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Gin Blossoms

Steve Brennan

Where It's Hot, October 08, 1992

Back from Los Angeles with a major label's money and a new EP in their pockets, the Gin Blossoms return to the Tempe club scene with a thirst for bigger and better things...

Don't expect the Gin Blossoms to incite any riots on Mill Avenue by sheer will of their music. They're not going to advocate social change, much less complicated chord changes. They don't wear top hats or psychedelic clothes. You won't have to pull out a thesaurus to look up the word "eclectic" to read their reviews. Even the Blossoms themselves admit they're nothing spectacular; certainly not flashy or exciting to look at. The music is blue jeans, cigarettes and beer stuff; their lyrics only slightly more relevant than the latest aerobics/rock video project. They sound just like they look--T-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes.

"Lyrically, we're not that clever or brilliant," said Gin Blossoms' frontman Robin Wilson. "Or trying to say anything important."

"Our sound is nothing original," he said. "We're not breaking any new ground."

But all style and substance aside, the Gin Blossoms have gone from a pretty good band making noise on weekends at Long Wong's to five sweaty guys on the verge of leaving their day jobs behind forever.

Unlike many other Valley bar bands, the Blossoms managed to sign a record contract with a major label--A&M Records--after only three years of cigarette smoke and beer pitchers on Mill Avenue.

So what makes them so special?

"We just try to write good pop songs," Wilson said.

If that's true, then the Blossoms new five-song EP, Up and Crumbling, released by A&M to the public this week, should be a hit.

"It feels like we're on the brink of something," said Wilson. "We knew instantly we were going to be okay. But our goals were 'Let's be the best of Phoenix and then to quit our day jobs.'"

To follow the release, the Blossoms will play some shows in New York at the end of the month and do some touring for their EP. Wilson said A&M spent nearly $150,000 on the band as part of a 15-month contract and is carefully guiding their success. A video or two may be on the way.

The band recently spent three months performing and jumping through A&M hoops in Los Angeles. While it was good experience, both Wilson and bassist Bill Leen said they are glad to be back in Tempe.

"L.A. really sucks to play," said Leen. "We were mostly playing for record execs and they stand there with their arms crossed. It's like you're auditioning for them. The crowds are so distant," he said.

Since their return from L.A., the band has stepped back into its regular Valley weekend schedule. The Blossoms played Mill Avenue twice during the past two weeks. Leen and Wilson said while playing the same local clubs with a record contract is easier to swallow, it isn't any more exciting.

"It gets more difficult to find a new way to play the same old chords and the same progressions," said Leen, whose name perfectly fits his tall lanky frame. "I really don't like playing in town."

"The only way I keep from getting bored is to concentrate on how much I like the material," Wilson said. "You have to think that thirty percent of the people out there have never heard it before. You are going to have a stinker now and then."

And, Wilson said, "it could be worse."

"It beats anything else I could do," Wilson said. "It feels good to be the only major-label band in Tempe (another major-label band, the Meat Puppets, hail from Phoenix, Wilson says.) Hopefully we're not the last."

Wilson said all five members of the band--himself, Leen, guitarists Douglas Hopkins and Jesse Valenzuela and drummer Phil Rhodes--are in agreement about the EP. "We're all real optimistic about it," Wilson said. "This is the first recording we've collectively enjoyed."

Wilson said he is particularly happy with the way his vocals came out. "We had been in the studio and I tried several attempts at each song and it just wasn't working," Wilson said. "Then one night, I was in a good mood, I don't know, my social life came together or something, and it felt really good.

"Everything on the EP was taken from that one night," he said. "And it sounds good now."

The EP's songs, "Mrs. Rita," "Allison Road," "Angels Tonight," "Just South of Nowhere," and "Keli Richards," reflect the bouncy guitar pop, stuffed-into-bar-with-no-windows sound that has attracted a loyal group of local followers for the past three years. Hopkins' bright guitar melodies move the tunes. The vocals are clear, but not overdone. Lyrics like: "Party girls between the sheets..." from "Angels Tonight" make sure things don't get too serious.

Wilson said the band isn't trying to sound like anyone else or be lumped with any other bands.

"In my mind it's all pop," Wilson says. "We all like that kind of stuff." He says "Allison Road" is probably the most radio-made of the five songs, followed by "Angels Tonight."

Success or not, Wilson and Leen said the band isn't likely to take off in any new directions or do anything different musically. The band is working out some new songs in preparation for a full album recording later on.

"If we keep writing good songs and we don't go bald, we should be fine," said Leen.