After Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose in 1995, it was evident that the road ended for Blind Melon. Efforts to find a replacement for the prolific songwriter and singer were fruitless, and the remaining members went their separate ways. Years later, guitarist Christopher Thorn and bassist Brad Smith were producing albums when Travis Warren walked into their lives, looking for a producer. Instead, Blind Melon found its replacement singer, a decade after they stopped looking. It wasn’t by design, insists Thorn, on the phone from his L.A. home where he’s finishing the album For My Friend, slated to drop on April 22.
French Davis: First off, I need to say thank you: “Tones From Home” is the song that inspired a woman living in Chicago to pack up her belongings and her last $50 and hop on a bus, eventually leading her to Colorado where we first met and were later married.
Christopher Thorn: Wow. Thank you for sharing that story with me. That’s a wonderful thing to hear.
FD: How often do you hear a story like that about that tune?
CT: We actually do all the time. It’s part of the reason why we write—hearing those stories for us, it’s icing on top of the cake, connecting to people like that is such a big statement.
FD: What was it that convinced you that reuniting in this fashion was a good idea?
CT: It was just Travis—honestly I was happy producing for the past 12 years. We (Thorn and Smith) have our own studio that’s been very successful. We’ve had a gold record with Anna Nalick. I never thought about putting it back together. The day I met Travis, everything changed—don’t want to get too cosmic, but there was a sign.
FD: How is Travis fitting in? How does he deal with the backlash from replacing such an iconic figure?
CT: That was the big “X” factor for us. We accepted him immediately, and we’re pretty tough. We don’t want to go out and stomp on our old career. But we didn’t know. So we spent a year making a record and then booked a short tour…just two weeks. We didn’t know how we’d be received. We didn’t know who even cared anymore. And it was the most incredible experience. My favorite thing was seeing people standing in the back of the room, arms crossed, and then winning them over. I haven’t heard one bad review from someone who came to a show.
FD: Tell me about the songwriting
process today. How is it different from the old days?
CT: Well, we’re not doing a lot of drugs—or any drugs, actually. Drugs can really get in the way of communication. We learned how to fight without throwing things…well, not yet anyway. I feel like we’re firing on all pistons because somebody’s not hungover. We work better and write better when we’re not loaded. We don’t all live in the same city, so now we are sending files over the Internet, working at any time of the day, and that’s changed the process a little. And hopefully we’ve learned how to be better musicians.
FD: Recently, actor Heath Ledger was found dead of an apparent drug overdose. He was the same age as Shannon (28) when he died of the same cause. Did this hit close to home?
CT: Yeah it really did. My wife is a masseuse and she knew Heath in L.A., had worked with him in the past, and it’s very sad. The age alone—what the hell happens at that age? And as a dad, I
think about that girl (Heath Ledger’s daughter, Matilda) at 2, it’s heartbreaking. I feel the same way when I hang around with Nico (Shannon Hoon’s 12-year-old daughter, who was an infant when Hoon died). I get mad at Shannon. I’m like,
you really F**ked up, bro. It bothers me first as a parent.
FD: You’re light years away from where you guys were a decade ago. How have the changes—like fatherhood, for instance—impacted the songwriting? What about the touring?
CT: Everything changes when you become a father: It’s like somebody cranked up the color. You can’t relate until you go through the process, and it’s incredible. It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s like life has this sense of heaviness in a great way. There’s more exaggeration; the highs are higher, the lows are lower—the fear when your child is sick, the worrying part of you. And it feels good to not be so selfish.