Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs
Follow The Big Takeover
“After sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, where do you go from there?” asked Tommy Stinson, former bassist for the seminal band The Replacements.
Stinson thinks aloud much in the vain of his former band; with unabashed sincerity and bearing his heart on his sleeve.
After releasing his second solo effort, One Man Mutiny, Stinson seems spiritually at peace, but creatively as raucous as his formidable years.
“I have to keep myself afloat. It does take longer for me to make records now and it would be great to dedicate more time to solo stuff,” he said.
Following up his 2004 debut, Village Gorilla Head, Stinson’s new record comes off a little harder but with a more focused feel. His inner fire to still pen loose and fast songs reminiscent of his former band demonstrates a songwriter’s organic progression. Stinson feels there’s nothing out of the ordinary on the record and that it’s an honest representation of where he’s at today as a songwriter.
In addition to his tenure in The Replacements, Stinson continues to tour with Axl Rose’s revamped Guns N’ Roses lineup. After seemingly getting burnt out with The Replacements chief songwriter, Paul Westerberg, Stinson jumped in with the infamous G n’ R singer.
“Honestly, playing in Guns is just like being in Replacements or playing out with Soul Asylum,” he laughed.
“In Guns, it’s not really all that different. You have a front man who is a very serious and almost dogmatic type figure. Axl has a hard time taking it on the chin so to speak. Soul Asylum, Replacements, Guns; Good and bad they take it all home with them. They do focus on the negative too much at times. I had conversations with all three and heard all the crap. How can you sit there and blah blah blah and complain. Let’s stick with the positive,” said Stinson.
Stinson reflected on Westerberg’s approach to dealing with expectations and songwriting.
“He was cantankerous about it. It holds true with him today! Just as it was then to even two months ago.”
He said Paul will always be dear to him but clarified that no Replacements reunion will take place, contrasting a previous interview with Rolling Stone.
“He’s (Paul) done a lot with his solo stuff but hasn’t played a show in a while. Sometimes I feel he’s given up to some extent and it bums me out. Where is the fire and brimstone?” asked Stinson.
The closest The Replacements came to any kind of reunion was Stinson’s un-credited appearance on Westerberg’s 2002 Stereo/Mono record, released under Westerberg’s alter-ego moniker, Grandpa Boy.
With the sad loss of guitarist Bob Stinson in 1995 and drummer Chris Mars reportedly no longer consistently playing, the true question that should be asked is ‘What purpose would a reunion serve?’
Stinson took the time to reflect on the loss of Bob, who prematurely passed away in 1995 at 35 years of age.
“When my brother died, all the negative stuff just disappeared. I only remember the positive. You may think this is a bit kooky, but when Bob passed he was finally free. He had a hard life. He does visit me in dreams, to let me know he’s around,” said Stinson.
Stinson stated by the time The Replacements released their swansong album, All Shook Down things were “pretty much over by then”.
He added that the group didn’t really break up as much as they “left it out there.”
“We were all over it by then. We all wanted to try new things and at the end it was just me and Paul.”
Fans alleged the final album was merely Paul getting full-control of the songwriting and that the record should’ve been his first solo debut. Shuffled personnel revealed Paul and Tommy to be the only Replacements on the record.
The Replacements rose from the DIY punk rock ashes in Minneapolis and in 1981 Twin/Tone Records released Sorry, Ma Forgot To Take Out The Trash . Their uneven live performances were fueled by alcohol and overall reckless abandonment.
“We just went with it, never really giving a shit what people thought at the time,” said Stinson.
Eventually, they carved their own niche and crafted hook laden ballads backed by guitarist Bob Stinson’s fractured melodies, and complimented by Westerberg’s trademark lyricism. Westerberg was able to weave introspective themes within the band’s powerful and wild approach and as they grew, their audience broadened. If the Stinsons represented the edge, it was Westerberg who bought the melody.
Stinson further stated that despite his former band now earning “legendary status“, they never sold many albums even though they signed with Sire Records and garnered mainstream radio airplay.
“Ha! We didn’t sell shit. When I was in The Replacements, I had grown up dead ass broke. I dropped out of school in 10th grade to go on tour. I was a shitty student and I just didn’t care. Much like the band, we were what we were.”
The group’s evolution had created a divide among their supporters and the transition wasn’t seamless. Fans of their early material, such as Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash felt Don’t Tell A Soul hardly resembled the band they originally fell in love with.
“We were getting burnt out from the punk stuff. I remember Paul said something like ‘We don’t write statements with riffs’. I always felt that anyone who ostracized us for growing can just suck it,” laughed Stinson.
To further divide fans, the decision to sack Bob Stinson for excessive alcohol consumption and substance abuse resulted in fans finger pointing and screaming hypocrisy because Paul and Tommy also had confirmed bouts with excess.
Moving forward, they completed Pleased To Meet Me as a trio and Slim Dunlap joined in time for the group’s elevation to Sire.
As the group completed Don’t Tell A Soul, the record that had them crack the Top 100 chart, they were further chided by fans who felt The Replacements were all too eager to pen radio friendly pop songs. “I’ll Be You” had the band earning mainstream radio play and selling out bigger venues.
In retrospect, the band was bridging the gap from their raucous energy to their newly evolved songwriting that later became their trademark.
“I have my own take on how things went down. We just wanted to try new things. I do believe strongly that you cannot force something that isn’t there yet. I have seen it with a lot of people; from Paul to Axl to David Pirner of Soul Asylum. I think they are all still searching for whatever it is they’re looking for.”
Fans continue to hold The Replacements in high regard, even if their live sets were an exercise of self-defeat. Critics have come to a general consensus of the group’s importance and ultimate impact, but debates ensue as to what could have truly been. It’s arguable to say they could’ve been contenders, but on who’s terms are we measuring them by? Legacies are often shaped by myth, but The Replacements have left behind a catalog of influential songs that spark reflection from fans that continue to grow, but not outgrow Paul Westerberg’s melodies.
Stinson remains grateful for the times and showed no signs of sour grapes. Even if their disbandment seemed almost anti-climatic. Their final show in 1991 had all their roadies eventually take the stage as the band themselves became their own spectators.
Today, Stinson’s new found clarity has him reaching out to struggling communities.
“You know I have kids now and I was thinking about what I want them to remember me by and crap like that. The earthquake in Haiti, that was really impacting. Instead of just donating money I went there. I’ve been involved with this trade school out there and after seeing families so joyful and proud to see their children graduate, that was the watershed moment for me. I wanted to give back because I know how lucky I have been,” said Stinson.
Proceeds of One Man Mutiny will be donated to Timkatec Schools in Haiti.
From a founding member to the revered Replacements to solo artist, and to accepting the challenge of playing with Guns N’ Roses, Tommy Stinson is still the same restless soul eager to swallow life.
“You know I just go with it. I try not to force it. The only issue to date with playing solo is someone once said that I should just stick to playing bass. Other than that, it’s been great. I always have some of The Figgs in my backing band and I’ve always loved them; they continue to be my go to guys.”
He stressed that writing and performing will remain an integral part of his life.
“It’s always inside me, but I have to say, it’s really daunting to go and make a living just doing the solo stuff. I work to get to a point where I’m ready to cut some tracks and I just go with it, like I’ve always done before.”
“I’m only 45 and I have a tank full of piss and vinegar. I’m still alive! The moment I lose it just put the leaves and dirt over my dirty bones,” said Stinson.
More in profiles