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Articles: Shannon Hoon interviewed for Request

Shannon Hoon interview

by Sylvie Simmons for Request (January 1996)


 Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon vocalist, died on a tour bus on October 21st in a hotel parking lot in New Orleans. To complete the rock ‘n’ roll legend, his corpse was discovered by Axl of Guns N’ Roses (editors note: this is completely false) — childhood friend, travelling companion, equally hard-living rock ‘n’ roller and every bit as cynical about the crazy world in which they suddenly found themselves millionaires. The only difference was where Axl had super-models, Shannon Hoon had the fat, goofy Bee Girl. And where Axl was in an L.A court fighting court cases brought by his ex-wife and ex-fiancee, Shannon Hoon was settled down with his girlfriend in a ramshackle house with old cars and junk in the front yard in the untrendy Midwest, bringing up their new baby daughter.

Hoon’s philosophy — where the world was a multi-coloured, neo-hippy kind of place fuelled on happy-pills — was to face life with a wide grin, a sarcastic slacker shrug and a lot of drugs. Shannon, like a lot of his fans, knew everything about life and did nothing about it. Or knew nothing about life and did everything about it. Depends what way you look at it.

Funniest thing is I was talking to him only a few weeks ago — about death. Death in general — he was slagging off the Depression Culture of the Grunge bands, the Nirvana clones who sit a college degree in suicide. And death in the context of Blind Melon’s second album, 'Soup' — there are songs about a real-life serial killer who made lampshades out of his victims’ skin, about a real-life mother who killed her two children by driving them into the local lake, and about a suicide the band witnessed in Detroit. Real death, fantasy death, rock ‘n’ roll death all rolled into one tangled ball. We were talking about the near-death of Blind Melon — a group that almost broke up after its multi-platinum debut album in the middle of their first major tour. And we were talking about the death of rock legend Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Which is where our interview — one of Shannon’s last before his own untimely death — begins.

"I just bought another Galaxie today", said Shannon. A Galaxie is a classic American car and the title of the first single from the new album. "I have an old car fetish. I bought one to commemorate the death of Jerry Garcia. We’re going to have it painted up all commemorative-type-like and give it to our child when she gets her licence". Shannon and longtime girlfriend Lisa’s daughter was barely two months old!

"There were a lot of things I liked about the Grateful Dead — the solidarity of the fans, the way of life. The day he died was a very sad day, but at the same time it was a day of celebration. Jerry Garcia led a very fulfilled life. I keep in touch a lot with Robert Hunter, who writes lyrics for the Dead, and he had been friends with Jerry since he was 17 years old." said Hoon.

"It was weird, because yesterday I was driving home and I was just thinking about it, and it was storming here where I’m at in Indiana and I told Lisa when I got home, I was driving and thinking about how Jerry Garcia died today. And all of a sudden the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun came shining down, and I put on this CD, it was some kind of New Age music, really peaceful, and it was like ‘Wow, this is symbolic! God has kind of taken Jerry Garcia away from us’. But it was like, wherever he’s at there’s a celebration going on today. And in a way it was the only way it could happen — the only way the Grateful Dead could peacefully end their life cycle. So it was sad, but at the same time it was beautiful to see the people get together in all the parks across America and celebrate his life."

Words that take on new meaning in the light of the sad events of a late October weekend.

At the time of writing, the cause of death is a suspected drugs overdose. Shannon had secretly checked into a rehab centre twice in recent months — evidently to no avail. His mother recently told a US magazine, "When he got into drugs I just gave up hope. There were times I didn’t think he’d live that long." And it was reported that his drugs problems caused a major rift with the band.

At the end of the two-year tour promoting their self-titled debut — which included an appearance at the Woodstock II festival — the band were at each other’s throats. Citing "nervous exhaustion", they cancelled the last dates and disappeared to various parts of the States for six months — New Orleans, Seattle, Indiana — to, as Shannon put it, "lick our wounds".

 Sylvie Simmons: Why did you all hate each other midway through your first tour? What was going on?
Shannon Hoon: I think that happens with everybody who’s been cooped up with the same people for a long period of time. Also because we were wanting to record the second record right when the first one took off, we ended up staying out on the road for a longer and longer period. I think that may have worked against as as far as communication. We had to take a long time off before making this record. It took us a long time to get over the trauma of that long tour. I know there are bands out there who’ve toured longer, but when you’ve just started out and you’re just getting used to the idea of touring and you stay out for two years, it sort of brainwashes you a bit.
We just hadn’t been a band that long and we were still getting to know each other and starting to learn how to write together, starting to establish what role each of us would play in the band and who’s better at what and what’s better with whom. There was a lot we were still figuring out. Plus, we all really didn’t like the first record.

 Sylvie Simmons: What didn’t you like about it?
Shannon Hoon: As Rogers would put it, we were still licking off the musical placenta. They were the first songs we’d written together and we were — still are — growing as far as a band musically meshing together. I think we’re still pups, we still have a lot of progress to make. That debut was a good representation, a kind of Polaroid, of where we were at the time. I’m happy with this record, I think we’ve progressed from the first record to the second record, and we might progress even more with the next record — if we don’t kill each other first! No, I’d be lying if I said I hated the first record. I just think now after some time has passed there are some things I wish we’d have done differently. But at that point of time you were too close to it to make those kinds of decisions. It’s like hating your home town, and then when you move away from it you find all these things to love about it. I think taking that long period of time off before this album was a good thing — and we all live in different places now. It enabled us to push aside the pressures, and it was actually quite an easy process making this record — though I think starting out we subconsciously thought it was gonna be harder because of the pressure of trying to follow up your first record. But we decided to take a little bit different approach. And another thing that made it easier was picking Andy Wallace to produce.

Sylvie Simmons: Why him in particular?
Shannon Hoon: We looked at his discography and, seeing the other people he’d worked with, you could tell he was a versatile producer. And because this band is made up of five very different types of personalities, it was easy to foresee him being able to work with each one individually. Andy was great. He made you feel like you needed to bring him a note from your parents if you missed a session! He was like the father figure. That, plus recording it in New Orleans, that probably played a big part in alleviating the pressure, because there was always something to do and because you would think, ‘I’m only down here to make a record’. If that’s all you’re supposed to be doing, it helps.

Sylvie Simmons: Do any of you live in New Orleans?
Shannon Hoon: Glen, Rogers and Brad all lived down there, but Rogers and Brad and Christopher all just moved back up to Seattle. We all sort of vagabond around.

Sylvie Simmons: Where do you and your wife and baby live?
Shannon Hoon: Girlfriend! We figure we’ve been together for a long time so you don’t fix something that isn’t broken — though speaking on behalf of her father he’d wish it were wife! We’re in Indiana, the Midwest.

Sylvie Simmons: How long did you take off between albums and what did you do in that time?
Shannon Hoon: Probably about six months. I know it’s early on in your career to take that sort of break, but there was a lot of healing that needed to be done in a lot of places, and time heals. But before we split up we established when we would get back together again so that everybody could peaceably go off and do whatever they wanted. I think that everybody just knew what they needed to concentrate on to get back into the mode of loving making music again. Because everybody was starting to get tired of something that we loved. And for each person that was a different thing — everybody kind of ran off and hibernated and licked their wounds. And I think everybody all came to the conclusion that we should try to relax more and not try to live our lives through one record but relax, take your time, and just try to make it a fruitful career. 

Sylvie Simmons: So you all piled into this Victorian mansion in New Orleans.
Shannon Hoon: Yeah! It was beautiful. You could just feel the aura of the place. That was another thing that helped us relax making the record. It’s Daniel Lanois’s studio. It sits right in the French quarter. It’s haunted. Sometimes you’d sit in the room by yourself and the ghost would turn the lights on. Half of me was like ‘That’s cool!’ and the other half of me was ‘Holy shit!’ Sometimes the ghost was the only person who would talk to me! It had an incredible atmosphere. I love old things. I always buy a load of junk and old furniture. Our porch looks like the Beverly Hillbillies! Everybody drives by and goes, ‘Is that where Shannon Hoon lives?’ ‘Yeah’. ‘God, he sure didn’t make much money on that record, did he?’!

Sylvie Simmons:There are a lot of old instruments on the album, some New Age-y stuff. Kerrang magazine said it could almost be a Progressive Rock album,!
Shannon Hoon: We certainly tried to do something different, but we didn’t sit down and think conceptually what way we should go. That for us is the best way to go about something. If we know exactly what we’re doing, we’re trying to do something instead of doing it. Not knowing what we were going to do when we walked into the studio, the nervous part of you is like ‘We don’t know what we’re doing’, and the other part goes, ‘Well I guess we’ll just have to make the best of the situation’ and use the nervousness as productive energy. We dabbled in different things we don’t normally do, just to break the monotony of having to structure our formula, and it just kinda worked out. I’d like to continue to work like that.

Sylvie Simmons: Is that why it’s called Soup — lots of ingredients just chucked in?
Shannon Hoon: Yes. There’s so many things that make it up and you can’t put your finger on one certain ingredient because it goes away and something else surfaces.

Sylvie Simmons: Tell me about ‘Galaxie’
Shannon Hoon: I have an old car fetish. I actually bought a Galaxie in New Orleans, it was my comfort zone. Whenever things are getting too much I go for a drive. I’d drive this car around New Orleans, and it had the old original radio since 1964, and you’d just listen to the radio and it seemed like all the radio stations that came through were radio stations were from the 1960s, sort of like Stephen King’s   Christine! It was like being in a time warp.

Sylvie Simmons: Is that why you put ‘Mr Time Warp’, 60s druggie legend Timothy Leary in the video?
Shannon Hoon: What a character! He is a TimeWarp man, isn’t he? Jake Scott the director lives across the street from him and said something to him, and Timothy Leary had heard of our band and liked this song, so he was up for it. We knew there had to be a significant person playing the role of the mad scientist.

Timothy Leary (from the Galaxie video)  

Sylvie Simmons: Having the ultimate hippy in your video will only fuel accusations that Blind Melon are a bunch of neo hippies!
Shannon Hoon: I really don’t waste my energy worrying about what people are going to label us, but if I were I’d have to say they’re not looking into it that deep if they can only come up with one term to describe us. They may just be looking at a picture. Admittedly we do play into their hands a bit — this band runs high on cynicism!

Sylvie Simmons: Like playing Woodstock and appearing on a Led Zeppelin tribute album — are you obsessed with old rock as well as old cars?
Shannon Hoon: I think it’s good to be able to relate to the past. Sure I want to look into the future, but I never want to lose touch with the past and its influences.

Sylvie Simmons: What made you write a song about serial killer Ed Gein — isn’t that a funny subject to be funny about?
Shannon Hoon: Well, I knew the melody line I wanted to sing, but as far as subject matter and lyrical content I hadn’t arranged it. And I was sitting there and reading about serial killers — I’m inspired in a surprising way by them — and I was intrigued to read about their mentality. Obviously not condoning what they do, but they’re fascinating. Ed Gein — do you remember the movie Silence of the Lambs? Part of his story was used in the film. He was kind of like an indian — he would make use of everything he killed. He would use parts of human bodies for everything. He would make furniture out of their bones and use skin to make lampshades. At the time of his arrest he had three full bodies of skin in his barn! He just peeled them off and he would dress up in them and dance around.
It was horrible, but I believe there are two sides to everything. To find the humour in things can keep you going. Obviously things like crimes against children I can’t find any humour in, which is the subject of ‘Car Seat.’ Because children are so pure, and being a new father now I can really see it that way.

Sylvie Simmons: You seem fascinated by the dark side — but you’re by no means a dark gloomy band. Quite the opposite — which makes you stand out from a lot of the depressive 90s bands.
Shannon Hoon: I think we mix the contrasts together well. We happen to have a band that’s fortunate enough to have all five members writing. We’re definitely not just the frontman and the guitar player. There’s a lot of tension in our band — we’re not all great friends —but sometimes we can use that tension in a productive way. And we have the common denominator of trying to make the best song it can possibly be. If that’s the only common denominator you have, it’s still a good one. Our communication skills with each other sometimes leave something to be desired — but we’re working on it!

Sylvie Simmons: A lot of the gloomy introspective 90s rock was a reaction to the hedonism and irresponsibility of stadium cock rockers in the 80s — but people seem to be beginning to get bored with it.
Shannon Hoon: I’ve always been bored with it, because whether I’m depressed or not I’m gonna find a way to get rid of it. And if I can’t get rid of it in a rock band, I’m going to quit being in a rock band and find something else which will get rid of it. I’m a bit bored with ‘Oh woe is me!’ Everybody’s had it rough — it’s not just you, Johnny Limelight! You can’t equate happiness with the dollar bill, but at the same time there are a lot of people who if they had some of the money that some of these bands who think they’re so depressed, that’s gonna cure someone or at least ease the pain a bit! Some people are just riding that cash cow of depression a little bit too far. I know in America it’s selling, but I’m glad some people somewhere are starting to get bored with it. Everybody suffers the same thing at some point of time in their life, but now it’s like ‘I’m gonna major in depression so I can make a lot of money.’ What are you studying this year?’ ‘Depression’.


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