Billboard -- Fourteen months ago, California pop-punk powerhouse Blink-182 marked its return to music with an album that was devoid of the unique humor that had helped its previous release, "Blink-182" (2003), sell 2.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Released in September 2011, "Neighborhoods" followed a blockbuster reunion tour that had grossed $21.2 million in 2009, according to Billboard Boxscore. But despite the extended hiatus between albums, "Neighborhoods" failed to connect on the same scale as earlier releases. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, but has sold only 322,000 units.
Now, following a year of reflection and a split from longtime label Interscope, Blink-182 will self-release its "dogs eating dogs" EP on Dec. 18. The band was still recording for the project in early December, but the five-song track list and $3.99 pre-order finally arrived on iTunes this week. The EP will be a digital-only release, and preorders began Nov. 19, the same day the set was announced, on the band's website.
Vocalist/guitarist Tom DeLonge says "dogs eating dogs" reflects the music the band should have begun making "the day after" announcing its split in February 2005. Instead, when the act broke up, more than a decade after releasing debut album "Cheshire Cat" (with drummer Scott Raynor, later replaced by Travis Barker), each member took on a new project. DeLonge formed Angels & Airwaves, while vocalist/bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Barker teamed up for +44.
After the extended break, reuniting to record "Neighborhoods" was anything but smooth. "We weren't even in the same room," DeLonge says of recording the album. "We were barely talking; we were in different studios. No one really commented on each other's parts, no one pressed anyone's buttons. Everyone was on eggshells."
At the time, DeLonge says he was writing the kind of music he thought fans and his bandmates expected, not what he wanted to be writing. Now, on "dogs eating dogs," he says he's written songs that are "indicative of who I am now at 36 years old."
But the bigger change for Blink-182 this time out is its separation from Interscope. The trio left the label in October in a transition that DeLonge describes as the band's decision.
"It was totally us," he says. "We're ready to move on. At the same time, what [Interscope does] best and what they know how to do at this moment is more like hip-hop and R&B and pop music. There are a lot of labels that are doing really well with rock bands and they're just not one of them. I just don't think the partnership made any sense."
Just weeks after parting ways with Interscope, both Hoppus and DeLonge teased new music online. "We're releasing some new Blink-182 songs in a few weeks. Watch this space," read one post that appeared on Hoppus' Twitter account (2.3 million followers) on Nov. 8.
The EP was announced two weeks later, and immediately made available as Christmas-themed preorder packages through the band's redesigned website. The project is available in three editions priced from $20 to $100, and each pairs the digital release with physical items ranging from T-shirts to an autographed print. "Boxing Day," the first single from "dogs eating dogs," hit the web on Dec. 10 after debuting at radio.
Blink-182 First Listen: 'Boxing Day'
For all the tension that existed among the members and their different representatives, and between the band and Interscope, in 2011, DeLonge says they're finally in a good place, getting along in a way that they hadn't even before the hiatus. "We're connected and laughing and making jokes and making fun of each other," he says. "There was no laughing on 'Neighborhoods.'"
DeLonge also says there's already been discussions about the band's next steps, including signing to another major or establishing a deal that lets Blink-182 retain its North American rights while "signing to different regions across the globe."
But for now, the top priority is connecting with the group's core fan base and building what DeLonge calls a "massive website experience," with the assistance of his music social network Modlife, to "service fans directly in a creative and forward-thinking way." In fact, Blink-182 has discussed releasing music more frequently, in the form of what DeLonge calls "ambitious, artistic" EPs. "It's not that we may not put out another record," he says. "But we may not put out another full-length record.
"The joy of being independent is that you can write your own ticket," he continues, adding with a laugh: "No one yells at you when you fuck up."
It's that freedom that allowed the members to be themselves on the EP, DeLonge says. It's a formula he hopes the trio can continue to follow. "We're free agents at the top of our game," he says. "Blink can now clear a path to the potential that a lot of people, a lot of our fans, really saw in us."
MORE: "That's what Blink was always good at: Taking a great song and making it into a dick joke."
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Blink-182 First Listen: Hear 'Boxing Day' from the 'Dogs Eating Dogs' EP