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Ex-Guitarist Doug Hopkins Reflects on Experience
Doug Hopkins' song is all over the radio and he's pissed about it.
"When it comes on the radio, I turn it off, because I don't really want to hear that," the writer of "Hey Jealousy" said. "It doesn't make me feel good or anything.
"I mean it makes me feel like I accomplished something, but it didn't turn out the way I intended. Well, nothing ever does."
In April, Hopkins was fired as guitarist for Gin Blossoms, the band he formed with bassist Bill Leen.
"Now's getting to be the time when, in a way it would be a lot of fun, because they're on the radio all the time," he said.
"It's my song but I don't enjoy it. I can't listen to it because it just pisses me off. "I started the band five years ago. I spent five years of my life on this, to get it to where it is now, and now it got yanked out from under me, so I'm a little on the disenfranchised side," he said during a recent interview.
His former bandmates, singer Robin Wilson, Leen, drummer Phillip Rhodes, guitarist Jesse Valenzuela and the group's newest member Scott Johnson on lead guitar, are out on their second national tour, the first without Hopkins, supporting Toad the Wet Sprocket before joining Del Amitri on their tour.
"Hey Jealousy" was not even the song the band wanted as their first single, Hopkins said, adding that "Hold Me Down" was the preferred choice of himself and Wilson.
"One night we were sitting in the studio listening to it at Ardent," Hopkins said, referring to the Memphis studio where the album was recorded, "and, OK, it's like three in the morning and I was drunk and it sounded great blasting through those speakers and I turned to Robin and said, 'OK, I'll give you half credit on this song if you promise to vote with me on having this as our first single and video,' because we thought A&M (the band's label) was going to let us pick the first single and video. That's how naive we were."
Wilson did contribute some lyrics in the middle of the song, which tells of the Tempe party scene, where "at the tail end of the evening / Dr. Feelgood comes around / When half the party moves into the bathroom / hold me down."
Hopkins said he had high hopes for that song being chosen as a single because of the great video possibilities. The song is most likely the next single off the album, "and of course I'll have nothing to say about it, so my song will have this stupid video to go with it," Hopkins said.
Meanwhile, Hopkins is still writing.
"I'm writing Wilson-Phillips-type songs for Warner/Chappell Publishing," he said, adding, "You can actually make a lot of money that way--more than you can as a Blossom, and I always secretly liked that kind of music in a way.
"I used to have to write for Robin (Wilson)'s voice and he has some pretty profound limitations," Hopkins said referring to the Gin Blossoms' lead singer. "This way I can write for a real voice like Anita Baker, and that's very liberating."
Hopkins' new style of writing breaks one of his pledges to himself.
"I swore I would never whore myself out like that, but I figure I've spent like the last 10 or 12 years learning how to write songs and I sure as hell don't want to bag groceries, so this is really all I know how to do."
Speaking of money, Hopkins doesn't feel that he has as much as he should after writing five of the twelve songs on the Gin Blossoms album, New Miserable Experience, and two of the five songs on the EP, Up and Crumbling.
"When I was in the band, we wanted to split it up a little more equitably, even though I was entitled to most of it. So I did that, and for being a nice guy you can see where it got me," he said, angrily snuffing out his cigarette.
The rumors started surfacing around the Blossoms camp when they returned from recording the album in Memphis.
Reports came that Hopkins' drinking was making him moody, homesick and unproductive during the final half of the five-week sessions, a charge he emphatically denies.
Hopkins said he only came back home once during the sessions, while the band was on a break because producer John Hampton needed some time off.
"Hampton's wife had a baby during the sessions so he had to be home for about five days. So I figured, rather than sit on my ass here for five days, I'd rather go home, so I did."
Hopkins said he did the majority of the work in the first weeks of the sessions.
"I kept a lot of my basic tracks because they were spontaneous. It's best to keep as much of the original lead track as possible. The more shit you started layering on, the phonier it gets."
Hopkins is pleased with some of his playing on the album, but some details were changed from the rough mix of the record that he heard originally.
" 'Pieces of the Night' had a totally different ending, a piano ending, that was my idea. The other instruments faded out and the piano just continued. It's a trick I stole from Springsteen," he said, referring to the fadeout on "Incident on 57th Street" which goes into "Rosalita."
"Of course, after they kicked me out of the band, they didn't care that it was my song and my ending got junked."
Besides songwriting, Hopkins said he contributed a lot to the sounds of the songs for which he wasn't credited.
"Scott plays all my parts when you see them live. Those are all parts I invented.
"Like on 'Hands Are Tied,' the beginning guitar part and the solo at the end, that's something I just made up," he said, adding "the intro of '29'. I wrote that.
"And I never tried to claim credit on any of that, songwriting credit, I would just help them arrange these things."
Hopkins realizes that he has a big disadvantage if he tries to start another band in the Valley.
"I sent them into battle armed with a bunch of great songs, and then they canned me. So it's like I stacked the deck against myself, because if I get a band together it'll take me at least two or three months to do it, and then I'll have them to compete with."
Any band Hopkins starts "might just play all those songs. I mean, I wrote them, I can play them. Nobody can tell me I can't and it seems to me those guys would feel like idiots playing a bunch of shit they didn't write."
The decision to fire Hopkins was made in Memphis, while he was in Phoenix.
Hopkins was told he got the ax by Laura Liewen, the Blossoms' former manager. "Laura told me, even though she wasn't managing us any more, because they were all too chicken shit to even do that."
As for the reason the Gin Blossoms would fire their chief songwriter and founding member, Hopkins only cited his aversion to touring.
But Rich Hopkins, Doug's brother, called the firing Doug's own fault. "It's a drag that Doug did it, but Doug did it to himself. Doug's got to take responsibility for his own drinking problem, and it's sad."
Doug Hopkins said his drinking never affected his performance and that drinking didn't stop him from recording every guitar part on the album.
"I went out with Bill the other night," Doug Hopkins said, "and we were just joking around about something, because me and Bill have been together so long that something like that, I don't know, it blows over eventually, and somehow it came up and I said, "Man, you better watch it, because one of these days they're gonna can your ass too.' "
Rich Hopkins said, "Doug in my opinion, was the most sincere person in that group. That group basically was centered around his songwriting.
"He cut his own throat, but my opinion was he was still the most talented person in the group. Without his songs, what would they have, half of a record?"
"(Gin Blossoms) are missing a great guitar player," Rich Hopkins said, adding "I heard that the other guy's good. But Doug, he had great stage presence and can write songs, and it remains to be seen whether these guys will be able to go out and do it again, you know, write a brand new record."
Doug Hopkins said being a Blossom was great from their inception at a New Year's Eve party, to the days of the Del Monte shows at Long Wong's and up through the release of Up and Crumbling.
But it stopped being fun, he said, after Liewen was fired as manager in December. "That was the beginning of the end, really."
"We were like a family. There were six of us and Laura was one. It was just a bunch of people who slept together and ate together and shared everything. We had to.
"That's when the whole atmosphere went from being the most fantastic job in the world to being a grind, you know, like real depressing. That was the saddest day, the night we fired her.
"Goddammit, I would be perfectly happy if I were never involved in any way with a major label again. That's what destroyed the band, was signing with a major label.
"We should have signed with some independent."
Hopkins said the next Gin Blossoms album will be a major departure since he won't be around and the major songwriting chores will fall on Wilson and Valenzuela.
"Jesse's style of guitar is geared more toward pop or country. That's not an insult, it's just the way he plays, the stuff he likes. My kind of playing is more the 'Hold Me Down'-type stuff.
Johnson is a little bit more "reserved," Hopkins said, adding that to play effectively, "you have to get pissed off."
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