To make it in the music industry, there’s a certain level of hustling involved, for lack of a better word. At the beginning of a band’s career, they’re faced with a laundry list of obligations: generating a fanbase, spreading buzz, rehearsing the live show, writing and recording, touring, and the list goes on and on.
Needless to say, this repertoire of tasks repeats for years. However, if a band is lucky, the fear of dwindling into irrelevance falls away and they get to experience the joy of creating music and touring for sheer love of their craft.
That peaceful frame of mind is where the men of Gin Blossoms are today. With a musical lifetime that spans back to 1987, the Arizonians played a key role in the prevalence and eventual takeover of American pop rock in the early-to-mid-‘90s. Co-existing with the likes of Counting Crows and other radio-friendly groups, Gin Blossoms made their stance in the mainstream music industry with their quadruple platinum album, New Miserable Experience (1992), which featured the monster hit, “Hey Jealousy.” This victory extended into 1996, with the band’s next album, Congratulations I’m Sorry, going platinum with their popular single, “Follow You Down.”
Still riding the wave of their latest album, No Chocolate Cake (2010), vocalist Robin Wilson, guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson, bassist Bill Leen and drummer Scott Hessel are reveling in the touring lifestyle, which they have come to know and love.
Valenzuela took time out of his schedule to tell The Aquarian Weekly what fans can expect at their Asbury Park show, whether a new album is in Gin Blossoms’ future, and how the band keeps the love of recording and touring alive after all these years.
What can your fans expect for your show at Asbury Park?
The Asbury Park show is part of our little tour of the Northeast region. We’re going to be starting in Maryland, I believe, and rounding up the caravan to New York, New Jersey, around that area. What I can tell you about the show is that our fans can expect some tasteful full-frontal nudity and an honest rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” (laughs).
No really, I’ve actually never played The Stone Pony before so I’m really excited for that. Also, the great thing about East Coast tours is that you guys have such great Italian food. I’m going to have me some manicottis.
And get some good pizza, because I heard the West Coast pizza is not great.
(Laughs) Our singer Robin [Wilson] actually lives in Long Island and he is a big pizza snob. But whenever we play in his area, he gets a bunch of pies for us. I definitely won’t be getting Pizza Hut.
You guys have been around for almost 30 years. Do you ever get sick of this whole touring thing?
We tour a lot because it’s something we really love. It’s the most fun you can have, honestly. It’s our job and we’re lucky to have it. Touring in the winter is a great time for me because I live on the West Coast, so I don’t get to experience snow that often.
But the whole touring experience also is different in the winter—it feels a little more intimate. In the summer you play outside a lot, but in the winter you have a chance to be more up close and personal and meet people. It also allows us to take more chances with our setlist and improvise, because usually when we play during the summer we’re on a bill with three or four other acts, so you just sort of have to implement your pitch as a band. We’ll still play the hits at these winter shows, but it also allows us to play other tracks we haven’t touched in a while.
Because you’ve been around for so long, I’m sure you’ve seen your fans start to bring their family and birth a new batch of Gin Blossoms fans. What does that feel like?
Yeah, it’s a real kick to see multiple generations coming to our shows. It’s funny to see kids that look like they got dragged there, and the parents that just want to have fun.
Along with your touring schedule, you’re all still riding on the high of No Chocolate Cake, your latest album. Has the new release jumpstarted your desire to record and tour more?
As a band, we definitely have had our phases and transitioned into different grooves in our career. But it seems like in the last few years we’ve all been reinvigorated and really enjoy creating again. We never take anything for granted. It’s a huge gift to play music for a living and it should be respected.
However, I’m usually a very prolific writer—I try to do it every day—but I’ve taken the last year off. I spent that time reading and trying to figure out new things to consider for a record. Actually, I’m going to start writing tomorrow. I’m excited.
How do you prepare mentally to get back into that writing game?
Well, avoidance is always a good way to get that urge to write again (laughs). Honestly, I don’t know the exact answer to your question because usually I do write everyday, but I thought it would be healthy to try and get away from it for a while. I’ll just set a couple of hours aside every day and just think. Even if I only write a little bit, I need a few hours to be in the moment, and be available to be creative. You can force it—which I’ve done on deadlines—but sometimes the best stuff happens when you’re not thinking. The more you make yourself available to those moments, the more likely it’ll happen. You just have to be ready for it.
Are there any lyricists you take cues from for inspiration, or do you try to stray away from focusing on other people?
I played a show the other night for Hurricane Sandy victims with a Tom Petty cover band, called the PettyBreakers. It was great to listen to those songs and play them after a while because I’m such a fan of that band. But I also like to listen to a lot of other bands for inspiration. I love Fountains Of Wayne, which I know are from your home state. They’re awesome guys and such a great band. There are a few others, too… Usually older acts.
As the music industry shifts and overall style preferences change, how do you guys stay true to the Gin Blossoms sound, but still venture outside the box a bit?
It’s interesting because bands generally have a sound they develop and maintain once they reach their full potential. Now, whenever and whatever we play, we still sound like the Gin Blossoms. Even if we try to take a left or right turn, it’s still us. Between the harmonies, the guitars and just the notes we decide to play; the personality really shines through, and it’s a blessing we got to the point. So even if we were to do Gregorian chants as the Gin Blossoms, it would still sound like us. Come to think of it, we should probably do that—we’d look good in those robes (laughs).
Well, if you don’t venture into Gregorian chants, can we expect a new album any time soon?
Well, I don’t know about this year, but I have a handful of songs that I’ve written for the Gin Blossoms already, and we were talking about booking some studio time, maybe in late February or so. Hopefully we’ll have something. Honestly, without the pressure of a record label anymore, I’m just excited to cut something, slap it up on our website for free and see how people respond. The industry has changed so much.
It seems like word of mouth spreads so much faster in this day and age, so that may work to your benefit.
I think you’re right. The old business model used to be you would record the album, pick a song and have it featured in a show, and you’d get some sort of recognition there. Then, maybe get paid. Even that’s changed now, because the money is not what it used to be in that specific world.
It’s really all about playing for your fans and creating music. It’s a lot freer in a lot of ways. You really enjoy writing and playing songs, and releasing them. I like that—I think it’s very invigorating. In the old days, you were only worried about creating a radio single. Now it’s like, “Who cares?” It ultimately comes down to feeling like you’re 15 years old again and being excited for band practice.
Gin Blossoms play The Paramount in Huntington, NY, on Jan. 18, The Stone Pony on Jan. 19, the Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ, on Jan. 30, and B.B. King Blues Club on Jan. 31. For more information, go to ginblossoms.net.