The Gin Blossoms rose to prominence with their second album “New Miserable Experience” which was released in 1992. This album went 4 X platinum being helped by their singles such as “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” to name two. Although the band found major success, there was also a tragedy as former member Doug Hopkins committed suicide after their record label at the time forced him to leave the band due to his bad drinking habits and depression. Hopkins has credits for contributing a lot to the songs on “New Miserable Experience” including their breakout single “Hey Jealousy.” Scott Johnson ended pop becoming Hopkins replacement who is still with the band today. The success of the album got them performance spots on Jay Leno & David Letterman’s tonight show, as well as Saturday Night Live. One of those performances on Letterman, was a performance with the band Kiss playing the song “Christine Sixteen.” The success of this album also got the band to perform during the movie “Waynes World” at their fictional concert called “Waynestock” performing the song “Idiot Summer.”
Some people weren’t sure if the band could still produce big hits like the ones on “New Miserable Experience” with Doug Hopkins no longer in the band, but the band proved that they could. After releasing a song on the soundtrack to the movie “Empire Records” called “Till I Hear It From Your” which became a hit, they then released their next full album called “Congratulations I’m Sorry” in 1996. One big hit on this album was “Follow You Down” which is the song the band closes a lot of their shows with these days.
The band was on a hiatus that started in 1997 where band members pursued other projects. However, lead singer Robin Wilson said though, “We always said our breakup wasn’t forever” in 2001 when the band started to get together again. The band then released their next studio album “Major Lodge Victory” in 2006 spawning the first single “Learning The Hard Way.” During their tour of that album, the band released a live album in 2009 called “Live In Concert” featuring their hit singles, songs from the “Major Lodge Victory,” and even a cover of Elton John song “Rocket Man.” Shortly after that, the band released another album in 2010 called “No Chocolate Cake.” Since around the time “No Chocolate Cake” was being promoted, they went on various tours with bands such as Tonic, Soul Asylum, as well as being part of the Everclear’s Summerland tour where Sugar Ray, Lit, and Marcy Playground were also on the bill.
Shortly after going on a 25th Anniversary tour of “New Miserable Experience” this fall/winter, the band just released their first album in 8 years last month called “Mixed Reality.” Lead singer Robin Wilson said in one of interview that he thinks this is the band’s best work in a really long time. Although guitarist Jesse Valenzuela in our interview with him below, says it was a very similar experience, there was one change on the production side. Their longtime producer John Hampton passed away a few years back and the band worked on this album with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. It is definitely an interesting album where they kind of explore new territory while not abandoning the sound the band is known for. Lead single “Break” is one of my favorites which has a positive message where lead singer Robin Wilson said he was singing about being a single parents and thinking about the hype he did with the Love Hope Strength Foundation. While listening to it, I thought the album seemed like more of a rock album and perhaps a little darker than their other recent albums. Jesse talks about this saying the new producers might have had something to do with that. He talks about that and a lot more about the album in the interview. To promote the album, the band recently launched a tour with Tonic and Vertical Horizon.
This is a very cool tour for fans of 90s rock. One really cool thing is how Matt from Vertical Horizon and Emerson from Tonic come out in the encore of the Gin Blossoms set to play a cover together.
Interview with Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela
AR: Congratulations on releasing the new album “Mixed Reality.” It is your first album in almost 8 years. I know there were some changes on the production side with how Don Dixon and Mitch Easter produced the album. What did these producers bring to the table and how was it different from recording with John Hampton?
JESSE: You know it was very similar. It’s not that different. I mean, they are very like minded individuals you know. John was a brilliant guy and I really miss him. He passed few years back. But all three Don, Mitch, and John were all southerners, so there’s a certain_______ quality and quick _______ about them I really enjoyed.
AR: Being that it has been a long time since the last album released, were there any other significant changes in the band or the way the music was recorded/written that impacted how the music came out?
JESSE: No, it kind of was the same. It was nice to go in a studio. To go into Mitch’s beautiful studio in the Carolinas was a real pleasure.
AR: The new album is called “Mixed Reality” which is a cool name. What is the meaning behind “Mixed Reality?”
JESSE: I don’t know. I don’t know. Our _______ (maybe singer) came up with it and he was never able to name a record before. He talks about it at the shows and all his suggestions for record titles through the years never panned out for him. This record we let him and that was his choice. I’m not sure what it means.
AR: “No Chocolate Cake” was a good album, but this new one seems to be more of a rock album. I feel like you can hear the guitars more and it seems more raw. Do you think that is true and if so, what do you think influenced the album to be like this?
JESSE: Oh I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it in that context. Maybe you’re right. I was trying to play a little less jangly. I was trying to play _______ rock more.
AR: Another thing I noticed that I thought made this album different from your last two albums is that it seems darker. They still seem to have positive messages, the songs. I think there is still like drama if you would say in the lyrics of those past albums, but it feels like the music on this album adds to the drama more than those past albums. Can you talk a little bit about if that is true and if so, what made it like that?
JESSE: Well, Don really kind of colored it the way the band played. I think that’s really his choices. And I think he was trying to capture what we do live. That’s what I think. Him and Mitch are a formidable duo. They really have big ears. Both of them and they hear everything, as soon as you play it. And smart guys, they really know how to ________it down quickly. And get to what they really want to hear.
AR: I think I remember reading that in some of the past albums you guys wrote separately and then brought it together as a band after? How did the songs come to be on “Mixed Reality?” Was there a lot of collaboration in the writing or did you guys mostly write on your own?
JESSE: There’s fractions that the guys will write and this record was different because we didn’t have an A&R staff picking the songs. It was very different in the approach. Everybody presented their four songs and we just went to make the record with those. There wasn’t a knockdown session where we said “we’re going to use this song or that song.” Everybody put songs on they loved that they written and we recorded them. So it was very freeing in that aspect. We don’t have a label. We just did it ourselves. When you sign to a label, you submit songs, and the A&R staff of a very good company will decide whether to use the 10 or 12 songs on the record and this one since we were paying for it ourselves, we __________. Yeah it was terrific.
AR: I read in an interview with Robin that he said “Break” was somewhat influenced by Tom Petty. Were there any other specific albums you or any of the other band members were listening to while recording the new album that had an impact on the new music?
JESSE: It really varies, the music the guys listen to. Scotty is kind of a jazz guy so I think that “Girl On The Side” is much different from anything we ever played before. And I think that really speaks to his taste and how he really likes to listen to music. I thought it was terrific.
AR: Yeah, an interesting song. The band recently launched a summer tour with Tonic and Vertical Horizon which is a cool lineup. How did that come about? Did you want to tour with bands that came from the same era of music that you guys came from?
JESSE: Both Tonic and Vertical Horizon are longtime contemporaries of ours. For years and years, so and we haven’t played shows together in an interesting amount of time. I think it was as simple as reaching out to our agents, reaching out to the other bands, seeing if they had the summer available and if they want to climb on board and we’ll go out and play music for everybody? And its kind of as simple as that. I’m thankful. I love playing with those guys and I like to hear them play every night. It’s a real enjoyable time having dinner & lunch with the guys and listening got their music.
AR: I saw the show at The Paramount and I thought the encore was really cool with how you played “Wild Horses” with Emerson of Tonic and Matt of Vertical Horizon. How did this on stage collaboration come into place and with this song in particular too?
JESSE: You know what, every time you do a tour like this, it is nice to have some sort of rocket show at the end. And it seemed like an inspired choice. And it’s a classic song that everybody loves. And Emerson and Matt were really game to sing. It has kind of become the highlight of the show.
AR: Yeah it definitely seems cool having guys from all three bands out on stage
JESSE: Yeah you have this whole group of musicians. It is nice to give the paying audience something extra. You know, a little insider and it is just a bunch of guys getting together and saying “Oh I love that song from when I was a kid.” And Matt and Emerson sang the hell out of it. It is fun to watch every night.
AR: I noticed you guys played a lot of new songs. I think around 5-6 new songs when the album wasn’t even out yet. I always think its cool when bands play songs that aren’t released yet at the live shows, but I think some people kind of just want to hear the hits or songs they have been familiar with for a while. How has the reaction been to the new songs at these shows and do you think they liked hearing a lot of new songs?
JESSE: I mean I’m glad you feel that way. Honestly I do think that sometimes it may go a little long between hits in our set, but people seem to be engaged and responding well. I just want to make sure they had a good time and they get all the songs that they came for. I just want to be respectful to the audience. We would never go without playing the songs they expect us to and what they want to hear.
AR: Last question. Can we expect anything else from the band in the near future? More touring? Out of the states perhaps?
JESSE: Well, we’re touring through 2018 and I’m home for a little break now and then I’m back on the bus a week from today. And I think we will tour until October and then a few shows here and there. But it is a big tour cycle. We love shows. We played a lot of places. Sometimes I worry we go back to a city once too often, but I’m thankful that people keep showing up and as long as people show up, we will do the best show we got.
AR: Okay well, that’s it. Thanks so much for doing the interview and thank you for your time.
JESSE: Sure, I appreciate it, thanks for the call.
AR: No problem
JESSE: Alright brother, thank you again.
AR: Yeah, have a good one
JESSE: Okay, bye bye.
And check out the band on the tour with some of these dates being with Tonic an Vertical Horizon:
Gin Blossoms/Jesse Valenzuela on social media and more:
Also, I got the chance to attend the Gin Blossoms/Tonic/Vertical Horizon show in Long Island, NY at the Paramount. You can check out our exclusive review of the show HERE.