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Melancholy Blossoms take it on the road

By Brian A. Gnatt

The Michigan Daily, March 19, 1996

Nine years and 2.5-million records after they began playing smoky, beer-sloshed clubs in their hometown of Tempe, Ariz., the Gin Blossoms have done what very few bands ever do -- they made it

With their quickly expanding platinum song book including their smash hits "Hey Jealousy," "Found Out About You," "Until I Fall Away," "Allison Road," "Till I Hear It From You," and the latest edition, "Follow You Down," the Gin Blossoms' journey to the top has been nothing short of the wildest roller coaster ride on Earth.

"I don't think it's probably as exciting as it used to be, like the first couple times you see the country. It's a little different," said Gin Blossoms' bassist Bill Leen. "We're veterans at this now."

Veterans of the road and of the recording studio, the Gin Blossoms' second full-length album, "Congratulations I'm Sorry," hit shelves last month. With another potent batch of the Blossoms' lovable pop tunes, the album proved the band is much more than your typical '90s one-hit-wonder.

On the road again, Gin Blossom Leen had a chance to chat last week about the band, the new album and how the tour has been going. "It's different now," he said in a telephone interview. "Now we're popular. There's a certain excitement of being the underdog, the unknown, the opener on a bill when nobody knows whoyou are, and there's the possibility of maybe topping the headliner. I'm probably not as excited about it as I was. I'll tell you it was a great feeling though to get this new record out."

Made up of Leen, Robin Wilson (vocals), Jesse Valenzuela (guitar), Scott Johnson (guitar) and Philip Rhodes (drums), the Gin Blossoms' sweet songs of lost love and other depressing topics make their music and lyrics accessible and nothing short of loved by fans of all ages and musical tastes.

Despite all the sad songs, are the Gin Blossoms really such a sad bunch of people? "I guess," Leen responded. "I guess if you were hanging around us you would probably just break down after a while. As far as subject matter goes for the song lyrics, that's where we find inspiration. I think it would be really hard for me personally to sit down here and try to write something about how everything is so wonderful. Maybe it's because we like to just keep our asses covered; maybe a little superstitious or something."

From the trademarked jangly guitar sound of the Blossoms' new single, "Follow You Down," to "As Long As It Matters" and "Virginia," Leen said "Congratulations I'm Sorry" was difficult to make, but well worth the effort.

"This time it was real open to any sort of suggestions or contributions from everybody in the group, and it was never like that before," he said. "The first one was basically our greatest hits from a few years of being a bar band back home. All these songs were created specifically for a record that was due out on a certain date, so it was a lot different."

Leen said the rather peculiar title of the record has to do with the circumstances that surrounded the band after they hit big with their double-platinum debut, "New Miserable Experience."

The Gin Blossoms' original guitarist, Doug Hopkins, who wrote the group's first two hits, "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You," was fired from the band at the end of recording the first album because of an alcohol addiction. When the record began sweeping the charts in late-1993, the alcoholism and depression overcame Hopkins, and he committed suicide in December of that year.

"Our first record was successful, and a lot of people -- friends, fans of the group -- congratulated us on it. And everything that went down with Doug ...people would come up and say: `Congratulations,' and then right afterwards, almost as a disclaimer, say: `I'm Sorry.' It was literally how people would greet us. I guess now it's back to `Congratulations,' which is nice," Leen said.

"What happened with Doug is much more serious than any sort of success you could have," he continued. "Personally, I took it really hard, and it definitely wasn't a party. He was fired pretty much the last day we were in Memphis, right after we had completed the album. He really just couldn't go on with it. ... It was just a terrible situation. ... We try to just distance ourselves from that. We have a lot to prove. There's a lot of people who seriously doubted we could pull anything off without him.

But the Gin Blossoms proved they could continue without Hopkins when they returned to Memphis in August 1995 to record "Congratulations I'm Sorry" with producer John Hampton, who also produced "New Miserable Experience."