So you want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star

Robin Wilson thought the Gas Giants would be a great new beginning. He had no idea what he was getting into.

Despite the turmoil of the past year, Wilson realizes how fortunate he and the band are. "We just got lucky in that we got spat out by this $12 billion machine into this new era."

It's late September and the usually unrelenting summer heat has broken enough that the door to the Gas Giants' Mayberry studios has been left open.

The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.
The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.
The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.
The late Doug Hopkins (left) and Wilson during happier days.

Robin Wilson is sitting on a couch in the studio's control room looking over artwork for the band's new album. Though the disc's packaging is ornate and futuristic, the music contained inside is anything but. Most of it is pleasant, if unremarkable, '70s and '80s power pop -- offering flashes of Cheap Trick and Dwight Twilley. While Rhodes' drumming is solid and Henzerling offers some choice musical and lyrical ideas, it's Wilson's voice, an unmistakable, radio-ready croon, that will ultimately push the product off the shelves.

Wilson sits and watches as house engineer Chris Widmer and longtime Blossoms' producer John Hampton tinker with drum mixes. Hampton has flown in from Memphis to put the finishing touches on a new album the group has completed called The Poppin' Wheelies. The project is a soundtrack of sorts for a proposed animated cartoon series Wilson is developing about a rock 'n' roll band in outer space.

The process is tedious, and Hampton breaks the monotony with stories of the rock 'n' roll legends he's worked with. A gentlemanly Southern raconteur, he speaks in a languid drawl. In between puffs from a cigarillo, he ruminates on the commercial potential for the Gas Giants record.

"The rock market is wide open right now," says Hampton. "Even though you've got your harder-sounding bands -- Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, all that stuff -- out there, there's still room for melodic pop rock. It's no more unlikely for [the Gas Giants] record to become a hit than it was for the Blossoms in the middle of the whole grunge thing."

A lifelong music veteran, Hampton knows that it takes a well-developed sense of irony to survive in the business. Wilson has had to learn that lesson, too.

Last week, when the Gas Giants' From Beyond the Backburner finally came out, 18 months after its original release date, promotional copies of the record were sent out by MCA, the company that distributes Atomic Pop -- a company owned by Universal, the label that had dropped the Gas Giants.

The Gas Giants record was sent as part of a package that included Outside Looking In: The Best of the Gin Blossoms, the same disc that a powerless Wilson had lobbied against coming out. In a way, it's fitting as Wilson and the Blossoms will always be inextricably linked.

Tensions between Wilson's old Gin Blossoms bandmates have also eased. This New Year's Eve, the group will reunite to perform at Phoenix's millennial celebration, three years to the day after their last time onstage together. The Gas Giants will open the show.

Wilson's career, and especially the experiences of the last year, has made him a realist. He doesn't consider himself a great talent or even a consummate artist. He acknowledges that music has evolved into a profession for him rather than a passion, that designing tee shirts and album covers brings him as much satisfaction as writing the songs. And he's not embarrassed by the fact that he still wants to be a rock star.

"I don't think it's shallow of me -- maybe some people might think it is -- but I don't think I would want to do this if we couldn't be really successful."

"I've been at it long enough that I've had the whole spectrum of experiences that you can have while being in a rock 'n' roll band," he says.

"I love what I do, and I'm motivated to write good songs and to be a good rock 'n' roller. But in the end, I wouldn't want to do this if we didn't have a shot at the big time."

Contact Bob Mehr at his online address:

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