Twenty-five years after the release of their self-titled debut – an album that fused southern- psych-rock influences with nineties-era alt-grunge – Blind Melon is returning to the studio and the stage. The internet age has made rediscovering the gems of eras past all too easy and reunion tours of old material an obvious choice. But despite the fact that the band’s breakout single, “No Rain,” became one of the most indelible music videos of the 90’s—or any era for that matter—Blind Melon’s return is no exercise in nostalgia. With new members and new material defined by powerhouse harmonies, the band sounds both fresh and familiar.
Blind Melon began in L.A., founded in 1990 by a group of southern transplants. Rogers Stevens, Brad Smith, and Glen Graham (on guitar, bass, and drums, respectively) all headed west from Mississippi, while Christopher Thorn (guitar) hailed from Pennsylvania. The group’s original and iconic vocalist, Shannon Hoon, arrived shortly thereafter from Lafayette, Indiana. The band gained some early buzz after Hoon sang on the Guns n Roses single “Don’t Cry,” and the group’s early demos landed into the hands of Capitol Records A&R, which resulted in a recording contract soon after.
Nearly overnight, the band went from honing their distinctive blend of stripped-down psychedelia in a sleepy old house (immortalized on the song “Sleepyhouse”) to topping Billboard charts and shredding through a set at Woodstock 94. But all too soon the clouds began to gather. Critics panned their 1995 follow-up, Soup. (Time has been kind to that album, however, as classic songs like “Mouthful of Cavities” have since found large, appreciative audiences.) Then, during a tour stop in New Orleans—just a few weeks after the album’s release—Shannon Hoon died from a cocaine overdose.
Hoon’s death was cataclysmic: he was just 28 years old, a new father. In the wake of the tragedy, the band struggled to carry on. They released a record of outtakes, Nico, named for Hoon’s daughter, and a documentary, Letters from a Porcupine. The record included such gems as “Soul One” while the documentary received a Grammy nomination. But, unable to find a suitable replacement for Hoon, the band officially disbanded in 1999.
Blind Melon’s revival began in Austin, Texas, when Smith and Thorn produced a record by singer/songwriter Travis Warren in 2006. Few singers possess the range of someone like Hoon, and fewer still the raspy edge. Warren had it. And moreover, Warren had his own musical ideas, which served to push the band into new territory. The discovery brought the four remaining members together again, and with a new singer up to the task, they reunited. In 2007, they sold out clubs around the country and recorded their first new music in over a decade, culminating with the 2008 release of For My Friends in 2008. Although the band continued to perform around the globe, however, the dates were occasional and their future uncertain.
Then came a period of unprecedented creativity. Up late one night in late 2016, guitarist Rogers Stevens sent a sketch of a song to Warren. When he woke up the next morning, Warren had sent the track back with his vocals on it. Something clicked. That late-night correspondence ushered in a period of prolific songwriting, which continued into 2018. Based on the series of demos followed, a new album was afoot. Longtime Blind Melon fans will find much to appreciate here, given that the each retain the essential elements of the band’s distinctive sound.
Graham’s remarkable, rolling drumming still anchors the band, and the band’s two guitarists, Stevens and Thorn, have long been able to finish each other's sentences musically. With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Nathan Townes, a gifted musician who had previously worked with Thorn and Warren on a variety of projects, Blind Melon has once again caught lightening in a bottle. The songs, both harmonically and structurally, have found a deeper gear, too. “We’re making the best music of our careers,” Stevens says. “I’m aware that everyone says that, and that nobody ever believes it, but in this instance, I think it’s true...that surprises me as much as it will anyone.” Perhaps that’s a result of the fact that there were probably many albums the band didn’t get to make. Whatever the case, with all those unrealized ideas built up over the years, the resulting pressure burst the dam and the songs now flow freely.
In sum, Blind Melon is back.