When grunge ruled the musical world, Gin Blossoms played brisk and tuneful rock songs that harkened back to a time when AM radio pop was king.
At a time when grunge ruled the musical world, Gin Blossoms played brisk and tuneful rock songs that harkened back to a time when AM radio pop was king. The Arizona band has its reward for going against the grain of trends: they are still touring today and drawing crowds with those hits.
For longtime guitarist Jesse Valenzuela, the fact that his band is playing solely songs from their past isn’t an issue at all.
“I really enjoyed my 18 to 26 months as a pop star,” Valenzuela said from a tour stop in Las Vegas. “I’ve had a great career playing music for a living, and it was really my first joy. So, I’m blessed with what I’ve had. Here I am at my age, and we’re still playing, and that’s all I really wanted.”
Gin Blossoms will perform Oct. 17 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. The group’s itinerary this year is that same as it has been when they tour: casino shows and festival dates dominate their schedule. Valenzuela has fond memories of past shows in Reno-Tahoe.
“All those casinos we’ve played at in Reno have always been fun,” he said. “And in Tahoe, the hotels are really beautiful. It’s just great to be in Tahoe, especially in the winter.”
Breaking the rules
Although it will be fall when the band’s back in this area, Gin Blossoms likely will be playing those same hits that are still all over rock radio, such as “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You” and “Follow You Down.” Valenzuela is joined in the current lineup by founding singer Robin Wilson, founding bassist Bill Leen, guitarist Scott Johnson and drummer Scott Hessel.
“We certainly do all of the hits and then work around it from there,” Valenzuela said about the band’s choice of material when it plays live. “We just play whatever we feel like. It just depends on how everybody is feeling. There are no rules.”
Rule-breaking has always been Gin Blossoms’ M.O. The band started in 1987 and self-released its debut, “Dusted,” in 1989. The group started gaining national attention soon afterward, including an honor from music magazine College Music Journal as the best unsigned band in America.
This led to the band’s debut on A&M Records, “New Miserable Experience,” in 1992. The album ended up selling four million copies and had four hit singles, “Hey Jealousy, “Found Out About You,” “Until I Fall Away” and “Allison Road.”
A follow-up album, “Congratulations, I’m Sorry,” was released in 1996 and sold a million copies. It featured the hit, “Follow You Down,” and the band’s contribution to the “Empire Records” soundtrack, “Till I Hear It From You,” also did well at radio.
Valenzuela cautioned at first against explaining on why the band’s music has endured past the ’90s – “whenever I pontification about it, it makes me sound like an ass,” he said. His answer was accordingly simple and to-the-point: “I’m just thankful that it resonates with folks and still does great business. People just really like the songs.”
That success wasn’t enough to keep Gin Blossoms going in its heyday, though. The band split in 1997, just a year after “Congratulations” was released. The band did reconvene in 2002 and subsequently released three more albums: “Major Lodge Victory” in 2006, “Live in Concert” in 2008 and “No Chocolate Cake” in 2010.
A good run
Valenzuela said the band is aware that it had a good, long run with its music, but that its time of chart relevance and radio airplay with new material is finite.
“Even the biggest bands don’t last forever,” he said. “The Rolling Stones don’t have new music on the radio, Tom Petty doesn’t, U2 couldn’t get arrested now. But they all sell out live shows.”
“Kids want their own heroes, and if you are 18 or 20 years old, you want a band that you can relate to. It only seems fair. No one in this band really wants to be the piggy at the trough demanding attention all the time (laughs).”
To that end, Valenzuela said the band isn’t planning on releasing a new album anytime soon. “We don’t really think about making records anymore. We are going to get together soon to record and see what happens, but we don’t have a label anymore.”
Valenzuela said that recording project at his studio in Los Angeles will actually feature re-recordings of the band’s hits. It’s become a common practice for former major-label bands who want to control the rights to their best-known material.
“It’s more to give the songs to film and TV for us,” Valenzuela said. “We’re probably the last band in America to get this done. But, I think it’s smart to do, a good thing to get done.”