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2004.11.17 - Static Multimedia - A Rock 'n' Roll Legend: An Interview With Tommy Stinson

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2004.11.17 - Static Multimedia - A Rock 'n' Roll Legend: An Interview With Tommy Stinson Empty 2004.11.17 - Static Multimedia - A Rock 'n' Roll Legend: An Interview With Tommy Stinson

Post by Blackstar on Thu Aug 27, 2020 12:18 am


Former bassist of the legendary Minneapolis rock band The Replacements sits down to talk about his tour, new found solo success, and the forthcoming Guns N' Roses record.

There are those rare moments when being a "professional" gets thwarted by being a fan of an interview subject. Such was the case on the day that I stood face to face with Tommy Stinson, former bassist for the legendary Minneapolis rock band The Replacements.

The Replacements were one of those bands that changed my perception of what rock music was back in high school. Upon seeing the band destroy their instruments onstage in 1989 during an opening slot on a Tom Petty tour, I knew that moment that my musical tastes had come to a veritable fork in the road.

So it was with some nervousness that I sat at a wobbly table in the back of Chicago's Double Door waiting to talk to the man. He came in, just a shadow figure with the sun backlighting him as if some sort of God. His wiry frame crouched over to remove his guitar from its case. After watching Stinson tune his guitar for what seemed like forever (from anticipation, not from being kept waiting), he made his way over to the table I was at and offered his hand to shake. "Hi man. I'm Tommy." I felt like saying "D'uh!," but simply retorted, "Oh yeah, I know." I was waiting more than fifteen years for this and that's what I open with? I suddenly felt like I was back in school attempting to find the nerve to ask the pretty girl to dance at the junior prom. The wave of embarrassment was palpable.

We walked briskly across the street to a Starbuck's, so that Stinson could get his caffeine and eat on. Sitting next to him next I realized that this man I had thought so much of for so long, who had been performing with one of the most notoriously raucous bands ever known since he was 14 years old, at a still-young 37, had not a single visible age line on his baby smooth face. It's as if he had succeeded where Ponce de Leon had failed and found the unattainable fountain of youth. I hoped I wasn't simply being naive about his features and decided to shake myself of such silly thoughts and begin the interview proper.

Stinson was in town for a reason after all, and he had places to go. Sanctuary Records recently released his debut solo album, entitled Village Gorilla Head and he was due to promote it on Chicago radio station WXRT that evening. The album, certainly much better than most of what his former band mate Paul Westerberg has been able to produce, finds Stinson carving out his own unique niche in the musical world for perhaps the first time, something he was not able to do in his post-Replacements bands (Bash 'n Pop, Perfect). This album reflects Stinson's abilities to craft songs in a wide variety of formats and styles. The experimentation of the album's title track is light years removed from the pop of "OK", which is a distant cousin to the rabble-rousing spirit of "Motivation". Yet, to his credit. Stinson manages to make every song sound of a piece, with no one song feeling removed from the whole.

With his radio commitment looming, and a sound check still not completed, our interview commenced.

Brett Hickman: Tell me a little bit about how you went about making the record.

Tommy Stinson: Basically, I started writing the songs about six years ago. I was just compiling songs; I wasn't really intending to make a record at all. I was recording things at my home studio and just kinda sitting on them, messing with them, kinda tweaking them as I went along. And then last March, Frank Black (the Pixies) gave me his mobile recording studio and his studio space for free, save for paying an engineer, to record some drum tracks. I thought I'll take some money out of savings and make a record.

Is it mostly you playing all the instruments on the album?

It's mostly me. I didn't play drums. The drummer from Perfect, George, played drums on most of it. Josh Freese played drums on three songs. There are some other people that just did some drop-bys, some guitar player friends of mine. Like Dave Phillips from Frank Black & the Catholics, Richard Fortus who is in Guns with me, Dizzy Reed who's in Guns, they all stopped by and lent a hand.

They did it because they were into it and they wanted to support me. There was a really great vibe in that. Everyone kinda was doing it for free just to help me out. I owe a lot of people right now a lot of favors. But you know it was all a lot of love. It was a really cool way to make a record. I loved the whole idea of it. I really wanted to make a record that I did my best on. I wanted to reach out a little bit, experiment a bit. Village Gorilla Head, that song is definitely an experiment that went well. Just got to mess around a little bit.

You've seen how the Pixies have come back. Even though they have no interest in making an album, and obviously you know them in some way.

Yeah, yeah. I'm friends with them.

What do you think of the chances of you guys getting back together?

None really. We try and keep in touch. I try to keep in touch with Paul. But ultimately, I don't see going back. I got so much going on in the next two years that I really don't have time.

Are you still committed to Guns?

I'm still committed to Guns. The record is going to come out soon.

(a burst of laughter by me)

I'll be touring behind that probably in the New Year until the cows come home.

So, it's really coming out?

Yeah, it's really coming out. I went and listened to it before I came out on the road, just so I could get my two cents in because I'm probably going to be gone when it comes out.

Wow! Really? You're going to be on tour when it comes out?

At least when they finish it up and send it off to mastering. So I had to go put my ear to it.

Has it gotten this close to mastering before?

No. This is it. It's coming in for a landing. The landing pad is near.

A long flight, man.

Long fucking flight. Between my own record coming out and the Perfect record's coming out, I'll probably not be able to promote much of that either. That was done about six, seven years ago.

What happened with that?

They shelved it because they spent all this money to make it, then they didn't want to commit to spending any money to putting it out. Restless, a real shit label. That was right at the time when I was going, 'Ya know what? I've had enough of this shit. I'm going to go be in a band for a little while,' and I joined Guns. So now they're putting it out. Like they're trying to capitalize on the Guns record coming out and a little bit on my solo record coming out possibly. Between that record, my record and the Guns record it's going to be a big two years.

There's going to be a Guns tour, then?

I think that Guns will go out for probably at least a year, a year and a half, that's the usual tour cycle for a record like that. And in between I'll probably be doing tours with my own shit.

That's a pretty heavy commitment. The last time you guys did tour as Guns what was that like for you?

Oh it was a fucking huge crazy rock circus but it was a lot of fun. I don't know if you saw the show we did here in Chicago, but it was fucking off the hook. It was so fun, such a good show. Overall, I think we're going to end up having a lot of fun. I mean, it's a lot of work, it's a big production, there's a lot of people involved, and it's a huge band. The name obviously carries a lot of plusses and minuses with it, but when it comes out it's going to be really good and a lot of fun.

What do you feel about the fact that this is an entirely revamped thing? Guns I mean.

That's actually the reason I joined. I talked to Axl about what he wanted to do with this thing. It's never been done before, where the singer keeps the name while the other guys fucking quit. Just knowing what his goals were for the whole thing that I thought 'This is probably the ballsiest guy I've ever fucking played with, so I'm in.'

How did he approach you to join?

Josh Freese was playing drums for him when he and I did a session together in LA. And he said, 'Ya know we need a bass player...' because Duff (McKagan) had just quit. I learned a couple of songs, they called me up the next day and asked if I wanted to do it and I said 'Alright, cool.'

What was the reason for getting Alien Crime Syndicate to be your backing band?

I've been a fan of Joe's music since I met him almost ten years ago. I heard the demos as he was going in to make ACS a band. They can sing and they're a really good rock band and all that stuff. They were really into it and they have their own van and trailer, which made it all the more appealing. So far we haven't had a bad gig yet. Which has been totally awesome.

What's the difference for you between going out acoustic versus the full band with ACS and versus being a member of a band like GNR where you don't have full control?

You know it's all part of a thing of not being pigeonholed. I'm becoming my own renaissance man. I'm fucking doing everything. And I like that; it takes the heat off of any one aspect and also keeps you creative and keeps you open to things. It's been really great for me.

At the end of our interview, Tommy suddenly became enamored of a sign across the street from where the interview was taking place.

Swank 'n Frank...What the hell?

They fry Twinkies there.


I've never had it.

I've never had a fried Twinkie either, but it sounds disgusting.

I've heard it's good, it does sound disgusting...

Woman next to us: It's supposed to be good.

Oh is it?

That's what everyone says.

Is it a Chicago thing then?

I think it's just them.

Woman next to us: I don't know about that. It must be an Indiana thing.

With that our interview was over. Stinson rushed back over to the club and I left the coffee house considering a paraphrase of the finale of the film "Chinatown" with.

Forget about it, Tommy. It's an Indiana thing.

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