Gin Blossoms broke into the music scene in 1993 with their hit songs “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” which helped close the grunge rock movement that started earlier in the decade. In retrospect, Gin Blossoms, along with others, introduced the alternative rock chapter bringing a softer, more melodic approach to rock music that defined the 90s and probably round out a Top 10 list or two of bands that make up the soundtrack of college life for many from those years.
Though their first album, Dusted, was released in 1989, the band enjoyed immense success with their major label debut New Miserable Experience in 1992 (re-released in 1993) which Gin Blossoms toured in its entirety in late 2017 and throughout 2018. The core members of singer Robin Wilson, guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson (who replaced the late Doug Hopkins in 1992), and bassist Bill Leen have remained in place for 25-plus years but a seemingly revolving door has remained opened for the band’s drummer.
Scott Hessel picked up the sticks for the Tempe, AZ based band in 2012 and also worked on their 2018 critically acclaimed album Mixed Reality. Today the band, arguably, has regained much of its popularity from their heyday bringing fans out in droves as they continue to tour nearly non-stop, stepping up their stage show and performing at a high level.
This summer Gin Blossoms pairs with another hit band from the 1990s, Collective Soul, on the massive Now’s The Time Tour 2019 and fans can expect Hessel to remain behind the kit now and for years to come. The very amenable Hessel took some time from his rather busy schedule, as the tour just started, for an interview to discuss drumming, Gin Blossoms and the future.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida. Grew up in beautiful Litchfield Park, Arizona and currently residing near the Hollywood sign in Los Feliz, California.
Influences: The Police were the reason I decided to pursue a career in music. I played drums since I was a child, but once I heard the crack of Stewart Copeland’s snare, I was in love with the idea of being a real drummer.
First band: A band called “The Out! Crowd” yes, that exclamation mark mattered – I think it was a legal thing.
Bands Played with: I mostly played with indie bands (Let Go was on a label called The Militia Group. Gloritone was on RCA Records – both bands toured extensively. My years drumming for them no doubt paved the way for me landing the gig with the Blossoms.
- What got you started in drumming?
My first set of drumsticks were Lincoln Logs and I would bash on anything I could get away with.
- Was it more of a hobby or did you have dreams of playing professionally?
I never really thought of it as a hobby. It was just something I did. Once I graduated from high school, I thought I might be able to pursue music as a career.
- Did you take lessons or figure it all out yourself?
I never took a lesson. I played along with records. Once I was able to fake my way through Rush’s Moving Pictures, I was sort of ready to play with live human beings.
- You’ve been with the Gin Blossoms since 2012. How did you get started with them?
Well, for years I used to jokingly – but with utter seriousness – tell a mutual friend of Robin Wilson’s… “look, if the Gins ever need a drummer, I am the guy!” One day, I got a call…
“Scott, this is Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms. Would you like to drum for us? By the way, we should probably get together once to make sure we don’t suck!” A week later, and having learned 25 songs, we got together.
A few days later I was playing my first show with them. I feel like I manifested being the drummer for Gin Blossoms to a certain degree. I later learned that I had several mutual friends campaigning on my behalf. A fact for which I will always be grateful.
- You spent time on tour before releasing Mixed Reality. Were you invited to be a part of the new album or was it just a natural evolution that you’d be their drummer?
Yes and yes! I worked with most of the guys as demos were fleshed out and I felt like a part of the creative process. Absolutely, playing with them for so many years has made my role with them very organic and trusting.
- Gin Blossoms have enjoyed a rebirth so to speak, at least I think so, what’s that ride been like for you?
We have played around 120 shows a year since I started playing with them – it has been a tremendous ride, indeed!
- You guys played New Miserable Experience in its entirety for its 25th anniversary, how did you learn all those “new” songs?
For the NME shows, we got together for a few days and went over some songs that I had never played with them, so it was actually quite refreshing. Even songs that were “old” to them sounded fresh because it was this lineup playing them.
- After so many shows, do you guys get pretty dialed in with one another or do you still look for certain cues when to drop a note?
Well, there are several songs where Jesse and/or Scotty will play out a song on a solo and I will have to look for cues to end the song. Sometimes, it can be tricky. It’s sort of like catchers sending pitchers signs – if we get our signals crossed, the ball might end up in the dirt.
- If you could drum in any era of rock music where would you go and why?
Since I am a rock drummer, I would have to say drumming in the 60’s would have been interesting. The rules were still being written and so there was perhaps more room for a drummer to stretch out – not in an indulgent way, but musically. There are a lot of bands that take chances now, but there was something special about that time.
- Bands you’re listening to.
Radiohead. Those guys are so musical and are able to reinvent themselves without any real degree of self-consciousness.
- When listening to music is it natural for you to key in on the percussion parts or can you separate yourself from that and enjoy the song as a whole?
I hear the rhythm hook first, then melody. I’m honestly not sure when I ever get around to the lyrics!
- Do you draw inspiration from what other drummers have done or are doing, or do you prefer a more exclusive approach?
I draw inspiration from literally every drummer I watch or listen to. Good, bad or average…there is always something to be learned by observing.
- As a drummer, does practice make you better or do you need some help?
The only practice I get is when I play shows. I have thought about going back and woodshedding, but touring doesn’t leave as much time as one would like. We are currently out with Collective Soul and I keep thinking that Johnny Rabb (Collective Soul drummer) might make an excellent first instructor.
- Gin Blossoms have been on the road seemingly for the last year and half plus the new album. After the summer tour with Collective Soul what’s next for you and how about for Gin Blossoms?
More of the same! Gin Blossoms are a working band. We live on the road and that is where our fans can find us.
- Can we expect a new Gin Blossoms album sooner rather than later?
Hopefully sooner. Whenever it feels right, I am sure it will happen.