Because we record geeks so deeply lament the demise of our beloved Replacements, it’s a bit difficult to hear Tommy Stinson say that he was actually quite ready to move on when frontman Paul Westerberg bailed for a solo career in the early ’90s. Selfishly, we want him to remember the band’s end as being anguishing, crippling. He must have nearly drank himself to death or done equal amounts of soul-searching and coke, right?
It stings just a bit when he says he was actually so prepared for the band’s collapse that he’d already taken demos for a new band, Bash & Pop, to Warner Bros., who then released Friday Night Is Killing Me.
Twenty-four when the ’Mats split, Stinson remembers being hopeful and excited by his professional future. “I had confidence that I had some kind of talent and had been a big enough part of [The Replacements] that I would be able to pull from it to some degree,” he says.
Yet Friday Night turned out to be B&P’s only release, and his next band, Perfect, went nowhere after a five-song EP for Restless dubbed When Squirrels Play Chicken. By 1997, he was again without a band. Stinson’s friend, celebrated drummer Josh Freese — then a member of Guns N’ Roses —
half-jokingly suggested that he try out for the bass gig in G’n’R, as Duff McKagan was on his way out. A heartbeat later, Stinson was in the band, ready to decompress and sort of slip back into a more anonymous role as a backup player.
“I was kind of beaten up, I was kind of thinking in my head, ‘I think I want to just play in a band for a while, just get out of this. I’ve been working at [trying to get a new band off the ground] since I got [to L.A.], and it’s been fun, and it’s been good and it’s been bad all at once. But I’m tired and beat up.’ So, really, for the first year I was in Guns N’ Roses, the only thing I did was play Guns N’ Roses music and write music with them.”
Some six years and scores of unheard G’N’R tracks later, it’s as if it’s 1993 all over again. Having recently wrapped work on Village Gorilla Head, a solo debut on a label (Sanctuary) that’s actually enthusiastic about working with him, Stinson’s career is once again full of promise. The album is full of the Faces- and T. Rex-style ballads and the rockers ’Mats fans love and expect from Stinson. There’s the strummy, top-shelf ballad “Hey You,” bearing a vague reggae influence, the snotty, garage-y tune “Motivation,” and the danceable, stoned-out title track that could serve as a Xanax jingle in a cooler universe.
After experiments with a Pro Tools knockoff called Logic congealed into a set of songs, Stinson asked Pixies main man Frank Black, a friend of a friend, if he could borrow Black’s studio while he was on the road with his group, the Catholics.
“I think I asked him if he’d let me rent his space and his gear for the time they were gone,” Stinson says. “He basically just said, ‘No, you can use it. All you have to do is pay my guy ’cause he’s gonna be sitting there anyway.’ At that point, it was like, ‘Wow! You mean, all I have to do is pay for the engineer?’ So I pulled all of my money out of savings.”
Once again, Stinson’s enjoying a healthy dose of optimism. “I feel like I’ve finally gotten to a place where I can almost distance myself enough from The Replacements to be starting over and, also, I feel really fortunate to be in the spot where I am,” he notes, adding with a laugh, “The world looks like it’s my oyster right now.”