Heartache! Compromise! Rock'n'Roll!
Gin Blossoms' Robin Wilson Looks at the Past and Present

By Lee Valentine Smith

It's not unusual for bands to revisit a classic album. Often it's because their current work isn't as popular or well-crafted, so a month or two spent playing a beloved record can be a safe bet for ticket sales.

But in the case of the Gin Blossoms New Miserable Experience Live tour, the band can proudly present their successful sophomore release from late summer of 1992 along with equally strong tracks from Mixed Reality, an incredibly enjoyable collection released last June.

The new collection is a 15-track return to the halcyon days of unapologetically hooky "college rock" jangle, recorded at veteran R.E.M. collaborator Mitch Easter's studio in North Carolina with power-pop master Don Dixon at the board. The Arizona-bred band's new material is every bit as appealing as their classic Commercial Alternative hits from the '90s, including "Hey Jealousy," "Found Out About You," and "'Til I Hear It From You" - but wisely presented with a slightly modern twist.

INsite caught up with vocalist Robin Wilson by phone from a recent tour stop.

How's this leg of the tour going?

Really great, everything's been sold out, the band is playing well, and we have a really solid set. Aside from doing NME in its entirety, we've got a great new record that we enjoy playing. So we have that going and we have a new cover song that's going over well. And we have a whole new line of t-shirts and cozies and crap at the merch booth. People are showing up excited and we're very lucky to have our career on this track right now. Even our manager has this kinda stunned look on his face, like, 'Holy sh*t, you guys are a big deal!' But I'm just glad it's all going so well. People ask me if we have a favorite place to play and I really don't. All I care about is if we sound good and right now we're playing well and sounding good. On top of that, we're selling more tickets than we ever have. It's funny, this is probably the most successful tour of our career. To be able to say that in 2019 is something that none of us would've ever been able to guess.

But it comes down to good songs. You have a bunch of great songs to play.

I've always said that's the key to success, the songs. My advice to young bands is always just to write good songs because that's what it's all about. No other factor is as important. And even for the latest record, I think we turned in some of our best material ever. As a band and business, we are functioning and collaborating and really getting along well with each other. It's gratifying to be in that place at this point in our lives.

Right, because we both know good bands that just can't draw anymore.

For us, the last 15 or 18 years, we've been mostly a soft-ticket band - playing at fairs and auto-dealership parking lots or wherever - where we're not really expected to sell tickets. Doing a hard ticket thing had been something of a challenge for us. So to be on a tour like this that is a smash success is really great. I know that so many of our peers would be jealous. I'm feeling pretty good about things right now. All of us in the band are feeling good about it.

Mixed Reality is a consistently good album.

Well, thanks. I think it's our best work in a long time. It's a rare thing for a band at our stage to tap into the creative resources at this level. Once we had Don Dixon on board at Mitch Easter's studio, it became a really magical thing. We're '80s kids and the records they made are key to our own musical development. Really, nothing in my musical catalog is as important to me as R.E.M. and The Smithereens. So to have made what might be our best ever record - with those two guys - is really amazing. It's a full circle validation of the musical path I've been following all these years as a musician and a songwriter.

How are the new songs holding up in the live set? A lot of people in the audience may not have heard most of it.

I think they hold up to all the other stuff. Right now, we've got them spaced out in a way that fits with the other songs.

Are you doing New Miserable Experience as it's sequenced on the album?

Yeah, our drummer Scott saw U2 do the Joshua Tree tour last year. He said that's how they were handling it, so we were like, why don't we try that, too. It really worked out great. We had already done an anniversary tour for it where we'd start the show with it and then end with seven other songs. I didn't want to exactly replicate that tour this time.

You've done the major-label thing but this time you're self-financed.

Yeah, but that's a whole other bag of worms, right there. Because we don't always agree with each other. It says it right there on the album cover: 'Heartache, Compromise, Hi-Fi Rock and Roll.' And with those words, I'm speaking from my experience of making the record. I had to kinda cajole my bandmates into doing it a certain way. They had their ideas about how we were going to choose the songs and I didn't agree with them. I had to really argue and fight with them to do it the way I wanted to. In the end, I got my way and everybody got what they wanted. It was really tough. It was something I was really losing sleep over. Originally we were going to do twelve songs and everybody got to pick three of their own songs. But I had like eight songs I wanted on the record. Jesse had songs that he'd written, that he wasn't going to choose, that I thought were fantastic. I thought it was really stupid that we weren't doing the best material. It didn't make sense to me. So that's why we have a fifteen-song record now. But that's the compromise. Ultimately we were proud of it and since we all had good songs, it was much easier to compromise.

Anytime you have a group of creative people working together it's like a difficult marriage.

Yeah, that's what it is for us. Most bands have one songwriter and one leader who runs the show. But we are not like that. We are a fucked-up democracy and no one person has any more say than anybody else. As aggravating as that can be at times, ultimately I think that's what sets us apart from other bands.

And in other news, you're also singing for The Smithereens now.

Yeah, I'd met [late lead-singer] Pat DiNizio a few times and then after he passed, I was invited to sing at a tribute last January. I really hit it off with the band and we kicked ass. At the end of the night, I said, 'I'd love to do this again. I'd love to sing with you guys. So if you need somebody, let's stay in touch.' I don't think those guys really knew the Gin Blossoms very well, but I certainly knew the Smithereens' songs well enough to step in and start doing shows. It's awesome. When I was 20 years old, I was listening to them and to R.E.M. - the records that Don Dixon produced. They had a huge impact on not only me, but the music scene in Tempe. So now it's a full-circle validation to be recording our album with Don Dixon and to be singing with The Smithereens. If I went back in time and told my 20-year-old self that I'd be doing either one - or that we'd have a catalog of music that means something to people - I wouldn't have believed it.

And now that all of those things are a reality, how does it feel to have accomplished it all?

It's great. And with the Smithereens, it's just amazing to look at all those great songs. So I just try to do a good job and represent Pat. But also as a songwriter, when you're removed from having written it, or in this case recorded it, you're free of all kinds of emotional baggage that comes with being in your own band. It's so much less stress. As much as I love being in the Gin Blossoms, there's so many moving parts to juggle. With the Smithereens, I feel like I'm finally just a rock singer, you know? It's what I've wanted to do since I was a kid.

Gin Blossoms' "New Miserable Experience - Live" Tour arrives at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 5 at Buckhead Theater. For more information, please visit thebuckheadtheatreatl.com.

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