Heavy Cloud, No Rain

After three years in limbo, Blind Melon prepare their next incarnation

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It's been nearly three years since Blind Melon lead singer Shannon Hoon was found dead on a tour bus from what was attributed to an accidental heroin overdose. And it's taken almost as long for the clouds looming over his former Blind Melon bandmates' heads to retreat. But with their label giving them the freedom to pursue their musical endeavors, Blind Melon's remaining four members are rolling up their sleeves and getting back to work.

"It was really strange after Shannon's death," recalls Brad Smith, bassist of the now-defunct neo-hippie outfit. "We took a year off, and nobody even talked to each other. It was such a blow. I've never had anybody close to me die." But the tragedy sparked a streak of creativity. "I started writing a lot of material about six months later, and a lot of what I was writing was based on Shannon's death. It was liberating."

With Blind Melon guitarist Rogers Stevens and drummer Glen Graham living in New York and New Orleans, respectively, and with the band tangled up in red tape with their label ["I got off on a technicality," quips Smith; the rest of the band are still negotiating fine points, according to their manager], the bassist took an entirely new approach to his music, sans the Blind Melon moniker. "About a year went by, and I approached Christopher [Thorn, Blind Melon's guitarist]. And I was like, let's make a record. It was kind of a collaborative effort, with me writing the songs, playing most of the instruments and singing, and Christopher producing."

The new project, called Mercy, is slated for a February release on Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard's label, Loosegroove. "Some of the songs have country elements, and then [others] throw you back to rock and metal. It's not like an acoustic record, and it's not a digital record, but it has elements of both," Smith says proudly. Graham and Stevens lend helping hands on several of the tracks ("Stompin' the Fuse," "On the Blink"), but Blind Melon fans should take note. "This band is not like Blind Melon, though there are some elements," Smith cautions. "I think that just because there are two previous members, we unconsciously work that way." Written mostly on -- believe it or not -- ukulele and brass instruments, the album examines Smith's childhood in Mississippi ("Forklift"), people Smith met on his journey to Los Angeles, and of course, the loss of Hoon ("Blowin' My Mind," "Stompin' the Fuse").

"Myself, personally, I've felt some of life's blows," says Smith. "But you have it always in the back of your mind that there's gonna be mercy in the end. And after about a year and a half, the cobwebs start to clear."

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