When Bob Stinson coerced his little brother Tommy to join his punk band, the Replacements, in 1979, the younger Stinson was reluctant. The bass strings hurt his fingers and he had trouble handling the instrument, which was completely understandable, considering Tommy was only 13 years old. Soon, that bass would become as familiar as a yellowed undershirt to the young Replacement as the Minneapolis band redefined debaucherous bar rock, playing and recording incessantly until its demise in 1991, when Tommy was 24. Now 37, Stinson played in Bash & Pop, Pleasure and the reconstituted Guns N' Roses. Last month, Tommy's first solo effort hit the shelves. A moody pop-rock album filled with guarded balladry, Village Gorilla Head is an impressive album. Tommy spoke to WW from his Los Angeles home about his new album, good times and toner cartridges.
WW: Did you ever want to get out of making music but weren't able to?
Tommy Stinson: Not really. I've never really wanted to get out of it. I've wanted to try and figure how to make money without it. If I could just do what I do and do it with my own terms like I did on this last record, I would fuckin' go on forever just having a good time making music. I would have weird little songs I just felt like writing and not have a care, doing it for myself. The reason that you continue is just the reason why you do it in the first place. It makes you happy. It's an art form. It's not going to cure cancer. It's not going to fuckin' put you on the moon. It's going to help those things happen maybe, but I've always just thought it's what I like. Certainly there have been hard times when I've wanted to do something else to make money.
What did you do when music wasn't making enough money for you?
I sold toner cartridges over the phone, kind of a telemarketing thing.
Yeah. I got pretty good at it. It eventually transferred into my present-day life, being a salesman.
You use what you learn from selling toner cartridges as a musician?
It was more of a way to cure myself and communicate, which was crucial. When the Replacements broke up, I was pretty skittish. People were pretty weird and treated me pretty crazy, you know kind of getting up in my face about shit. Kinda made me kinda an introvert. Fuckin' selling shit the telemarketing way kinda got me back out of my head and kinda got me back into being more of what I am, which is not an introvert, more of an extrovert. And to kinda, you know, be more of a communicator.
How long did you do that for?
Maybe about a year and a half. I got myself back on my feet and, you know, did what I wanted to do with it and moved on. Then I got a record deal and it all started all over again.
The former Replacement and current Guns N' Roses bassist talks about Axl's ideas, Chinese Democracy's release date and Buckethead's, um, bucket.
WW: You've been involved in a lot of projects through the '90s and the '00s. Do you prefer bouncing around from project to project, or are you just searching for the right one to stick with?
Tommy Stinson: No, I think I prefer jumping around a little bit. I don't like to get caught up in any one thing for too long cause it gets boring. And I think, you know, right around the time I joined Guns N' Roses I was just about to get screwed in my record deal with Restless. They weren't going to promote that record. They were actually going to put it on the shelf and it was coming.
This was Perfect's Seven Days a Week?
Yeah. And I thought, "You know, fuck it." I feel like I had been kind of climbing uphill for a while, and I thought maybe it was time to try something else for a bit and try and regroup my musical flow, so to speak. And the G N'R thing came up and everyone looked at it as an opportunity to do something I hadn't done before. And, uh, after auditioning and them liking me and stuff, I got to talkin' to Axl about what he wanted to do. And what he was trying to do was something that had never really been done before and I thought, "Well, that's pretty awesome. No one has done this before. I think this guy has a lot of fuckin' balls to do it and I'm kinda into that." So I kinda felt like it would be cool to just go play bass and be in a band rather than have it all be on me. And that's kinda what the whole point of it was, to kinda change it up. And I didn't really write a song for about a year after [joining the band], a song of my own. I just kinda regrouped and let myself come back. And after that, I started to write songs again. I think, if I have to climb uphill for too long, I get to change it up. It's lucky for me that I've been able to do it in so many ways that have been, you know, interesting.
Are you glad to be done with G N'R? Did the G N'R thing just turn into a huge headache?
Not really, shit happens. Some of the stuff happened along the way, it wasn't really our fault. That's stuff that I can't really go into. But yeah, that was a fucking pain in the ass. But the stuff that's happened since has been pretty cool. And from my point of view it's been a really great experience. To be in a position where I'm actually in Guns N' Roses and Axl supporting me and my record and me touring behind my record while he's finishing that up. I've got the best of both worlds, you know? And that record [Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy] will probably come out any time now. And as soon as I'm done touring behind my thing I'll get into that camp and start working that one.
So that's still happening?
Oh, it's totally still on.
When is [Chinese Democracy] coming out?
I don't really know yet. I've been kinda out of the loop 'cause I've been promoting my record. And, uh, I'll find out when the rest of the world probably finds out. I'll see it on CNN in some fucking Portland bar.
Have you ever seen Buckethead without the bucket on?
What does he look like?
A tall guy with curly hair.
I'm just curious, because at least with Slash you could kind of see his face from time to time.
Yeah, that might have been the problem.
The former punk boy-wonder talks about recording his new album in Frank Black's studio and the freedom that a bankroll gives ya.
WW: How long has Village Gorilla Head been in the works?
Tommy Stinson: Really the record was only in the works for about a year. From last March until this past March. That's how long it took me to start and complete. A lot of the material I had been kind of compiling over the last few years, but I wasn't really compiling with the intent to make a record, really.
So what was the reason? Why did you decide to make the record?
Well, I had the opportunity to use Frank Black's studio and all of his gear for two months while [the Pixies] went to Europe. He let me use all his stuff, so I thought "Shit, I've got all this stuff, and if I put my stuff in the mix, I might as well make a record." 'Cause when am I going to get that opportunity again? I decided to just kind of run with it.
It's kind of a strange studio, isn't it?
It was a weird studio in the upstairs of a studio called Hollywood Sound Factory, or Hollywood Sound, or something like that in Hollywood. And what it was was the upstairs of the main studio, and it looks like it used to be the offices of the studio before. You know, kind of beat-up '70s décor with a bunch of gear thrown in.
How do you know Frank Black?
We've crossed paths over the years, you know, between the Pixies and [the Replacements] touring together. And I've done some sessions with him. One of my really good friends plays guitar with him, a guy named Dave Philips, who also plays on my record. And just knowing Charles [Thompson, a.k.a. Frank Black] through that camp and through all my years and stuff like that, he was kind enough to let me use all his stuff while he went out of town.
Was the process of making the record much different from when you were doing Perfect? You're the only one who has control over what goes on the solo album, but does it feel better than it did with Perfect?
I don't know if I'd say "better," but the definite difference would be that I had a bankroll of my own money to make the record with. I had hopped on the opportunity that Charles gave me to make a record, whereas Perfect didn't really have that freedom. So I guess the freedom of having made a record on my own, um, and the access I had to the gear and the different talents with my own equipment made a much more experimental record probably than Perfect ever got.
Because it was easier to do?
Because I had the money to do it. And the time. And I had Charles' studio to do it. So probably that's probably the difference. I wouldn't say better or worse than Perfect, I would say totally different scenario.
Stinson plays with Alien Crime Syndicate and All the Dead Horses Thursday, Aug. 26, at Ash Street, 225 SW Ash St., 226-0430. 9 pm. 21+.