Unified Theory Outgrow Carefree Blind Melon Image On Debut LP

Quartet features former members of hippie retro-rockers and Pearl Jam.

Late hippie retro-rockers Blind Melon sported a youthful, carefree symbol — a bumblebee girl — but two of the band's surviving members now say they and their music have grown up.

Former Melon bassist Brad Smith and guitarist Christopher Thorn have reunited in Unified Theory, along with vocalist Chris Shinn and former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen. Named after an Einstein hypothesis, the group has a self-titled debut hits stores Tuesday.

"When I was in Blind Melon, I was a stoner 24/7," Smith, 31, said. "Not this time. I want the success. I love the energy of big crowds. It was a helluva lot of fun playing Woodstock [in 1994]."

Blind Melon disbanded after the 1995 fatal drug overdose of band frontman Shannon Hoon. Smith opted for a solo career, while guitarist Thorn turned to producing. "I didn't know if I wanted to be in a band again," Thorn said. "But I missed being in a band ... hanging out with the bros."

With Unified Theory, Smith and Thorn have opted for tighter melodies and more concise lyrics over the free-flowing jams that made Blind Melon successful in the early 1990s with songs such as "No Rain" (RealAudio excerpt of "Ripped Away" version), "Paper Scratcher" and "Soup."

"Blind Melon could've been accused of A.D.D. [attention deficit disorder] with our lyric and melody writing," Smith said. "Now I've fallen more deeply in love with the Beatles instead of the Grateful Dead."

New Frontman, New Direction

Smith credits that metamorphosis in part to Shinn, a relative newcomer from North Carolina who admits to not being much of a Blind Melon fan — he was in high school when they hit it big.

"I had their first record but I still only know a few songs from it," said the soft-spoken Shinn, 25, who points to such disparate influences as George Jones, Bruce Springsteen and Sinéad O'Connor. "I was inspired by real dreamy stuff."

Said inspiration is evident on their self-titled debut's first single, "California," which was released to radio stations last Tuesday. Although most major market stations have avoided the song — Seattle being a notable exception — it's scoring well in the cities where it's receiving airplay.

"There's a whole lot of people calling when they hear these guys used to be in Blind Melon," said Rob Cressman, program director of WMFS-FM 92.9 in Memphis, Tenn. Cressman has put "California" into the station's regular rotation. "People are curious about the new singer. His voice is eerily similar to Shannon Hoon's. But the record stands on its own."

"I'm proud of what Blind Melon did, and we're aware the tag is going to be there, but it's nothing to be ashamed of," Smith said. "I miss being in that band. But now I'm hoping we [he and Thorn] will become a footnote. We want people to say, 'who's the backing band to this singer?' "

Shades Of Hoon

That would be Shinn, who has the added pressure of being compared to Hoon, an inevitability for which he is prepared.

"It's flattering," Shinn said. "It doesn't bother me at all because I have enough confidence in what I do. I know at first people are going to think of us as the band with those guys from Blind Melon and Pearl Jam in it. That's fine. But I also know there's no one like me."

One thing they do have in common is a falsetto range, something that differentiates Unified Theory from the few non-hybrid rock survivors fronted by baritones such as Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.

In fact, being a straight-ahead rock 'n' roll band in these days of rap-metal combos and teen pop may prove a bigger challenge to Unified Theory than shedding the Blind Melon comparisons.

"It's almost a miracle that any uncontrived band sells any records," Smith said. "The business has almost become defiant against bands like us. I'm not sure where we're going to fit in, but I can't write but one way. I'm not the type of person who pays attention to trends."

A Blue-Collar Approach To Rock

Unified Theory plan to combat such obstacles by gaining a reputation as a hard-working band, something few would've said of Blind Melon.

"It's time to explode creatively," Smith said. "I'm definitely more focused now — I'm going to be writing all the time when we're on the road. The bottom line is, if you write good music, you might sell 100,000 records. Then, your next album may sell 200,000."

The new band was formed two years ago, as Smith and Thorn decided it was time to exhume the ghosts left by Hoon's death. "I moved to L.A. in early '98, and after three months and a million really bad singers, I met Chris after hearing a CD from his band, Celia Green," Thorn said. "I was totally floored. He was who I was looking for, I just didn't know his name at the time. When I heard Chris' voice and I met him, I went, 'OK, the search is over.' "

The four have become undeniably close, which Shinn credits to their determination to make Unified Theory a truly collaborative process.

"We came in with the understanding that everything's going to be shared," he said. "They offered me free rein on the lyrics, but I wanted the band to be involved in every aspect."

Counting on a grueling touring schedule and Internet promotion, Shinn believes Unified Theory can break through, despite industry skepticism.

"The business is terrified to release something different," he said. "But we have faith. I think we're in a time similar to the late '80s, right before grunge came out, when you had Poison and all that crap. Maybe people are ready for something new."

Even if it comes from something old.