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SoulMonster

2003.03.DD - Interview with Tommy

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2003.03.DD - Interview with Tommy

Post by Soulmonster on Thu May 10, 2012 7:58 am

Cancelled tours, fired bandmembers, a comeback record 10 years in the making. Sean Plummer talks to Tommy Stinson about being part of rock’s greatest circus, Guns ‘N Roses, and its mysterious ringmaster, Axl Rose.

"Just like Vancouver."
The comment is barely audible but full of portent. The long-haired gent drying his hands beside me is no doubt speaking the minds of many of the thousands of fans crammed into Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. For they have come to witness the live return of Guns ‘N Roses, a band whose line-up, save figurehead Axl Rose, is now completely different from the one that recorded ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and set new lows in rock & roll debauchery. So where are they?
It’s 45 minutes after the scheduled 10:45 p.m. start and Axl & Co. have yet to take the stage. The spectre of the tour’s disastrous start on November 7 in Vancouver looms. Then, a missing Rose, his flight from Los Angeles allegedly delayed by engine trouble, prompted the promoter to cancel the show. The result was rioting that led to the injury of hundreds of fans as police moved in.


But then the lights dim and the show does go on, Rose and his bandmates — drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia, bassist Tommy Stinson, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman, and guitarists Buckethead, Richard Fortus and Robin Finck — do play all the hits (primarily from 1987’s Appetite For Destruction), and, yes, they do play new songs from the new G ‘N R album, Chinese Democracy, which may (or may not) come out sometime this year.
Tension was in the air hours before showtime. I’m led down into the bowels of the ACC, past beefy security guards being briefed for tonight’s melee, into a candlelit dressing room. Axl, media-shy at the best of times, isn’t talking but his bass player is. Tommy Stinson is no stranger to rock & roll drama. In 1979, Paul Westerberg recruited the then 12-year-old to play bass in his band The Replacements. Stinson went on to form two short-lived bands after The Mats’ break-up in ‘91, Bash And Pop and Perfect. His late brother Bob, the Mats’ guitar player, overdosed in February ‘95. A solo career took Tommy to Los Angeles where he became a session player, most notably working on a rock remix of Puff Daddy’s ‘It’s All About The Benjamins’.


It was there that friend and well-known session drummer Josh Freese (The Vandals, A Perfect Circle) told him that Axl, whom Freese was rehearsing with, was looking for a bass player. So Stinson bought a copy of Destruction, learned the bass lines, and got called in for an audition. He and Axl clicked and this May will mark five years in. But how did Stinson, admittedly not a G ‘N R fan during the band’s heyday ("it wasn’t what I had in my CD player per se"), hook up with Rose?


"At the time, the options I was looking at, I had a few things on my plate," recalls the spiky-haired musician. "I had a record deal that I was pretty sure I was just about to get f**ked on, and I think at the time I felt ‘of these things I’ve got in front of me, what is the most interesting thing that isn’t going to be on my shoulders necessarily?’ Because, you know, you do your own thing for awhile and you’re carrying all that weight... Sometimes you go, ‘Ah, I can’t do that now. Let’s take a break from that.’"


But less responsibility doesn’t mean less work. Rose has been tinkering with Chinese Democracy for nearly a decade with a variety of producers, including Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars) and Sean Beaven (Nine Inch Nails). Band members, too, have come and gone: Freese left to be replaced by ex-Primus drummer Mantia, and Paul Tobias, a childhood friend of Axl’s, made way for Fortus (Love Spit Love). Not to mention the fact that the classic G ‘N R line-up of guitarists the ex-GNR lead guitarist and the ex-GNR guitarist Stradlin, drummer the ex-GNR drummer and bassist the ex-GNR bassist McKagan all left (or were fired) long ago. Only keyboardist Reed remains.


Complicating matters (and delaying the record) is the band’s working methods, which Stinson describes as "beating [a song] to death until we’ve spun it around and gotten it right. There’s a reason why it’s taken so long and it’s sort of the process of getting the songs to where Axl wants them and is inspired to sing them."


As for Axl’s reputation as a megalomaniac taskmaster, Stinson says it’s media manufactured. "I think just about fucking everything is a misconception about the guy, to be really honest with you. I know the guy, spend a lot of time with him on the road, at home, whatever. What I see people write, or hear what people write or think, is fucking so 180 degrees from what it really is. Most of the time."


Stinson leans in to make his point. "And you know what? That’s part of the myth and why people still want to come see him is because no one really knows! Except what we know. But they [the media] don’t want to fucking hear that! No one wants to hear ‘you know what? He’s a really good guy, he’s funny as shit and he’s a really good friend [who] I totally fucking trust my life with.’"
So while controversy continues to swirl (Clear Channel pulled the plug on the entire tour shortly after a last-minute cancellation of the band’s December 6 show in Philadelphia), Stinson continues to marvel at the "calculated risk" that is life in Guns ‘N Roses. He’s also fully prepared for reaction to Chinese Democracy, which he insists will come out.
"Either way it goes, it’s going to be big," he says. "It could be a huge fucking success and historical in that no lead singer has undertaken the [band] name and the whole band has quit. So if it goes huge, we all win and we’ll have done something that hasn’t been done yet. And if it flops, it’s going to be a huge fucking flop. And I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s a lot of viable music that we’ve done and I have confidence in it that it won’t be the other extreme. Either way, it’s a biggie."
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