Articles: Blind Melon sees new life (November 21, 2007)
Melon sees new life
Rogers Stevens interviewed by Jeff Hahne - Read the original article here.
Many bands never recover from the loss of a band member. Blind Melon expected the same thing after singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose. Now, 12 years later, the band has reunited, gotten a new singer and recorded a new album to be released early next year.
So, what changed? I recently asked that question and more to guitarist Rogers Stevens during a phone call from his New York home:
Hello, this is Jeff Hahne.
"Hey, it's Rogers Stevens from Blind Melon."
Hey! How are you?
"Good, how are you?"
I'm doing alright.
Where are you calling from?
Are you at home now?
"Yeah, yeah. Home for a couple of weeks here or so."
Alright, well, I guess the obvious question is -- how did this all come about? The reunion ...
"It, uh, oh ... Well, I mean, we weren't trying to do this. We had no intention of ever reforming. We had all gone on to different things in our lives. We really had been on quite divergent paths, really. And, uh, Brad and Christopher have a studio in Los Angeles and they have been producing acts out there and an A&R person from one of the labels brought Travis by one day. Brad and Christopher were working on his demos, or helping him record some songs to get a deal, or whatever. Travis was a big Blind Melon fan, oddly enough and was way influenced by Shannon. And, uh, so they started working and I think the lights just kinda went off and that's where things sort of float up next from that point."."
Was there anything that made you think it was the right time, or did it just feel right?
"Well, yeah, I mean, it did. It was totally based on a feeling because we had tried to sort of work together and to possibly find somebody before and our initial intention way back was to ... We were going to change the name and sort of move on as a different band. But we never found anybody because once you go down that path so far with one person, to find somebody else to play catch-up to you is very difficult because you kind of develop that communication thing that happens ... that unspoken kind of thing in a band. But, with Travis, it just kind of fell right in. There's a lot of similarities in his personality and his energy to Shannon and his voice is in that range where it allows him to sing Shannon's songs well. And, uh, which is really difficult for a lot of singers I think because his voice is so up there."
Did you guys have any hesitation to calling it Blind Melon?
"Oh, yeah. I mean we talked about it a lot. Basically we ... we knocked it around for a few months because there were things about it that felt obviously strange ... and there were things about it that felt right. Ultimately, we had to go by what felt right for us. I mean, I know a lot of people are gonna think it's a bad idea and it sounds like a bad idea. I mean, if somebody told me this, and I weren't in the band, I would think, 'That's a terrible idea.' (laughs) But, uh, for whatever reason, it works for us. We felt like if we were gonna go out and play the set with half of the old Blind Melon songs in there and half new songs, I mean, people were ... we'd be our own cover band and people ... every time that somebody wrote anything about us there would be parentheses beside or an asterisk that said 'Formerly the guys from Blind Melon.' So, it just kind of seemed stupid to try and do something else."
If it was all of you, the comparisons would be there anyway.
"Yeah, it was just gonna be a ... I mean, it sounds like Blind Melon, obviously with one major element missing. I mean, look, we know Shannon was the star of the band. I mean, we were all sort of incidental characters, I think, in the mind of most people. But, the way the band works, we all wrote songs and, uh, so ... I mean, we feel attached to a lot of these songs as well. We weren't just Shannon's backing band. Although, he was a phenomenal talent that would be, you know, tough to sort of ignore. I mean, we couldn't do it if we wanted to. Which we don't of course. I mean, our intention is to go out there and play his songs and sort of let people know because we think he was overlooked."
Yeah, I've always thought that too. People who only know "No Rain" they don't really know you guys at all."
"Yeah, I mean, I think it's changed somewhat or it seems that way to me. Um ... and, you know, my thoughts about when we went out the last time, last month, it seemed to me that, hey, it certainly put the name in people's minds and people talked about Shannon a lot. And, uh, there were defenders of that sort of thing. There was a lot more to him than just that one song and that was a song that he didn't even write, you know?"
Did you guys get in touch with his family when this was all coming together?
"Yes. We ... about a year ago, I called his mother and we all remain close friends with his girlfriend -- Nico's mother -- so she knew about it all along and supported it. I called Nel and spoke with her and I think it was obviously a difficult thing for her to swallow, you know? Us going out and doing this and I totally understand, but I think once she got over the initial shock of it and saw what our intentions were and actually came out to some shows and hung out with us and met Travis and all that. She's fine with it. We brought her on stage a few nights during the tour."
Yeah, I saw a clip of that on YouTube and was going to ask about that.
There are so many questions I have ... I'm not sure where to go next. I guess a quick question for you is that your name -- not you, but Blind Melon -- got brought up a couple times over the years when the Rock Star show was on for finding a lead singer, with INXS thing. Was that ever the case? Would you guys even look at that? Was that just a rumor?
"I heard things of people kind of putting out feelers, but I ... I mean ... to me, the whole thing was a turn-off. I wasn't really interested. It never went to the point of somebody saying, 'OK, we want you to do it.' But, I mean, really ... what worse thing could we have done? (laughs)"
That's what I thought -- I can't imagine that happening.
"Yeah, and I imagine us being on television like that. I mean, I don't think it would be ... it would be pretty interesting because we would turn fairly sullen immediately (laughs) if something like that was going on."
How worried are you guys about comparisons that are obviously going to be made? Did you ... Are you looking at these songs as trying to recreate them or are you trying to say, "Hey, this is a new version of Blind Melon. We're putting our twist on the old songs." How are you approaching it?
"As far as the old songs go, I mean, we're ... we're sort of, at this point, giving them a pretty straight sort of reading, you know. We're doing about half old songs and half new songs in the set now. I mean, we're not trying to go out and re-imagine those songs, yet ... I mean, we want to go out and play them and let people hear them and remember them and ... cause it really is about, you know, people are gonna remember Shannon. I mean, people get really emotional about it. And, um, and they're fun for us to play. But, as far as the way we're looking at it. We were not gonna do this if we weren't able to make a record and move forward. I mean, I just ... I told those guys when they called me about it the first time, I was like, 'You know, that sounds great, but I'm not gonna do anything that's just sort of a nostalgia tour where you go and it's just sort of a recital every night and do it that way. It just really doesn't interest me. I'd rather make money doing something else with my life, but if we can make a new record and if we can write with Travis then I would be into it.' So, that's what we tried next. When we first went there, I flew out to L.A. about a year ago and we got in a room and we learned about 10 of these songs and we played them over three days and it was just spot on. I knew the first song that Travis was really ... could really sing those songs. We sort of absorbed that and went back maybe a month later and tried to write songs and we wrote three songs right away and it totally worked. That kind of solidified it for me."
What's the status of the new album? Is it coming out early next year?
"Yeah, it is. I mean, we kind of ... when we got of the road this past month we had a couple of songs left to do -- there were a couple of little things we had to put on them and then we mixed ... we mixed most of it and I think there's maybe three songs that are gonna get mixed and we're gonna master it, I guess, right after the new year. Yep ... we're gonna take it with us on the road. I don't know how we're gonna put it out yet. We haven't even really ... solidified the plan. We're not shopping it around to labels or anything, so ..."
What's the reaction been to the new songs?
"From my perspective, it's been great. I mean, I think the only people who ever really would contact us or come to the shows are people who like it. I mean, you kind of live in a bubble in that way. There may be a whole large segment of people who hate it, but people seem to really like it."
What I've heard online is great.
"Yeah. So, I don't know. We like it. I think if you can get out there and believe in it yourself it makes it ... I can be comfortable with that. Although, when we did the Soup record, we really believed in that record when it came out (laughs), but it got so bashed that it kind of shook me in a way because I thought maybe I really don't have any idea what good or not good is."
Yeah, that's an unbelievable album.
"Yeah, but a lot of people didn't like it ..."
Did you guys have a different approach to writing or have you kind of fallen back into the way it used to be?
"Um ... there's more that seems similar about it than things that are different. I mean, I live in New York and those guys live out there, Glen lives in North Carolina. I was back here and I sent ... I wrote three or four songs on the album with Travis going back and forth over the internet. I would send him music on e-mail and he would send it back to me the next day and it'd be done. We'd write tracks that would happen in a matter of hours. And, um ... there were a few songs -- there's a song called 'Hypnotize' that we did that was like that. But, and then other things ... we sort of got in a room and hammered them out. So, which is kind of the way we used to do it. Then Travis brought in some songs and we, you know, sort of learned them and changed them around and kind of did them our way."
Did you guys start off by playing the old songs or did you start out working on new stuff?
"We started off playing the old songs because, I mean, we had to see if he was gonna be able to sing those songs. Because, to do it, like that in order to be able to go out and be able to do that."
I was gonna ask if when you got together to do those songs if that was the first time that you all had played those songs since you were a band?
"It was, yeah. It was a really strange day. (laughs)"
I can imagine. That was my next question.
"It was a lot of fun, but it was eerie. Travis, you know, he came in and to his credit, I mean, there's not really a bigger Shannon Hoon fan in the world. He came in and he was, I imagine, pretty freaked out and scared or nervous, but he wasn't scared. There's a difference, you know. I saw this and that's what really got me right away is that he got lost in the singing immediately. Whatever nerves he had and what not, he overcame it just by getting lost in the music. He wasn't even thinking about it anymore and then he started singing. Which I knew he was gonna have to do, especially going out and singing live for people that have a lot of expectations."
Are there any songs that you guys won't play for one reason or another?
"There are some songs that the lyrics don't ... the lyrics feel strange to me for Travis to sing. We talked about, there's a song called 'New Life' -- it just seems weird for Travis to sing a song about Shannon's baby. It's a personal song, but then again, 'Change' is a personal song, but it's kind of universal in a way. So, we do that one. But, you know ... I think there are some that probably won't get done because of that."
I know a few years back a lot of Blind Melon stuff like trunks were sold on eBay I guess by whoever owned them. That obviously says there were no plans to reform. Is that the case? Were you looking at it that way?
"Oh yeah, I had long ago stopped even thinking about it. You know, I mean ... I mean the way this happened was in such a natural, out-of-the-blue way that ... I mean there was no premeditation about it at all."
Are you guys looking at this as there being some longevity in this and you'd like to see how long it goes or have you thought that far?
"I mean, hey, this is what I would love to do, but I've learned, obviously, that nothing lasts forever and it's difficult to really say we're gonna have longevity, but that's what everybody's intentions are and that's what we're moving towards. Our plan is to tour for a year and along the way try to record and make another record. We're gonna do a second little EP, I think, pretty soon that will come out and we'll have it with us for sale after the initial album comes out. So, I mean, yeah ... This is what we want to do."
"I would love to do it for longevity's sake. (laughs)"
You talked a little about playing the songs for the first time again. I imagine the first gig back on Oct. 7 had to be pretty emotional.
"Yeah, I mean, that first ... uh ... when we first walked on stage, I haven't had an emotional sort of rise like that in a long time. It was really, kind of, a strange feeling. My head was swimming. Once we got into the playing, it was great. It's like riding a bike. But, um ... and every show after that just felt like great. And, I'll tell ya, it's a lot easier when the people ... there are a lot of people there and they're supporting you. The crowd is sort of into it, it's kind of effortless, really."
I read about, and saw -- thanks to the magic of YouTube -- where Nico joined you on stage recently. It gave me chills, I can only imagine how it felt for you guys.
"(laughs) Yeah ... that was one of those things ... it was so much to take in at the moment I kind of turned into a zombie. It was very, very emotional. Even our salty dog road crew was tearing up at that. So, that was an incredible moment and you have all those things going through your mind -- the continuity of life and all that. It was just amazing."
Was it a spur of the moment thing, or had you talked to her before?
"We talked to her about it. In ... her mother, a couple or maybe a week or so before and she wanted to do it. She was ... totally game for getting up there. I mean, it's a lot of guts for a 12-year-old kid. I think. I think she was really nervous but once she got up there ... then she didn't want to leave. (laughs) The next day she came and wanted to ride the tour bus to where we were going. She's hooked."
Nice. I've actually spoken to you before, it was right after Nico was released about 10 years ago. I guess you talked a little bit about when ... I guess you had relapsed with him. Was that something you had to deal with before you could get together as a band?
"Meaning that ... to deal with who did what and ..."
Not really that, but the whole situation of it.
"I'll tell you ... that whole situation, I can't ... it's one of things that in the end, I'll ... I'll just never get over it, you know? I'll never forgive myself for doing drugs with Shannon. The only slack I ever cut myself is that I was young and didn't think anybody could ever die, basically, especially not him. It was ... I mean, we deal with it all the time, but I think as far as getting on with the work and everything -- everybody has gone through a lot of that in their lives and I think dealt with a lot of those issues. I think we're in a better state than that at this point."
Does touring for you, at this point when you've been playing gigs for the last month -- you mentioned before that it's like riding a bike -- does it feel that way? Does it have a different vibe for you or does it feel familiar?
"I mean, it feels familiar, but with Shannon ... I mean, Travis being up there and the difference between Travis and Shannon is just two different people. There's a different feeling there, you know, because of that. But, as far as playing with the four musicians, it feels completely natural. We really learned how to play together -- especially me, I had only been playing the guitar for four years or so when we started writing for our first record. It really, you know, that style of playing feels like home to me in a way. I find these guys easy to play with. I mean ... I think what we did was sort of learned all the songs in a way that would be sounding close to the record. That was the way we used to do it as well before tours or when we were going to start touring. Rehearse everything and get it right and then it just goes from there as we start ... especially as we start getting into the tour and songs start to change. They're pretty straight as far as the way they were recorded, I mean, there were a few moments on this last run and I think it's gonna start changing."
And, I guess you'd have to bring in some ... You guys have been busy over the last 10 years with guys producing and a couple of them in Unified Theory and you were in Tender Trio. Do you look at ... I mean have you brought those experiences in for songwriting or do you look at it ...
"Yeah, in a way and in a way, not. In a way, you kind of wanted to unlearn a lot of things because there was a sound and a feeling to Blind Melon that it's important to capture. And, um, I think it's unavoidable to be influenced by people we've played with over the last few years so, there's probably some of that in there, but ... yeah. I think we tried to kind of go back to something ... a way that we used to play. I don't think it's gonna ever be possible to completely capture that. When we did our first record, we were really sort of frantic in a way because none of us had been playing as long as we have now. Everybody's sort of a more proficient musician. A lot of that sound on the first record is us flailing away trying to keep up with the beat or whatever. There's a kind of magic to that but I don't think that we could do that anymore. I mean, we can play those songs and make 'em sound like that, but to write like that? It's different now."
You guys released ... at this point have you released all that you've got from the back catalog? I know you released a live DVD and a live album. Well, I guess the live album was released without too much of your approval.
"The live album was fine. The problem with it ... it's ... that was just a disaster. We were furious. It's one of those things where you just couldn't get it fixed. You'd call and nobody was accountable. It just went on and on. It was kind of ridiculous. Beyond that ... I mean there's ... we recorded a lot of shows and we did ... uh ... there are a lot of demos and some other things I don't think have been heard, but they're not studio quality recordings that are ... they're demos. Some of them were cool, but ... I think with all the time I've completely forgotten about."
I was going to ask if the best of those got on Nico -- a lot of those were voicemails and demos.
"Um-hmm. Well, the ones that got on Nico were the ones that were either had been found at the time or inspired us to fit on there that we thought, 'This will fit.' A lot of that stuff we recorded on after the fact. We recorded on the DAT tapes after Shannon died. So ... and it worked. And some of it was less successful in that experiment."
So, at this point, are you guys just kind of touring on and off until the album comes out?
"I think we're gonna be touring pretty consistently. The plan is we're gonna go up until ... I mean, all of our dates that go up until the New Year haven't been released yet. We're gonna keep going until about the 20th I think in the Southeast and then stop for the holidays and then we're gonna pick back up in Texas, I think. And, uh ... maybe go out West, I assume and keep going. I think we're gonna go to Europe at the end of February. Um ... so, I mean, we're gonna be out there."
Getting back in full force, glad to hear it.
"(laughs) Yeah, yeah."
Well, I've taken enough of your time. I appreciate you talking with me.
"Yeah, I appreciate you ... I appreciate the interest."
No problem. Looking forward to the show.
"Yep, I'll see you there."
Thanks a lot.
"Yep. Bye-bye. Thank you."