Interview: The Gin Blossoms

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The Gin Blossoms were a constant on pop, alternative and modern rock radio in the 1990s. With a string of four super-melodic and undeniably unforgettable hits — “Found Out About You,” “Hey Jealousy,” “‘Til I Hear It From you,” and “Follow You Down” — the Tempe, Ariz., band were forever woven into the musical tapestry that is known as “mid-90s rock.”

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Nowadays, while the group might not be scoring chart-topping singles, they are still ever-present. The Blossoms have become the ultimate touring band — ferociously performing throughout the country, rocking everything from festivals to throwback tours (like last year’s Summerland Tour with Everclear, Lit and Sugar Ray) to red-hot rock ‘n’ roll clubs (we saw them back in 2007 at the old Green Room in Seaside Park, N.J. — a venue that guitarists Jesse Valenzuela fondly recalls being a “beautiful venue” and was disheartened to hear they were one of the last big rock bands to perform there).

This weekend, the band will visit the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J., as a part of the famed music city’s annual Light Of Day festival, a series of shows benefiting Parkinson’s disease research. Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Valenzuela, one of the band’s founding members, about the oddest place he’s ever heard one of the bands songs, new music on the horizon and the current state of the music industry.

Credit: Angela O'Neil
Photo: Angela O’Neil

Pop-Break: It seemed like everyone in the 1990s owned a copy of New Miserable Experience. Do you personally have one in your collection? And it is sometimes hard to listen to your own work? I know people — non-artists I should say — get very self-conscious when they hear themselves or see themselves in home movies or hear themselves on a voicemail.

Jesse Valenzuela: Definitely. I have those records in various states — tapes, hard drives. I made those records. But listening to them [again] is not something I find joy in. A lot of musicians are acutely self-aware. If you’re going to do this your whole life, it’s good listen back to it because you want to improve and get better. But there’s a certain cringe factor. That record was made so long ago; I play a lot different then than I do now.

Jesse Valenzuela
Jesse Valenzuela

PB: Where was the last place you heard your music played? Supermarket? Dentists’ office? Your car radio? And does that same cringe factor apply to when you hear your music in public?

JV: It’s a good thing to hear them when you’re out. The last place I heard my music was at Home Depot. I was buying a lamp for my son. It was being played around Christmas I wrote a number of Christmas songs that have been recorded, so I hear my songs a lot during that time of year. I always get texts from people that they heard one of my songs being played while they were out shopping.

PB: You had four major Top 10 singles. But which song of yours were you surprised was not a hit?

JV: There’s a lot of songs that were that way. They percolate around No. 40, No. 30, No. 20. Not every song is a hit, and that’s all part of the game. I can’t figure out the alchemy [of making a hit], and that’s the mystery of writing hit songs. Nowadays, writing hits doesn’t matter. It mattered more in the midst of when you were doing it.

Nothing compares to the old days when we sold records and were hot. Now in the current scene, no sells records. We released Major Lodge Victory [in 2006]. It’s a beautiful record and it sold well considering the state of the music business, but nothing compared to the old days. We were reaching our core audience well and they responded well to it, but people don’t buy records like they once did. It’s a great record though. [Listen to the track “Long Time Gone”]

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PB: The band is performing tomorrow night at The Stone Pony as a part of The Light of Day Organization’s yearly benefit concerts, which helps raise money for Parkinson’s disease. When playing a benefit show like this, do you play with more passion and energy because you know its for a good cause? [To purchase tickets to the concert, please click this link].

JV: The older we get, we feel anyway we can help out is terrific. These are important issues, and as you grow older, you live through some real ups and downs. Any avenue we can help out, we are glad to do it. The guys in the Gin Blossoms are very generous. My son goes to this great school, and we play a benefit for them every year. It helps keep things going there.

PB: Do you wish there were more melodic guitar bands today? Is that something you think is lacking from today’s scene? Why?

JV: Lacking? No, it’s different. There’s still stuff out there that’s melodic and beautiful. I think the drama, however, is more on the pop side of thing.

I’m more enthralled by folk-minded music than pop. I’m getting my [new] music through movies, through well-informed people. But I’m more into that early rock ‘n’ roll sound than today’s music.

I have no problem with today’s music — it’s just not my time of life. I have no problem with pop music belonging to the younger generation.

PB: What is your favorite memory of the last 20 years?

JV: I’ve tried to collect them. People told me to really look around and cherish these moments, but life changes quickly and you move on. Now, it’s moments like the birth of my son, how he’s grown up. Music is my life, my love, and I respect it. But the biggest moments in my life have been family moments. But when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that a small band from a college town in Arizona made it.

PB: You guys have a ferocious touring schedule and have been touring for more 20 years. Does being in a band ever feel like a job more than something you have passion for?

JV: It’s not a job — it’s a career. We were just talking about this the other day — “Who’s retiring and to what?” This winter tour, one of our first winter tours in a while, we’re knocking it out and really digging it. Paul McCartney once said, “If I can have an apartment, a car and keeping playing music, then I’m good.”

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PB: And finally, what’s on tap for The Gin Blossoms in the future? Any new music?

JV: I think we’re going to cut some songs next month. We’re learning new songs, trying them out during soundcheck. I hoping to record some songs [for the band] and mix in it in L.A. Then, maybe we put it online for people to download. Being that records don’t sell, we gotta think about how to treat this as a loss leader. Maybe give it a way for free, or charge a token fee. We’ll make the record and let the management figure it out.

Pop-Break managing editor Brent Johnson contributed additional reporting and questions for this interview.

The Gin Blossoms’ Northeast Winter Tour

SAT 01/19/13 ASBURY PARK NJ THE STONE PONY
SUN 01/20/13 FAIRFIELD CT STAGE ONE – “ACOUSTIC SHOW”
WED 01/23/13 PLYMOUTH NH FLYING MONKEY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
THU 01/24/13 SARATOGA NY SARATOGA GAMING AND RACEWAY – VAPOR NIGHTCLUB
FRI 01/25/13 SALISBURY MA BLUE OCEAN MUSIC HALL
SAT 01/26/13 PORTLAND ME ASLYLUM
TUE 01/29/13 BOSTON MA ROYALE NIGHTCLUB
WED 01/30/13 MILLVILLE NJ LEVOY THEATRE
THU 01/31/13 NEW YORK NY BB KINGS
FRI 02/01/13 UNCASVILLE CT MOHEGAN SUN
SAT 02/02/13 STROUDSBURG PA THE SHERMAN THEATRE

Tickets to any of these shows can be purchased at the band’s official website

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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