Q&A With Tommy Stinson

For post-punk scholars, Tommy Stinson will be forever fused to his infamous 12-year stint with Minneapolis garage-rock overachievers the Replacements. These days, the 45-year-old journeyman and doting dad is playing bass for Guns N’ Roses and Soul Asylum and has released his second solo album (and first in seven years), the well-crafted, bluesy and robust One Man Mutiny (Done To Death Music). MAGNET caught up with Stinson first in the Philadelphia suburb of Media, where he’d temporarily relocated, and more recently in Hudson, N.Y., where he’s just purchased a new home. Stinson will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

“Meant To Be” (download):

MAGNET: How’d you wind up in Hudson?
Stinson: It’s a roundabout story. Five years ago, my girlfriend (Emily Roberts) was living in Seattle, and I was living in L.A. We were corresponding on MySpace, we met one time, and we really hit it off. We got pregnant, and then we had the baby and all that. Her family is from around here. In L.A., I had work with Guns N’ Roses, I had a studio, I had an apartment I was renting. But it got to be like, “Why don’t we go somewhere where you can have some help with Tallulah, our baby, while I go out and do this thing I gotta go do (with GN’R). And when I get back from that, we’ll figure out where we want to be. I lived in L.A. for 16 years. I’d done about all I needed to do there. Whatever I do, I can do it from anywhere in the country. But now we’ve kind of found our own place here in Hudson. I have my own studio; it’s very laid back.

I hear it’s become a real magnet for bass players.
Yeah, Meshell Ndegeocello is coming over to jam today. And Melissa Auf der Maur lives down the road. She’s converting an old glue factory into a performing-arts center.

And you’re not far from New York City, either.
No, and the kicker is that I have a 20-year-old daughter (Ruby) who’s going to Parsons (The New School For Design) in New York.

So you were you married?
Yeah. Married, divorced. Now we’re really good friends.

How long were you married?
Five years.

Do you ever reconnect with Minneapolis?
Well, I have family there that I connect with, obviously. I don’t really know what happens there (musically). I don’t really know what happens anywhere. I like what I like, and I go find what I like. I left L.A. when there was no scene. It had nothing going on when I left, so that was a real good time to split.

Then again, it doesn’t matter where you are these days. There are people everywhere making decent careers for themselves and putting out great music.
They can do it on their own and not pay anyone to do it. There’s a real justice in that. For me, I’m not so far gone. I’m gonna to continue making records—gonna to do it my own way and be honest about why I’m doing it. I’m 45; I don’t really need stuff. I’ve done pretty well. I know people who are in my place, and they’re scared to death. They don’t know how to make a record without a label or what to do without a manager. You do the same thing you did when you didn’t fuckin’ have one. You’re not going to go anywhere without fuckin’ doing the work, and the work is getting a lot harder now because the labels don’t hold all the cards anymore.

Do people ever mistake you for Paul Westerberg?
They have no fuckin’ idea who I am—absolutely no idea.

What’s your relationship with him now?
He’s in Minneapolis. We’ve gone our own ways. We’ve talked about doing some shows together and stuff like that. He didn’t want to do it, and I don’t want to do it.

What do you remember most about your relationship with your brother, Bob?
The thing I don’t remember is doing heroin with him. Yeah, I didn’t read the book (Jim Walsh’s The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History). I heard about it.
I didn’t read it, either. My mom heard about it and friends and my ex-wife. People were making it up, recounting those things. So I got this call from my ex-wife saying, “You were really doing heroin when we were having Ruby?” So-and-so says I’m the one who turned Bobby on to it. We did a lot of things—and that wasn’t one of them. My brother and I smoked weed together, but I wasn’t doing heroin then.

Back when you started with the Replacements, you were a lot younger than everybody else. What did your parents think?
My mom was happy because it kept me off the streets. By 11, I was shoplifting. I probably would’ve ended up in jail.

So you got it out of your system early?
Oh, yeah, yeah.

Was your age ever an issue with bar owners or anything like that?
I’d stay in the kitchen until show time.

How did you handle Bob’s death?
I hadn’t seen him in a while. I think he always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. But it came to a head.

I always thought Chris Mars was an underrated drummer.
Really? Well, you never played with him. [Laughs] All of us had our shortcomings. When you single out the instruments, none of us were great players. My brother was a great player, but he was trying to play something that wasn’t happening with the other three of us. Sometimes, it worked. We played off of each other in a healthy kind of way. There wasn’t a lot of method to the madness. When we had to move on from Bob, Chris and I had gotten better, and we were keeping up with Paul.

How do you look back on the stuff you did with Bash & Pop and Perfect?
I like the idea of being in a band, and I tried to make another band. But where I’m at now, it would be really inhibiting. When I’m doing my thing alone, I can plan my stuff. I can write a country song, a pop/rock song, I can do whatever the fuck I feel like. I’ve finally kind of come into my own skin. To me, that’s kind of gratifying. It doesn’t matter if what I do is not “important” anymore. I lived a lot longer than a lot of people thought I would, and I’m doing great. I’m doing what I like to do, and I’m actually liking it more and doing more of what I like to do—not for any reason other than I like to do what I do.

How about your latest solo stuff?
I play guitar, bass and drums. I sing. When I approach my music now, I can program it; I can play it depending on what the song needs. Whatever works. I don’t have to compete with anyone; it sounds like this, so I’m gonna make it like this. To have that luxury is great. Now, to get paid and have that luxury …

How did you get involved with Guns N’ Roses?
We did a session together; it was fun. And at that point, mentally, everything was working out. I was like, “You know what? Maybe I do want to play bass for them.”

Given your recent work with a notorious perfectionist like Axl Rose, how do you feel now about the Replacements’ sloppy, hard-partying live rep?
I’m really proud of it. I’m not running or hiding from it or negative about it. The hard part about it is when someone comes up to me and says, “I really loved that one show, and you guys were so fucked up. It was the best show of my life.” And I think, “Well, what part of that was great? Because, literally, it kinda sucked.” I never get that.

—Hobart Rowland

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