"That's where my head was at -- and I wanted to write something that was like a Tom Petty song, that everyone could relate to."
Mixed Reality is Gin Blossoms' first new album in eight years, an interim that surprised even Wilson and his bandmates. "We were overdue and we wanted to write and record songs," he notes. An idea to release a single each month for a year and then compile those onto an album didn't pan out, but things kicked into gear a couple of years ago after Wilson met musician-producer Don Dixon (R.E.M., the Smithereens, Marshall Crenshaw, Tommy Keene). "Right around the same time my son, who was 14, started to play a lot of guitar and he asked me, 'How do you write songs?'" Wilson says. "I had to explain it to him in the simplest of terms. That was just before I started writing songs for this album, so I sort of reconnected with the elemental factors of who I am as a songwriter and I just jumped into it."
The team of Dixon and Mitch Easter, who engineered Mixed Reality, was also something of a full-circle moment for Gin Blossoms, since they were defining a particular kind of sound on the East Coast just before Wilson and company would pick up a similar sonic mantle out in their native Tempe, Ariz. "I remember mentioning Don Dixon when we first signed with (A&M Records), before we started working with John Hampton," Wilson says. "It wasn't until John Passed away (in 2014) that it really occurred to us to look for other producers."
Wilson adds that, "Working with Don and Mitch took us out of our comfort zone, and that was really important. If we had just gone back to Ardent Studios (in Memphis) and made another record, there wouldn’t have been that same amount of tension and effort. It's really great it worked out this way. I've been saying that regardless of the commercial outcome of this record, just as an artist, I know that we did something really special here. I couldn't be more proud of it."
With Mixed Reality coming out Friday [June 15], Gin Blossoms will be on the road all summer promoting it. Wilson, meanwhile, is also gearing up to work with the Smithereens, standing in for the late Pat DiNizio after performing at a DiNizio tribute show during January; He's eyeballing 2019 dates starting in January, but he promises first priority remains Gin Blossoms.
"We're trying to figure out how much I can do with them because Gin Blossoms obviously come first," Wilson says. "We've got to get our managers together and booking agents and everybody on the same page. But I can't describe how rewarding it is for me to sing lead in the Smithereens. It's just crazy. I had met Pat before but didn't know the other guys until I started working with them this year and we really hit it off. It's almost like there's some gravity or some sort of natural physical force in the cosmos that we all kind of wound up working together. It's a great surprise to have it come along like this."