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5 questions: Gin Blossoms

Jesse Valenzuela is lead guitarist for the Tempe, Arizona–founded band Gin Blossoms. He was there virtually from the beginning, in the late 1980s; he’s still there, and will perform with the band Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival in Richmond Hill.

The Gin Blossoms arrived on the national college–band scene at the precise moment that R.E.M., heretofore the darlings of jangly guitars and inscrutable lyrics juxtaposed with intense, soaring melodies, were launching into the MTV–fueled stratosphere.

“Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You,” from the Blossoms’ first album, the four–times–platinum New Miserable Experience, were sizeable hits.

More importantly, today they sound as haunting and ephemeral as they did when they first arrived on college FM stations.

(The ironic thing here is that both songs were written by the Gin Blossoms’ troubled founder Doug Hopkins, who’d been fired from the band before they were recorded, and subsequently committed suicide.)

The second album, Congratulations I’m Sorry — the title a reference to Hopkins — gave the band its biggest chart hit, “Follow You Down.”

The Gin Blossoms — Valenzuela, vocalist Robin Wilson, bassist Bill Leen, guitarist Scott Johnson and drummer Scott Hessel — continue to write and record; the latest album, No Chocolate Cake, was released in 2010.

Looking back, New Miserable Experience was a defining record of its era. Did you ever imaging you’d still be a Gin Blossom 20 years later?

Jesse Valenzuela: Has it been 20 years plus? What’s interesting to me is we put together this little tour package where we would put together that whole first record, like everybody’s doing these days. But we play so much, and we kind of honor that record every night by playing, and I think people were saying “No, we’ll just take the regular show.” Maybe we’re not one of those bands that transcends into that. So when people say they found that record to be a seminal record of the time, I agree, I know. But there’s never been any precious pageantry surrounding it. It was a just a record people really dug, and we’ve never stopped playing it. It seems like it’s sort of an old friend to a lot of people.

It was the height of the Seattle grunge period — Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I remember thinking your record was such a breath of fresh air.

Jesse Valenzuela: Because there was nothing like it on the radio at the time. It’s interesting to note how some bands have aged really well, and some haven’t so much. Obviously Pearl Jam’s done great, and Eddie Vedder’s gone on to have a really beautiful career. He does these soundscapes for movies that are just gorgeous. Some bands didn’t transition very well.

Don’t you do film and TV music as well?

Jesse Valenzuela: I’m on the road quite a bit with the Gin Blossoms in the summertime, and on weekends, but I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago so that I could be involved with that. I really enjoy it. And I really enjoy living in Southern California. I had a song on a show last week, and I’ve been doing it for so long I could turn on the TV every night and usually find a couple of songs somewhere. Or a piece of music I’ve written. But I’ve never been able to make that big transition from being a singer/songwriter and touring musician to being a full time studio guy seeking out film and TV work. I don’t think I could actually just be at home in the studio. I think I’d go crazy. You do that for six months and you think “Man, I really need to get back on the road.”

But you’ve made a couple of solo records over the years.

Jesse Valenzuela: Yeah, and I have a new one just mastered. I’ve been saying this for years! It actually is done, it’s been time and constraints that have kept me from putting it out. But I think our management’s going to put it out on digital distribution here before Christmas.

You’ve had some minor chart success in the last couple of years. How do you feel about people who say “This is an oldies act”?

Jesse Valenzuela: I don’t resist it. I really could care less. We do make music, and it’s not even that imperative to me that I get defined as a new act or an old act. I mean, honestly we are 20–plus years old ... I mean, Tom Petty’s an oldie act. You won’t find anybody better in the business to bring you a show, and his catalog of music’s fantastic. Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler are doing a tour this fall, but is that an oldie act? I don’t know. Whatever makes you happy.  I really don’t give a damn. I want people to come out, and you know what? I’m going to play a good show.

Gin Blossoms

Where: Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival, J.F. Gregory Park, 521 Cedar St., Richmond Hill

When: At 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20

Admission: $15

Festival: 4–11 p.m. Oct. 19, 10 a.m.–11 p.m. Oct. 20, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Oct. 21

Carnival and festival tickets (includes live entertainment): $5 adults daily ($15 after 4 p.m. Saturday), $3 children 4–12
Info: goseafoodfestival.comJesse