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Christopher Thorn of Blind Melon and Sonny Boy Thorn

As I stated in my interview with Danny Clinch, I am a bloody big Blind Melon fan. So whenever I hear of either an archival release from the band or new music from one of its members, I'm all ears. And one half of the group's guitar duo, Christopher Thorn, is now a member of an outfit called Sonny Boy Thorn, that successfully manages to combine elements of Melon's sound with modern mainstream rock.

Sonny Boy Thorn will be playing a residency in Silverlake, California at the Satellite (formerly Spaceland) every Monday in the month of July 2015 to launch their EP. Also, Sonny Boy Thorn will be playing Melon Fest on August 1, 2015 in Kentucky, and modern day Melon singer Travis Warren and Thorn will also be playing an all-acoustic set of Melon songs at the festival. Warren and Thorn will also be performing at the 2015 Vigil (an annual gathering of fans at the gravesite of original Melon singer, Shannon Hoon).

As a member of Blind Melon, Thorn had a hand in writing several tunes that are now considered classics amongst the band's fan base ("Soup," "I Wonder," "Skinned," "Pull," etc.), and has supplied guitar for other acts, including Unified Theory, Live, and Awolnation, plus operating his own studio, Fireside Sound Studio. Speaking to Songfacts, Thorn was up for discussing his new band, plans for Blind Melon, and insight into all the tracks he co-penned during the "Hoon era."

Greg Prato (Songfacts): How would you compare the songwriting process in Sonny Boy Thorn to Blind Melon?

Christopher Thorn: It's much easier in Sonny Boy Thorn. Davie [Dennis, vocals] and I share a common aesthetic, which was not always the case in Blind Melon. I am proud of the songs we wrote in Blind Melon, but it's a harder process to please four other guys.

Songfacts: How would you describe the band's music for those who haven't heard it?

Christopher: That's always a tough question. It's badass at times and heartbreaking at times.

Songfacts: When will the band's debut album be available?

Christopher: We will be giving away songs from our EP starting in July and we will have a vinyl record release for sale in September. We have enough material written and recorded for two full length albums at this point, but for now we wanted to start with an EP.

Songfacts: Do you prefer writing on your own, or collaborating with others?

Christopher: I prefer starting the writing process alone but then I like to collaborate with one other person to finish the song. I am not a fan of collaborating with more than one other writer. With more than one writer it can be exhausting, and many times the song becomes diluted by trying to appease many opinions.

Songfacts: How was it collaborating with Shannon Hoon?

Christopher: It was a very simple and extremely satisfying process writing with Shannon. I would demo a bunch of songs. I would make sure the structure and the feeling of the song had the impact I wanted. I would play all the instruments (not always well), just so there was a clear vision of the song. I would hand a cassette tape to Shannon, and he would sing over whatever inspired him the most.

Many times I would be surprised as to what he chose to sing over. Shannon would never ask me to revise any arrangement and I never asked Shannon to change any lyrical or melodic idea. Shannon would turn my musical compositions into magical songs once he sang on them.

Similar to Alice in Chains' Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon specialized in a "my life is an open book" style of lyric writing - with seemingly no subject too private to touch upon. This is especially evident throughout Blind Melon's sophomore effort, Soup, which included lyrics about the effects of heroin ("2x4"), wondering if the birth of his baby will "bring new life into me" ("New Life"), his everyday life struggles ("Walk"), and admitting that he had little self-control in the area where Blind Melon recorded the album, New Orleans (the prelude to "Galaxie," known as "Hello/Goodbye"). And sadly, like Staley, Hoon suffered from drug addiction - with a cocaine overdose leading to his death at the age of 28, on October 21, 1995 (in New Orleans).

Songfacts: What is the biggest misconception about Shannon?

Christopher: That he died of a heroin overdose.

Songfacts: It seems like there is a whole new appreciation of Blind Melon's music. Did you see this coming at all?

Christopher: Not at all. I am just floored and blown away that anyone still cares about the band after 20 years. It means more to me than I could ever express.

Songfacts: Are you eager to see Danny Clinch's documentary of Shannon's home movies?

Christopher: Yes, I am very excited about the movie. It's been a tough process at times, but Danny and Colleen (co-director) never gave up. This movie is important to all of us. It feels like the film that Shannon wanted to make.

Songfacts: My dream is that one day, the A Devil on One Shoulder book will be made into a movie. How do you think the book would translate to the big screen?

Christopher: I think the book would make a great movie. Our career was filled with plenty of drama, comedy, and tragedy. That always makes for a great movie.

Songfacts: What is the current status of Blind Melon?

Christopher: More shows.

Songfacts: What do you recall about writing "Paper Scratcher"?

Christopher: I remember writing and making the demo for "Paper Scratcher" while I was living in Hollywood, California. I had just discovered open tunings for the guitar and it changed my life as far as songwriting goes. Rogers [Stevens, guitarist] was writing great songs with all killer riffs and I wanted to bring another element into the band. The open tunings allowed me to contribute something different and more moody to the band.

I remember when Shannon told me about a homeless man he saw every day on his way to work that he wanted to write the song about. He was telling me how the man would scratch the faces off of the newspaper pictures. I also remember thinking that I had written a beautiful subtle droning solo for the outro of the song, but once Rogers heard that part he also soloed over it. Of course, Rogers' solo is incredible. Beautifully written and played perfectly. It's a great example of the interplay that happens between Rogers and I when we play guitar together.

Songfacts: "Drive"?

Christopher: "Drive" was also written around this same time and with the open E tuning as well. I was working at a used clothing store on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood at the time. One of my co-workers was "kicking" from heroin one day, when Shannon came to hang out at the store. I think it was the first time either one of us saw someone "kicking." It was a profound experience for both of us. All of the details of that day are written in the lyrics. William did not drive so he would call Shannon or me to drive him to score heroin in downtown Los Angeles.

Songfacts: "Soak the Sin"?

Christopher: "Soak the Sin" was a great example of writing through jamming. Blind Melon did a lot of this on the first record, but for the second record we were writing individually or in pairs.

I remember recording at the famous Sound City recording studio with the producer David Briggs. He loved to hear us jam and encouraged us to spend every day jamming before our session while he was getting set up. "Soak the Sin" came from one of those jams.

I remember when I stumbled onto the main riff. It had a cool country vibe and I was picturing a chicken bobbing its head in a barn the whole time. Smoking weed was a big part of our lives at this point, and I think we actually wrote a bunch of cool stuff through the process of jamming while stoned.

Songfacts: The intro to "I Wonder"?

Christopher: Rogers had written most of "I Wonder," and I had a guitar-fingerpicking piece that I never finished, so we ended up popping my fingerpicking piece onto the intro, and Shannon decided to sing over it.

Songfacts: "Skinned"?

Christopher: While writing songs for the Soup record, I has buying different instruments, and doing some songwriting experiments with them. I bought a banjo, so I wrote "Skinned" just for fun. I never imagined Shannon would choose to write lyrics over that music. It was odd and really just so I could learn how to play banjo.

Around that same time, Shannon was reading a book on serial killers, so he wrote the lyrics inspired by that book. At that point, I had upgraded my recording system with an 8-track ADAT and some classic Neve preamps, and a great vintage U87 microphone. I traveled on tour with this recording rig and recorded most nights in my hotel room after our shows. Shannon would call me at 3 in the morning with an idea, and come to my room to record. I remember being on tour in Middle America and him singing the vocal to "Skinned." I thought it was hilarious and sick at the same time. Classic Shannon.

The serial killer that Thorn mentions above is none other than Mr. Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein, a Wisconsin native whose gruesome crimes inspired a number of cinematic psychopaths, including the character Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Beginning in 1957, Gein was confined to hospitals and institutions - eventually dying in 1984 at the age of 77 at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. Interestingly, Blind Melon is not the only rock band to pen a tune about the disturbing exploits of the chap that some refer to as "The Mad Butcher": Slayer's "Dead Skin Mask" and Mudvayne's "Nothing to Gein" are also about him.

Songfacts: "The Duke"?

Christopher: Shannon and I wrote "The Duke" after our epic experience in Hawaii together. Blind Melon played a festival with Porno for Pyros there, and we had a week off for surfing and snorkeling before the festival. There is a 10-foot statue of the Duke, who was a famous Hawaiian surfer, and his story and our experience there inspired the song. I was trying to create the feeling of surfing and floating in the water with that music.

Songfacts: "Soup"?

Christopher: The song "Soup" is my favorite song I ever wrote with Shannon. I wrote the music in Seattle in between tours, and it was on one of the cassettes that I gave to Shannon to write lyrics to. It's also my favorite collaboration with Rogers, who wrote the outro music.

Shannon finished the lyrics while he and I vacationed in Mammoth Lakes, California. Shannon and I headed up to Mammoth to finish songs for the second record. Rogers joined us at some point. I will never forget the night he sang to my demo. When he sang the lyric, "I will pull the trigger and make you all go away," I knew it was about Kurt Cobain. I had goose pumps for days after hearing that - and still do when I hear the song now.

Songfacts: "Pull"?

Christopher: "Pull" was written around the same time I wrote "Soup." I remember being in a subway in Paris, France with Shannon, when he told me the lyrics. We were spinning out of control doing drugs around that time and I knew it was about our experience together doing heroin.

We cut the vocal in New York City in my hotel room on my portable recording studio. When we delivered the Soup record to Capitol Records, the president Gary Gersh asked us to rework "Pull," so it could be used for a possible radio song. We said, "No way, the song was not written for radio," and we wound up pulling it off of the Soup record!

To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the Soup record, Blind Melon is making plans to go play shows and perform the Soup record from top to bottom. We have never done that before, but we are excited to challenge ourselves. Some of the songs from the Soup record have never been performed live before.

May 29, 2015
For more info about Sonny Boy Thorn, visit sonnyboythorn.com
For more info about Blind Melon, visit blindmelon.com
All photos by Heather Thorn

    About the Author:

    Greg PratoA journalist from Long Island, New York, Greg's books include A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, and MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video. Get more info about Greg's books here. You can also follow Greg on Twitter.More from Greg Prato
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Comments: 11

Blind melon is f--king amazing. made me learn guitar at 23 i wish i discovered them when i was 15!!Christian from Albany Ny
Love you CT...you're the bees knees. Really dig all that you do. Thanks for the tunes that always make my day.Angelina from Albany, Ny
Ground breaking stories Greg ;) From the first time I heard CT play mandolin in Change I was floored by his immense talent and apparently tenacity to create new worlds through sound. Sonny Boy Thorn is a perfect cohesion to unleash more of the talent that changed world and Soup played live is like accessing Shannon's dream that plays eternally in unknown cosmic realms. SOO excited and happy to see this!Cali Blue from Mississippi
Fabulous interview and sweetest news of my life (Soup to be performed live!!)!! Thank you!!Leanne Stafford from San Diego, Ca
Thank youJen from Orlando
Also check out a Christopher Thorn interview with Drop D here: http://altandindierock.podbean.com/e/alt-indie-rock-with-drop-d-podcast-004/Mark from Melbourne
Thanks Christopher found very interesting! Bless You and all you do!Michelle Michaels from Otis, In. 46391
I agree. What great insight in those songs I love so much. I can't wait to see the "Soup" album live top to bottom. That will be a bucket list check off epic to another level concert for me!!!!Brandon "georgia Mule" Wheet from Hawesville, Ky
Glad you enjoyed the interview Nel!Greg Prato from New York
This is an amazing story and I love you Christopher.Nel Hoon from Lafayette Indiana
What a great interview! !!Juliana Watanabe from Brazil
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