ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 28, 1995
By Steve Newton
Although I’ve never been there, I always pictured New Orleans as a carefree, laid-back location, where the relaxed residents would happily welcome visitors into a fantasyland of down-home music, to-die-for food, and endless celebration. But in a chat with Blind Melon bassist Brad Smith—whose band recorded its latest album there—New Orleans doesn’t emerge as the congeniality capital of the world.
“It’s evil on a lot of levels,” says Smith, lounging with his feet up, Louisiana-style, on the Georgia Straight boardroom table. “I mean, outside of the whole voodoo and mysticism thing, there’s also a lot of crime, there’s a lot of drugs, the political system is the complete shits, the education system sucks, and the cops are corrupt—they’re all drug dealers. Fourteen of them got indicted on cocaine charges right before I left.
“You don’t know who to trust there,” adds this unlikely candidate for the New Orleans tourism board, “and if you want to get involved in something really nasty in New Orleans, you don’t have to try too hard.”
Given Smith’s negative take on New Orleans, it’s surprising that most of the dark material on Blind Melon’s current CD, Soup, doesn’t have its origins in the city of the Saints. “Skinned” is a blackly humorous attempt to dissect the mentality of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, whose gruesome body-part fetishes were the inspiration for both Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “Car Seat (God’s Presents)” was sparked by lead singer Shannon Hoon’s horror at the South Carolina drowning of two children by their mother, Susan Smith. And “St. Andrew’s Fall” was written after Hoon witnessed a young woman’s fall to her death from a Detroit building.
“We were playing at Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit,” says Smith, “and after the show—not because of the show, but after the show—about seven or eight buildings away there was this girl up there freaked-out on drugs of some sort who went and jumped off a 20-storey building.”
“Somebody in the opening band got it on video,” adds guitarist Christopher Thorn, “and the guy was all proud of it, going, ‘Man, we got it on film!’ I remember Shannon was, like, ‘Aw, what a jerk.’ ”
Although Soup contains a fair number of misery-related tracks, it’s also got some lighter moments, such as the jaunty first single, “Galaxie”, and “New Life”, which celebrates the birth of Hoon’s child. The album was recorded under fairly easygoing circumstances, too.
“We were looking for a studio that wasn’t so much like a studio,” says Smith, “that wasn’t all glass and iso[lation] booths, a real sterile environment, and we found one down in New Orleans called Kingsway. It was, like, a big old mansion inside the French Quarter, and they had an old API console just sittin’ in the living room, and you could just live there and record. It was kinda old and funky, and a little shabby in all the right places.”
Although the commercial results of Blind Melon’s sojourn at Kingsway with producer and grizzled Soup cover boy Andy Wallace are hard to predict at this point, a glance at the latest Billboard chart doesn’t bode well for the disc’s achieving the same multiplatinum status as the band’s self-titled ’92 debut. Then again, that recording didn’t really kick in on the charts until a year after its release, thanks to the breakthrough TV and radio success of the video/single “No Rain”.
“I think it surprised everybody,” says Smith of “No Rain”. “It looks like a fun video, and we actually had a great day, but we had a lot of other ‘great days’ shooting videos where we thought, ‘Oh this is gonna be cool, TV’s gonna play the hell out of it.’ But ‘No Rain’ was one of those things where the message really came across, visually speaking, and a lot of people got into it. It kept us on the road for a long time.”
Although it appears in the new “Galaxie” clip that the Blind Melon boys have a hoot shooting videos—they’re pictured goofing around in a cruising convertible—that isn’t quite the case.
“Videos suck,” declares Smith. “I mean, you have to do ’em in this day and age, but it’s a drag, ’cause we’re not actors, we’re musicians. And I’m not even a PR person, so it’s taken me a while to even get an idea of doin’ interviews and stuff like that.”
“The idea [of music videos] has potential to be a really cool thing,” adds Thorn, “if all videos were made by the actual band members. If we were all gonna make our own video, we’d all have Super 8 cameras and there’d be all weird, crazy shots—like the first R.E.M. videos—and we’d love it, and maybe no one would buy the damn record. But the problem is that you’re making a commercial. I don’t want to make a commercial.”
“Unfortunately, it kinda started with the whole information age,” concludes Smith. “You don’t have to dig hard for information now, so why make music lovers dig? They can just flick on the TV and catch what’s hot at the moment. And if MuchMusic doesn’t play you, or MTV doesn’t play you, there’s, like, this weird type of mentality, that you’re not ‘hot’ or something. Fortunately, there are music lovers out there who do dig and do their own footwork to decide what they like as well, so there’s two different worlds.”
Less than a month after this story was published Shannon Hoon died of a cocaine overdose in “evil” New Orleans.