A Blossom Spills the Beans: Robin Wilson on Success, Songwriting and Personal Water Craft
by Peter Gilstrap

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No doubt, it's a bit late in the game to begin a Gin Blossoms story with the headline "Local band makes good." The saga of the Tempe quintet--from the early days at Mill Avenue beer joints through the tours and Letterman appearances, to the suicide of Doug Hopkins last December to the sales of two million copies of the album New Miserable Experience (the band hoped for 100,000) is common knowledge. And if it's not, now you know.

Having just come home from 4 months on the road the Blossoms are taking a 6 month respite to write songs for their next relesase, a considerable task considering the mammoth success of NME. But vocalist Robin Wilson-- a man who lists Kiss, Josie and the Pussycats and the Banana Splits among his main rock influences--seems undaunted. At least, he did at lunch last week, roller blading up to the Restaurant Mexico, for beans, a taco, and an hour of conversation on the Gin Blossoms past, present and future.

NT: So you guys made it?

RW: Well, it's a lot more like a real job than its cracked up to be. When you're 19 years old and you think "Wouldn't it be great to walk into a nightclub and ever single person in the place recognizes you," and when you achieve that, it's kind of a drag.

NT: Why is it a drag?

RW: Because it's hard to remember everyone's name. It just sort of makes you feel kind of foolish. Sometimes I walk into Long Wong's (site of many of the band's early shows) and I feel foolish. There's so many people that I've known around here, people I've had beer with, or girls that I've made out with once four years ago or whatever. You go away for four months and you can't remember a lot of names. It gets really embarrassing. When I go out in any other town, I don't worry about it. I hardly get recognized. But I'm not here to bitch about being a rock star. I love my job.

NT: Has the band become more of a business?

RW: There's a side to what we do that's definitely a business, sure, but I kind of like being at the head of this little corporation. Not that I, Robin, am the head of the Gin Blossoms corporation, but there's five of us and all these other people orbit around us. It's a business that generates millions of dollars--we get very little of that. But it's still like running a business. I don't feel like I'm in a little local band anymore that needs to make flyers and stuff. I'm fortunate in that I get to help design videos and do album covers and write songs that people get to hear around the country. It's fun for me to storm around my apartment with my fax machine and deal with all these issues: getting the lunch box done for the fan club, getting photographs approved for some magazine article.Sometimes I begin to stress because there's a lot of it. And then there's a lot of things like that that I take on because the rest of the Gin Blossoms don't have any interst in them.

NT: Like doing this?

RW: Like interviews, yeah, but it's fun to be a 29-year-old businessman. But at the heart of it all, it's a rock-n-roll band and there's nothing cooler than being in a rock-n-roll band. That will always I think be fun.

NT: Especially a band that's making money.

RW: We're doing fine. I make more money than my dad. I'm not rich--none of us are.But with a little luck, I'll make enough money to open a record store or buy a house...I just bought a personal watercraft.

NT: Huh?

RW: It's a sit down jet ski...the most extravagant thing I've bought is my lunch box collection.I've got almost $4000 worth of lunch boxes. I sort of feel guilty, my roommates have trouble paying their rent and I'm going "Look at my new lunchbox, I paid $300 for this." I want to tell you this, we're donating a portion of our pay from the state fair gig to a kid named Victor Martinez. He's 5 years old and he was hit by a car. He's paralyzed from the waist down. He's an illegal alien. If anyone wants to donate money, Bank One has an account for him.

NT: What was the Letterman experience like?

RW: It's weird to say that going on the Letterman show is kind of routine now, but it is. We know most of those people. We've met those guys in the band enough to where we'd be more than comfortable to say "Paul, I'd rather you not play that". What was weird was when we did Letteman with Kiss, telling Gene Simmons to speed up. Kiss was such a big part of my childhood.

NT: Seems like NME is the album that refuses to die.

RW: Well,it's slowly falling asleep. "Allison Road" is doing pretty well. I'm proud of that (Wilson wrote the song) but it's the last single. We don't plan on doing any more TV. I told my manager last week, I don't want you calling me up saying we're doing the Tonight Show. Let's just stay home. If you can get us on Saturday Night live then we'll do it, but other than that I don't want to leave town.

NT: Enough about business. Let's talk about women.

RW: I have a girlfriend, you know? Before that, well I just have a very hard time saying "I've got 15 minutes. Will you give me a blow job before the bus leaves?"

NT: 15 minutes? So what's up with the new record? NME is going to be a tough act to follow.

RW: We're actually thinking about calling it Sophomore Jinx. We've got 6 months off to write songs and we're going into the studio in June. But there are so many rumors going around. I heard one where we've already recorded our record, it sucked and they didn't press it. There's rumors going around that we;re going to do all these songs of Doug's and we're not going to do another record unless we do his songs. That's not true. We don't want to do any Doug songs. I wouldn't mind doing them, but the general attitude in the band is "Let's do it without him, for crying out loud." We're looking forward to the challenge of doing it ourselves.

NT: So all the songs will be generated from within the band?

RW: We're going to write with some other people just for the fun of it, but we don't want to clutter up our record with a bunch of co-written songs. We don't want the perception that we can't do it without other people. I mean, we're going to work with the people we want to and if the songs end up on the record then fine.

NT: I've heard more than a few people say, what are these guys going to do now that the songwriter is dead.

RW: Yeah, people have a lot of misconceptions about Doug and our feelings about Doug. That we can't write a record without him is probably the biggest one. But we're not afraid to write a record now any more than if Doug were still in the group. In fact if he were still in the group we'd be like "Jesus, we've got to get him out of detox, we have a record to make." But I'll say this, man. Doug was a better songwriter than I'll ever be. I don't expect to eclipse his songwriting talent. All I can do is become a better songwriter myself.

NT: Do you still find there are a lot of people who think the band somehow fucked him over?

RW: Oh yeah, oh sure, there's a lot of people that blame us for that. But there's only five people in the world that know what happened. And I'm secure with all of that. I do have regrets but...I don't know. It's a painful thing. I've actually tried to figure out how much time everyday I spend thinking about Doug and it must be about 5 or 10 minutes. Everyday. Usually it's about something he said or did that makes me laugh. I do miss him.

NT: Is it odd playing in your hometown?

RW: Yeah, it's strange. We play much better in another town. There's a lot of family members and friends and people you hardly know calling--"Can you get me backstage?"--and it becomes a real clusterfuck.

NT: What do you think about the local music scene, or do you know anymore?

RW: I really don't. It's sad to say because it was so important to me to establish a music scene and be part of that. I used to think "I wanna be one of the best little singers in Tempe." The world has gotten bigger for me, or a lot smaller I guess. I used to save ads for us and Dead Hot Workshop; now Toad the Wet Sprocket and us are on the same Kiss record next to each other. It gives me the exact same sort of pride. There's nobody in this town that wants to see Tempe flourish more than me. Sometimes you hear other bands say negative things about the Gin Blossoms or the Swaffords (Wilson's part-time cover band) and I think, "Wait a minute. I was hosting Sun Club acoustic night when these people were in high school."

NT: Are you surprised that more local bands haven't been signed in the wake of the Gin Blossoms?

RW: No, I don't think there are that many bands worth getting signed around here. I've heard there are five or six groups outside of Dead Hot Workshop that are ready for a contract. But I haven't actually seen them. I have very little interest these days in going out: maybe it's because I do that for a living . I did it so much five years ago. Every night of the week it was Sun Club and Hollywood Alley with Brian Griffith and Doug Hopkins and Crystal Meth til 4 inthe moring. I'm just not into that anymore, but I'd love to see the scene flourish.

NT: Do you think some people simply begrudge the band success?

RW: I hope that people realize that we weren't born on MTV one day. No one in this town has worked harder than we worked--maybe Dead Hot. Christmas will be our seventh anniversary: that's longer than any job I've ever had, deeper and more painful than any relationship I've ever been involved in...I accepted the fact years ago that I was going to make $250 a week for the rest of my life, and being in a rock band was worth that. That was our salary when we started touring and it remained the same until a few months ago. Now we get paid so much, we can give ourselves any salary we want. But it's strange, how much of my life is the Gin Blossoms. It's strange because every once in a while you have to stop and realize, "That's right, we're famous. Gee, we did sell two million records." It's not just something that's happened to me and my friends, it's something millions of people are invovled in. It's weird to make money all of a sudden. I don't have nay more fun or work any harder that when we were a local band,but now it's like, "We can make money off this!"

NT: How would you sum up the state of the band today?

RW: A new twist to the Gin Blossoms--and it's an exciting thing when we all get off the plane after a tour--there's all these kids waiting for a couple of the guys, because they have wives and families now. To see Bill Leen get off the plane and have his wife and daughter waiting there is really touching. And the Gin Blossoms were never really touching in the past. Now there's this whole other element. It's not just a great rock band. It's a business and a family and everyone feels pretty good about that.

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