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Articles: Blind Melon's new vision (January 14, 2007)


 

Blind Melon's new vision
Dover native Christopher Thorn orchestrating comeback of 1990s hit group

By Jason Cox

Christopher Thorn is not just a guitarist, and he isn't just a record producer. Recently, the Dover-native musician became an editor of sorts when he took the period at the end of Blind Melon's career and turned it into an ellipsis.

After closing the book on that chapter of his life seven years ago, Thorn and Melon bassist Brad Smith, who have worked closely together since the group disbanded, decided there were still Blind Melon songs left to write.


Chris Thorn at Wishbone studio (Sept 2006)

Easier said than done considering the band's turbulent history, including an immensely successful debut album, a commercially sluggish follow-up and the death of its lead singer, Shannon Hoon, in 1995. Talking from his own recording studio in L.A., Studio Wishbone, Thorn has high hopes as the band he helped begin 17 years ago gets ready to enter the studio again.

He is well aware, however, of the potential pitfalls associated with making a comeback.

"We've all had long discussions with each other," he said. "We don't want to become a nostalgic act. We want to create new music and move forward."

 

The beginning

He hasn't forgotten his past, however, and recalled how his musical journey began almost from birth. Thorn was born in Dover into a musical family. Some of his earliest memories were of his mother singing to him while playing the acoustic guitar.

 
1983: Thorn got his first guitar, a Hondo, in his early teens. As a child, though, he often picked up and played his mother's acoustic guitar. 

"She was part of this group called the Marysville Sunday Night Pickers," he said. "It was a bunch of hippies that would just get together and jam on Sunday nights, and I realize now what an incredible influence that was on me. As a kid, I thought it was normal, but it was so unique for me to witness. It always felt like they were having a party."

Thorn played on his mother's acoustic guitar until he was a teen. That's when he received his own Hondo.

One of the biggest influences on his musical development was Jeff Snyder, a high school teacher. Snyder gave Thorn piano lessons when he was young and became his music teacher at Dover Area High School.

"Chris took everything I had to offer," the now-retired Snyder said. "He was in my choir, my music theory class, which was his real specialty, and history of music class. A couple years ago, we were together for dinner, and one of the first things he talked about were some of the things he used from my class in the recording studio."

Thorn said that Snyder helped him "realize that it was cool and accepted to be a musician." Thorn also played in a high school band during his years at Dover Area High School and spent a couple of years at York College before getting the urge to move on to something bigger.
 


September 1988: Just before the start of another year at York College, Thorn decided to drop out and pursue his dream of becoming a rock star. In this photo, Thorn and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Heather are packed and ready to leave for Los Angeles, where Thorn would meet his future bandmates in a few months. 

"I quit school because I had a dream to become a rock star, as cliché as that is," he said. "I knew that wasn't going to happen in Dover. I packed up a U-Haul and me and my girlfriend, Heather, who is now my wife, moved out to L.A."

Thorn's mother, Alba, had bittersweet feelings about her son's move in 1989, but she echoed his sentiment that if he was going to become a successful musician, York wasn't the place for it to happen.

 "What mother is happy when her child moves 3,000 miles away?" she asked. "But I knew he was serious about it because he had shown it to us. ... I know a lot of people love his music, and I'm so happy he's extremely successful."

 

The rest is written in the musical history books. Thorn soon met up with guitarist Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, drummer Glenn Graham and singer Hoon. After Smith one time greeted his new friends as "blind melons" - a term he picked up from his dad, who used it to describe hippies from Mississippi - the group of rockers found its name. 

They also found a record deal surprisingly fast, thanks in part, Thorn said, to buzz created by Hoon, who had become well-known in the L.A. music scene. The band released its self-titled debut in 1992 to a rather quiet fanfare with two singles that didn't even chart.

The band picked up some steam after landing a spot on MTV's 120 Minutes Tour, which just so happened to feature a band that Thorn had more than a little in common with - York natives Live.

"I didn't know those guys before I showed up on the tour," Thorn said. "We hit it off then. We bonded on our York County memories. They were like the city kids, and I was like the country boy from Dover."

 

Rise and fall

It wasn't until the next year when the band released the music video for a song called "No Rain" that their careers exploded. The song not only soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts, but it also placed No. 22 on VH1's Greatest Videos of All Time list in 1999. The now-famous video features a tap-dancing girl in a bee costume who is laughed off stage, only to take a journey where she finds others like herself. By the end of 1993, the "Blind Melon" album was certified double platinum. The band released its second album, "Soup," on Aug. 15, 1995.

Two months later, on Oct. 21, Hoon overdosed on cocaine while on tour with the band.

"I went through a lot of different emotions immediately," Thorn said. "Denial, then devastated. Then I was just pissed for a while. I still go through all three phases, although not as strongly. Now, I just miss him."

Hoon left behind not only a band on the verge of success but also a daughter, Nico, who was only a few months old.

"I get mad when I see Nico sometimes," Thorn said. "I just want to say to (Shannon), 'Man, you (screwed) up. I'm here with your daughter today and you're not.'"

 
Christopher Thorn plucks a few strings as former lead singer Shannon Hoon looks on just before the band opened for Pearl Jam (September 1993)

The remaining members of Blind Melon released a third disc, titled "Nico," one year later. "Nico" contained demos and unfinished tracks that had been laying around the studio. Proceeds went to the Musicians Assistance Program, a group dedicated to helping musicians suffering from various forms of addiction.

After a long period of inactivity, the group officially disbanded in 1999. Thorn kept busy, playing with Live on "The Distance To Here" tour and starting up another band, Unified Theory, which dissipated a couple years later. In 2001, Thorn regrouped with Melon's Smith to start Studio Wishbone, and the two have been producing records since then.

A few months ago, Thorn and Smith met Travis Warren, an aspiring singer-songwriter looking to cut a record. At first, Thorn and Smith looked at Warren as another producing job for an up-and-coming artist. But then something clicked.

"He just had that vibe right away," Thorn said. "We wrote four or five songs together, made some recordings. I just kept thinking, 'Wouldn't it be wild to play some Blind Melon songs with this guy?'"

Following their instincts, Smith and Thorn had Melon guitarist Stevens and drummer Graham fly to L.A. to hear Warren sing. Thorn said they both wanted in after the first song.

"This was never something we could have gone out to try and find," Thorn said. "Travis found us, and it felt like someone was telling us that we had to go down this path."

Rebirth

The band members were not the only ones taken by surprise by their sudden second life.

"I never expected it to happen," said Alba Thorn. "But I was delightfully surprised. I said, 'Is this what you want?' He said, 'We want to give it a try.' I said, 'If you're happy, we're happy.' It's a whole new path."

In November, the newly revived band recorded three songs and made a simple music video that they posted to their Web site. In late January, the band plans to go full throttle in the studio and work on a full album. While the guys are enjoying the luxury of having their own studio to record in, they have yet to nail down a record contract with any label. However, that's about the furthest thing from Thorn's mind at the moment.

"We are super fortunate to be able to do this at our own pace," he said. "We're just focusing on the creative process at this point. We want to deliver a finished record. We've heard about some interest from the majors just by people hearing about it."

Thorn is unconcerned about future dealings with record labels, he said, because he's no longer convinced the "old system" works. Things have changed a lot in 10 years, but all for the better, Thorn said.

"After being a producer for 10 years, I have a different perspective now," he said. "I see how bands work and don't work. When we were younger and in Blind Melon, we had the worst communication skills. Maybe it was being 20 and smoking too much pot. I don't know if we're smarter, but we communicate better."

Thorn has no worries about zipping up the Blind Melon suit after a decade away from it.

"It will be much better this time around," he said. "We've been to the bottom, then the top, then the bottom. You cannot break us. I feel tougher than ever. These guys are my family, and it's like a family I've never felt before."

Reach Jason Cox at 771-2051 or jcox@ydr.com.

 

 

About Christopher Thorn

Age: 38

Born in: Dover

Lives in: Silverlake, Calif.

Family: Wife Heather

Son Devlin

Mother Alba and father Ron, both of Dover

Favorite Blind Melon album: "'Soup' showed where we were headed as a band. It was a really dark record and kind of freaked people out. The musicianship got to a whole new level. Shannon (Hoon) is so exposed on that record."

 

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