By Andrew D. Parker
Blind Melon, the ’90s neo-psychedelic alt-rock band that found commercial success with their 1993 hit “No Rain,” is back together, working on a new album, and bringing their unmistakable sound to Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg next Friday night, Aug. 2.
The band heads to Loudoun County during a period where they have harnessed the creativity of new material while keeping alive the vision, energy and sense of freedom that former front man Shannon Hoon brought to fans, according to Christopher Thorn, rhythm guitarist and one of the band’s founding members.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1990, Blind Melon’s original lineup consisted of Hoon on vocals, Thorn on rhythm guitar, lead guitarist Rogers Stevens, bass guitarist and backing vocalist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham. Following Hoon’s tragic death from a cocaine overdose on the band’s tour bus in 1995, Blind Melon went through periods of inactivity before reforming in 2006 with new vocalist Travis Warren, from the band Rain Fur Rent. After another hiatus in 2009, the band started touring again in 2010, and in 2015, Nathan Towne took over for Smith on bass and backing vocals.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Thorn said that one of the primary forces behind Blind Melon is continuing Hoon’s creative spirit and his connection with fans during live performances.
“It’s one of the main reasons we’re going out there and doing it,” he said. “That’s my connection to Shannon. That’s how we honor him every night. We’re celebrating these songs we wrote together. It’s a beautiful thing. We’re all there for that.”
Warren was also a huge fan of the band before he joined, so he’s conscious of Hoon’s impact, Thorn added.
When the band first got back together and started touring, Thorn said it felt like getting a part of his close family back into his regular life. “We’ve been through so much,” he said. “I’m tied to these people. Those guys are my brothers, so for me it felt great to come back.”
Touring not only allows the band to honor Hoon—it also gives everyone in the audience a chance to take a break. “That’s the whole point. You’re all in a room together trying to feel good for a night and forget about all the bullshit. That’s what going out and playing shows is all about,” Thorn said. His comments echo a similar sentiment from Hoon during a performance of “No Rain” at the 1994 Woodstock festival, in a comment after singing the line about a great escape. “Every one of you needs it,” Hoon told the Woodstock audience.
Expect the Unexpected
The Tally Ho performance, with doors opening at 7 p.m., will feature a mix of well-known audience favorites with new material. The band has been playing a few songs from the new album over the past six months, while continuing to chip away at the production of the record. One thing attendees of the Tally Ho performance shouldn’t expect is for everything to sound like a record or follow a script.
“Part of our shows are always to expect the unexpected, because there is a bit of looseness. We try to have jams and things that feel free in the moment,” Thorn said. “The one thing I can always guarantee is that it’s not going to be the same every night,” he added.
While acknowledging there is “not a ton” of improvisation like seeing a Grateful Dead or Phish show, Thorn said the band has been digging into some deeper cuts and trying different approaches—sometimes even playing around with ideas on stage that they came up with hours earlier in sound check.
“There are moments in the set every night that really change on any given night. Sometimes they’re absolute magic and the whole band and audience levitates—sometimes you fall flat on your face,” he explained. “But it makes it exciting. It makes it a rock show instead of some premeditated thing. Something I’ve always loved about playing with Blind Melon is that freedom we have.”
Thorn described the band’s current state of mind as positive and productive.
“I know every band says this, but I honestly feel like we’re playing better than ever,” he said, adding that the band is placing importance on having fun. “Travis has just been on fire, and the whole band has been playing great and having a good time.”
There were times in the early Blind Melon years, he said, “where it started to become a machine that’s bigger than you, and the fun starts to go away. So, I’m excited by that feeling that we’re all having fun making music again. There’s no pressure. There was a lot of pressure on us back in the ’90s. We don’t feel that anymore.”
While Hoon’s legacy will always be a part of the band’s history—and “No Rain” may be the only song some people know—Thorn said that most of Blind Melon’s life after commercial success is about constant change and new ideas. “The band is a lot bigger than that song,” he said. Like the fans that have followed the newer music, the band continues to evolve and bring fresh ideas to the sound board.
“We kind of have to,” Thorn said. “We love the old songs, and that’s my connection to Shannon, and the audience. But as a musician, you want to create new material—that’s what you do.”
The band has recorded at various locations, including Thorn’s studio in Joshua Tree, CA, as well as in Los Angeles, and sessions in Philadelphia near Stevens’ home in Swarthmore, PA. The schedules of individual band members are much more hectic now than in the early days. “Everybody else has other things going on in this band now, so we’ve just been fitting it in when we can. It’s definitely different than it was in the early ’90s, when we were just at it all the time.”
A lot has changed in the music industry over the past 30 years, while a lot has stayed the same, Thorn said. Bands have realized the importance of touring and getting out there to connect with audiences.
“The one thing you can’t steal, you can’t stream a live—I guess you can stream a live show—but there’s nothing like being there,” he said.
“A lot hasn’t changed,” Thorn said. “In the end, it’s a few people onstage playing loud music to people who are feeling it, and that’s stayed the same.”
One of the biggest differences now is a more direct connection to the audience through social media and mobile devices that allow more sharing of moments in real time, Thorn said. “Today, it’s just like a constant stream of ‘Look at me, look at me, check me out,’ and back when we made records in the ’90s, you went out and talked to people and the press, then went away and made a record for a year,” he said. “It wasn’t like you had to keep up on social media every day, and keep people informed.”
People expect a lot more, he said. “They expect a lot more access. I’m not willing to share what I had for breakfast at some point. You don’t get all the access.”
One of the ways Thorn stays creative is by unplugging from the news and other chaotic events of the day.
“I don’t want to know about the outside world. I want to live in my bubble,” he said. “I call it my movie.” And when something he doesn’t like happens, he’ll think, “Don’t mess with my movie, man, you can’t have that in my movie, I don’t want to know about that.”
The movie that is Blind Melon rolls on at Leesburg’s Tally Ho next Friday night.