A BLOSSOM SPILLS THE BEANSROBIN WILSON ON SUCCESS, SONGWRITING AND PERSONAL WATERCRAFT
No doubt it's a bit late in the game to begin a Gin Blossoms story with the headline "Local Band Makes Good." The saga of the Tempe quintet--from the early days at Mill Avenue beer joints through the tours and Letterman appearances to the suicide of Doug Hopkins last December to the sales of two million copies of the album New Miserable Experience (the band had hoped for 100,000)--is common knowledge. And if it's not, now you know.
Having just come home from four months on the road, the Blossoms are taking a six-month respite to write songs for their next release, a considerable task considering the mammoth success of N.M.E. But vocalist Robin Wilson--a man who lists Kiss, Josie and the Pussycats and the Banana Splits among his main rock influences--seems undaunted. At least he did at lunch last week, rollerblading up to Restaurant Mexico for beans, a taco and an hour of conversation on the Gin Blossoms past, present and future. New Times: So. You guys have made it.
Wilson: Well, it's a lot more like a real job than it's cracked up to be. When you're 19 years old, you think, "Wouldn't it be great to walk into a nightclub and every single person in the place recognizes you?" And when you achieve that, it's kind of a drag.
NT: Why is it a drag?
Wilson: Because it's hard to remember everybody's name; it just sort of makes you feel kind of foolish. Sometimes I walk into Long Wong's [site of many of the band's early shows] and I feel kind of foolish. There're so many people that I've known around here, people that I've had a beer with, or girls that I've made out with once four years ago or whatever. You go away for four months and you can't remember a lot of names. It gets really embarrassing. When I go out in any other town, I don't worry about it, I hardly get recognized. But I'm not here to bitch about being a rock star, I love my job.
NT: Has the band become more of a business?
Wilson: There's a side to what we do that's definitely like a business, sure, but I kind of like being at the head of this little corporation. Not that I, Robin, am the head of the Gin Blossoms corporation, but there's five of us, and all these other people in orbit around us. It's a business that generates millions of dollars--we get very little of that, but it's still like running a business.
I don't feel like I'm in a little local band anymore that needs to make fliers and stuff; I'm fortunate in that I get to help design videos and do album covers and write songs that people get to hear around the country. It's fun for me to storm around my apartment with my fax machine and deal with all these issues; getting the lunchbox done for the fan club, getting photographs approved for some magazine article. Sometimes I begin to stress because there's a lot of it, and there's a lot of things like that that I take on because the rest of the Gin Blossoms don't have any interest in them.
NT: Like doing this?
Wilson: Like interviews, yeah. But it's fun to be a 29-year-old businessman. But at the heart of it all, it's a rock 'n' roll band, and there's nothing cooler than being in a rock 'n' roll band. That will always, I think, be fun. NT: Especially a band that's making money.
Wilson: We're doing fine. I make more money than my dad. I'm not rich--none of us are--but with a little bit of luck, I'll make enough money to open a record store or buy a house. . . . I just bought a personal watercraft.
Wilson: It's a sit-down jet ski. . . . The most extravagant thing I've bought is my lunchbox collection; I've got about $4,000 worth of lunchboxes. I sort of feel guilty. My roommates have trouble paying their rent, and I'm going, "Look at my new lunchbox, I paid $300 for this!" I want to tell you this, we're donating a portion of our pay from the State Fair gig to a kid named Victor Martinez. He's 5 years old, and he was hit by a car. He's paralyzed from the waist down and he's an illegal alien. If anyone wants to donate money, Bank One has an account [No. 46196838] for him.
NT: What's the Letterman experience like?
Wilson: It's weird to say that going on the Letterman show is kind of routine now, but it is. We know most of those people, we've met those guys in the band enough to where we're more than comfortable to say, "Paul, I'd rather you didn't play that." What was weird was when we did Letterman with Kiss, telling Gene Simmons to speed up. Kiss was such a big part of my childhood.
NT: Seems like New Miserable Experience is the album that refuses to die.
Wilson: Well, it's slowly falling asleep. "Allison Road" is doing pretty good, I'm proud of that [Wilson wrote the song], but that's the last single, we don't plan on doing any more TV. I told my manager last week, "I don't want you calling me up saying we're doing the Tonight Show. Let's just stay home. If you can get us Saturday Night Live, then we'll do it, but other than that, I don't want to leave town."
NT: Enough about business. Let's talk about women.
Wilson: I've got a girlfriend, you know? Before that, well, I just have a very hard time saying, "I've got 15 minutes, will you give me a blowjob before the bus leaves?"
NT: Fifteen minutes? So what's up with the next record? Miserable Experience is going to be a tough act to follow.
Wilson: We're actually thinking about calling it Sophomore Jinx. We've got six months off to write songs, and we're going into the studio in June. But there're so many rumors going around. I heard one where we've already recorded our record, it sucked and they didn't want to press it.
There's rumors going around that we're going to do all these songs of Doug's [Hopkins], and we're not going to do another record unless we do his songs.
That's not true, we don't want to do any Doug songs. I wouldn't mind doing 'em, but the general attitude in the band is, "Let's do it without him, for crying out loud." We're looking forward to the challenge of doing it ourselves.
NT: So all the songs will be generated from within the band?
Wilson: We're going to write with some other people, just for the fun of it, but we don't want to clutter up our record with a bunch of co-written songs. We don't want the perception that we can't do it without other people. I mean, we're going to work with the people we want to, and if the songs end up on the record, then, fine.
NT: I've heard more than a few people say, "What're these guys going to do now that their main songwriter's dead?"
Wilson: Yeah, people have a lot of misconceptions about Doug and our feelings about Doug. That we can't write a record without him is probably the biggest one. But we're not afraid to write a record now any more than if Doug were still in the group. In fact, if he were still in the group, we'd be like, "Jesus, we got to get him out of detox, we gotta make a record!" But I'll say this, man, Doug was a better songwriter than I'll ever be. I don't expect to eclipse his songwriting talent; all I can do is become a better songwriter myself.
NT: Do you still find that there're a lot of people who think the band somehow fucked him over?
Wilson: Oh, yeah, oh, sure. There's a lot of people that blame us for that, but there's only five people in the world that know what happened, and I'm secure with all of that. I do have regrets, but . . . I don't know. It's a painful thing. I've actually tried to figure out how much time every day I spend thinking about Doug, and it must be about five or ten minutes every day. Usually, it's about something that he said or did that makes me laugh. I do miss him.
NT: Is it odd playing in your hometown?
Wilson: Yeah, it's strange. We play much better in another town. There's a lot of family members and friends and people you hardly know calling--"Can you get me backstage?"--and it becomes a real cluster fuck.
NT: What do you think about the local music scene, or do you know anymore?
Wilson: I really don't. It's sad to say, 'cause it was so important to me to establish a music scene and be part of that. I used to think, "I wanna be one of the best little singers in Tempe." The world has gotten bigger for me, or a lot smaller, I guess. I used to save ads for us and Dead Hot Workshop, now Toad the Wet Sprocket and us are on the same Kiss record next to each other. It gives me the exact same sort of pride.
There's nobody in this town that wants to see Tempe flourish more than me. Sometimes you hear other bands say negative things about the Gin Blossoms or the Swaffords [Wilson's part-time cover band], and I think, "Wait a minute. I was hosting Sun Club acoustic night when these people were in high school!"
NT: Are you surprised that more local bands haven't been signed in the wake of the Blossoms?
Wilson: No, I don't think there are that many bands worth getting signed around here. I've heard there are about five or six groups outside of Dead Hot that are ready for a contract, but I haven't actually seen them. I have very little interest these days in going out; maybe that's because I do it for a living. I did it so much. Five years ago, every night of the week, it was Sun Club and Hollywood Alley with Brian Griffith and Doug Hopkins and crystal meth 'til 4 in the morning. I'm just not into that anymore, but I'd love to see the scene flourish.
NT: Do you think some people simply begrudge the band success?
Wilson: I hope that people realize that we weren't just born on MTV one day. No one in this town has worked harder than we worked--maybe Dead Hot. Christmas will be our seventh anniversary; that's longer than any job I've ever had, deeper and more painful than any relationship I've ever been involved in. . . . I accepted the fact years ago that I was going to make $250 a week for the rest of my life, and being in a rock band was worth that. That was our salary when we started touring, and it remained the same salary until a few months ago. Now we get paid so much, we can give ourselves any salary we want.
But it's strange how much of my life is the Gin Blossoms, it's strange because every once in a while, you have to stop and realize, "That's right, we're famous. Gee, we did sell two million records." It's not just something that's happening to me and my friends, it's something that millions of people are involved in. It's weird to make money all of a sudden. I don't have any more fun or work any harder than when we were a local band, but now it's like, "We can make money off this!"
NT: How would you sum up the state of the band today?
Wilson: A new twist to the Gin Blossoms--and it's an exciting thing--is when we get off the plane after a tour, there's all these kids waiting for a couple of the guys, because they have wives and families now. To see [bassist] Bill Leen get off the plane and have his wife and daughter waiting there is really touching. And the Gin Blossoms were never really touching in the past. Now there's this whole other element; it's not just a great rock band, it's a business and a family. And everybody feels pretty good about that.
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