Interview: Tommy Stinson

As a founding member of legendary alt-rock pioneers the Replacements, Tommy Stinson cemented his place in music history and had a hand in influencing artists as diverse as Green Day, Wilco, the Hold Steady and Lorde.

Tommy Stinson
Photo source: Tommy Stinson Facebook

Described as both the “best band of the ’80s” (Musician magazine) and “the greatest band that never was” (Rolling Stone), the Replacements were critical darlings during their lifetime, yet achieved little commercial and mainstream acclaim.

After their 1991 implosion, Minneapolis native Stinson added an 18-year stint as bassist of Guns N’ Roses to his rock and roll résumé, becoming a bonafide rock stalwart in the process, while appreciation of the Replacements’ discography grew steadily.

Following a much-lauded and somewhat tumultuous Replacements reunion in 2013-15, a new line-up of Bash & Pop, a band vehicle for Stinson’s solo work, was formed last year. The group’s first album in 24 years, Anything Could Happen, was released in January, and marked a return to the spontaneous recording methods that were a feature of early Replacements records.

Now 51, the amiable and down-to-earth Stinson is enjoying making music as much as ever.

What’s life been like since the new album came out?

We’ve been touring a lot. We’ve just done a five-week tour with the Psychedelic Furs here in the States and we had a rip of a time. However you would categorise the Psychedelic Furs, their audience was really sweet to us – a rock and roll band – and we had a really good run. I look forward to hopefully doing that again some day.

Is Bash & Pop back for good?

We’re going to keep fuelling it and moving forward. The reason it became Bash & Pop was that we made a band record. On the first Bash & Pop record, I played more instruments than I wanted to play and it ended up being me, the drummer and sometimes the guitar player making that record. This was more of a group effort. We would hash out the songs and do them in five takes, tops. We kind of took the template from how we used to do things in the ’80s.

When we started the Replacements, we would record in a particular way. Paul would show us the basis of a song, either in our basement or in the studio. He would say “Hey, Bob [Stinson, lead guitar], play the melody like this,” and we would record it, getting the best recording we could in as few takes as possible. Back then, tape was expensive for us, so we had to do it quickly. I took that template and applied it to my new record and I think people understand why and I think they can feel that in the record.

Do you prefer being in charge of making your own record, as opposed to being at the whim of a Westerberg or an Axl?

I like all different kinds of things. I like producing and I like playing a role in a band – all of those things I’ve done over the years. With Bash & Pop, the songs we write together end up guiding us instead of us trying to guide the song into being something it’s not. That’s why I like playing with these guys – we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.

With the advent of all these computerised recording devices, people can get so bogged down. And I’m not saying I’ve never done that, because I did two solo records on digital devices that I maybe spent too much time thinking about. You can overthink a whole lot of things with them. But when you’ve got a whole band in the room, and they’re there for a weekend only, they’re sleeping in your house with you, and you’re getting all stinky together, you can maybe capture something in one great moment.

Were you generally happy with how the Replacements reunion went, and would you have liked it to be longer?

To be honest with you, I think we could’ve stretched it out a little bit longer. I don’t know if Paul wasn’t having fun with it, you know about that whole T-shirt thing? [Westerberg wore T-shirts with a single letter spray-painted on them over a number of shows, which, in order, spelt “I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past”.] Dude, if you’re so not into it, then why the fuck did we do it? I’ll be super frank with you about that.

When we did the Mats reunion, I thought it would make people happy, it would be super fun, and we’d maybe make some money. We did it, and I thought it was fun, but if it wasn’t fun in [Westerberg’s] head, then why the fuck did we do it? I don’t know if that was directed at me, or who it was directed at, but he kind of made a statement with his shirts that meant the tour finished up with a negative purpose and we should have stopped when we were ahead.

I say this candidly because I think that, at this point in our lives, whatever message you are trying to get across, this is not the best way to do it. The best way to do it would be to play until you don’t want to play, then move on and do something else. That’s what I do – call me kooky for calling it what it is. We only live here once, and when you get in your 50s, why would you do that you feel that you have to do, instead of what you want? Neither one of us had to do any of it, and it was fun for a while, but the T-shirt thing bummed me the fuck out.

Will you play together again?

Not if he pulls out another T-shirt message – fuck that [laughs]. I’m kidding a bit. I never say never, but it would have to happen only if the stars align in the perfect way, where we thought we could have fun with it and not get caught up in the bullshit.

Are you happy with the amount of respect the Replacements got in the band’s lifetime?

I never look back like that. We’re from Minneapolis – the music community in Minneapolis when we were kids in the ’80s rivalled, in my opinion, any music community in that era, or in any other era I’ve even seen. We had Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs, there was us, and lots of art-y bands. We all hung out together, played shows together, travelled together, and it was a real community.

Back in the day, Minneapolis was like the World Series for bands. Whatever bands we played with, we wondered who was going to win the game tonight – it was very competitive, but in a healthy way. I haven’t seen it yet. I lived in L.A. for over 20 years and only saw it in some ways, but completely different. It was a very special scene and I would love to converse with anyone who thinks they lived in a similar kind of music community.

What’s your favourite Replacements album?

I can’t listen to any of them, but if I were going to be straight-up honest with you, the one I can listen to the most is All Shook Down. It didn’t sell as much as Don’t Tell a Soul, but I think that’s when the Replacements were appreciated in a greater realm because of the songwriting. Paul wrote some great songs on that record.

If you listen to that record, and it was hard enough for me to listen to it to even remember the parts I played, that’s a great record. He did what Paul is best at – he basically produced that. Some of is is perhaps a little over-thought, but that whole record stands up completely, from top to bottom. It’s dark as fuck, though. You don’t know want to throw on your headphones on a sunny day and go for a walk in the park with that one on, because you’ll want to fucking slit your throat. But whatever.

Will you play with Guns ‘N’ Roses again?

I never say never about that either. I’d say it’s about as likely as doing the Replacements again. I think they don’t need me – they’ve got Duff and Slash and they’re doing their thing. They’re all my friends and I’m glad they’re all out there, working their butts off and having a good time. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about them. Unless Duff quits, and he was the last man standing the last time, there’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to need my fucking bass-playing skills any time soon [laughs]. Just sayin’.

You’ve been in bands since you were 12, 13. How do you stay grounded and stop yourself going crazy?

I’m still working that out [laughs]. It isn’t easy. A lot of people think that because you’re on stage, everything is great, but a lot of hard work goes into that at every level, whether you’re playing a club, theatre or stadium. It is a hard thing, and I’m not going to boo-hoo about my woes or anything like that, but it’s hard to balance that life and have some semblance of normality for yourself.

Any chance of a trip Down Under?

I’ve been talking to [You Am I guitarist] Davey Lane about it a lot, and trying to get You Am I to be my backing band [laughs]. We’ve been talking for years about it. Maybe I can go over go myself, although I hate doing the solo acoustic thing by myself – I like to have someone I can spitball with, and make shit up or whatever. I’ve always had a good time in Australia, so never say never. I can do a whole bunch of things that’ll either be fun or completely fucking disastrous [laughs].

Anything Could Happen by Bash & Pop is out now.

Check out all things Tommy Stinson here.

For The Brag

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