Gin Blossoms Bloom On A&M
by Melinda Newman

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NEW YORK--Long after the Gin Blossoms wanted to come in from the cold, A&M kept the band out on the road, logging 179 concerts during the past year and visiting every retailer and radio station in sight.

As the Gin Blossoms' guitar/vocalist Jesse Valenzuela puts it, "It's just been a serious year of shaking hands and saying howdy."

 Now, all the quintet's hard work is generating a lot of heat. Its full-length label debut, "New Miserable Experience," spent 22 weeks on Billboard's Heatseekers album chart, including three weeks in the No. 1 slot, before graduating to The Billboard 200 two weeks ago. This week, it jumps to No. 83 with a bullet and has shipped more than 350,000 units.

 Much of the project's success comes from radio's reception to "Hey Jealousy," the first single from the album that A&M began working more than a year ago. The jangly pop tune earns the Airpower award on this week's Album Rock Tracks chart, and bullets to No. 87 in its second week on the Hot 100. On the video front, "Hey Jealousy" enters its third week as an MTV Buzz Bin Clip.

 The story of the Bin Blossoms' burgeoning success is one of progress made in fits and starts with the label changing whatever wasn't working. In this case, it meant creating a new album cover after shipping more than 120,000 copies with the old one and shooting three videos for "Hey Jealousy" before MTV began playing it in regular rotation.

 The Tempe, Ariz.-based Gin Blossoms were signed by A&M's VP of A&R Bryan Huttenhower, who admired the strong songwriting on the band's self-released 1989 project "Dusted." He brought the band to L.A. in an ill-fated attempt to record a new album. "We got home and realized this stuff was terrible," says Valenzuela. "We just knew Bryan was going to drop us." Instead, Huttenhower recommended they cut a self-produced EP: 1991's "Up And Crumbling."

 Then, in a pattern that became habitual over the next two years, the Gin Blossoms hit the road in a van. "We took a very small amount of tour support from A&M and we had some money from our publisher and we did a tour which took us everywhere and we played for no one," says Valenzuela.

 Regardless of how many people the band was drawing, A&M felt the Gin Blossoms were gaining invaluable experience. "We wanted some kind of incubation period, to let the band fumble a little," says A&M senior VP/GM Jim Guerinot. The emphasis was on retail attention and club play, and not radio or video play. "On an economic level, you can't do that when you're releasing a full-length album that you have to seriously promote," he says.

 Following months of touring, the band returned to the studio and began recording "New Miserable Experience," which they co-produced with John Hampton. "Hey Jealousy" went to alternative and album rock July 15, 1992; the album was released Aug. 2. The band hit the road again opening for Toad the Wet Sprocket, then Del Amitri, then the Neville Brothers in early winter.

 Meanwhile, "Hey Jealousy" "died" at radio, says Guerinot. With only a few modern-rock stations adding it, A&M decided to release a second single, and then a third, "Mrs. Rita." A handful of stations keep adding "Hey Jealousy" and then, "We get new stations telling us they're going to play 'Hey Jealousy' instead of 'Mrs. Rita'," Guerinot says. In the meantime, some album-rock stations started adding "Hey Jealousy."

 And the band played on. In February 1993, the Gin Blossoms started its own four-month tour, partially sponsored by Insider Magazine, a general interest publication distributed on college campuses. The band played free noon shows at numerous universities where A&M handed out special four-song samplers, and played nearby club gigs at night. During that tour, the band went back to the same Atlanta venue where it drew eight people in 1991. This time it sold out the 750-seat club.

 Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Los Angeles modern-rock outlet KROQ has been playing "Hey Jealousy" since January, after PD Kevin Weatherly heard it on now-defunct Pirate Radio. "It just became an enormous, huge success for us," says Weatherly. "We couldn't get rid of it. Six months later, it's still in solid rotation." At the record's peak this spring, Weatherly says "Hey Jealousy" was in the top 5 in the station's callout research for 12 weeks and was getting played 45 times a week.

 At the height of the song's popularity at KROQ, Guerinot says as much of 60% of the album's sales were coming from the L.A. area.

 "By this point, we're realizing what's going on," says Guerinot. "We wrap the campaign with 'Mrs. Rita' and say to hell with it and decide to rerelease 'Hey Jealousy' full tilt." The cut was reserviced to album rock in April and the label started working it to top 40 radio for the first time in June.

 Now, the record is picking up steam at top 40. WNVZ, a top 40 station in Norfolk, Va., began playing the song about seven weeks ago, according to PD Wayne Coy. "We paid attention to the whole album because there was a sales story in the market," he says. The station has gone from playing the song two times a day up to seven.

 At Salt Lake City top 40 station KUTZ, "Hey Jealousy: is No. 15 in requests and climbing. "It's getting about 22 plays a week," says PD Gary Waldron. "It's an uptempo record, so it seemed like a normal choice to add--they're hard to find."

 As top 40 airplay climbs, retailers say they're seeing a rise in sales. At 287-unit Super Club Music Corp., "New Miserable Experience: is selling strongly throughout the Southeast, according to Brian Poehner, buyer for the Marietta, Ga.-based chain. "Two weeks ago it was No. 146 on our album chart; this week it's jumped to 104."

 After falling off Wherehouse Entertainment's listing of top 130 releases, the album is picking up again for the 339-store web, says Celia Esguerra, music-buying assistant for the Torrance, Calif.-based chain.

 And once again, the Gin Blossoms are headed for the road, now as the opening act for UB40. "We were supposed to have this whole summer off. A&M and our manager kept saying 'do these two or three radio dates and then we'll leave you alone,' but their promises have never been any good," says Valenzuela, laughing. "So we might as well get back on the road. The truth of the matter is the record is finally doing really well, so we're just going to get back out and support it."

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