Robin Wilson on 30 years of Gin Blossoms' iconic album: 'So much we kept secret'
Gin Blossoms are still a few days out from the opening night of Barenaked Ladies' Last Summer on Earth Tour when lead singer Robin Wilson checks in from Chicago to discuss the tour that brings the local legends home to Arizona Federal Theatre on Thursday, June 9.
"As long as we all play well and my bandmates are having a good time, it's gonna be awesome," Wilson says.
Having Toad the Wet Sprocket along for the ride makes it all the more special.
The first time those two bands hit the road together was in August 1992.
A&M Records had just released "New Miserable Experience," a major-label debut that would assert itself as the quadruple-platinum breakthrough that defined the Tempe rockers' place in music history.
More Blossoms history: Jesse Valenzuela on the making of 'New Miserable Experience'
Tour with Toad the Wet Sprocket in '92
It hadn't been an easy birth. Midway through tracking in Memphis, they'd fired guitarist Doug Hopkins, the Gin Blossoms founding member who wrote the songs that would become the album's most successful calling cards, "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You."
"There was a period of several months where we had no idea whether the album was even gonna come out," Wilson says.
But that was all behind them. Somehow, they'd managed to finish the album to the label's satisfaction and were starting a tour with a band that had already found a home on MTV.
"I remember that summer, before the album came out, seeing Toad the Wet Sprocket on MTV and being able to tell my roommates, 'Oh, I just heard we're going on tour with these guys,'" Wilson says.
"That's where it kind of all started for us. And at that point, there was just no turning back. We were part of something bigger than we'd ever been part of before."
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An anniversary celebration cut short by a broken arm
Gin Blossoms started 2022 with a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of "New Miserable Experience," playing the album in full every night.
"We were playing great," Wilson says. "Everybody was getting along. We were firing on all cylinders. It's kind of rare in our career that everybody's playing well and having fun and healthy. It takes a lot for all of that to line up."
Then, bassist Bill Leen broke his arm, which forced them to reschedule the remaining tour dates.
Leen had surgery on his arm and was back to work within five weeks.
"It was pretty miraculous and a real relief because we had no idea, when the accident first happened, how long he was gonna be out," Wilson says. "But he came back almost right away."
Wilson credits a number of factors for their current state of firing on all cylinders.
"It's just age and patience," he says.
"And, you know, compromise. You get to a point where every individual in the band is capable of just shutting up and doing their job. And it takes a long time to get to that place. Certainly, we were never there in the '90s."
Previous coverage: Why Gin Blossoms rescheduled New Miserable Experience Tour
The pressure of having to follow 'Hey Jealousy'
After spending two years touring on "New Miserable Experience," Gin Blossoms set out to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump with "Congratulations ... I'm Sorry."
Released in 1996, that album hit the charts at No. 10 on the way to going platinum.
"Having to survive without Doug and live up to his legacy as a songwriter, that's the most pressure we've ever been under," Wilson says.
"You've gotta go write your second record. You've got to do it without your main songwriter. And the label's just waiting around for you to write a hit."
Wilson laughs at the memory of Gin Blossoms thinking the album was done.
"The label came back and said, 'No, you need to go write a hit song.' They were perfectly clear. Nothing less than a hit will do."
So the bandmates went off and wrote "Follow You Down," their only Top 10 entry on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 9 and spent 46 weeks on the chart.
More Blossoms: The making of 'Congratulations... I'm Sorry'
Rebuilding the Gin Blossoms brand
Within a year of the album's release, they'd gone on hiatus. As guitarist Jesse Valenzuela once told the Republic, "We had been landlocked together for a long time."
Reuniting in 2001, they spent a decade rebuilding their brand.
"I don't know how many hundreds of times I'd meet someone and they'd say, 'Gin Blossoms?! Are you guys still together?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, we're playing here tonight.'"
Things really picked up in 2012 when they joined Everclear's '90s-themed Summerland Tour.
In 2017, they launched a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of "New Miserable Experience."
"We always do a lot of songs from that record," Wilson says. "So it's something we've never really put behind us. We've been milking 'New Miserable Experience' for 30 years."
Beyond 'Hey Jealousy': Gin Blossoms' 30 best songs
'It was very painful'
Playing the album in sequence really takes him back to 1992, though.
"It's a little bit more focused on the legacy of the record and the entire experience of having made it, which was not fun," Wilson says.
"It was very painful. And you sort of get sucked back into that world."
It can be "kind of intense and emotional" to think about those days, especially as they pertain to Hopkins having died by suicide in 1993 shortly after receiving a gold record for the writing of "Hey Jealousy."
"But for the most part, we just get up there and rock," Wilson says. "We want to play well. We want to be professional. But we don't overthink things and we don't take ourselves too seriously."
They never fit in on the Phoenix music scene. Now they're opening for Puscifer.
'There was so much of it that we kept secret'
It's gotten easier to talk about the making of "New Miserable Experience" and what happened to Hopkins.
"There was so much of it that we kind of kept secret," Wilson says.
"We didn't really want to talk about just how (messed) up the whole thing was and how precarious our situation was. But eventually, you kind of face down all those demons and get to a place where you can speak about it candidly."
He's proud of what they managed to accomplish in the face of all that darkness.
"I'm so proud to be able to be here now 30 years later, for that record to be a part of the legacy of that era and for us to still be able to make a living and put our kids through college playing these songs," Wilson says.
"It's more than you could really imagine you'd ever be able to accomplish when you're 23."
A lot of bands they toured with in the '90s disappeared without leaving a mark.
"To be the biggest band on Mill Avenue, that's one thing," Wilson says.
"To got a recording contract? That's another step. But to actually come out of that with a hit record people remember? It's one of every thousand bands that sign a record contract that accomplish that."
Remembering Mill Ave in the '90s:A time of hope and harmony
New Gin Blossoms songs in 2023?
As proud as Wilson is of those hit records, he hopes that Gin Blossoms have something new to talk about in 2023 — specifically their first new music since 2018's "Mixed Reality."
"We're not the most prolific band in history," Wilson says.
"But I would like to hope that we would make a record every five years or so. And I've already told my bandmates, by the end of this year, I'd like us to have a record ready to record and to have something hopefully out by summer of 2023."
He's also hoping to record an album with the Smithereens, the childhood heroes he's been singing live with since 2018, following the death of Pat DiNizio.
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The mixed reality of 'Mixed Reality'
Gin Blossoms recorded "Mixed Reality" with producer Don Dixon at Mitch Easter's studio (the team behind R.E.M.'s "Murmur" and "Reckoning").
"I would love to work with Don and Mitch again," Wilson says.
"That was a dream come true. When you start out as a 19-year-old working at Tower Records and you're listening to R.E.M. records, you can't possibly imagine that one day in the future you're gonna make an album with those same people."
Wilson thought that album — which he feels is their best effort since "New Miserable Experience" — had a shot at some small semblance of the commercial success they enjoyed in the '90s. But it sank without a trace.
"We're not a band that sells records anymore," Wilson says.
"It's just not really in the cards. The biggest thing that's happened to us since 'Mixed Reality' was getting mentioned in 'Ted Lasso.' Or that Twitter war with Denver Nuggets fans last summer. But we'll continue to do music for ourselves."
For Wilson, it's enough to feel the satisfaction of a job well done.
"When I walk up to that microphone in the studio, I feel like Tom Brady taking the field at the Super Bowl, you know?," he says. "It's like, 'This is what I do. This is where I really need to shine. And this is where I prove ... you know, my value.'"
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When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 9.
Where: Arizona Federal Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
Admission: $59.50 and up.
Details: 800-745-300, https://www.ticketmaster.com.
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