* Welcome to the 17th installment of The Quaz Q&A. This feature—a question-and-answer session with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever—will appear every Thursday on jeffpearlman.com. If you have any suggestions/ideas for people to speak with, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m listening.
So, for most of my life, my favorite band has been Hall & Oates. I know … I know—Hall & Oates!? Rich Girl? Private Eyes? How corny. How cheesy. How … how … how—Sigh. I know. I get it.
The thing is, diehard fans of any musician will tell you that it’s really about the songs mainstream listeners don’t know. For example, I loathe Maneater, but I friggin’ love Georgie. I detest Adult Education, but I’ll listen to Las Vegas Turnaround all day. On and on it goes.
Point is, to appreciate a band—to really, really appreciate a band—you need to understand the music behind the hits.
Enter: Blind Melon. As far as much of the world knows, Melon had one song—No Rain—then sorta vanished into the abyss of some 90s musical netherworld. But, truth be told, the group’s three albums are insane. Rich. Detailed. Textured. Nuanced. Soup is my all-time favorite song. Change is close behind. Top to bottom, some of the absolute best music I’ve ever heard. Blind Melon was great. Beyond great.
Then, sadly, Shannon Hoon, the lead singer, died of an overdose in 1995, and—poof—Melon vanished.
Well, they’re back. In 2006 the four living members of Blind Melon invited Travis Warren, a 20-something native Texan, into the group. Fans were skeptical—Hoon was a unique talent with a unique voice and an even more unique world view. Warren was, uh, some guy with tattoos and a guitar.
In the ensuing years, however, Travis Warren has emerged as a legitimate Blind Melon frontman. Why? First, because his voice sounds a lot like Hoon’s. Second, he has a genuine appreciation of the band’s history, and hasn’t tried to replace or obscure Hoon. Third, he’s a genuinely decent guy who seems truly appreciative to be singing with the band he always loved. Fourth, he’s gifted.
When he’s not performing with Blind Melon, Travis works in a bunch of different musical areas. He and drummer Sarah Scarlata perform as the duo, The LookOut Kids, and will be playing Los Angeles’ Viper Room on July 13.
It is with great joy that I welcome Travis Warren to The Quaz Dome …
JEFF PEARLMAN: When Shannon Hoon died in 1995, I sorta assumed Blind Melon was dead, too. Then, one day, I randomly hear about the return of Blind Melon—with new lead singer, some Travis Warren guy. How did this happen?
TRAVIS WARREN: Well, I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. I was dating a chick and her whole family lived out here in San Luis Obispo. She ended up moving to California and I was super bummed. A month after I turned 17 I dropped out of school, loaded up my buddy Logan’s car and followed her out here to California. My buddy stayed two weeks, got itchy feet and also went home. I guess I could have gone home, but wasn’t much there. So I stayed out in California, in San Luis Obispo. I was there until 2006, and then the band I was in, Rain Fur Rent—we moved to Los Angeles. Pretty quick, within a month, we had management. Within three months of moving to L.A. we showcased for nine major labels. We were a strange fit—we had a violin player who played like Jimi Hendrix, we were a bunch of different genres combined with these long, drawn-out songs. Anyhow, in 2006 my manager and I had lunch with an A&R guy from Atlantic Records. He asked a bunch of different questions, and one was ‘Who is your musical influence?’ I said, ‘Shannon Hoon.’ He said, ‘Are you kidding? Chris (Thorn) and Brad (Smith) have a studio up in Los Angeles. Do you want to meet them? I was like, ‘Uh, yeah.’
So he set up a meeting for the fall. I went in there, brought in all my Blind Melon memorabilia—bootlegs, the Letters from a Porcupine DVD, a bunch of stuff. I had them sign everything. At the same time they were trying find an artist to take under their wing and produce. They came out and saw us play; they liked me, but they didn’t get the band. Right around that time my band called it quits, and Chris and Brad asked how would I feel them producing and recording a few of my songs. I said absolutely. We did that for a couple of months … recorded few my songs. Maybe the third month in Christopher had a BBQ at his house. He said that I should bring my guitar and we’d sing some songs. We had a really chill day. When I about to leave, they said they needed to talk. At first I thought, ‘Shit—no money, no budget, no more.’ Then they sat me down and asked ‘How would you feel about singing for Blind Melon?’ It totally threw me off guard … didn’t hit me until after I left. It’s hard to understand that feeling.
Of course, I said yes.
J.P.: Can you explain your love of Blind Melon?
T.W.: I turn 31 this year. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve always been a huge Melon guy. When the first record came out I was 12, and I just fell in love with that band. I remember putting that record in, and every song kicked ass. It’s funny, because my least favorite song on the CD is No Rain—which, of course, is Blind Melon’s trademark song. Man, I turned so many people onto that band. I’d say, ‘You have to forget about the Bee Girl song. Just listen to the whole thing.’ Shannon Hoon had one of those voices unlike anything that came out. They weren’t a grunge band, they weren’t a rock band. They were special. Guitar wise, there was no rhythm and no leads. It was like rhythm leads, and if you took one of them out, musically it would make no sense. Each band member brought special things to the table. A huge day was when I turned 18—I had a tattoo of Shannon Hoon put on my back. It’s the picture from Rolling Stone magazine, where they’re all wading in the water. I cut the picture out of the magazine and brought it to the tattoo parlor. It didn’t come out that well—the girl who did it didn’t know what she was doing. I said, ‘Hey, can you do this?’ She said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I never even got it finished. It’s just the outline. One day I’ll have it completed.
J.P.: You guys released an album in 2008, For My Friends. I recently read an interview in which you sorta dumped on it. Why?
T.W.: It’s so funny—I recently had this conversation with a guitar player for Marilyn Manson. He found me on Facebook and told me he loved the record. I’m one of those artists—I’m rarely happy with anything I put out. I’ve recorded more than 200 songs, and I only like a handful of them. I just think, in this case, we all had high expectation for the record, and it tanked. It didn’t sell. Plus, we were all in different places in our lives for the record, and that had an impact. When Blind Melon recorded their first two CDs, they were all coming up, working together, etc. This time, they’re married with kids. It’s different. I do think there are some great songs on it, but because it didn’t do so well, I think we all see it as a failure—even though that’s probably a stupid way to judge success. But putting politics and bullshit aside, I think there are some high moments. I don’t think it’s a horrible record. But we could have done better.
J.P.: Blind Melon loyalists are a smallish lot, but they worship Shannon Hoon. He’s a legend; immortal; etc. And you were asked to replace him. That seems like a next-to-impossible task.
T.W.: You know, the Blind Melon fan base might not be the Kiss Army, but the fans are so loyal, and they’re Hoon freaks—just like I am. They’re so loyal, and they love Blind Melon. Well, a lot of those fans didn’t get to catch Blind Melon the first time because Shannon died in 1995. Now, even though it can’t be the same, they can. Even though Shannon’s not up there, a lot of people tell me they close their eyes and hear the music and forget I’m a different singer. We’re playing for those people; for those fans who didn’t get the chance to catch Blind Melon the first time. One of the challenges, I will say, is there’s not all that much material. Three albums, two when he was alive. But the material that exists is amazing. Take the album Soup, for example. I remember when it came out and Rolling Stone savaged it. Just killed it. That ended any respect I had for Rolling Stone, because Soup is fucking amazing. Rolling Stone is the same magazine that gives Brittney Spears four stars; the same magazine that bagged Led Zepplin. I remember them mutilating Soup, and it was a joke. Blind Melon could have put out regurgitated shit, and people would have bought it. But they went in a totally different direction. That took balls.
The funny thing is, the song Soup didn’t make the album. I think one of the members wanted another song on, so Soup got bumped. And Soup is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written. First, the guitar riff is amazing. I put that riff right there with Stairway to Heaven and Sweet Home Alabama. I’m a guitar player first, and I’m blown away. Still. And melodically, the song is genius. There’s no other way to put it. I’ve never heard of anyone walking away from Soup and saying, ‘Eh, not so great.’ Where Shannon goes with that melody is genius. Soup, Mouthful of Cavities, Sleepyhouse—those were the three songs I’d use to introduce Melon to people. Nine times out of 10 I’d be greeted with, ‘Uh, did they do the Bee Song.’ I’m like, ‘Fuck the Bee Song—listen to this!’
J.P.: You’re 31. The other four members of the band are in their 40s. Is there any sort of age gap? Generation adjustment?
T.W.: Not really. They’ve always respected my input, and I obviously respect theirs. There are a few things, though. I came into the business when we had the internet and piracy, and they come from a time when that wasn’t the case. They were used to having records, and making good money off those records. When out CD came out, they might have had the same mentality—we’ll put out records and hopefully get a hit. I was hoping for the same thing, obviously, but it made me a little nervous, because I had the feeling that records were, more or less, irrelevant. I hate that it’s true, but they are. A lot of people who buy music download songs before buying an entire record. And, truthfully, I don’t blame people who steal music, because the labels did the opposite of that they should have done. They should have lowered prices on CDs, because CDs are super cheap to make. They could have sold them for $5 and still make huge overhead. Instead, they raised prices and the kids said, ‘Screw this. Why pay $15 when I can steal it for free?’
Christopher was telling me how, in the 1990s, they were giving away record deals. If you had a certain look or a certain sound … now I have one buddy with a deal. One. That’s harsh. But, on the bright side, you don’t need labels to get your music heard. Kids are recording in their bedrooms …
J.P.: That’s how Justin Bieber emerged.
T.W.: Exactly! That kid doesn’t even have any hair on his balls and he’s a gazillionaire. He puts some songs on YouTube, Usher catches on, sees he has talent and signs him. There you go. And there are good things about that. But in Blind Melon’s case, a lot of things contributed to our CD not selling. The label didn’t pump it, we didn’t have any write-ups. We were playing Toledo or somewhere and some guy says, literally, ‘What band are you?’ I say, ‘Blind Melon.’ The guy goes, ‘What?’ He had no idea we were playing—in Toledo! There were people going to the shows not knowing we were the band. It was crazy. Our manager would book us places with no rhyme or reason—three shows in New York in the span of a month, stuff like that. It’s the cliché—the management puts out a product, then does nothing to support it. I’ve had friends who’ve had bad management, and it’s like a plane crash. Now I know. So after that we split up, went our different ways.
Then, not all that long ago, Chris and I had lunch. He brought up the idea of working together again, doing some one-off shows. I was in. And here we are. We all live in different areas, and we fly in and don’t even rehearse. Everyone does their own homework, then we show up and play.
J.P.: Back in 2007, when Blind Melon reappeared, you played a show in Chicago. Nico Hoon, Shannon’s then-12-year-old daughter, stepped in on lead vocals for a few songs. The video is chilling. What was that like?
T.W.: That particular show has always stood out for me and, certainly, for the other guys. There were people crying, crying, crying. Nell, Shannon’s mom, is still close with the guys. She came out to our first show, in Columbus, Ohio, and Nell and I went out to dinner. It was amazing and surreal. I got to hear stories not too many other people have heard. I got to know her, and then she came out to the show and gave me her blessing. That really meant a lot to me. In Blind Melon circles, she’s like the mother bear. The fans really hold her up high. She easily could have been unhappy with the whole thing, but she was so cool. The guys are also really close with Lisa, Nico’s mom. And Nico came out and said that she’d like to sing. She was such a sweet kid. Shannon died a few months after she was born; she was only a few months old, and she never got to know him. I thought that could have been a huge story—Nico coming out and singing with us. I’ve had so many people who were at the show, or saw the show on YouTube, who get really emotional about it. You don’t have to be a Melon fan to get that.
J.P.: Do you feel like, at this point, you understand Shannon Hoon?
T.W.: I feel like I do. I think he was a very free-spirited person. You talk to anyone who knew him and they all say the same thing. He was very charismatic; he came into a room and lit it up. I think for him the whole thing was a big party. Unfortunately, there is a very bad side to drugs, and he did too much. And it ended. I don’t think he wanted that—I just think it happened. For whatever reason, drugs and artistic people go together. Once you get on stage and you have that feeling–a lot of artists wants to carry that feeling always. And they do drugs. It was just a big party to him—with a really dark ending.
J.P.: Do you remember his death?
T.W.: Oh, yeah. It’s a crazy story—one of the biggest regrets of my life. Maybe the biggest regret. In October, 1995 Blind Melon was playing in Dallas, which is a six-hour drive from Amarillo. I hung out with a bunch of thugs at the time, being stupid and all. Well, a bunch of buddies of mine bought tickets to the Blind Melon show in Dallas. I bought one, too, and we were all gonna drive out together. It was exciting, because we all used to drive around, get high and listen to Blind Melon. We just loved Melon. Well, I told those friends I’d meet them there, and I got hammered with these other guys, and I didn’t go to the show. I missed it. All my buddies saw the show; my friend, Wade Daniels, still has my ticket stub. When he came back to Amarillo Wade called me and said, ‘You idiot! We were so close I touched Shannon! And you missed the fucking show!’ I was 15 at the time, and I was devastated. How stupid could a guy be.
Well, they played that show in Dallas, then another one in Houston, then they went to play a show in New Orleans and he overdosed and died. My buddies saw the second-to-last show Shannon played. And I missed it.
When I found out he died, I was at home. My dad came in and said, ‘That singer for Blind Melon who you love so much? Yeah, well, he died.’ I didn’t believe it. It’s one of the few times I remember getting teary eyed and crying over someone passing away who I didn’t even know. I was so fucking bummed. I love Nirvana, but Shannon Hoon’s death was, to me, much bigger than Kurt Cobain.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TRAVIS WARREN
• You quit smoking two years ago. How hard was it?: It really wasn’t that hard for me. To make a long story short, my girlfriend and I took a vacation to New Mexico. I woke up, felt great and went to smoke. I automatically felt lethargic. I always felt like shit after I smoked. Plus, I was starting to lose something in my voice. I’m a singer—it was a no-brainer, and should have been a long time ago. I did the gum for two weeks and that was it.
• How do you feel about American Idol?: I despise it. I think part of being a band or an artist is playing the dive bars. I look at it like going to college. You have to know the struggle to appreciate the success. Loading up on a stinky van, going on tours—you learn that way. These people on Idol want to bypass that and hope to get a break on TV by singing someone else’s songs. I just think it’s a joke. Look at Adam Lambert, as an example. Guy has an amazing voice. Then they give him songs to record that are shit. Just shit. What a waste.
• Celine Dion or Justin Bieber: I’m gonna have to go with Celine. Whether you like her music or not, she has an amazing voice. I respect that. If Bieber can get past this kiddie thing and grow into something else, I wish him well. Am I a little bitter about it? Probably so. I’ve been dong this shit a long time, and it’s hard. Then to have someone signed off of YouTube … fuck.
• Casey Anthony—innocent or guilty?: That is fucking crazy. I think guilty as all hell. I was one of the millions of people who said, ‘What, are you kidding me?’
• Worst movie you’ve ever seen?: Shit, oh, God, I don’t even know. Oh—I do know! Twilight. I’ll go with that whole series. I don’t get it. How does that exist?
• A dried booger affixed to the tip of your nose for five years, or you work as the lead guitarist in a Brittney Spears tribute band?: I have to go with the booger. A Brittney Spears tribute band? That sounds like something you’d expect in hell.
Quaz 1: Wendy Hagen
Quaz 2: Chris Burgess
Quaz 3: Tommy Shaw
Quaz 4: Russ Ortiz
Quaz 5: Don McPherson
Quaz 6: Frank Z.
Quaz 7: Geoff Rodkey
Quaz 8: Meeno Peluce
Quaz 9: Karl Mecklenburg
Quaz 10: Amra-Faye Wright
Quaz 11: Phil Nevin
Quaz 12: Jemele Hill
Quaz 13: Drew Snyder
Quaz 14: Roy Smalley
Quaz 15: Michael Shermer
Quaz 16: Kathy Wagner
Quaz 17: Travis Warren