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INTERVIEW: JESSE VALENZUELA of GIN BLOSSOMS – August 2018

| 5 September 2018 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “GIN BLOSSOMS, one of the top alt-rock groups of the ‘90s who celebrated the 25th anniversary of their multi-platinum album New Miserable Experience last year, recently issued their first new album in eight years, MIXED REALITY, and are gearing up for a run of tour dates. MIXED REALITY–released June 15 via Cleopatra Records and produced by Don Dixon (R.E.M., The Smithereens)–features the lead single “Break,” of which frontman Robin Wilson told Billboard: “I wanted it to be something universal. In a lot of ways I’m singing about being a single parent, and also I was thinking a little bit about the hype that I’ve done with the Love Hope Strength Foundation (for cancer and leukemia victims), the trips and everything where you’re doing something that’s really difficult and you’re taken out of your comfort zone and you really have to reach inside yourself to be a part of the scene and to accomplish something that’s bigger than yourself. That’s where my head was at — and I wanted to write something that was like a Tom Petty song, that everyone could relate to.” The 15-track MIXED REALITY has been receiving critical praise for the Tempe, Arizona quartet—Robin Wilson (lead vocals, guitar), Jesse Valenzuela (vocals, guitar), Scott Johnson (guitar), Bill Leen (bass).” We get guitarist Jesse to discuss new music, touring, and much more…

ToddStar: Jesse, thank you so much for taking time out. Busy time in the world of the Gin Blossoms.

Jesse: It kind of is, actually.

ToddStar: You guys are getting ready to come to Detroit to play the Arts, Beats, & Eats Festival. What’s it like for you guys when you hear or see Detroit on the schedule?

Jesse: Yeah, we were just there. We were just there at the old theater downtown. What’s it called? Oh boy, we played there in the late 80’s and the early 90’s the first time.

ToddStar: Saint Andrews?

Jesse: There you go, yeah. My bruised Catholic sensibilities are forgetting what it was. Yeah, Saint Andrews Hall, and we were just there, oh boy, it seems like four or five months. I’m sure it was longer than that. We used to play at another place called Al’s Bar downtown? Long time ago. I’ve always enjoyed playing in Detroit. It’s interesting to see its renewal, which a lot of bands are starting to see which is kind of cool. Yeah, we’ve been paying there since 89, 90, maybe 90, 91, and it’s really beautiful. It’s done really well. It’s just when we played Saint Andrews Hall, met an old buddy of mine who lives down the street there and he took me out for a beautiful dinner. We took a nice walk then played the show. Then after the Saint Andrews show we walked over and had a little drink. A very cool urban center.

ToddStar: That it is. Well as you mentioned, you guys were here a few months ago, it was back in February. Since that time you guys, at that time you were still promoting the 25th anniversary of New Miserable Experience. With that said, now you guys are out promoting Mixed Reality which came out June 15 on Cleopatra Records. What can you tell us about this album that some of your fans may not have grabbed the first couple times they’d listened to it? What are some of the tidbits?

Jesse: I don’t know. I haven’t listened to it. I haven’t really listened to it, it’s true. But the records kind of two years old for us. I’m sure you talk to most musicians, some that you talk to are “oh, yeah! That one.” You move along, I’m actually in the studio tomorrow working on a new one.

ToddStar: So, no rest for the wicked so to speak.

Jesse: I love that, that’s a fun expression, isn’t it? Yeah, well honestly, it’s two years old to us. So, you got to keep moving forward. I’m enjoying having new material to play in the set. We play some of the songs, we’ll be playing and having a good time. So, it’s enjoyable in that regard. But it seems like we always kind of try to keep an eye forward.

ToddStar: You guys have an unmistakable sound. I can remember the first time I saw you guys over at Pine Knob back in the day, back in I want to say 2001-2002 time frame. I still listen to your music with the same enjoyment that I had when I saw you guys live. What’s it like for you guys on your side of the stage? Is it still fun for you guys to go up there and play some old songs that maybe you’ve played a million times and you’re done with, or maybe you haven’t played them enough and you still love playing them?

Jesse: It ebbs and flows. It’s enjoyable to play a song that everyone knows, and it has its own rewards. And they’re pretty easy to play, because the reaction is immediate. So, this last couple of years have been pretty good for the band. Everybody’s really working hard and I think we’ve really gotten to the age where people start to appreciate their band partners.

ToddStar: Now, that said, New Miserable Experience – 25 years, when you guys were writing this disc and putting it out did you have any inkling what that album would mean 25 years later to you guys and your fans?

Jesse: That’s a good question. Twenty five years later… it’s even longer I guess… quite honestly we had hoped we would have a hit song that we could keep playing. That was the promise, if you had a hit song you could probably play music for the rest of your life. At that point, in 1990, it was just that nobody wanted to go back home as failures.

ToddStar: At any point and time did really believe you were?

Jesse: Failures? Sure, and depending on the time of the day it can still happen.

ToddStar: That’s a good point. Once you guys put New Miserable Experience out there, and you guys started getting the run of the hits and getting the legs, at what point did you feel “we’ve made it” or at least made it further than we thought we’ve might?

Jesse: Scotty Johnson said that it would have been when you first did national TV, that his father-in-law looked at him differently after he saw him on David Letterman.

ToddStar: Really?

Jesse: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I suppose that’s a big one.

ToddStar: What, for you, was the pinnacle?

Jesse: One time we were traveling a lot. And we started in the morning at some city, and I got in my cab to go to the airport, and they were playing one of our songs. And I got into the airport and I was waiting for my plane and they were playing one of our songs. And I landed in the next city we were going to, and waiting outside, I got into the cab to go to the hotel to play the show and they were play our song. So, it was everywhere at that point. I thought, that’s a pretty good sign.

ToddStar: Yeah, that’s a good indicator, that’s for sure.

Jesse: Yeah. But sometimes I’m with my girlfriend and she drags me to places like Lowe’s and Home Depot and she’ll point out that they’re playing a Gin Blossoms song.

ToddStar: One of the favorite songs of mine that I’ve heard you guys play on, is you guys did an amazing cover of “Christine Sixteen.”

Jesse: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

ToddStar: I’m a huge KISS fan from way back when, what was it like for you guys? Was that just another step in a direction for you guys or were you guys big KISS fans? Was that something you guys clamored to do or did the starts just line up right for you guys?

Jesse: I think the stars lined up. I never knew the song until we cut it. I didn’t know anything about it, it wasn’t my band. They were all nice people and it was a really good gig. I like that song now, it’s built really well, it’s a good constructed song. But that wasn’t the kind of music I listened to. So, when they told us we were going to cut it, they sent me a copy and I listened to it and I had to learn it like I was learning a cover song for a bar gig. But we did a nice version, yeah, I think it sounds great. We did a really great version, and we played one of the TV shows with that song with the guys from KISS – with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

ToddStar: Well, that said, with you stating that they weren’t your band; who’s out there that you would like to collaborate with that would just kind of be icing on the cake for you?

Jesse: You know, I’ve gotten lucky that I’ve gotten to do a lot of collaborations. In fact, I’m going to do a tie-in, there’s a guy from Detroit named Marshall Crenshaw I’ve collaborated with a lot over the years. And, we’re threatening to do it again. We wrote a big Gin Blossoms song.

ToddStar: Okay, so you’re threatening to do more, is that what you’re currently trying to put together in the studio?

Jesse: Well, I’m recording stuff all the time. But Marshall and I were talking about writing another song, so hopefully we will do it. But we wrote “Til I Hear It From You” together. So it would be nice to write with him again. I know he’s pretty busy. I think he’s doing a movie, it’s always fun to write with Marshall, he’s very Detroit.

ToddStar: He is very Detroit, that’s for sure. Well, you’re working on music. You’re out touring the latest release, which like you said is kind of old to you guys, because by the time you get it out there and then you tour for the anniversary of New Miserable Experience, what else is there still that you want to do? I mean, is there anything beyond just recording and touring that you still aspire to do professionally?

Jesse: I’d like to make more music, that’s what I like to do. I’d like to have a little more time to make music, we have a pretty heavy tour schedule so it gets tough. I would love to have time to just sort of sit around a ruminate and then make some music. Maybe just play some light acoustic shows, but we play a lot. We’re a working band, there’s a real distinction to it. And I’m proud of it, because it’s hard to it and you can feel the muscles get stronger playing that much. But at the same time, I have always thought it’d be sweet if we could just sort of lay out for a while and ruminate on some stuff; individually or collectively, whatever it be. And I’d love it if they band would put up like an acoustic show where songs could get dressed down a little bit and maybe tempos could be reduced and we could reinvent the songs a little bit. Not so much that people wouldn’t recognize them, but just enough so that they could be stretched a little bit. Because I think that those songs, I think they’re strong enough that they could take that.

ToddStar: I’d totally agree. That said, and I know you’re busy so I kind of want to cut you loose, but one last question of the day Jesse. If you could go back through the history of time and be a part of one album, what album was so influential to you that you would have wanted to be a part of it? Whether it was recording, writing, just sitting in the room taking in the vibe or the groove of the album.

Jesse: You know, I don’t know, that’s a hard question, isn’t it? I would think, and it would be hard to say what record, but there’s an era I really love. Late 50’s in Los Angeles, California when they were making a lot of records here, a lot of jazz records. And it was sort of the California Jazz. So it’s much brighter, phonically and melodically, it still has a real blue quality. But it’s not as intense as New York be-bop, or New York jazz of the era. And along with that, there was some pretty amazing kind of jazz styled singers, like Nat King Cole. And they were making records here in Los Angeles, California, and I’ve always been fascinated by that era. And I think it would have been really terrific to be around then. And I’ve met some guys who were there, and true to form, when you’re that involved and when you’re doing anything every day you rarely stop and think “maybe this is going to be a historical moment, I should drink this all in”. You’re just there working, aren’t you? So I’ve said to these guys, “Man, it must’ve been something to be here in Los Angeles and be making these jazz records. And then in the next room there’s the Beach Boys and you’re in the room with the horn section from Nat King Cole” and they were just “Well, we never thought of it that way, we were just working. It was a session and you were trying to get through this section and get in your car and get to the next one”. But I think that always sounded like a fascinating time though, I think it would have been a real kick to be around that.

ToddStar: Well that’s awesome. I appreciate the answer, Jess. Again, we wish you well with Mixed Reality. I hope the fans eat it up and run out and they get it, it’s out. It’s been out a little over two months at Cleopatra Records, so they can pick that up. Fans locally in the Detroit area can catch you guys at Arts, Beats, and Eats.

Jesse: It’s going to be fun, I think we did it a few years ago, but it seems like it’s gotten bigger. We want Marshall’s brother Robert to come out, I know he lives there. So, I’m going to send him a message and throw Robert into the mix. He was the original drummer in Marshall Crenshaw band when he was making records on Warner Brothers. Are you coming to the show?

ToddStar: Actually, my wife and I have plans out of town for the holiday weekend, so unfortunately I won’t be there.

Jesse: Awe, where you going?

ToddStar: We’re just going up north to chill out, I’m an accountant for a living and I’m getting ready to swing into a busy season at work. So she said we need to get a couple days away just the two of us, just to enjoy each other before I get busy with work.

Jesse: Oh, so you going to a cottage or something?

ToddStar: Exactly.

Jesse: Oh, man. I don’t blame you, that sounds like wonderful fun. If I could do that, I would. Hopefully my girl and I can do something like after this tour. We’ve got one in September and then there’s the little place called Idle Wild up in the mountains here in Los Angeles I’d like to go to.

ToddStar: I hope you get your wish, just as soon as you go out and take care of the fans.

Jesse: Alright, hey listen brother, thank you for your time, I sure appreciate it.

ToddStar: Thanks Jessie and we’ll talk to you soon.

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Todd ‘ToddStar’ Jolicoeur

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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