Jesse Valenzuela was one of the earliest members of Gin Blossoms. Photo by Jeff Harris

If Jesse Valenzuela refers to Gin Blossoms in both present tense and past tense, it is understandable. The band, forged in Tempe in the late 1980s, is on its second incarnation.

Gin Blossoms will perform in the amphitheater at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Dec. 19 at 1:30 p.m. as part of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino’s concert series.

“It’s close to home. It’ll be fun,” Valenzuela said. “We’ll play all the hits.”

Guitarist, singer and songwriter, Valenzuela is one of the group’s founders. The band still tends to be labeled alternative rock, though Valenzuela just calls it pop-rock.

“I don’t care what they call us really, but I never felt like we were in line with alternative rockers,” he said. “I thought we sounded more like the Eagles than the Screaming Trees.”

He attributes the misplaced genre to their record label trying to hitch the band’s wagon to the shooting star of the alt rock industry of the early ‘90s.

The band broke through in 1992 with the album New Miserable Experience. It sold 4 million copies. In 1996, their follow-up album, Congratulations I’m Sorry, also went platinum and was their highest charting album at No. 10.

Jesse Valenzuela. Submitted photo
Jesse Valenzuela. Submitted photo

Gin Blossoms broke up in 1997. Band members went on to other projects. Valenzuela released a solo album, Tunes Young People Will Enjoy. As the industry has changed, he found success in getting music into movies and television.

Though he moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago because he couldn’t find an avenue in Phoenix to play music full time, he said, “It’s a different world and you don’t necessarily have to live in LA to pursue that sort of career.”

Gin Blossoms regrouped in 2002. Their album Major Lodge Victory came 10 years after their previous release. In 2010, the band released No Chocolate Cake.

Nearly six years later, the band will begin working on music for a new album in 2016, allowing Valenzuela to shift into future tense. “I don’t know what it will be like,” he said. “It’s not as if we have to sell records anymore. We can just have some fun and explore.”

Dealing with so many personalities, experiences and backgrounds can make that process challenging.

“It’s just a matter of being around together for almost 30 years,” he said. “There’s been a lot of change, you know, and tragedies big and small. And the music kind of stays in the same realm. We’re going to make a new record here and hopefully there will be a few left turns.”

Valenzuela said his musical influences were too many to mention but pointed out Johnson was a young jazz enthusiast and has a serious LP collection of jazz. Lead singer Robin Wilson, meanwhile, does not want any drastic changes.

“If you try to throw a jazz chord into a pop song, it can rub some people the wrong way,” Valenzuela said. “It can be conflicting if you’re trying to push 115 beats on eighth notes into a pop song. But in the conflict, there can be magic.”

Mostly, Gin Blossoms is trying to ride the line between sticking with what has always worked and progressing as a band.

“The guys are very cautious,” Valenzuela said. “Robin likes to remain true to what he perceives as the Gin Blossom sound. He doesn’t want to play anything necessarily too left field. But I don’t know. I think it might be fun to do that.”

The industry no longer survives on album sales. For Gin Blossoms it’s a matter of adapting.

“I’ve spent plenty of my career pursuing the song that would go viral,” Valenzuela said. “Back in the day it was going on the radio, now it’s going viral. Whatever you’re going to do it’s not really an economic pursuit.”

If You Go …
Who: Gin Blossoms
Where: UltraStar Multi-tainment Center Amphitheatre
When: Dec. 19, 1:30 p.m. (gates open at 12:30 p.m.)
How much: Free
Info: Caesars.com/Harrahs-Ak-Chin/Shows

 Gin Blossoms’ (from left) Scott Johnson, Bill Leen, Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela will play a free show at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Dec. 19 as part of the Harrah’s Ak-Chin concert series. Saki Photography

Gin Blossoms’ (from left) Scott Johnson, Bill Leen, Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela will play a free show at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Dec. 19 as part of the Harrah’s Ak-Chin concert series. Saki Photography

This story appeared in the December issue of InMaricopa News.

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