Interview by Danny Coleman
“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,” says 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; usually the result of long term heavy drinking.
The 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 on June 7 in Montclair, NJ at the Wellmont Theater as they continue to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of their watershed release, “New Miserable Experience.”
A little more than 30 years ago the Gin Blossoms 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 the Gin Blossoms were different with a new fresh sound. Perhaps their most notable hit was spawned, albeit with some difficulty from, “New Miserable Experience” but Johnson says that performing, “Hey Jealousy” today and that all things in the band realm really aren’t much different from their past.
“Not a whole lot of things are different for me personally but the world has changed. Music is still music and life is still life but what has changed is the internet has taken over the world and we didn’t have that back in 1992 and I’m a lot older with a lot more grey,” he said with a hearty laugh. “Our label thought, “Hey Jealousy” was going to be the hit and in their mind it was going to be 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; isn’t that interesting? They called it a reoccurring 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 number one 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.”
Along what are perhaps now blurred lines in the music industry, Johnson jokingly also wonders aloud if the old proven methods of making music are going by the wayside. “Yeah, that leads me to bands, 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), we’re doing it the old way. 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); it’s just that different. Every generation is gonna rock the way they’re gonna rock and lean the way they’re gonna lean; you remember boy bands? They were talented but there were so many of them, they were all over the radio and in every bar and every restaurant, kids are going to do their own thing.”
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 roughly the slang or something like that. I didn’t come up with that,” he said once again with a laugh. “I was told that this was going to be the name of the record and I was like; well what does that mean? I was told it means digital and analog together and we’re combining the two worlds, so I was like, ah OK (laughs).”
“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. Its been a while, I think its 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?”
So with the death of their long time friend and producer, the man who essentially helped shape their sound; how did the band replace such a critical cog? “A lot of our sound was due to John Hampton, 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 and over all it was a really good experience.”
When asked as to whether or not, “Mixed Reality” has another, “Hey Jealousy” buried in its midst, Johnson laughs and is very non-committal. “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 so we’re actually trying to figure that out right now.”
With the advent of the internet, supporting new releases seems to be easier. Digital downloads and videos as well as streaming sights make getting finished product to the masses much easier than putting together lengthy tours. Some bands prefer the new age methods, others like the Gin Blossoms utilize today’s technology but like to stay in touch with their still thriving 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.”
VIP and various ticket packages are available and if you miss them in Montclair, they’ll be back in the Garden State on July 21 at the Hard Rock Hotel Casino in Atlantic City. 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.”
To discover more about the Gin Blossoms, please visit www.ginblossoms.net
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)