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For more than two decades, Gin Blossoms have defined the sound of jangle pop. From their late 80s start as Arizona’s top indie rock outfit, the Tempe-based combo has drawn critical applause and massive popular success for their trademark brand of chiming guitars, introspective lyricism, and irresistible melodies. Gin Blossoms soon unfurled a chain of crossover favorites spanning five different formats, from “Hey Jealousy” and “Until I Fall Away” to “Follow You Down” and the GRAMMY®-nominated “As Long As It Matters,” earning the band sales in excess of 10 million in the US alone.
“It’s a really rare thing,” singer/guitarist Robin Wilson says of Gin Blossoms’ continuing saga. “So many chapters in this long story.”
Wilson, guitarist Jesse Valenzuela, and bassist Bill Leen co-founded Gin Blossoms in 1987 and quickly became the toast of the Grand Canyon State’s local scene. Blending an array of influences – from The Beatles and The Byrds to The Band and The Buckaroos – with pure pop songwriting and their own post-adolescent energy, the band hit upon a truly thrilling sonic approach that instantly set them at the forefront of the always-adventurous American underground.
“A lot of it was really folk based,” Valenzuela says. “Some of it English, some American. Then we’d just play it too fast and too loud.”
“We were on a course,” Wilson says, “inspired by our influences. The bands that unified us were our forefathers like Cheap Trick and R.E.M, The Replacements and The Plimsouls. Those were bands that all of us as Gin Blossoms had in common. When people ask me, what kinda band are you in, I say, ‘We’re a classic rock band.’”
Having taken the local scene by storm with their magnetic live show, Gin Blossoms made their recorded debut in 1989 with Dusted. The album – released on the influential Arizona indie label, San Jacinto Records – highlighted Valenzuela and Wilson’s nascent knack for preternaturally catchy hooks and vigorous musicianship. It wasn’t long before the majors came a-callin’, with A&M Records ultimately the lucky label to get Gin Blossoms’ signature on a contract.
“They really believed in us,” Valenzuela says. “They showed the support that made us a better band.”
Gin Blossoms immediately released 1991’s self-recorded Up and Crumbling EP and got right to work on their major label debut proper. The band hit Memphis’ legendary Ardent Studio to record with equally famed producer/engineer John Hampton (The Replacements, Alex Chilton, The Cramps), armed with such now-classic tunes as “Until I Fall Away,” “Allison Road” “Hey Jealousy,” and “Found Out About You,” the latter two penned by founding member Doug Hopkins. Sadly, Hopkins was asked to leave the band before the album’s completion and later took his own life. Lead guitar duties were then taken up by Scott “Scotty” Johnson who promptly put his own indelible six-string imprint on the band’s guitar-driven sound.
Justly regarded as one of the era’s milestone works, New Miserable Experience earned critical acclaim upon its 1992 arrival before exploding into the popular consciousness. “Hey Jealousy” was one of 1993’s essential singles, ruling the top 5 at Mainstream Rock radio before ascending to the top 25 on Billboard’s “Hot 100.” The following year saw “Found Out About You” reach equivalent height on the “Hot 100,” while also eclipsing its predecessor by reaching the #1 spot on Billboard’s “Modern Rock Tracks” tally.
Gin Blossoms toured hard as they wrote their next album, scoring still another smash in the meantime with “Til I Hear It From You,” the first single from A&M’s Empire Records: The Soundtrack. The unforgettable track – written by Valenzuela, Wilson, and the great singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw – was hailed by Billboard as “the closest thing to a perfect pop song to hit radio in recent memory,” and as such, duly rose all the way to the top 10 on Billboard’s “Hot 100.”
“I liken it to a chair,” Wilson says. “A big gothic throne or a mid-century antique is different from what you can get for $15 from Target, even though they work exactly the same way. It’s the same with songs – every song has the same parts, a chorus, solo, all of that, but there’s something that separates something of quality from something that’s not. In our case, I’d say we’ve got a full set of pretty decent chairs.”
“Til I Hear It From You” confirmed Gin Blossoms as surefire soundtrack favorites and their songs were soon featured on the RIAA gold and/or platinum certified companion albums to such blockbusters as Speed, Wayne’s World 2, and several others. The band were also inescapable presences on TV, dominating MTV and performing on such prestigious shows as Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Saturday Night Live.
Congratulations I’m Sorry arrived at last in 1996 and immediately ascended to the top 10 on the Billboard 200, fueled in part by the top 5 single, “Follow You Down.” Moreover, the album’s next single, “As Long As It Matters,” earned Gin Blossoms a prestigious GRAMMY® nomination for “Best Performance by a Duo or Group.” Alas, the band was denied the prize as an up-and-coming young Liverpudlian combo took home the trophy in their stead.