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Q&A: Gin Blossoms' Robin Wilson on Riding the Nineties Nostalgia Wave

Andy Greene

Rolling Stone, May 07, 2012

Nineties music nostalgia has been a profitable business for quite some time, but this summer it's reaching new levels. Stone Temple Pilots will perform their debut LP Core straight through in celebration of the disc's 20th anniversary, and the Barenaked Ladies will tour with Blues Traveler and Cracker. The most retro-tastic experience of all, however, is the Summerland tour, which features Sugar Ray, Everclear, Gin Blossoms, Lit and Marcy Playground. "The whole point of the thing is to create nostalgia," says Gin Blossoms frontman Robin Wilson. "That pretty much happens at all of our shows, but this will be a very concentrated dose of it."

Rolling Stone spoke with Wilson about the origins of the Summerland tour, life on the oldies circuit and the legacy of Doug Hopkins, the late Gin Blossoms guitarist who wrote some of their biggest hits before being fired from the band due to his alcoholism, then committed suicide in 1993.

Where are you calling from?
I'm on Long Island. I live here now.

I don't know about that. It's what I imagine suburban Moscow must be like. But this is where my kid is gonna be living, so I guess I'm kind of gonna be around for him.

You're going on tour soon, right?
Yeah. Well, we do a lot of shows throughout the year. We usually play about 80 shows a year, most of them in the summertime. The Summerland tour doesn't kick off until nearly the end of June, but I do have shows off and most most weekends between now and then.

Tell me how the Summerland tour came together.
Well, I guess it's been a long time coming. A lot of people had this idea, but Art Alexakis [of Everclear] started making phone calls to put it together. He called a bunch of bands he'd seen as very likely suspects and found enough of us that were willing to do it and were viable. Then the bean counters got involved, and the next thing you know, I got 35 shows with these guys this summer.

What criteria was Alexakis looking for in a band?
I think first and foremost, he was looking for bands that had their songs on the radio in the 1990s. He's looking for bands he likes, I suppose, and of course he's looking for bands within a certain price range, I would imagine.

Were you initially excited about the tour when he approached you?
Sure. I think this is the best kind of touring that I get to do – on a bus, doing shows in real theaters. It's the best of what's available to me in my career, so I love doing this kind of stuff. Any time we can hook up with any sort of organized routing, that's a plus, too. More often than not, I'm flying from Maine to California for the weekend just because that's where the gigs are. Being part of something that's organized makes sense, and all these bands together is gonna be a lot of fun and it's gonna be very nostalgic and it's gonna draw people.

Are you guys gonna headline? What's the order of the show?
I think the order will be Marcy Playground, Lit, Gin Blossoms, Everclear, and Sugar Ray. That's been worked out and negotiated and all that. It's fun for us, because we're right in the middle of the set. It's gonna be sweet.

Do you think there will be any collaborations between the groups?
I think they'll be hard to avoid. At some point something is bound to happen. We'll just have to see how it works. Some bands are more prone to that than others. But it's 35 shows, so something like that is bound to happen.

This is the first 1990s package tour of this sort that I've ever seen.
Yeah. This is no doubt the first of many. We were playing at Epcot Center last year, and I was talking to the booker and he was saying how all of the bands from the 1960s are pretty much retired now, so there's kind of this void in the touring world that's developing. I would think this sort of thing is going to start happening more and more. I can already think of what I want to be doing next summer.

Do you mind being labeled as a Nineties band?
I'm just glad to be in a band. I'm lucky anybody is talking about us at all and that there's good work waiting for me, and I love my job and just surviving – just keeping the band together is such a victory. Just to be here and be in a position to do this kind of work is a great opportunity.

The Gin Blossoms broke up in 1997, just one year after scoring a huge hit with "Follow You Down. In hindsight, do you think the group broke up too early?
Absolutely. We could've used some counseling. We probably could've worked it out. But that said, you do things for a reason. I went off and started another band. I signed two deals with that band and by the time the Blossoms got back together, I had a lot more to offer them. So it's hard to regret everything. Certainly if we had kept going, we could probably be in a different place as far as our career. But like I said before, we're still lucky that we're together at all and that we're in the fight somewhere.

Do you ever get frustrated that a certain segment of your fanbase is resistant to new material and they just want to hear the hits?
We get hired for the hits. I'm happy to do it. But we don't really have a problem getting new material in there. We play about 18 songs in any given show and most of those are the hits, but there's probably 6 songs we've released over the course of the past decade and we don't really have a problem squeezing them in there. This summer it's gonna be a 40-minute show, and it's gonna be packed with hits. We don't want bore anybody.

I'm sure it's still fun playing those songs.
It's great. I love it. I love my job. Especially now. Now I'm a single dad, and most of the time I make sandwiches and we're doing homework and that goes on for weeks and weeks. And all of a sudden I have a show and it's like, "Thank god this is what I do for a living!" I'm up on stage and I'm performing, and it's a blast.

Do you think about your late bandmate Doug Hopkins as you play his songs?
Oh, all the time. Yes. While I'm performing many things are going on in my head, but Doug is always in my thoughts, certainly when I'm singing his music. I think about him all the time. Mostly I'm pissed at him – "You fucking should be here, dumbass."

He's been dead for nearly 20 years now. Are you sick of being asked about it?
No. After all this time, we've pretty much faced down all the demons associated with his death and all the misinformation that was out here. We've gotten through all that, and I don't really mind talking about it at all. He certainly deserves to be talked about. He's a major part of all of our success, and he's our friend and he should be here.

What's the biggest misconception about his departure from the band?
That we were ripping him off. He was running around telling people that we were ripping him off. There was so much bad information that got out there. That we were releasing songs without his permission and shit. I mean, he and I were in cahoots about which singles to release. Nobody knows what the fuck happened. There were only six of us in the studio when it all fell apart and we only got together only a handful of times after that, and I know what the hell we talked about. It wasn't what most people thought.

I've heard rumors that they're making a movie about him.
There's some sort of a dramatization of the whole scene that's being done. I don't know too much about it. Some of my close friends have turned their back on the project. I wouldn't want to support it at this point. I don't know what they're gonna do.

The problem with those movies is that they tend to add drama to make things more interesting.
They've got to do that. I used to work at a record store, and then I saw this movie Empire Records and it had our song in it. It was like a dramatization of what was happening. It's a movie, it's not a documentary. It's not a piece of information. It's entertainment that's loosely based on some of this stuff. It's a small production, so this may be the last time I ever have to talk about it.

I just think about The Social Network and how it'll forever shape how people view the founding of Facebook, regardless of how many liberties they took with the truth.
Well, thank God this production is way below the scale of that. It certainly is an interesting story, and everything that did happen would make a pretty good Behind the Music. But there's a lot of misinformation in all of that. Again, the biggest one is that we ripped him off.

The fans are always wondering if there's an old Doug demo laying around that'll be released some day.
I know I got some, but you can pretty much find that stuff on YouTube. There's demos that Doug and I made on our little 4-track, and somehow someone has them and they put them up on YouTube with still photos of Doug, so these recordings are kind of already out there. I've got boxes of stuff and I'm sure at some point we'll go through them, but it's not like there's a huge demand.

Might you take those demos and record them with the full band?
Actually, there was one we hadn't done since Doug was in the band called "Dream With You." It was one of our signature songs in our heyday and we haven't played it in all those years, so I think we're gonna learn it for the summer.

I bet he'd be psyched that 20 years later, people really care about his work.
Of course. That was his whole point. That was exactly he was doing. He was very calculated and he definitely had a sense of all of this. He knew exactly that one day, I would have to have this conversation with someone. No doubt.