Tommy Stinson: Rebelliously Creative (INTERVIEW)

If the four strings on Tommy Stinson’s bass could talk, they’d probably speak the lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” Sure, he hasn’t stuck a pen in his heart and spilled it all over the stage, but he’s been about as decadent. In fact producer Jim Dickinson once referred to Stinson as the “walking embodiment of rock n’ roll.”

At the age of twelve and just hitting puberty, Stinson joined his big brother Bob, Chris Mars and Paul Westerberg to form the foundation of 80’s garage post-punkers, The Replacements. The Minneapolis four-piece was pronounced for their belligerent alcohol-fueled stage acts, but better remembered for such landmark albums as Let It BeTim and Pleased To Meet Me. The Mats, as they were more affectionately referred, were a vital part of a Minneapolis music scene that spawned Husker Du and Soul Asylum, and later fed the creative fuel of such bands as Nirvana and The Pixies. Stinson spent his teens and early 20’s as the bassist for The Replacements, growing up in a rock and roll fantasy camp, except it wasn’t pretend.

Following the Mats breakup in the early 90’s, Stinson formed an outfit called Bash & Pop, which eventually evolved into Perfect, which yielded the recently released Rykodisc gem – Once, Three, Times a Maybe. However, it was in 1998, that Stinson was asked by Axl Rose to be the bassist for the revamped Guns N’ Roses. Holding a creative stake in the molding of the someday to be released Chinese Democracy, Stinson is back in the spotlight with the once biggest band in the world, but also with a new solo album, Village Gorilla Head.

Glide caught up with the notorious rock and roller at the beginning of a tour with David Phillips of The Catholics. Short and to the point, Tommy Stinson clearly speaks one language – rock n’ roll, but we like it.

So you’re in the middle of an acoustic tour?

Yeah, I guess you can call it that. There’s some electric guitar spots in there, I suppose you can call it half and half.

How’s the transition going from electric to acoustic, you’re probably more used to the electric thing?

It’s going good, I have fun with it either way, so it’s all good.

And David Phillips from The Catholics has been playing with you too?

Yeah, he’s playing pedal steel and playing guitar as well.

The show in Minneapolis was sort of homecoming I imagine.

That was a lot of fun. People are starting to learn the words and shit and sing along. It always keeps it kind of fun when they sing along.

You album Village Gorilla Head is all over the place, with influences like Big Star, The Clash and the obvious Replacements vein. Why take the risk of making such a diverse album, rather than straight rock that’s worked for so long?

Well to me it’s all about taking risks. You’re not making music unless you’re stretching and challenging yourself. You’re not challenging your listener and you’re not challenging anyone. You know, records like that don’t get me off, so I don’t like to make them. So I’m all about trial and error.

But you didn’t bang it out…it took five years to make didn’t it?

Somewhat. I’ve been compiling songs for five years, or more even, with no real direction to put them. The opportunity game to record some real drum tracks and guitar and bass tracks, so I took charge and went in and made it.

Do you get shit that anything that takes five years to make better live up to something?

Yeah, sometimes. I get that kind of shit all the time.

So this is the first album you’ve made under your own name. Any reason why your first Tommy Stinson album is just being released now?

No real reason, other than it came together by happenstance really. Didn’t really have a plan to do it ever or have a plan not to do it, it just kind of happened that way.

From The Replacements, to Bash & Pop, and Perfect, your sound changed with each album. How has it developed with your latest projects?

I think I’m finally coming into my own, where I don’t really have any direction, I don’t have any one inspiration or any one thing that motivates me. I kind of just have a cup of coffee, take the garbage out and shovel the snow. I’m finally just coming around to finding out what I want to be, which is really nothing in particular (laughs) other than this heady notion of wanting to be a rock star or whatever kind of bullshit you might think of when you’re young.

How do you establish a sound without glamorizing your past? Is it hard finding an identity outside your work with The Replacements?

Well, it’s just that I haven’t put records out consistently so it’s a little hard in that regard. But that’s the only thing that I’ve really come across.

The title track on your new album is very jazzy, not something most fans would expect.

Well you know I was just messing around with different sounds. Using a lot of string samples and using string arrangement ideas. Messing around with strange drum loop things and distorting that.

Were there were any albums that you were listening to at the time that influenced you in one shape or form?

Well I suppose the Gorillaz kind of inspired me.

“Not a Moment too Soon” sounds very Paul Westerberg and his knack for pop. Has his songwriting rubbed off on you?

Oh certainly it has. I mean, I hung out with the guy for ten years…something’s bound to rub off that’s not his makeup (laughs).

Once, Twice, Three Times A Maybe was finally issued last year on Rykodisc – but did you like it being known as a hidden secret?

You know, my thoughts originally on that record were kind of bleak, but I came around [thought I didn’t want it] just sitting on the shelf, and would rather it came out. So, I’m pretty cool with it.

You’ve been moving from bass to guitar…how has your comfort level progressed?

I don’t know if I’m comfortable playing any instrument. I’m working it out where I don’t ever get comfortable playing a musical instrument. I like to climb.

So you’ve never been comfortable on the bass, just been learning as you go?


What was your first impression of albums like Let It Be and Tim?

Probably that I was sick of playing those songs, those are the first thoughts that come to mind.

So you probably haven’t listened to those albums since the 80’s?

Yeah, probably since I made them. I haven’t listened to any ‘Mats records since the mastering process.

What have you been listening to lately?

A little bit of my new stuff and I’ve also been getting off on this Arcade Fire record, I’m liking that a lot…and The Walkmen and The Pleasure Club.

What are your thoughts on modern day festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and the talked about Field Day festival. Do you feel like you’d fit in to these festivals if you were invited?

I suppose if they’d ask me to play, I’d go play. But for the most part, I don’t really know where I’d fit into any of that stuff.

You’re a pal of Frank Black, what do you make of The Pixies reunion. Do you feel it was genuine?

It was totally. I caught one at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York and it was fantastic. It was great. I mean obviously they got paid lots of money to do it, and they’re doing it because number one, they are going to make a lot of money on it, but it also seems like they are having fun with it.

If The Replacements ever got asked to reform for money, would it be something you’d have to think twice about?

I wouldn’t have time to do it in the next couple of years. I don’t think Paul does either. He’s got a project he’s working on for at least the next year as far as I’m concerned. I got the Guns record coming out soon and I’ll be behind that for the next year and a half. They would have to offer incredible amounts of money to make it possible to cancel the other things going on.

With the Guns N’ Roses album, how much of a creative influence have you had in that project?

It was a totally collaborative effort, the whole fucking eight of us. If I think back on it, pretty much everyone has some stake in the writing of it.

Do you know when the album might finally see the light of day?

I don’t have a date, as I’ve been out of the loop, but I know it’s finishing up a little bit and they are doing the artwork right now. Hopefully it will be soon and we’ll be able to tour behind it.

What do you think it will take for Guns N’ Roses to be the biggest band in the world again?

A good record will probably be a good start, and I think we have that right now.

What is the biggest misconception people have of Axl Rose?

I think he’s totally misunderstood. People like to keep that he’s in the role of the bad rock star guy and they like him there. It’s not where he’s at and what he’s about. They keep him there because it makes their stories interesting.

You stepped away from rock and roll and worked as a telemarketer, how did you do that without losing your sanity?

I got good at it and I made money at it…and both were very helpful.

What did you learn the most from the 9-5 world?

You know, it was the first job I ever had and it was a pivotal moment. I went from trying to create music to pay the rent to learning how to pay rent without pouring it on my music and it changed my whole thing.

You’ve lived and breathed rock and roll almost your entire life. What advice would you give to a youngster starting out as early as you did?

Just stay in high school. We’re in a period of the fucking world where you can’t have one career, you have to have more than one. You need to have a couple things going on to really compete in the world. And having a fifteen year old daughter, that’s exactly what I’ve told her.

So you’re the exception to the rule.

There you go dude…old school though (laughs).

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide