It’s been 30 years since Gin Blossoms released the album that continues to define their place in music history, “New Miserable Experience”.
It gave Robin Wilson 30 years to figure out the truly miserable experience surrounding the creation of the quadruple-platinum Triumph that nearly destroyed them.
Midway through the track in Memphis, the Tempe rockers parted ways with guitarist Doug Hopkins, the founding member who had written the songs that would become the album’s most successful calling cards, “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You”.
His former bandmates were still touring the album in December 1993 when Hopkins killed himself at age 32 shortly after receiving a gold disc for writing their breakthrough hit, “Hey Jealousy.”
“It’s definitely easier to talk about it now,” Wilson said, not really sounding comfortable talking about it.
“There was so much that we kind of kept a secret. We didn’t really want to talk about how it was all (messed up). How screwed up the band was. How precarious our situation was. But Eventually, you kind of confront all of these demons and you get to a place where you can talk candidly about it.”
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“You’re kind of sucked into this world”
Playing the album in its entirety on a recent tour celebrating the 30th anniversary put those memories of how screwed up the band was in the spotlight.
“We’re still doing a lot of songs off that record,” Wilson says.
But playing the album in order?
“It’s a bit more focused on the legacy of the record and the whole experience of having made it, which wasn’t fun. It was very painful. And you kind of get sucked into that world. Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything that happened.”
“We have actually tried and failed many times”
By the time they arrived at Ardent Studios in Memphis to work with producer John Hampton, Gin Blossoms had been a band for five years.
Formed in 1987, they released an independent album, “Dusted”, in December 1989. By then, the lineup featured on “New Miserable Experience” had settled in with Wilson, Hopkins, Jesse Valenzuela on guitar and on vocals, Bill Leen on bass and Phillip Rhodes on drums.
Signed to A&M in 1990, they went to work on their first major label album the same year.
And it didn’t go well.
“We actually tried and failed a few times,” Wilson says.
“We worked with this one producer, a real big wheel in the industry. He was the first producer A&M teamed us up with and we screwed it up. We couldn’t get it to work. We spent about $150 000 dollars and had to throw the whole thing away.”
At one point, the sessions were going so badly that they gave up on making an album altogether and instead released an EP called “Up and Crumbling”.
“A&M has been very patient,” says Wilson.
“They were willing to allow us to fail and try again. They did that with a number of their artists. Sheryl Crow recorded her debut and then they decided to scrap it and start over. So it ended by taking her nearly three years after she was signed before they finally released “Tuesday Night Music Club. And it was the right decision.”
“There was a cloud over us all the time”
In 1992, they decided to fire Hopkins, who had written the album’s two biggest hits, because his drinking had become unmanageable.
“There were times when we followed early on when we played well together,” Wilson said.
“But there was a cloud over us the whole time. Doug mentally imploded. And finally, finally, it got to a point where we just had to send Doug home. Because he wasn’t playing. . He wasn’t directing us. He was just getting in the way.”
One night, Wilson got a call from Valenzuela saying they should meet for a drink to try and figure out a way to salvage the recording.
“Jesse realized it was up to us as songwriters and bandleaders to find a way to keep the band together,” Wilson says.
“We both went out alone and drank beers and kind of made a pact to try to get the band out of that darkness.”
It’s times like that, he says, that often separate bands that are successful from bands that don’t.
“There’s a lot of talent out there and you always wonder ‘Why is this band successful and not this one? “, says Wilson.
“It’s because of times like this, where you face the darkness and decide if you have the will to stay together. We’re one of those rare bands that somehow found the will. another one.”
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Heartbreaker by Doug Hopkins
It wasn’t easy sending Hopkins home.
But as Wilson says, “He was a mess. And we couldn’t rely on him. We needed him to have, like, a leadership role. And he dragged us all down with him. I think that is Paul Stanley who said, ‘If your friend is drowning, you throw him a lifeline. But if he starts pulling you down with him, you have to let go.'”
Still, he says, it was a heartbreaking decision.
“We did everything we could to help Doug and he was training us with him,” Wilson said. “It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. And there was so much pressure on us with this unique opportunity.”
They were the first band from the Tempe scene to land a major label deal.
“And there we were making the record at one of the biggest studios in the country,” Wilson said.
“We had it all worked out for us, every reason to excel and lose such a key member amidst all that was heartbreaking and terrifying. And there was no way of knowing if we were going to pull through or not. .. with a record, with a band, with a record deal, with whatever. We thought it was all over.
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“It’s like a movie I saw once”
Sometimes when he thinks back to those days, “it’s like a movie I saw once,” Wilson says.
“It’s sometimes hard to really understand, ‘Well, that’s what happened to me and Jesse and Bill. We did all that.’ It can be quite intense and emotional.”
Wilson recalls a sense of relief when they finally finished the record to the label’s satisfaction.
“With everything falling apart in the studio with Doug, we had no way of knowing if the band was going to be able to stick together, if we were going to get dumped or if anyone was ever going to hear it,” Wilson says.
“There was a period of several months where we had no idea if the album was going to come out or not. And then there was finally a time when we managed to sort through the skin of our (expletive), keep the band together and save our recording contract.”
He still didn’t know what to make of it all when they got back to Tempe.
“These two months after leaving Memphis were such a dark time,” Wilson says.
“It was tough. But I’m so proud to be able to be here now 30 years later, for this record to be part of the legacy of that time, and for us to still be able to earn a living and put our children to college playing these songs. It’s more than you could really imagine when you’re 23.
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The breakthrough of ‘New Miserable Experience’
Released in August 1992, “New Miserable Experience” was not an overnight success. It took almost a year for the bittersweet jangle-rock crunch of “Hey Jealousy” to break into the Top 40, reaching No. 25 and doing even better on the Mainstream Rock charts.
In the meantime, they toured, with guitarist Scott Johnson replacing Hopkins.
“It’s a daunting task when you’re trying to throw a disc like that,” Wilson says.
“And that went on for us for nine months, 10 months before we finally had a song on the radio that really took off. There were several moments between the release and when we finally got the hit where we thought sort of it was over.”
He remembers the label saying at one point that maybe it was time to drop that record and make another one.
“I remember those times like, ‘We’ve come so close. And now we’re just gonna stop and make another album? Jesus!’ Then all of a sudden they’d come back two weeks later with, ‘Oh no, we found something else for you guys to do.'”
Wilson laughs at the memory. It’s funnier 30 years later.
They spent two years touring on this album, which included more than concerts.
“We were working our (expletives) – doing press, doing radio tours, morning TV, all the kind of marketing and promotion work that the label was willing to put money into,” says -he.
It was a lot of work with a certain amount of what Wilson remembers as “(expletive) kisses” involved.
“Once we showed up at one of the biggest stations in New York, and I thought we were going live on the radio,” Wilson said.
“And it turned out that we were there to play acoustically for the staff during their lunch. I remember freaking out a little bit. Because we were so tired. We were working so hard all the time (expletive). And then to discover you You don’t even go on the radio You’re just there to play for them at lunch?
“We knew when we made it that it was a great record”
By the time a second Hopkins-penned rocker, “Found Out About You,” topped Billboard’s Modern Rock Songs chart, Hopkins was dead.
And they still turned.
A total of four songs from “New Miserable Experience” entered the Top 40 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts (both hits, “Mrs. Rita” and “Allison Road”).
By May 1996, the album had been certified quadruple platinum for US sales of 4 million.
“We knew when we made it that it was a great record, at least compared to what we had done before,” Wilson said.
“We had no sense of perspective, in terms of a national record. Just as we were the band that had been playing those songs for years, we were pretty happy. We knew those were our best songs. But you don’t you have no way of knowing at this point where it’s going to fit into the grand scheme of rock ‘n’ roll history.”
He has a much firmer understanding of his place in the grand scheme of things 30 years later.
“For it to be considered in some way as one of the most memorable records of that period – and it was such an exciting time in rock ‘n’ roll – you know, it’s mind-boggling. is not something that we could have really predicted.”
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