In recent years, the tale of Blind Melon has taken a dramatic turn – from an abrupt and tragic end, to a rebirth and reconnection with their legion of fans. No matter how you slice it, the group was responsible for some of the most memorable and pure-sounding rock music of the ‘90s. And with their reformation in 2006 with singer Travis Warren, Blind Melon are poised to pick up exactly where they left off a decade earlier – as evidenced by their new single, “Wishing Well,” and forthcoming/as-yet-to-be-titled fourth full-length overall, due April 22, 2008. The band was comprised of singer the late Shannon Hoon, guitarist Christopher Thorn and guitarist Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham. We recently caught up with Rogers to chat for a few minutes.
How is the tour going?
We’re not touring now. We toured a couple of months before the end of the year. That all went pretty well. I would say it exceeded my expectations as far as how many people showed up and how happy they were to see us. There wasn’t that skepticism about it.
Was that your first extensive tour that you got off of in many years? I know you guys stayed in contact pretty much through everything you’ve been through.
Not really. Everybody went off doing other things. We stopped touring and functioning as a band in ’95, really. We did get together to release the third album – the posthumous album. As far as going out and touring, or anything like that, the four of us together were not doing anything. We were all friends and worked on things here and there – things that each other were doing. As far as this band and these songs, that type of thing, we weren’t doing it.
What got you guys to crank it back up after being in a neutral or dormant state?
I would say it was more than dormant. It was over. For us, I never thought about doing this again until we met Travis. My whole point of view on the thing was there was no way I wanted to go around and tour and play our old songs and relive that and have a nostalgic sort of tour. The band just wasn’t interested in that. We had to be able to make a new record that we thought held up to the other one – at least in our own mind. Once we figured out we could do that, we decided to go as far as we could with it.
How did you guys meet up with Travis?
Two of the guys in the group live in Los Angeles and they have a studio. They’ve been out there producing records over the years. Some of the records had done pretty well. Somebody from a label brought Travis by. They were looking for somebody to record some demos for them, and they started doing that. I think it just kind of hit them that, “Wow, that could really work.” Hs voice is up there in that register that Shannon’s voice was in. There’s not a lot of people who can sing like that – male singers that can get up that high. Travis was kind of there. Just the vibe of the things he was writing I think was reminding them of Shannon. Travis is a really big fan of Shannon. Once they called me, and I was living in New York, and they called Glen, the drummer, we went out there to just check it out and it totally worked.
Was it difficult to talk you into it? Granted, you are a musician, and you like to play. We’re you worried too much about being almost a gimmick?
No. Travis is as dumb and crazy as we are. But as far as the gimmick or whatever, I suppose there’s always going to be people that are going to see it that way, and they’re going to be skeptical. We didn’t replace, we’re trying to carry on without the star of the band. When most people think of the band, they think of Shannon.
Do you feel that is unfair? A band takes four of five members to be whole.
I completely understand it. We all wrote the songs. Shannon didn’t write the hit song people know us for, but there are plenty of great songs he did write. And I understand it. To me Shannon was a great rock star. It was difficult to replace somebody like that. We’re not even going to try as far as that goes. In my mind, if we go out every night and play Shannon’s songs to hundreds of people, and there’s joy in the room and all that, I don’t understand how that’s a negative. I get that some people got freaked at us for using the name, or whatever. I think the name is irrelevant to the big picture, because every time somebody writes out name down if we changed our name, it would always be “those dudes from Blind Melon”. It would be whatever new name we had with that in parentheses. We’d never get away from it anyway.
How does the stuff you’re writing now compare to when the band first formed?
I think it’s pretty clear that people learned a lot about writing songs over the years. The arrangements are a little less all over the place. I mean, if you listen to our old records, there’s a lot of crazy left turns in the songs – things that are almost nonsensical, but they defined us at the time.
I read some early interviews with you guys, the guy that was interviewing you was saying how different songs on the same album sounded totally different from one song to the next. “No Rain”, for example was not representative of the material that was on that album.
Yeah. But to us, it sounded like it fit. I don’t think we have really good objectivity. I think some bands can step back and look at what they do and create a really cohesive sound. I think by the way that we play, everything’s going to naturally sound similar. But as far as the actual songs themselves, we do try to do a lot of different types of things. We don’t really deny something because it sounds odd or whatever. We kind of just go for it. I mean, I guess the model we always look at is like Led Zeppelin or whatever. They had folk songs and heavy metal songs. I’m not saying we’re nearly as good or sound nearly as good, but I can hold them up as an example of somebody whose albums don’t all sound the same as a band like AC/DC, which had a really consistent sound from album to album, song to song – or the Ramones. They sound like the Ramones. You hear song you never heard and you know that it’s them.
How are you able to forge your own identity now?
I don’t know. We’re pretty confident, I don’t know if this makes any sense with the ambiguity of our identity. (laughs) We have yet to put up a wall that can’t be overcome as far as something we’re going to try. Maybe that’s our identity.
Do you find it easier to write today than you did 15 or 16 years ago?
No, not really. I find it to be just as frustrating and agonizing. I don’t think any of us are the type that pick up the pen and paper and it falls out. It’s one of those things like pulling a molar, an eyetooth or something.
How long did it take to put the new album together?
Longer than expected. There were lots of crazy things that happened that sidetracked us, but we started writing, say, at the very end of 2006/early 2007. We did a couple of tours at the end of the year. It took us a year of writing and recording to finish it.
How did the tour go? Were you happy with the end result? Did it take some time to become comfortable on stage together again?
You guys were obviously friends, but you were revisiting some old material and introducing everyone to a new singer.
Yeah. I was kind of worried. Usually it takes me a while to really feel comfortable. It had been a couple of years since we’d been doing consistent shows. Really once within the first night it felt fine, which I was surprised by. And the crowd took to Travis right away. I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he’s managed to pull this off. I really wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. It’s an unenviable position to step in front of an audience whose favorite guy’s not there anymore. And he really did it. He’s got an enthusiasm, a sort of disarming energy about him that really works to his favor. And he talks about Shannon onstage. I mean he’s the biggest Shannon Hoon fan in the world. He’s up there as a fan like Shannon in a way. It’s kind of a strange situation.
What would you say that Travis brings to the band that keeps you guys motivated?
For me it’s about the fact that we’re writing new stuff. If we weren’t doing that, it would be the end of it. I think as long as we’re going to do that, writing songs that we like, we’ll keep doing it unless the people in the band become unbearable. But we’ve already been through all that. I think he’s brought in a lot of energy towards that songwriting process. That’s kind of worked for us. It’s picked it up a notch, I suppose.
What is it like when you meet fans that weren’t familiar with Shannon or the early material except what they may have seen on a YouTube video?
We’re not really meeting a lot of those so far. The new record’s not out. A lot of the people coming out are fans of the old records. That’s great. They know the words to all the new songs and the new record has already been stolen on Limewire, so it’s all out there in early kind of demo form. So they know all the songs already and seem to like them.
Have you guys embraced this digital age? When you guys first came out there was no MySpace or mp3 players.
I wouldn’t say we’re on the forefront of the technology or anything like that. We have used the MySpace, and that sort of stuff to let people know we were back doing this. I think it’s really worked for us. It been pretty busy, that website for us. And there’s a forum for people to talk about the band. All that kind of stuff has worked for us. We were able to immediately put up new songs and let people hear what we were doing. That’s what kind of legitimized it. I don’t think we’d have nearly the level of enthusiasm had we not been putting these new songs up
Would you say it’s been a little more fun now that you’re able to be a little bit closer to your fans? Traditionally a record label would keep a barrier between the band and the general public outside of personal appearances ans stuff like that.
It’s way better. I feel like I’ve got a direct conduit to the person I’m trying to reach rather than having a message that’s being filtered through somebody else’s perception of what I’m trying to say. We met a lot of people on these last two tours before the end of the year that hung out. Everybody wanted to meet us. Those people who are there at this point are people who have stuck with us for a long time. We’re not really getting to the new people yet or there’s not a whole lot of overflow from people who just heard a song on the radio. It’s really people who followed the band and are really interested in what we’re doing. You get a chance to meet them. That was really helpful to us.
Are you comfortable playing in the shadow of Shannon? Is it something you’ve come to accept, or something you want to get our from under?
I don’t want to get out from under it. Our point is to go out there. I always felt Shannon was overlooked because after he died there wasn’t this outpouring of grief about Shannon or whatever. We weren’t as big of a band as Nirvana or whatever. I understand that. I thought he was overlooked as a songwriter and we’re happy to get out there and play some of the songs we wrote with him and have people remember him. He’ll always be a part of whatever we’re doing in that way.
– Dave Weinthal
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