Some people are just addicted. Whether it’s the smell of the plastic, the excitement of sticking it in for the first time, or the anticipation of that ringing note, some people just can’t get enough. Unified Theory guitarist Christopher Thorn is one of them. He runs out to the record store nearly every week, buys something new and quickly heads home. He’ll pull out the headphones—the only way to go—and let it ride, always heading off someplace new.
Thorn is such a big music geek he’s started going to in-stores, those mini-concerts at record stores that everyone except Britney Spears hates to play. Thorn’s victim: popera king Rufus Wainwright.
“It was great,” Thorn says with more than a little glee. “I can’t believe I went to it. I didn’t get my boobs signed or anything, but I loved it.”
It’s amazing that Thorn is still such a music geek. A lot of people would have just given up after what he’s been through. In the early ’90s, Thorn was sitting on the edge of multi-platinum success. He was one of the guitarists in Blind Melon. “No Rain” broke the band, pushing its self-titled debut up the charts. While the quintet’s second disc, Soup, wasn’t doing as well as its first, the group was scoring a serious grassroots fan-base just crisscrossing the country. But on Oct. 21, 1995, singer Shannon Hoon died of an overdose in New Orleans. Suddenly it was all over.
“Blind Melon ended before I could say I wanted it to end, before any of us wanted it to end. We never got to say goodbye. It’s hard to bounce back from that.”
Thorn went into hiding soon after, building a basement studio in his house in Seattle, producing a few records here and there. It took him three years before he would even consider joining a band again. “I don’t really have any other skills,” he jokes, “so I really didn’t have a choice.”
Getting a group together turned out to be a somewhat difficult process. Thorn knew he already wanted to work with Blind Melon bassist Brad Smith again. And original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen was up for something too. But finding the right singer wasn’t quite as easy. Thorn moved to L.A. in 1998. He spent three months auditioning singers before he heard a tape by the group Celia Green. One listen to Chris Shinn’s voice was all it took. “He just sounded right,” Thorn says.
Thorn quickly moved Shinn up to Seattle. Everything seemed to just click. Within 24 hours of arriving in Washington, the newly formed group had written and recorded two songs. Everything just seemed to snowball from there: The group, then under the name Loma, release a four-song EP; within a few weeks they were getting label interest; a month later the group was signed.
“It just felt right from the beginning,” Thorn says. “It’s like that scene in Almost Famous when he says he has to go home and she says, ‘You are.’ That’s how it feels.”
You can hear it in Unified Theory’s self-titled debut. While ghosts of Blind Melon occasionally pop up—familiar guitar licks, Shinn’s tendency to hit the high notes the way Hoon used to—Unified Theory is far from just a sequel. The whole approach to the group has changed. Melon’s neo-hippie vibe and straight-from-the-gut approach is gone, replaced by lush and expansive arrangements and a bit of spacey psychedelia. The whole thing makes you want to just float off into the void. Tracks like “Cessna” and “Full Flavor” swirl around deliberate and enticing hooks like sharks waiting to attack. “The Sun Will Come” skips along on jangly guitars, only to fall into a giant pothole of distortion at the chorus. “Wither” is one of those dreamy songs you want to keep close for years. Only “California” really sounds like Thorn’s former band, and then for just a minute before breaking into some Jane’s Addiction-inspired convulsion.
Thorn knows that even though Unified Theory’s debut is just as distinctive and inventive as Blind Melon’s was eight years ago, in today’s market it’s going to be a harder sell. Melon hit during the alt-rock explosion when people were desperate for something that stepped outside the norm. Things have changed. Now it’s all primped teens and suburban bravado. Thorn says Unified Theory’s chances of breaking into the mainstream are about as good as Bush pronouncing “equilibrium” right.
“We didn’t expect an instant hit with this band,” Thorn says. “In an atmosphere like today, it’s not going to happen. We don’t sound like Limp Bizkit; we’re not going to get on MTV any time soon. But I think this band can have a career without a hit. People will love this record, they just have to find it.
“But sometimes it’s nice to be the odd man out,” Thorn continues. “When people find us they’re so thankful. They come to the show and say they haven’t listened to the radio in so long and this is exactly what they’re looking for. Hopefully, it’s people like that who will bring smart rock back.”
Let’s hope so.
Unified Theory, Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South (467-JOES), Wednesday, Feb. 21, 9 p.m.