By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Nobody in Hollywood quite caught on to his high concept of a cartoon band fronting an album's worth of adventurous pop songs. And then the Gorillaz CD came out, buoyed by MTV videos showing . . . well, a cartoon band fronting an album's worth of adventurous pop songs.
"You could say I came up with the idea before them," Wilson shrugs. "I mean, I've been working on this idea since 1995. But it's not like I'm the first guy to come up with the idea of a cartoon rock band," he admits, noting he himself was influenced by every mid-'60s cartoon show from Josie & the Pussycats to the short-lived Osmonds' animated series. The project is still on the back burner, Wilson insists.
"I'll probably still, every once in a while, make a Poppin' Wheelies record," he predicts. "It really is a perfect combination of everything I love: rock 'n' roll, science fiction, comic books, animation -- it's all right there in one package. But nobody at Cartoon Network is giving me a million dollars to make a TV series out of it yet, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
In the meantime, Wilson is proud to be getting back with his former bandmates to reclaim the catalogue of jangly pop gems he now regards with renewed respect. "When we started rehearsing again [initial sessions began over the summer], I realized it was pretty cool," he says. "There's a lot of great material to play. And there's a lot of songs that people know the words to. It's gonna be pretty easy for a lot of people to sing along to the entire set."
Wilson also feels the need, after all these years, to set the record straight on a number of misconceptions that have built up around the Gin Blossoms' mythic story. Chief among these is the notion that once the band fired founder Doug Hopkins -- the mercurial but unquestionably gifted songwriter whose hits like "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You" helped rocket the band's first full-length CD, New Miserable Experience, to double-platinum status -- the Gin Blossoms lost their one true genius and were never able to match the songwriting standards their brooding poet had set. Hopkins committed suicide soon after leaving the band.
"I think a lot of people don't know the whole story now and kind of assume that was the case," Wilson says. "That we fired Doug, discovered we couldn't write songs, and busted up as a result of it. They forget that Congratulations I'm Sorry [the band's follow-up CD, recorded with Hopkins' replacement Scott Johnson] was a platinum record with a Top 10 single and a Grammy nomination."
As to the hopes still held by many early fans that the reunited Blossoms might record some of the many unreleased gems Hopkins apparently left behind, Wilson sounds less than enthusiastic about the idea. "I suppose we could, but we don't have any plans to do that," he says. "I would think, though, that if we had the opportunity to make another record, we would probably want to do it ourselves."
Nearly the only thing Wilson sounds truly certain about is that he'll never move far from the unique little music scene he helped create. "I live in Mesa now, but my studio is in Tempe and I'm a Tempe guy," he insists. "I grew up in Tempe, and I still think it's an exciting place. I'm proud of what's happened to Mill Avenue. I'm not so thrilled about the Gap and Borders Books, or all the squiggly neon. But I still think the street is beautiful, and I know those buildings will be there 100 years from now -- although there probably won't be a Gap occupying one of 'em."
For his part, Wilson is determined to remain a vital part of what keeps Mill Avenue kicking. He continues to perform acoustic happy hour sets every Friday night at Long Wong's, the charmingly divey bar where it all began for the Gin Blossoms -- and indeed, the Tempe music scene -- back in the late '80s. And his recording house, Mayberry Studios, remains an affordable music factory for any aspiring rock star who wanders in off Mill's brick-laden streets.
"I'm really proud of how the whole scene's evolved," he says, "and my studio itself has become a part of the Tempe music scene. Even if I'm not in a band, I've got an opportunity through my studio to still be a part of the scene and record other groups."
Not that Wilson intends to retire from the rock star game just yet. "No, I'm definitely into the idea of succeeding," he says flatly. "And it's my goal to write songs that people hear. That's still all I really want to do."