It was 1992. Grunge was king, having dethroned hair metal as America's favorite type of rock with a new attitude, new look, and new sound. With every band that dared to wear plaid shirts and ripped jeans getting signed, the Seattle invasion seemed unstoppable -- until a little band from Tempe, Arizona, threw a wrench into the system with its hard-to-define sound and crossover appeal.
Founded by guitarist Jesse Valenzuela, singer Robin Wilson, and bassist Bill Leen in 1987, the Gin Blossoms, performing July 14 with Candlebox at the Three Rivers Festival, released an independent album toward the end of the '80s, gaining enough attention regionally to get notice from A&M Records, the same label, ironically, that signed Soundgarden.
The band's first album for A&M, New Miserable Experience, was released in 1992. The rest is history.
The distinct contrast between the country/rock/blues sound of the Gin Blossoms and the down-tuned music that dominated the airwaves at the time was startling and apparently just what the doctor ordered, paving the way for a new sound on the airwaves and an influx of new bands to enjoy. New Miserable Experience featured the hits "Hey Jealousy," "Until I Fall Away," "Found Out About You," and "Allison Road." On the strength of those hits, the album eventually went double platinum. The demand for everything Gin Blossoms was overwhelming and kept the band on the road for the better part of two years, playing more than 300 shows.
The follow-up, 1996's Congratulations, I'm Sorry, spawned the hits "Follow You Down" and "As Long As It Matters." But the attention, touring schedule, and fame took their tolls on the band, resulting in its breakup in early 1997. The breakup was short-lived, however, as it reformed in 2002 and released three albums since, including their newest, Mixed Reality, on June 15.
It'd be easy for a band like the Gin Blossoms to switch on cruise control and ride out the years playing the hits. For much of the past decade, it seemed like Wilson and company were headed in that direction until, Wilson says, he was inspired by his fourteen-year-old son to write again.
"You know, one day my son came to me and asked me how to write a song," Wilson said in a recent phone interview. "That forced me to sit down with him and work through the process you have to go through in order for that to happen and it kind of reignited some things in me and I started to get some ideas together. Pretty quickly, I had some songs. I took them to the other guys, they added what they had and the result is this new album, Mixed Reality."
In talking with Wilson about the new album, it was clear that he was extremely excited me about it.
"Well, first and foremost, we were overdue for a new album," he said. "We were long overdue. But that wasn't the reason we recorded it. If the material wasn't there, we wouldn't have done it. Everybody in the band writes, so we had a lot of songs to choose from in the end. The hard part was getting it down to the ones that made the cut. But I truly believe this is the best album we have ever made. We worked really hard on this album and with the quality of people involved in the project, including Mitch Easter and Don Dixon (the production team behind R.E.M.'s iconic albums Murmur and Reckoning), I think we have created something really good."
With major changes taking place in the music world since the release of their last album, 2010's No Chocolate Cake, Wilson admitted he doesn't know how to define what "success" for Mixed Reality looks like.
"I don't know," he said when asked the question. "Nobody sells millions of records anymore. We're on a new label (Cleopatra) and I'm not sure how much they are going to push it, but it will be interesting to see. Ultimately, you try to put the best product out there that you can and hope people like
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