health scare — Hoppus is now in remission after undergoing chemotherapy — prompted the pop-punk group to start making new music. Their latest album, “One More Time…,” is the first Barker produced for the band, and it has earned strong reviews since its Oct. 20 release. Critics have said the music “hits like a g— freight train,” with the more reflective tone showing the once-juvenile “pranksters are finally ready to admit they’re not just older but wiser too.”
Just a few weeks after delivering the new music to the world, Barker is preparing to become a father again. He and Kourtney Kardashian, who married last year, struggled with fertility issues for months. The couple documented their journey on “The Kardashians,” filming egg retrievals and a no sex-alcohol-caffeine-sugar Panchakarma cleanse. Eventually, Kardashian tired of the effect the hormones were having on her body and paused IVF.
Then, after a Valentine’s Day trip to Utah, she got pregnant naturally at age 43. Kardashian has three children from a prior relationship, as does Barker — this baby, due in November, will be his first in nearly 18 years.
Kourtney Kardashian revealed she is pregnant at a Blink-182 concert in Los Angeles. The TV star is expecting her first child with Travis Barker.
Heading out on tour, he was ready to talk and I was down to listen, so a plan was hatched. While he was on the road with Blink-182 in Europe, we would talk on the phone. When the band returned to the States in late October, we’d meet in Las Vegas before their performance at the When We Were Young music festival.
But for more than a month, Barker proved elusive. In late September, he unexpectedly decided to return home to Calabasas during a week off. There was talk of moving the interview up, but then he got COVID-19. Back to the original plan.
We tried to talk after his shows, while he was on the tour bus — but it never happened. Then the Las Vegas plan got scrapped. Barker decided to fly in for the performance and leave directly afterward, and because of the escalating tensions in the Middle East, security at the gig would be tight — no backstage access.
The only remaining possibility, his publicist said, was for her to ask him if he could meet me at his studio for a couple of hours — time he’d already planned on spending with his wife after six weeks out of town.
As I awaited the fate of my story, I began to question the entire enterprise. This is so stupid, I thought. This is Just. So. Stupid.
Anyone who covers celebrities knows the routine — the waiting, the rescheduling, the frustration that too often ends with you thanking said celebrity for a 15-minute interview in a soulless hotel conference room. But this particular “negotiation” coincided with the Israel-Hamas war, which meant I was anxiously fielding texts about an interview with a famous drummer while simultaneously watching a news conference held outside of a bombed-out hospital. What was the universe trying to tell me?
I didn’t hold Travis Barker responsible for my sudden existential crisis. He was on a world tour and about to have a baby — one who, just weeks earlier, had survived emergency fetal surgery. Still, in the midst of trying so hard to talk to him, I began to reflect on why I wanted to talk to him in the first place.
I’m not saying that celebrities don’t matter. As a girl, I would cut photos of my favorite singers or actors out of magazines, creating collages that served as visual representations of who I was — a Britney or Christina girl, an *NSYNC or Backstreet Boys stan — and who I wanted to be. When I connected with other people who loved the same stars I did, it was like skipping a slew of small talk on a first date. I got you.
But Travis Barker never had a place in my binder. Blink-182’s smash hit album, “Enema of the State,” was released in 1999. At 13, I viewed them as three weird dudes who liked to run around in their boxers on “TRL,” taking precious time away from my beloved boy bands — the very groups they mocked in their “All the Small Things” music video.
Over the years, however, Barker began popping up everywhere. He and DJ AM — who died of an accidental overdose a year after surviving the 2008 plane crash — were the house band at the VMAs. He did a remix of Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” He backed up Reba McEntire at the Oscars, played alongside Lenny Kravitz and H.E.R. at the Grammys. With his high-energy, genre-bending style, he became the go-to drummer for high-profile musicians.
Then Barker gate-crashed my world when he appeared on “The Kardashians.” After a decade-long friendship, he and Kourtney started dating in 2021. Where once fans watched as the father of Kardashian’s children, Scott Disick, unleashed drunken tirades, commented on her weight and punched mirrors, now this tattooed rock star showered her with over-the-top displays of affection. In Instagram photos and on red carpets, they remained attached at the mouth to the point that their PDA was mocked on “SNL.” And 13 years after his plane accident, he got back on a plane for the first time — with Kourtney. “With you anything is possible,” he captioned an August 2021 photo of him holding her in front of a jet.
Despite his rough exterior, Travis Barker seemed like a nice, soft-spoken guy. A romantic. Someone who was getting his happy ending after enduring so much tragedy. And I’m a sucker for happy endings.
As the drama surrounding our pending interview continued to unfold, I read Barker’s 2016 memoir, “Can I Say?” In the book, he recounts his middle-class upbringing in Fontana, growing up in a home his father, a Vietnam vet, had built. When Barker was 13, his mother was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Sjögren syndrome and died three months later. On her deathbed, she urged her son: “No matter what, play the drums.”
The message stuck. In high school, Barker abandoned skating and surfing to focus on music, joining the jazz ensemble and marching band. He wanted to get tattoos, but his father told him the ink would prevent employers from hiring him. So Barker started using the tattoos as an insurance plan against pursuing anything other than music.
After graduation, he moved to Laguna Beach and began working as a garbage collector while playing in punk bands. His first big break was drumming for the Aquabats, the ska punk group whose lead singer would go on to co-create the children’s TV program “Yo Gabba Gabba!” In 1998, the band went on tour with Blink-182. One night, Blink’s drummer suddenly departed and Barker was asked to fill in. After he had performed double-duty with both groups, Hoppus and DeLonge invited him to join the band permanently.
It wasn’t long before they hit it big, and Barker began indulging in the requisite companions of rock ‘n’ roll — drugs and sex. His first marriage lasted only nine months. Before the divorce was official, he’d already conceived a child with Shanna Moakler, a Miss USA winner and Playboy playmate. Barker began raising Moakler’s first child, Atiana, as his own, and together they welcomed son Landon and daughter Alabama. A year after they wed, the couple got their own MTV reality show, “Meet the Barkers.” But the cameras changed their dynamic, Barker wrote.
“Shanna wanted to be an actress, and I felt she started doing things just for the cameras — for attention,” he writes. “...and in my mind, she was behaving out of character on camera, which was carrying over to her not being genuine with me.”
But Barker also acknowledges that for their entire relationship — which ended in 2008 — he had a serious drug addiction. At one point on tour, he hired someone to stay up all night and make sure he didn’t die after popping Oxycontin and Vicodin. If it wasn’t for the plane crash, he says, he might have never gotten sober.
The accident happened in South Carolina, where Barker had been performing with DJ AM. As their Learjet sped down the runway for liftoff, the tires popped, causing the aircraft to lose control and crash into a fence. The plane was engulfed in flames, and only Barker and AM were able to escape; their two close friends and two pilots would not survive.
As he fled the burning plane, Barker jumped into the jet wing. His whole body was doused in fuel and caught fire. Over the next three months in the hospital, he would need 26 surgeries and skin grafts.
Resilience. That was it. Reading Barker’s memoir, I remembered what had initially interested me about him. That just-keep-trying attitude, the internal drive to be better, to overcome. The vulnerability to show how hard it could be to push forward.
None of that felt stupid.
And then, by some divine intervention from the Hollywood gods, a text arrived: “Can we do noon at his studio tomorrow?”
Barker’s studio — nay, recording complex — is located in a Woodland Hills business park next to a dialysis center and an IRS office. Everything cool in this town is always inside of a hideous building that looks like a warehouse.
The other guys from Blink refer to the place as a “punk rock day spa,” because the interior has that modern, mostly-white aesthetic where there are only a few objects, all very purposefully placed: BMX bikes lined up neatly, a skeleton that’s at least 20 feet tall, four tin sculptures of the Beatles that Kourtney got from her late father.
Barker spends the majority of his time here — at least until the baby comes — which is why there’s also a gym, a kitchen, and showers. An entire room is devoted to storing his drum heads and cymbals in little cubbies. The four artists on his label, DTA Records — Avril Lavigne, Jaden Hossler, Ho99o9 and his son, Landon — frequent the two recording studios.
When Barker walks in, it’s like I’m seeing a ghost — the man is wearing a skeleton onesie. He wouldn’t normally show up like this, he says, but he got locked out of the house he shares with Kardashian — it’s a 10-minute drive away — after using the gym, and this was all he had to wear.
He knows he often looks like he’s flipping off the world, but that isn’t the intention. His 17-year-old, Alabama, recently shared that her friends were petrified of him because of his hardcore exterior. “But I’m the nicest,” he says. “I like Adam Sandler movies.”
We settle into a lounge area, where he pulls some canned water from a fridge filled with Liquid Death — that brand with a skull on the package that’s meant to make drinking something nonalcoholic look badass. He sinks into a couch, leaving the hood of his onesie over his head. His hands, which appeared raw and bloody on Instagram just a few days ago, have healed.
“Super glue,” he explains, stretching out his fingers. Some bend in the wrong places, permanently altered from breaks and tears. The recent cuts on his knuckles came because he was drumming so aggressively that his skin kept scraping his cymbals.
“The last show, it actually smelled like blood on stage,” he says, describing how he lost so much that it dripped onto his pants and seeped through them. “I was a little lightheaded.”
He’s been upping his workouts lately — something he did before his other kids were born. He just told Kardashian that he wants to run a marathon in Santa Barbara in November.
“I just want to do superhuman challenging things when I bring someone into the world,” he says. “That’s what this does to me.”
To be clear, Barker already exercises a lot. During a recent bout with COVID, he ran three miles a day. That’s his usual routine, plus the gym and an hour of drumming — which, given his attack-style of playing, probably burns an obscene number of calories.
A lot of his peers don’t get why he still practices so hard. He talked about it with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins shortly before Hawkins’ death in March 2022. The two both lived in the San Fernando Valley, and Hawkins suggested they start riding mountain bikes together. Barker proposed they drum together for fun too.
“[Hawkins] was like, ‘I’m not practicing. I’m already as good as I’m ever gonna get,’” Barker remembers. “Like, not f— true. I told him, ‘You’re already a beast, and you’re just gonna keep getting better.’”
There are still things Barker would like to get better at. He can play drums with his non-dominant hand, but his left still isn’t quite as strong as his right. And on the new Blink album, he played double bass for the first time. It’s not really his thing, but he wants his legs and feet to be as powerful as his hands.
During the years that DeLonge and Hoppus were at odds, Barker concentrated on developing other new skills. He began producing music for artists like Machine Gun Kelly. He’s had side projects with both Blink guys too — first Box Car Racer with DeLonge, then +44 with Hoppus.
Until last year, DeLonge, Hoppus and Barker hadn’t played together since 2014, when DeLonge abruptly departed the group just before they were set to make their seventh album. (Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba filled his spot in the interim.) Barker never had any “built-up animosity” toward DeLonge, so they stayed in touch — but it wasn’t until Hoppus’ cancer diagnosis that the three ended up in the same room again.
“It takes a catastrophe for us to get back together as a band,” Barker admits, referring to their 2009 reunion following his plane crash. “It’s sad. And it’s also the truth.”
After years of DeLonge’s inconsistency, it took Hoppus a minute to trust their latest reconciliation. So the band took it slow, initially meeting at Barker’s studio to jam as Hoppus was completing his last round of chemo. If Blink-182 was going to make new music, Barker wanted to produce it — he just didn’t know how to broach the idea.
“It was a sensitive subject,” Barker says, his eyes drifting toward the room where they recorded. “I had to prove myself. They were like, ‘No, you’re Trav. You play drums in the band.’ And I didn’t want to be, like, ‘No, but this is what I do!’ I just shut up and let the music speak.”
He never technically asked to serve as the album’s producer — he just started producing it. After his bandmates left Woodland Hills, Barker would stay behind, turning the pieces of music they’d started into full-blown songs to present to them when they returned. After about seven months of weekly meetings, Blink-182 had over a dozen new tracks.
The music was steeped with a deep sense of nostalgia. On the title track, “One More Time,” the band laments that it took “a sickness or airplanes falling out of the sky” for them to reunite. Hoppus sings about the new appreciation he has for life after his cancer battle; DeLonge joins him in crooning about their lost childhoods, how reuniting has made them feel young again: “I’d never thought we’d end up here / We’re back in time, to the best years.”
They’re not totally grown up, of course. On tour, they still act like boys: Barker taps DeLonge’s balls before they walk onstage, Hoppus drips sweat onto Barker’s shirtless body. It’s a dichotomy that’s always been difficult for people to understand.
“These guys are telling dick jokes and acting like me and my friends in high school, but they’re also writing these songs that mean a lot to me. How can they tap into both?” Barker says, vocalizing a public sentiment he’s long heard. “I think it would frustrate people. But we really are both.”
Barker insists he’s actually raunchier than DeLonge or Hoppus — he’s just quieter. In a skit to promote a recent music video, he was referred to as “the little freaky quiet one.” Weirdly, he relishes this.
“I’m like, ‘Please! Please. I want to be the quiet secret weapon,’” he says, earnestly. “I’m not looking for the spotlight or anything like that.”
A few years ago, he met Tim Grover, a performance coach famous for working with athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Barker had long been obsessed with Grover’s book, “Relentless,” which promotes the kind of lifestyle the drummer believes in: being comfortable with discomfort, no days off, mental fortitude before physical strength.
And after just a short time with Grover, Barker says the coach offered him this assessment of his character:
“Trav, some people have to put a mask on to go on stage and perform. They have to drink or psych themselves up to go on stage. You take your mask off to go on stage because you’re in your natural habitat, and you put the mask on to be in the real world.”
That was exactly it. Drumming in front of thousands of people? Whatever. “Being in the real world? That’s like, ‘F—. This is uncomfortable.’”
Even with Kardashian, he says, he was too reserved to make the first move. They’d been close friends for a decade, workout buddies who lived a seven-minute run from each other. One night, she invited him over to watch a movie. They were drinking tequila, and he was picking up a vibe, but thought: “Nah, it’s on you.”
Barker says he barely remembers that he appears on “The Kardashians” until he’s reminded. Still, the cameras have captured some of his most intimate moments with his wife, including their engagement, his sperm donation during IVF and awkward run-ins with her ex. There was even an entire TV special — “Til Death Do Us Part” — devoted to their wedding, which Barker says was shot on iPhones and not initially meant for public consumption.
Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, now Mr. and Mrs., are taking the next step in their relationship: starring in a reality special for Hulu.
When fans of the show initially realized “the Travis that’s with Kourtney also plays drums in Blink,” he stifled his annoyance. “Yeah, that’s what I f— do. I’m a drummer. Celebrity is not my identity. Or Kourt’s. She’s so different than her sisters.”
In recent seasons of the show, tensions between Kim and Kourtney have escalated — a feud that boiled over when Kim curated a Dolce & Gabbana collection in 2022. The collaboration came about four months after Kourtney’s wedding, which the New York Times labeled a “walking ad” for the brand. She and Barker exchanged vows at a seaside villa in Portofino, Italy, owned by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
Kourtney accused Kim of using her wedding as a “business opportunity,” prizing money over their relationship. But TikTok sleuths have become convinced that there’s something more behind the beef: Barker.
Online, fans have resurfaced passages from Barker’s 2016 memoir in which he discusses his attraction to Kim. They first met in 2006, when Barker was hooking up with Paris Hilton. At the time, Barker writes, Kim was working as Hilton’s closet organizer, and even though he was dating Hilton, he “kept on secretly checking out Kim,” telling a friend “I don’t care if she’s the closet girl, she’s f—ing hot.”
Barker has long maintained that nothing physical ever happened between him and Kim — something his ex-wife, Moakler, disputes — and denies that Kourtney harbors any ill will over the relationship.
“It’s like, ‘Kourtney’s fans are worried about Travis. He’s a womanizer.’ Stop it,” Barker says, his voice never rising. “I obviously shared all that stuff because I wanted to move past it. It was therapeutic for me. … That’s her sister. She knows we used to talk. Nothing bad was going on. You give people a little information and they think they’ve solved the mystery of ‘this is why they’re fighting.’ It’s just so ridiculous.”
It’s not that he doesn’t understand why people are invested in his relationship. Even he is still in disbelief at how it all worked out.
Without Kardashian, he says, he probably never would have gotten back on a plane. Once, when his daughter Alabama was younger, he chaperoned a school field trip where the kids learned about aviation. The little girl walked onto a plane and immediately ran off, bawling. “There’s no way I’m ever gonna fly again,” Barker thought to himself. It just caused too much pain.
“I think the power of love really helped me,” he says now. “Kourt made it so I fly, my kids fly now. She healed us.”
In the beginning, it was easy. On his first flight to Cabo San Lucas with Kardashian, he had no notice — something he’d requested to avoid days of panic. But then, on his third flight back, the private jet he was on started losing cabin pressure.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. God, please. Please,” he says he pleaded. “I had someone tell the pilot: ‘No cowboy s—. Just land this f— plane, please. Don’t try to be a hero.’ But I have no control over it. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable.”
And flying for pleasure? That’s still something he’s having trouble adjusting to.
“Vacations are more work than vacation for me, because I can’t stand still,” he says. “My wife is good at vacations — she’s really talented. I’m good for about three days, and then I’m like, ‘I need to do something.’ She’s like, ‘OK, he’s gonna start running obsessively, or practicing.’”
He says he inherited the attitude from his dad: Take power. Don’t let anything control you. You’re stronger than that.
That’s part of why he drums so hard. He wants the tours he’s making millions of dollars from to feel like work he does with his hands. So when his drum technician tries to clean the blood spatter off his kit, he resists.
“I love seeing some grit, seeing the work,” he says, tracing his fingertips over his battle wounds. “It doesn’t make me sad. It doesn’t make me worried. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I f— love it.”
I can understand why, after so much hand-wringing, I needed to talk to Travis Barker after all. If it comes too easy, it doesn’t feel right.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.