Gin Blossoms preparing for ‘another crazy summer’ with new album and lots of shows

Gin Blossoms interview

From left, Scott Johnson, Bill Leen, Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela of Gin Blossoms.

“A gin blossom is slang for the capillaries in your nose and face that burst because of excessive drinking.

“We were a bar band for a long time and we needed something to stick,” said Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson with a laugh as he explained how the band got their name. A gin blossom is actually caused by rhinophyma/rosacea and results in the enlargement and reddening of one’s nose. It’s usually the result of long-term heavy drinking.

Gin Blossoms (the band, not the condition) are currently in full bloom with a new CD to be released on June 15 called Mixed Reality and show (with Tonic and Vertical Horizon) on July 21 at the Theater at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City as they continue to mark the 25th anniversary of their watershed New Miserable Experience, album released in 1992.

Gin Blossoms, originally formed five years before New Miserable Experience, brought a unique sound and style to a weakening alternative music scene. Punk had begun to fade and grunge was still developing a head of steam but Gin Blossoms were different, with a new, fresh sound.

Johnson joined the band after New Miserable Experience was recorded, replacing co-founder Doug Hopkins, who commited suicide in 1993. Hopkins is listed in the liner notes of New Miserable Experience, even though he didn’t actually play on it.

Johnson was in the band, though, when they broke through to a mass audience.

“Our label thought ‘Hey Jealousy’ was going to be the hit and … the breakthrough song for the band. We spent a whole year trying to get attention for that song. We even played it on ‘Letterman’ the first time we were on, and it just didn’t work, so the label wanted us to move onto ‘Mrs. Rita’ and then suddenly it hit in Los Angeles first, and that was where it first started getting airplay.

“They called it a recurring single because it would drop off the Top 100 and then it would come back, and that’s such a rare thing. Usually when a song is off, it never comes back, but that song kept coming back. Then it would get added to more rotations; I can’t really remember the highest it charted but it went to No. 1 on one of those alternative indie charts or one of those crazy charts they had back then. So that was what was really interesting about that song: It would go away and come back and it lasted a long time. It really had legs.”

Johnson jokingly also wonders if the old, proven methods of making music are going by the wayside. “Bands are almost kind of becoming extinct, ya know? Now you see more of one or two guys; do you know what I mean? The idea of a band situation is almost or is slowly disappearing. I’ve seen bands now with some of these kids without a guitar player. Definitely the world is changing and obviously we’re still old school (laughs). Some of these bands now don’t have a drummer; they’ll bring a guy out on a tour but there’s not a drummer who helps out with the writing or is part of the band.

“Kids are gonna do what they like; it’s just different. It’s hard for me to judge, of course, because I don’t even understand what they’re doing and what they’re into (laughs). Every generation is gonna rock the way they’re gonna rock and lean the way they’re gonna lean.”

Although no longer kids, the group has reunited and is still very much a viable part of the industry. A new record and an at times busy touring schedule keep them in the public eye.

Johnson chuckles about the upcoming disc’s title, especially since he wasn’t involved in the decision. “Mixed Reality, I’ve heard it around and it has something to do with the internet and the digital world and analog world combined, which is kind of what we have.

“It’s coming out on June 15 and we’re really excited about it,” he continued. “We’ve had it in the can for a while and, to be honest with you, it just took a while to figure out a label and this and that. It takes a minute to get it going, but yeah, we are all really excited to finally have it out. It’s been a while. I think it’s been seven years since our last album.

“Did you know our producer passed away? John Hampton, the guy we did all of our stuff with. So we had to find another guy. We ended up going with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, the guys who did those first couple of REM records and also Marshall Crenshaw, so it just seemed like a good fit for us. They seemed like our kind of guys, know what I mean?”

Johnson said Hampton was responsible for much of the band’s sound. “He was out of Ardent Records and a studio in Memphis. Don lived in this little town in Ohio where we played and he came to the gig, and so we were talking about the records that he had produced and it just kind of seemed to fit. Sometimes you just get that feeling and, for whatever reason, we like southern guys. John was from Memphis and Don is from North Carolina. So after we all hung out with him that night, we talked about it and we called him about a week later and said, ‘Hey, do you want to make a record?’ Right away he agreed and suggested that we do it with Mitch, who was also the engineer on all those other records, and he wanted to do it in Mitch’s studio in North Carolina and so actually once the initial phone call was made that part fell together pretty quickly. We took about six months to write songs, rehearse and do pre-production, and then we knocked it out in about 10 days. It’s 13 tracks. Yeah, we went for it, but there’s a couple of short things so it’s not too epic. Overall, it was a really good experience.”

When asked if Mixed Reality has another “Hey Jealousy” buried in its midst, Johnson laughed and was very noncommittal.

“That is a really scary question. That’s so hard to say and, of course, in my mind there’s some great songs on the record that could be hits. But to say there’s another ‘Hey Jealousy’ on the record and quote me as saying that … I don’t know if I can do that. We were just talking about it over the weekend as to which is going to be ‘The One,” the one we’re gonna push … we’re kickin’ it around. There’s a song that Jesse (guitarist Valenzuela) wrote called ‘Here Again’ that I really like and it looks like that may be the one that we’re going to push. But there were a couple of others, too, that we talked about.”

With the advent of the internet, supporting new releases seems to be easier. Digital downloads and videos as well as streaming sites make getting finished product to the masses much easier than putting together lengthy tours. Some bands prefer the new age methods; others, like Gin Blossoms, utilize today’s technology but like to stay in touch with their still-ample fan base as well.

“We’ve been touring a lot,” says Johnson. “We do about 80 shows a year, although last year, for whatever reason, we did 110 and we made a record. We’ve been busy. We get a lot of offers for gigs, but some of them we just physically can’t do. You just can’t get from one place to the other … some are just logistical problems. We could probably work even more, but we like it around 80 shows a year because that’s still being on the road for about six months. Nobody wants to be gone eight months or more. Last year was crazy for us, and now with the record coming out it looks like it’s going to be another crazy summer. We’ve got about 50 shows on the books already, so we’ll see where that goes.”

Does the band have a preference as to smaller vs. larger venues? According to Johnson, they’re right at home in both.

“I don’t have a preference, because they both can be equally fun. Small clubs are sweaty and hot, but the people are right in your face and there’s something great about that. But we recently did a festival on the beach in Florida, and it was a great, beautiful day and the temperature was awesome and the bands were all really cool. So yeah, they can both be great. I like mixing it up — that’s a mixed reality right there (laughs).

“Part of the 110 shows last year was that we did a bunch of clubs that we used to play in the old days. It was a very successful little run and we did three different legs of it all across the country. It was a very proud moment for all of us, with New Miserable Experience turning 25, and a lot of people who used to come see us came out to see us again, and that’s saying something as life goes on.”

So what can one expect when attending a Gin Blossoms show?

“You can expect some hits, some new songs, maybe one cover; we don’t like to get too crazy with the cover thing. We are interactive with our audience. Our singer likes to run around on stage and he lets people play his tambourine, he high fives people and I think people will have a good time. We like it when the audience plays the band, we’re not the kind of band where at the end of each song the lights go dim and we say thank you; we want people to have a good time.”

For more about Gin Blossoms, visit ginblossoms.net.

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