Interview: with frontman, Robin Wilson. Talking — all the dimensions of the band’s new record
The reality for Gin Blossoms is that 2018 marks over thirty years since the band first formed in their hometown of Tempe, AZ. Recently, they had some time to reflect and celebrate their huge breakthrough with 25th anniversary tour of 1992’s New Miserable Experience. The record that contained ever-present classics, “Hey Jealousy”, “Found About You”, and “Allison Road”. But 2018 brought in the opportunity to shift gears and ride that momentum into a brand-new chapter.
The band’s sixth studio album, “Mixed Reality” was officially released on June 15. It’s a record full of options and a mixed box of emotions. 15 songs and 54 minutes to be exact.
Here again… we find Gin Blossoms subscribing to the opening line of Mixed Reality, “You can always hope that somehow you can rise above.” And that’s exactly what has happened.
I had the chance to catch up with frontman, Robin Wilson, prior to the band’s show with Tonic and Vertical Horizon at the South Shore Music Circus. It’s a venue that contains one of the countries last remaining circular stages — planted right in the middle of the tent. Though the angles change with a slowly rotating stage, the foundation underneath certainly did not alter for Gin Blossoms. Pure passion was conveyed, and pure passion was returned…
“We don’t always want what’s easy, never is enough
Not what I set out to be but more than what I was
And I won’t break.”
You’re in the midst of an extensive tour and your new record Mixed Reality is now out. How are you feeling?
I am very satisfied. I’ve been wanting us to get back to this point of our career for a while now. We’ve had to work hard to rebuild. We are kind of there. We have a great new record; the band is performing well, and our partnership is really solid.
It certainly seems like Gin Blossoms are firing on all cylinders. What was it like for you going from a transition of honoring 25 years of New Miserable Experience to focusing on new music and rebuilding?
We had the new album in the can over a year ago. We were already anxious to release the new record when the anniversary tour fired up. To do the anniversary tour, we had to relearn all the songs on New Miserable Experience. There are several of those that we have always continued to perform, but there was also a bunch of it that we hadn’t touched in 20 years. It was a very nostalgic time. I hadn’t listened to that album from beginning to end in a long time. I relived everything blow-for-blow. It was very intense. I came away feeling very proud and grateful that we have this legacy.
When it came to the new record we were so eager to start. We were about to release it and then our manager quit. So, we had to delay the release again and find new management. I have been submersed in this Mixed Reality record for a few years now. It was a couple months of writing songs, then and rehearsals leading up to the recording sessions. I really threw myself into it. I was there for all of the mixing. I couldn’t let go. I had to see the whole thing through and then I did the album cover. When it was time to launch three months ago, I started working on the merchandise. It’s great when you have something that you are that proud of and you know it’s good. Even right down to the cover itself to the backstage passes. It was a product I could really stand behind. Then we get to tour with a real lineup and I agree as you say, the band is firing on all cylinders.
It’s great to see such a passion behind it.
I always get the most worked up about it. This was also the first record I was allowed to name. In the past, I would always get voted down when it came to album titles. We’ve released records where I really didn’t like the title. This time my bandmates decided to let me name it. When it came to the cover, I remember Bill (Leen) saying, “It’s your record, Robin. Go.” They let me loose.
The album cover was actually the first thing that caught my attention even prior to hearing the record in full. I was drawn to artwork. How did you come up with that design?
I conceived of it. I had built a prototype of the box that’s on the cover. I had it all worked out in my head what I wanted to do. I went home and folded a box out of paper. I knew what all the text was. I called the artist, Mitch O’Connell, who drew the girl. Her name is Eddie, as in Iron Maiden’s mascot. Mitch and I had worked together before. He’s a renowned artist who has designed a few of our T-shirts and one of my tattoos. I knew I needed a graphic artist. I wasn’t even thinking about Mitch. I had called him for a recommendation for a graphic artist. As I was telling him about the concept — it’s a box and we don’t know what’s inside the box. Is it cereal? Is it a science experiment kit? By the end of the conversation I thought there might be a place for Mitch in this. I suggested he come up with a character — something like the Trix rabbit or a winking 50’s mom or an outer space girl. I’ll be damned if he didn’t jam that together. Mitch then hooked me up with the graphic artist, Joseph Allen Black. Mitch drew the character in black and white and then Joe. did the bulk of the heavy lifting. I worked very closely with Joe for months. I had him research 50’s and 60’s package design. I still have the PDF that he put together. I sent him samples of these types of boxes and he started working on logos and colors. We landed on one that made the most sense. When you are working with artist of that level, you have to give them a certain amount of leeway. I didn’t want to micromanage. I pointed in the direction and let Joe go from there. When you do that, you get great art. I asked Joe to save every element separately so when it came time to make shirts and backstage passes, I already had a file of Eddie ready to go. It was such a rewarding process to work with people that talented.
It adds a whole new dimension. How much do you think of the songs and what you’ve written about lyrically when it comes to creating the album art?
I wasn’t at all concerned with matching the album art to the songs. I wanted the artwork to be a separate entity. The title, Mixed Reality, speaks to my experience making the album. If you look at the words on the front — heartache, compromise, that’s about being in a band. I knew the package was going to speak to my emotional involvement in the recording of the album, but didn’t think it needed to look like it.
You open the record with “Break”. It’s a very diverse collection of songs, but “Break” was very intriguing to me because it contains a very positive message. It’s not necessarily what you would think when you hear a song is entitled “Break”. Why did that song kick off the record?
I wanted Don Dixon to sequence the record, but my only suggestion was that I thought “Break” should open the record, and “Mega Pawn King” should be the last song. That felt right. Don then sequenced the rest. I’m very proud of “Break”. I knew it was universal and anyone could apply it to themselves. Specifically, I am singing about being a single dad. It’s my mission statement as a father. I’m thinking about what I would say to my kid in terms of my role in his world. I knew it could apply to a lot of things. I wanted to write something positive and yet at the same time it happened very organically. I knew within a few moments what it was.
You mentioned “Mega Pawn King”. I am always very intrigued by how an artist opens a record and how they end it. I love the line, “Your declining neighborhood looks beautiful the way it should.” It reminds me of going home. I don’t live where I grew up any more and I don’t get there that often, but I think about it a lot. This song brings me to that space.
That’s great. Bill wrote that one. It’s a fantastic song. It reminds of R.E.M. and the Rolling Stones smashed together. Bill played so well on this record and he wrote such great songs. When we were arranging the song, I took a stab at writing a melody. Bill took a look at and said, “No, I will come up with something.” He then completed all the lyrics down and in North Carolina, and he completed all the lyrics to the outro. He hand-wrote them. In the packaging you can see some handwritten lyrics and that’s “Mega Pawn King” that Bill wrote. It was such a strong moment for the record. It was Bill at his finest, and us pushing each other to make it better. It said so much about the strength of the band. I knew I wanted that sheet of handwritten lyrics in the album interior. I’m extremely proud of that song and what Bill did. We end most of our shows with “Mega Pawn King”.
I have to also say Bill was the MVP on this record. He played some of the best bass ever recorded on a pop-rock record. Don Dixon is a bass player himself, so Bill went in knowing he would get to spend a lot of time with Don putting the bass together. They would spend the first two hours of the day together. The rest of us would show up around noon and Bill and Don were already there recording bass.
When you are performing a hit song that is timeless like, “Hey Jealously” or “Follow You Down” now all these years later, do you ever have moments within yourself on stage where you are thinking about Doug Hopkins?
All the time. I am always thinking about Doug. My brain is always all over the place when I am performing, but I do think about Doug and I remember shit that happened in the van. There’s always a lot going on.
Coming full circle, what does this Mixed Reality record and this moment for Gin Blossoms mean to you?
It means a great deal. Several years ago, I was complaining to my bandmates that we weren’t playing at a high enough level in terms of the gigs we were doing. We weren’t performing as a band at a level that we should be. I thought we should be and play like a world class operation. It’s important to make a living and it kept us going, but I feel like we came out the other side and we’re back where we were almost 20 years ago. A good example is — the tour was on for awhile and then we took a three-week break. We started back up again in Milwaukee at Summerfest. We hadn’t played for three weeks and then all of sudden we are playing this huge show. I got on the bus and Bill asked, “How are you doing Robin?” I said, “I’m OK, just getting ready to do this thing.” And Bill says, “This thing? What are you talking about this is what you wanted after all these years.” He was right. I was a bit anxious, but this is what I had been hoping for us to be able to do. I am thrilled with where the band is at. The rest of our third act is going to be operating at this level.
*All photos by: Philmonjaro
Catch Gin Blossoms On Tour now!
- You will often find information booths and items such as signed skateboards available at Gin Blossoms shows benefiting Love Hope Strength Foundation. Info on how you can participate can be found at LoveHopeStrength.org
Check out the new video for “Break”: