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2003.08.20 - Pulse Of The Twin Cities - Tommy Stinson: The Surreal Life

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2003.08.20 - Pulse Of The Twin Cities - Tommy Stinson: The Surreal Life Empty 2003.08.20 - Pulse Of The Twin Cities - Tommy Stinson: The Surreal Life

Post by Blackstar on Sat May 30, 2020 11:46 pm

Tommy Stinson: The Surreal Life

by Rob van Alstyne

Tommy Stinson’s life is too crazy to be fiction. Who spends their childhood years batting for the ultimate rock underdogs of the ’80s only to switch teams 20 years later and suit up for bloated arena-rock adversaries from the same era? Best known as the spikey-haired bass player for Twin Cities legends the Replacements during his formative years, Stinson’s spent the dozen years since that band’s dissolution seemingly adrift, living in L.A. and bouncing from one oddball project (the rock remix of Puff Daddy’s “All About the Benjamins”) to another (he really IS the bass player in the re-formed and ever on-hiatus Guns ’n’ Roses). What most people probably don’t know, however, is that in between the high-profile sideman work, Stinson’s created some great tunes (most of which haven’t reached store shelves).

Faced with the prospect of being a has-been at 24 when the ’Mats imploded, Stinson immediately set to work with his new band, Bash & Pop, storming out of the gate with 1993’s unjustly overlooked Friday Night is Killing Me, a near-great straight ahead rock album that showed Tommy had absorbed more than a lesson or two from Uncle Paul’s scrapbook during the ‘Mats years. The album featured borderline punk screeds on the ills of growing up in the ravenous environs of the music industry (“Fast & Hard”) and at least one classic that easily stands with the best of his prior bands’ work (yes, “Tiny Pieces” is that good). Stinson proved himself a formidable front man, his reedy voice imbued with genuine spine-tingling mojo.

Unfortunately, Friday Night fell on deaf ears and the group soon disbanded after being dropped by their major label (cut-out bin used copies can still easily be tracked down around the cities for a paltry sum—do yourself a favor and grab one).

The musical heartbreak wasn’t over for Stinson yet, though. After dealing with his older brother Bob’s untimely passing in ’95, Stinson regrouped with Perfect, releasing an EP in ’96 and quickly recording a follow-up full-length, 7 Days a Week. Recorded in the same Memphis studio where the ’Mats had helmed their classic Please to Meet Me a decade earlier, 7 Days a Week managed to be every bit as solid. Eschewing the overtly Stonesy feel of Bash & Pop, Perfect was a pop-punk enterprise, delivering more catchy hooks and choruses on their album’s first four cuts than many bands get to in their entire career. Stinson, then 30, had finally come into his own, crafting a song cycle about frustration (“Did You Say Please?”) and persistence (“Turn it Up”) that only a true rock ’n’ roll survivor could pen. The album was already garnering a solid critical buzz from advance promo copies when the unthinkable happened and Stinson was blindsided yet again—Perfect was dropped by its parent record company just weeks before 7 Days a Week was to hit stores (those eager to find the record would do well to scour Internet file sharing services).

“It really was kind of heartbreaking when it didn’t come out,” admits Stinson via telephone from his L.A. home, six years after the event. “But only at the time. It’s sort of par for the course in the music industry, there are a million different bands out there who get screwed like that.” Sadly, Perfect dissolved in the wake of its label troubles and Stinson found himself stumbling into the Axl Rose-era of his life before he was ever able to go back to following his own muse—until now. A confidentiality clause in his Guns contract has led to a gag order from his publicist in terms of discussing anything related to that project, but the exciting news is that there’s something else to talk about. Stinson holed up in a studio this spring and laid down 16 tracks of his own material, and he’s excited about the prospect of touring behind it and (keep your fingers crossed here) actually releasing the finished product to the public.

“The whole solo project kind of came up by accident,” admits Stinson. “I had some songs laying around that I had recorded at home. Then Frank Black offered me the use of his studio while he was going to be out on the road. So I ended up having about two months to just fool around in Frank’s place and bring in different people. I played the bulk of the instruments on it. I’m not necessarily shopping it really, I don’t have a manager running around. I do have two labels that are interested in it and I’m talking to them. Something should be out by early next year. I spent the first 10 years of my life out here running around and trying to get a different kind of deal; it breaks you down mentally after a while. I’m actually in a spot now that I don’t have to put out the record, I can wait to do things with the right people and I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to.”

One can’t fault Stinson for being wary about the music business, but early reports of stellar new material from the handful of solo gigs he’s performed so far this year (his first solo gigs in five years) have already sparked a great deal of interest. “The response has been great,” claims Stinson. “I’m really surprised how people are taking it. I feel like I’ve finally gotten to the point where people are past the whole association with the Replacements and expecting a certain kind of music from me. People are just responding to what I’m putting out there. It’s nice to be wanted.”

That might be true in other parts of the world, but here in the Twin Cities it’s hard to imagine a day when the words Replacements and Tommy Stinson won’t be immediately associated with one another. That’s part of why it was so saddening when ex-‘Mats leader Paul Westerberg and Stinson started taking potshots at each other in the press last year. Thankfully, Stinson has nothing but kind words to say about the ‘Mats’ legacy on the phone, although he’s quick to affirm that repeated reunion rumors are completely false. “I’ve never really been a strong proponent of bands reuniting,” says Stinson. “I’m in favor of bands like the Clash who knew when to call it a day and never re-formed, the idea of having to see a band like them or see the Replacements trying to relive a moment . . . there’s just nothing really sexy about that for me. You know for a little while I think we really had it, we captured lightning in a bottle, and you can never get back to that again.”

Having spent two-thirds of his 36 years in the rock ’n’ roll game, it’s reassuring to know that Tommy Stinson is still out there plugging away, and although I doubt I’ll ever reconcile myself to the image of Tommy onstage with Axl W. Rose crankin’ out “Welcome to the Jungle,” it doesn’t really matter—Stinson is a rock ’n’ roll soldier in it for the long haul whose story is still far from written. “I look back on the last 10 years fondly,” says Stinson. “Even with all the heartbreak involved. I wouldn’t trade anything for the last ten years I’ve had. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to my 20s though, that was a pretty shit time, but 30 on has been great so far. I’m way happier and more inspired by writing music now than I’ve ever been. I’ve finally gotten to that place that’s sort of the sweet spot—I’m writing because I feel like writing, and I’m not worried about how other people are going to perceive it or who’s going to put it out. I’m just doing the music how I want it and by my terms. There are so many weird struggles that you have to go through to get to that spot. It was something that the Replacements were always struggling with. We couldn’t sort of rise to the occasion of exploiting ourselves to make the band famous and make other people a ton of money. We tried to go about it in a more rock ’n’ roll kind of way, and in the end, that’s probably how we fucked ourselves.”

Tommy Stinson plays Sat., Aug. 30, & Sun., Aug. 31, with the Figgs at the Uptown Bar. 9 p.m. 21+. Call for more info. 3018 Hennepin Ave S, Mpls. 612-823-719.

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