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Blind Melon's Christopher Thorn: 'We had unfinished business'


By Troy Reimink for The Grand Rapid Press (July 23, 2008)



Among the '90s alt-rock bands least likely to reunite was Blind Melon. The band, best known for "No Rain" and the cult audience that has developed for its second album "Soup," broke up in 1995 after singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose. In 2006, however, a young singer named Travis Warren convinced the band to reunite.

My story on the band is in today's paper. I spoke at length with guitarist Christopher Thorn about the band's reunion, Blind Melon's initial burst of fame and whether "No Rain" could have happened in 2008. Here's a transcript.


Press: How many tours have you done since getting back together?

Thorn: This is like the fifth tour. Last November, we did a couple of runs at the end of the year, just to kind of feel it out, and we've been touring, really, ever since. The record just came out in April, but we wanted to get out there and play some shows as soon as possible.

That was the one thing that we really didn't know, was we didn't have a feel for how many people still cared about the band, so that was one of the reasons to go out. We sold out a small club tour, so it was great. People showed up, and it was great.

I take it the response, then, has exceeded your expectations.

Yeah, it really has. We spent last year making the record without really any concept as to who still cared. I think, for us, when we put the band back together we started to connect more with the fans on the Internet, and we were all really blown away as to the response, and that was even before we went on tour.

And we still didn't know how many people were going to show up. It's one thing to say, "I love your band," but to actually go buy a ticket, put gas in the car and drive there is a whole different thing. We were all super blown away. Those first few shows were a huge sigh of relief, I think, for both parties. The fans wanted to make sure we were doing this for the right reasons. They came out and they saw Travis and they fully embraced him immediately. That, for us, was a sigh of relief. We believed in him, and that was the reason we put the band back together.

What did you do first when you decided Blind Melon was going to exist again -- did you immediately start working on new stuff, or did you need to re-learn all the old songs with Travis?

Brad and I had been working with Travis for a couple of months. It was Brad who first said, "Man, this guy can sing Blind Melon songs in his sleep." We were telling Rogers and Glen over the phone what a bad-ass Travis is, and they were skeptical. So they flew out, and we learned 10 Blind Melon songs. "2x4" from the "Soup" record, was the first song we played. Brad and I were already convinced because we had worked with Travis. But after the first song, Rogers and Glen were like, "This is it." They knew it was on after the first song.

So after we played those 10 songs, maybe for two days, at that point we said, great, we can play the old catalog. Travis sounds great, cool. The very next step was, let's make a record. At that point, we moved right in to writing new songs.

Travis' voice is similar to Shannon's, but you can tell he's not just doing an impersonation.

No. I mean, Shannon is one of Travis' influences. He was a huge fan of our band. It's more about the register he sings in. If he sang in a baritone, it would be weird.

Well, he's at least a tenor...

Exactly. So that alone made us feel like we could play the old songs, and he sings them in his way, but he's studied Shannon for years. He has enough of that in there that makes people recognize the songs. But he's so much of an artist that he puts his soul into the songs as well. He feels those songs deeply. He grew up on those songs. He's not just being a puppet. He delivers them.

Fans are smart. They'll see a fake. Back to the question about how did it feel to play those first few shows, you can't fool fans. I'm not fooled. You see somebody and you're like, "That guy's a f---ing fake." It's not that hard. There's a bunch of people in suits trying to figure out what makes this and what makes that, but it's just a feeling you have. I think Travis convinces people within the first song, and you can see and feel the relief in the audience. All the people that are skeptics, they unfold their arms and have a good time.

After Shannon died, the rest of the guys band went on to do other stuff musically. Did you find that less satisfying than Blind Melon, or just different?

It gave me a great insight into the incredible chemistry that I had with Blind Melon. Brad and I went on to be producers, and we played on a bunch of the records with a bunch of musicians, which was really awesome. Brad and I were in a band called Unified Theory, Rogers was in the Tender Trio and Extra Virgin. But it made me realize, which I took for granted 12 years ago, how special our chemistry was.

The day we got back together, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I've never played guitar with another guitar player like I play with Rogers. We don't talk about it, but somehow we make this mess sound OK. I've never had that before. That's the one thing I learned from the time off, how special our relationship was as people and as musicians.

Also, if you weren't doing this, there would probably be tribute bands making a lot of money from your music. By now, more people have seen the Sublime tribute band, Badfish, than ever actually saw Sublime.

Well, that goes back to the conversation about the songs being bigger than the band. If people are pumped about going to see a cover band playing the songs, then that proves what I said. People just want to hear the songs again.

Getting back together might also allow you to reclaim some of the recognition you may have lost along the way.

Yeah, and we might not get it again. I think the fans are into what we're doing, and they're all convinced we're doing it for the right reasons. I think there's a portion of the press that looks at the idea of it on paper and decides it's crap without even listening to it. So I think we get beat up a little bit in the press. But it's the fans that are going to allow us to continue. They either show up or they don't.

Would it be great for everyone to say, "Oh yeah, Blind Melon was more than 'No Rain'?" Yeah. But I can speak for the band -- I think we all felt we had unfinished business. One day we're a band and the next day it's over. It's like, oh my god, we had so many more songs to write.

I always thought the "Soup" record was the work of a band very much in the process of growing artistically.

The one cool thing about the "Soup" record is that it has a higher shelf life. It's incredible how slammed the record got in the press when we came out with that. We were shocked. We thought we made a masterpiece.

I realize we didn't deliver "No Rain Part Two," and that's maybe what the critics wanted to hear. We did whatever the f--- we wanted, and we were young and maybe naive enough to just go, we're making an art record. We had money in our pocket and we weren't listening to the record company. They asked us to change some stuff, to rewrite songs, to write more songs. We said, no, this is the record. I'm grateful we were bold enough to make that record, and we were shocked when it got panned.

What's odd about that record is that now, when somebody sees me in the street, they'll say "'Soup' is one of my all-time favorite records." I'll hear that way more than anything else.

History looks better on bands that take that kind of risk. Look at the first two Radiohead albums. "Pablo Honey" had "Creep," the huge hit, but I don't think you'll find a single person who likes that album better than "The Bends."

I'm happy with the way people talk about "Soup" now. But at the time, we were bummed. We thought, wow, what a progression we made as a band from record one to record two. All the records we grew up on, all the classic bands, they were allowed to really evolve from one record to the next. I think we've gotten away from that. The record company hears Fall Out Boy and they want Fall Out Boy part two, Fall Out Boy part three. Whatever band, I'm not dissing on them. I think record companies invest in something, and they really don't want you to change. It's not about art for them. It never was. Or it hasn't been in a long time. So I think we freaked out our record company. But I'm proud of it.

The song "Soup" has always been my favorite Blind Melon song, but it wasn't on the "Soup" album...

Oh boy, the revenge. That's something I hear probably a couple of times a week. "Soup" was a song I had written, and for whatever reason the rest of the band didn't want that on the record.

You're kidding me.

Yeah, that's the exact f---ing reaction I had! We're gonna name the record "Soup," and one of the best songs isn't going to be on it. That was a band fight that lasted months, and unfortunately for me I lost, but at least now, I have some sense of "I told you so." The best part is when fans come up and tell me that with the rest of the guys around.

Tell me you at least play it live.

We play it live. We change the set every night, but that's one of the songs that's always in the set. We were talking about shelf life, and that's one of the songs that happens to be a lot of people's favorite, along with "Mouthful of Cavities" and "Change."

For me, that was one of my favorite collaborations between me and Shannon, and Rogers wrote the tail part. To be fair, Brad wrote a song called "Soul One," which was not on the first record, that the record company actually thought would be a giant hit.

Another one of my favorites.

There you go. Then Brad has the same feeling. All of us were like, "no, we're not putting that song on the record," and the record company was like, "it's a hit." And we were like, "f--- you. We're 20. We know what we're doing." To this day, I'll talk to people at Capitol who say we probably could have sold a couple million more records if you would have put "Soul One" on it. Ah, that hurts. But, hey, we're known for having shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times.

Say you're putting out your first record, with "No Rain" on it, in 2008. Would the same thing have happened today?

No, absolutely not. I'll tell you what would have happened if we put the record out a year ago. We'd put the record out on Capitol and, we would have been dropped, and we never would have made "Soup." Today, a record company never sticks with a band the way Capitol stuck with us 13 years ago.

Our story is phenomenal. We had a record that sold 80,000 copies after a year, and we were doing great touring, but 80,000 doesn't pay the bills at Capitol. But 13 years ago, you had somebody like Hale Milgrim as the president, and they don't make them like him anymore. This is a guy who goes, "80,000, that's a great start. We're gonna keep you out there touring and keep the money flowing."

"No Rain" was the third single they went for. Basically, it was, let's go do another run, then come back and make a second record. Then "No Rain" came out, and everything changed, and we stayed on the road for another year-and-a-half. That never, ever would have happened today. Ever. That band would have been dropped in six months. There's absolutely no support and no artist development going on at all. And I know that because I've been a producer, and I've seen it first-hand. We would have been an absolute failure if our record, including the song "No Rain," would have been delivered today. It never would have happened for us.

It's funny how nobody in the business is good at guessing what will catch on. "No Rain," in retrospect, seems like such an obvious hit.

This is the odd thing about record companies that just drives me f---ing crazy. They want to tell you they know what a hit song is, and it's like, you guys have been wrong more than anybody. Why would you trust a record company? What percentage of success does a record company have, one percent? Niney-nine percent of the time they say a song is a hit, they're wrong, so one percent of the time they win? It's like, they're the last people to listen to. And they still think they know. Be very suspicious of anybody who tells you they know. It's such a funny system. Fortunately for us, we're not a part of that system anymore, so we do whatever the hell we want.

Do I detect a bit of glee at the demise of the current business model?

Well, yes and no. I just explained what a great experience we had 13 years ago, and people don't have those experiences anymore. Thirteen years ago, they were awesome to us. They changed my life and made all my dreams come true. They stuck with us. Even when we fought, it was cool. It was like, we're trying to make money, you're trying to make art, and let's see if we can combine those two things. We had a great relationship with Capitol because we got to make art and they made a bunch of money.

A part of me is bummed that the business has been driven into the ground and those days are gone. But a part of me says you guys deserve it. While you were out flying first class and buying giant dinners and not being smart with the money that you guys made during the early '90s with all the CDs being sold. But I also have a lot of friends in the business, and I'm bummed for them because I want them to have a job and take care of their families and all those things.

I'm bummed that it's not like it was 13 years ago, because that was a great time in the music business. When you had Nirvana on pop radio, and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Those were incredible times. That was our pop radio. That's what was being sold to the masses. It felt like a really good time. It felt like important music was getting heard by large numbers of people.

It seemed pretty easy for kids back then, since so much good stuff was being broadcast to such a large audience.

Yeah, remember turning on the TV and seeing Nirvana and Soundgarden? It's mind-boggling how much good stuff was on, and in heavy rotation. I mean, what band on MTV do you like now?

On the other hand, though, look how the Internet has taken the power away from the major labels. You mentioned Fall Out Boy earlier, but that's a band that basically built a fan base on its own, free of the label structure, and the major labels then had to catch up with it. It's like a lunatics-running-the-asylum thing happening, so in a way, it's not all doom and gloom.

Yeah, it's an exciting time in the music business. There's some kid in his bedroom right now with Pro Tools, and he's making killer s---, and there's not some A&R dork who's telling him it needs to sound like whatever band's on the radio. And he's going to put it up on the Internet, and it's going to change everybody's lives. And that's happening every day. That part of the music business makes me very excited about the business again. Just that freedom, when you have somebody without the restraints of 10 other people who, because they gave you a few hundred thousand dollars, they have an opinion over you. So when you don't take that money, and you make that record in your bedroom, you are free, man. And that's really exciting for art


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