Tommy Stinson on Guns N’ Roses, Bash & Pop and a New Replacements Album

Tommy Stinson performs with The Replacements at Coachella 2014.

Tommy Stinson performs with The Replacements at Coachella music festival in 2014. Rich Polk/Getty Images for Coachella

Try all you like to stop him, but Tommy Stinson isn’t holding anything back.

Speaking on the phone from his home in Hudson, N.Y., Stinson—the spiky-haired, rabble-rousing bassist of beloved college-rock heroes the Replacements, leader of the recently reformed Bash & Pop, and former bassist of Guns N’ Roses—is spitting out cuss words left and right, and with tongue firmly in cheek, spewing venom toward his Replacements bandmate Paul Westerberg.

Those well versed with Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements, music writer Bob Mehr’s trainwreck-turned-triumphant tell-all and one of 2016’s best music books, know the brotherly love/hate relationship Westerberg and Stinson have endured and the sloshed shenanigans they’ve become notorious for since founding their legendary band in 1979.

But you can’t help but sense a bit of disappointment as Stinson traces the origins of reuniting his post-Replacements band, Bash & Pop.

During the Replacements’ wildly successful reunion tour, Westerberg, Stinson and company hit the studio, three of them to be exact, setting out to do the improbable: record the first new Replacements album since 1991’s All Shook Down.

Sadly, that record was never completed (more on that from Stinson later) and put on the shelf.

For Stinson, who was ready with a handful of tunes he’d written and others he’s kept in his stash, that new Replacements record falling apart had a silver lining: it would become Anything Could Happen, Bash & Pop’s first record since 1993’s Friday Night Is Killing Me.

Relentlessly catchy with nonstop hooks, raspy-voiced tunesmith Stinson, with help from The Hold Steady guitarist Steve “The Sleeve” Selvidge, Mighty Mighty BossTones drummer Joe “The Kid” Sirois and Screeching Weasel bassist Justin “Carl” Perkins, has crafted a beer-soaked feast of riff-heavy, power bar-rawk that should delight any ‘Mats fan who missed out on the reunion.

From “I.O.U.”-like opener “Not This Time,” to power-pop hook-fests (“On The Rocks,” one of our picks for best songs of 2016), to the slide-guitar boogie-down of “Unfuck You” and the campfire twang of “Breathing Room,” Stinson’s earworms measure up against Westerberg’s solo output.

With Anything Could Happen, the vinyl reissue of Friday Night Is Killing Me, new music from Chris Mars later this year and The I Don’t Cares (Westerberg’s basement-rock duo with Juliana Hatfield), there’s no shortage of Replacements-related treasures to dig into.

In his lengthy, wide-ranging interview with the Observer, Stinson dove deep to discuss what it was like reforming Bash & Pop, his time in Guns N’ Roses, how guitarist Slim Dunlap is doing health-wise, the Replacements reunion, and just what happened to the new record.

You live in Hudson, right?

Yeah, I moved up here about five years ago.

Do you play a lot of gigs there, like at Club Helsinki?

Once in a while I play up here. I try not to shit where I eat, if you know what I mean. It’s a small community so I try to minimize my gigging up here. I prefer to, really honestly, only play at benefits up here. Whether it’s for [Tools for] Timkatec [in Haiti] or something like that, I like to keep it straight that way.

That’s great. Where were you living before Hudson?

I lived in L.A. from ’93 ‘til about 2008.

That’s a long time in L.A…

…then I moved to the Philly area for a couple years. Just outside of Philly.

Is Hudson more your speed than L.A. was?

Yeah, I feel like when I left L.A, all my friends that I’d known out there for years, we were all kind of growing up in a way, with kids and families. The music industry was changing so drastically and so quickly, I just got to a point where I thought, “Ya know, I’m getting priced out of a housing market pretty good, there’s not a whole lot left for me to do here.”

At the time I was still in Guns N’ Roses and stuff and I was like, “Shit, I can do that from anywhere.” So…I just decided to bust out. We busted out, moved to the East Coast.

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I remember seeing the Replacements a couple years ago at the Forest Hills show and you told a funny story about taking the Amtrak to the gig and falling on your face or something.

[Laughing] Fuckin’ true story! The one thing that Hudson does need desperately is new sidewalks.

You still don’t drive, right?

Nope. I do not. And I’m rethinking that one, too.

You have a lot of shit going on music-wise.

You got to keep yourself busy, man. I can’t sit around, I get fuckin’ bored. It was just kind of that thing [laughing]. 

You played that Johnny Thunder’s L.A.M.F. show and a benefit with Jesse Malin with Cowboys In The Campfire, your duo with Chip Roberts. Do you usually hop on the train to New York when you have a gig? 

It depends on the gig. If we’re just coming down to do an acoustic thing, like this thing I did [in December] for Jesse Malin and all that, a benefit for this friend of his that got struck with cancer really young and is unable to get around so well so we tried to raise some money to get her a real good wheelchair so she’s able to get in and out of places. That was the Cowboys and Campfire stuff, which is me and Chip playing stripped-down versions of a lot of stuff. Actually, we’ll be making up our own repertoire for that on its own.

I think you’ll find by the end of 2017, I’ll probably have two different things I’m kind of working on simultaneously: that’ll be Cowboy and the Campfire duo stuff and then there’ll be the Bash & Pop stuff.

It must be easy doing Cowboys In The Campfire since it’s only a two-man operation with guitars. Did you and Chip just do a living room tour recently?

Yeah, we did a real intimate tour at the last minute. I wanted to just take it to the people and have fun. I don’t want a whole lotta of fuss and/or overhead. I just want to go out and play some songs and do something different than I’ve done. It was like one step up from busking, really. It’s just the two of us. We get along really good. It’s just low maintenance.

Do you prefer just chilling out and touring without so much of the gear that comes with the huge Guns N’ Roses shows and Replacements reunion shows?

I like all of it for different reasons. I’ll be honest with you, I am stoked about the Guns N’ Roses reunion. All those guys are my buddies, except I don’t really know Slash. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. But all those guys are my friends and I’m glad they’re out doing it but I’d be lying if I said I missed that gig.

You don’t feel like you’re missing out?

I miss the people a whole lot and obviously you miss the fans and stuff like that. But where I’m at in life right now, that’s just a whole thing that…I’m not saying I’d never do it again but I’m kind of glad I moved on from that.

It really was a lot and it really required, sadly, because of my circumstances with my ex-wife, to have to put a whole lot of crazy shit into play just to be able to do those tours towards the end, because I had this young daughter.

I’m in a much better place. I’ve had some time to fuckin’ sort some shit out up here where my trajectory right now is way more manageable for the bandwidth that I have for it.

Let’s talk Bash & Pop. Anything Could Happen, the new record, is coming out and you’re touring. What made you decide now is the right time to work under that name again?

I’d been doing these recordings as a band with all these guys that played on it. I’d have them come up for the weekend and I had about three or four songs that I wanted to bash out as a band kind of thing—no pun intended. ‘Cause my last two solo records I did on my own and just piecemealed together and it’s a pain in the ass, it’s not as gratifying as feeling the energy of four dudes crammed in a fucking home studio, you know?

I started recording the stuff like that, and the songs, instead of me putzin’ around on my own trying to make weird out of not-weird songs or trying to make interesting by myself, basically. It made itself more of a traditional rock and roll record—it just started going that way.

By the time I got the whole thing done and started playing the tracks for people, they’re going, “Oh, man, this reminds me of the Bash & Pop record.”

So after talking about that shit for a while, it was like, “Alright then, well it doesn’t sound like a Tommy Stinson solo record like these last ones because it’s got a band vibe to it and it has its own feeling to it that’s a group thing.” I decided to just fuckin’ call it Bash & Pop so when I go out I’ll have to do a few songs off the first record, I suppose, and also play all this new stuff.

Tommy Stinson.

Tommy Stinson. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Some of the tunes on Anything Could Happen you’ve had for a few years, right? You released a 7-inch last year with “Can’t Be Bothered.”

Yeah, I’m kind of throwing them out as I have ’em. The first one that came out, I recorded that one in London while I was out with the Replacements with Davey Lane and Luther Dickinson. I made that song up and wrote it in Amsterdam and wanted to record it in London because Davey was going to be there and I knew Luther was coming and I just thought, “Man, this will be fun. Let’s go record this song and see what happens.”

Originally what I wanted to do, if the thing had sold anything, was to give the proceeds from that song and that single or whatever to the Roundhouse recording school they’ve got there [Roundhouse Young Creatives]. It’s a great little facility. I loved it and we had a great, magical little time. That gave me more of a reason to actually put this one song out and so we did.

The oldest song on the record, “Shortcut,” the real dreary one at the end of side two, I’ve had that for fuckin’ probably 20 years now. I just never put it out. I kind of do that. I collect songs, I keep’em around, I mess with them here and there or re-record ’em or whatever. But all my records have songs that I’ve been kind of sitting on for a while. For whatever reason, I didn’t get the right take or didn’t really like it so much then.

Bash & Pop has had a rotating lineup. Do you have a solid band now?

Yeah, the last recording, a little over half the record was done with the lineup I’m using right now, which is Steve Selvidge from The Hold Steady, Joe “The Kid” Sirois from The Mighty Mighty BossTones, Justin Perkins and then Tony Kieraldo on keys and backing vocals.

You recorded a chunk of Anything Could Happen while you were out in London on tour with the Replacements? You had time to bang out this new Bash and Pop record?

Yeah, well…[laughing] The funny thing that happened was, silly me [laughing], I thought we were gonna make a Replacements record. But try as we may, that never panned out. So I was like, “Shit, I’ll just use these and do it this way instead of trying to do it that way.”

Yeah, do your own thing.

Yeah, we tried and for whatever hang ups Paul and I had or whatever, it just didn’t work out.

These were brand new songs that you guys were working on, you and Paul?

Ya know, he got some stuff, we recorded, I recorded a couple of the songs that are on this record that didn’t work out so well in that form, I should say. I kind of just took ’em back home, did ’em with my own band, and there you have it.

So you weren’t feeling these new tunes for a potential new Replacements record, you, Paul and the rest of the band?

We tried in earnest on the one hand but I don’t think we set it up properly to be done correctly. We needed to do it like a live band kind of thing—as I did my record, pretty much. We just never hooked up the right scenario and ended up in three different studios that were not really the right studios to record this kind of thing in. We kind of fucked it up going in, which got us in our head and then our head fuckin’ exploded and we just said, “Fuck it.” 

The Replacements.

The Replacements. YouTube

A new Replacements record going off the rails like that brings to mind the self-sabotage thing you guys are known for.

Yeah…sadly, but without the self-sabotage part of it. I think it just was, we didn’t hook it up right and I don’t know that Paul was necessarily completely into it. He’s got a lot more baggage ‘cuz he was the lead singer and I think he has a hard time navigating his past.

Well, at least you’ve got those few songs on the new record from those sessions.

Yeah!

Those songs that wound up on Anything Could Happen were going to be on the new Replacements record?

If they had been recorded, a good handful would have been if we had gotten that far. It didn’t quite make it to the starting line on that one [laughing].

That’s cool that you were going to have your own songs on a new Replacements record. After the ‘Mats originally broke up in 1991, you then formed Bash & Pop and came out with Friday Night Is Killing Me and that’s now being reissued on vinyl and CD.

Yeah, it was never out on vinyl so that’s kind of an interesting bit. The original CDs, back in ’93, quality back then was pretty dismal. The bit rates were not good enough, so now I think it’ll sound a whole lot better on the new disc with the bit rates changing and all that.

Did you work on the reissue yourself?

We only remastered it. We had to remaster it actually for vinyl and we had to remaster it also because the original version of it was recorded analog and to do that transfer from analog to digital again you need to remaster it. The old masters were a shitty quality compared to today’s standards.

How do you look back on that period, around the time of that first Bash & Pop record? The Replacements had broken up about a year or two before. Were you writing songs during the Replacements years that then wound up on Friday Night Is Killing Me?

Pretty much the same scenario. Same fucking thing. [Laughing]

At the time, did you know that you had a label home to put out Friday Night because you were in the Replacements?

Well, you know, some of the demos, like for “First Steps,” I recorded kind of haphazardly for All Shook Down and never used it. By the time we were touring on that record, I’d already submitted some material from Friday Night Is Killing Me to Warner Brothers because they had the rights to keep me.

At the end of the All Shook Down tour, I’d had a bunch of that material from Friday Night is Killing Me and then when I gave it to the record company, they had ownership of it in that they had first right of refusal. They chose to take it on as opposed to letting me go.

Coincidentally, two years later I asked to be released from the deal [laughs] because it didn’t work out too good for me. But, you know, a lot of people seem to like that little record so I’ll go out and fuckin’ play it!

Are you going to play a bunch of the old faves from that record since it’s being reissued?

I’m gonna do as much of it as I can. A lot of that stuff is a pain in the ass to do live for the tuning reasons of it, unless you get a real road crew. It’s hard to switch guitar and tunings and shit like that. I’m gonna do as much of it as I can, more than I’ve done in the past. We’ll just see what feels good and what doesn’t.

I wanted to touch on Trouble Boys, the Replacements book that came out last year. I interviewed the author, Bob Mehr, when it first came out.

He’s a great guy and from what I understand he did a really great job on the book. I haven’t read it because I interviewed for it and I know what’s in it [laughs]. I think he did a great job and I think people are really into it.

Was it painful for you to revisit some of the stuff for it or was it therapeutic for you to exorcize these demons that maybe have been festering?

It wasn’t so much like that. It was, at times, painful to get into stuff but once we got rolling with it, Bob was pretty easy. He was pretty good about keeping it rolling. I didn’t totally fucking freak out on the past so much, you know?

Was there a lot of freaking out?

Well, you know, it’s a hard past. Real good stuff and really shitty stuff in there.

The Replacements on the cover of Trouble Boys.

The Replacements on the cover of Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys. Greg Helgeson

Getting back to Anything Could Happen, you’ve said that you went about this record differently. Do you attribute that to getting older and having your shit together more so than you did 20 or so years ago?

Well, no. Actually more so, how I did it is I kind of went back to the way we used to made records in the ‘80s. The way the Replacements started making records: throw a band in a home recording studio and have them fuckin’ hack out a record in a day basically.

That was kind of the vibe of it because the two solo records I’d done, I’d done by myself, playing most of the instruments on both records. I didn’t want to sit there and labor over a record like that again. So differently would be, doing them like we used to do in the ‘80s: stand in a room, recording mikes and fuckin’ hit the button.

Did wanting to go back to basics like that maybe stem from your experience recording Chinese Democracy? You saw firsthand how that dragged on for years, right?

Yeeaaahhh. Anyone, any musician can fuckin’ overthink things in a fuckin’ heartbeat and just beat the shit out of a song. I’ve seen many a good song ruined in that fashion and sadly it just happens. Musicians are a quirky bunch. Some of us don’t come from the greatest places, aren’t in the greatest fuckin’ headspace all the time so you gotta try and capture that magic in a bottle when you can.

You don’t seem like you overthink and can just bang the shit out.

No, but I can be. My last two records, left to my own device, I was like, “Oh, is the bass part good enough? Is this part good enough? Does it need this?” You can drive yourself fuckin’ bananas doing that. I’m not saying that I won’t ever do that again—it’s just that I wanted to make a good fuckin’ energetic rock record. I just wanted to not labor over it and have fun with it more than anything. Not sit and fuckin’ work on it.

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I wanted to ask you about being involved with the many different personalities you’ve worked with, from Paul to Axl to Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. How is it adapting to each of those dudes?

They’re all completely different people but also very similar in a lot of very important key ways. They’re all very sensitive to everything, I mean music and on some levels they’re in another place than most people because of what they’ve experienced or where they wanna be in life, or whatever. Their similarities are pretty interesting and I’ve had to adapt to all three, of course.

Their similarities—and I can’t really get into it—are quite profound, just in the makeup of their personality and their genius. There’s a certain thing, I think Paul and Axl, and I think all three of them, have a genius quality to them. They are very bright and with that kind of genius comes a lot of mental hardship because you’re in this whole other mental capacity to get out of what you want to get out of your music that’s hard to convey.

It’s hard to accomplish because getting what’s in your head on a fuckin’ record is completely…[laughs]…it’s our hardest gig we’ve got as musicians is tryin’ to get the ideas in the brain on the fuckin’ disk.

All three of them have their own peculiar problems getting the idea from their head onto the disk. It just takes a lot to pull that out and get it where they want it, exactly where they want it, where they fuckin’ think it’s supposed to be, the way it’s supposed to sound. All that.

Axl Rose and Tommy Stinson playing with Guns N' Roses. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Axl Rose and Tommy Stinson playing with Guns N’ Roses. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Was being in Guns N’ Roses the hardest gig you’ve had? Was the Replacements more difficult?

You know, all of them had their own bits. I wouldn’t say any were any harder than the other. In terms of the Guns N’ Roses record, only because it took so long to get done, at the end of the day it seemed like still Axl wasn’t happy with it and so it kinda got yanked from his hands a little bit prematurely. That’s kind of a disappointment to me more than anything. All things considered, I think we all did our best job, put our best foot forward, and there’s that record, you know?

You obviously played on Chinese Democracy and toured behind it. What’s your take on that record?

I think there’s some good stuff, I think there’s some not-so-good stuff and I think that probably could be said for all those Guns records. There’s some stuff that wasn’t my favorite but that’s just me. But that kinda goes with everyone’s fuckin’ records. I can’t even think of how many bands I like their entire fucking record. They are out there of course but I can’t think of one right now [laughing].

How did you score the Guns gig, by the way?

I was rehearsing in the same rehearsal hall as Josh Freese was and he had already joined the band and was playing with them. He just kinda joked at me, saying, “Hey, we need a bass player, you should come. Try it out, man! We’re just having fun with it.”

I kinda went out there on a lark. I learned a couple songs, just went out there for fun and to see what it was about and not a whole lot happened after that so I had the gig. I was like, “Sure. Why not?”

I mean the idea after I talked to Axl about it, you know, what he was trying to get done after everyone quit the band, I thought was pretty fuckin’ ballsy and cool. So I was kind of in for that reason.

You said you learned a couple of Guns songs. Were you a fan already? Did you go out and buy Appetite for Destruction or something like that?

No, I learned a couple, three songs and kind of winged it. I didn’t really contemplate a whole lot more than that. I was kind of testing myself as well.

You did that Johnny Thunders L.A.M.F. tribute gig last month and in Trouble Boys, Mehr talked about a story where he actually opened up for the Replacements in 1989 at The Beacon Theater on the Don’t Tell A Soul tour. What do you remember about that show?

You know, it was weird. I’ll tell you straight up, it was bizarre. When he was sound checking with the amp he was playing through stuff and doing the Johnny thing, I was like, “Oh, there’s his sound. There’s Johnny’s fucking sound right there,” you know?

Cut to, he does his set, and I don’t think he did any of his Heartbreakers stuff in that set. It seemed like he was doing the traditional rock and roll kind of things, like covers and stuff. I remember we got him up there to do “Born to Lose” and he didn’t even seem to know it. It was weird. He was just kind of running around the stage with the fuckin’ guitar on his back. It was kind of a strange event all around. Bizarre.

What about his influence on you?

I’m a big fan of his stuff. Oddly enough, I’m more of a fan of So Alone than the Heartbreakers record. I haven’t listened to the Heartbreakers record since I was probably 15. And it showed. For whatever reason, I thought there was some really good stuff on the So Alone record that I got turned on to a little later in life. It resonated a little bit more with me, I suppose.

With your solo stuff and Bash & Pop, the Replacements comparison will forever be there and it seems like you’ll always be sorta living in Paul’s shadow. Does that ever enter the back of your mind or you don’t really give a shit about that?

You know what? I don’t actually. I mean, shit. You know, Chris’ records sound like you can hear the Replacements’ influence in there. I think we’d be lying to ourselves, all of us, to try and deny it. You know, I grew up with the guy. I admired him. I think he’s a great songwriter. Um. And I hate his fuckin’ guts. Oh, wait, did I say that?

Wait. What?!

[Laughing] Eh, you could listen to the tape later.

I’ve read you text with Paul…

Once in a while…

Speaking of the Replacements, how do you look back on the reunion? Did you have fun? It looks like you had a ball doing it.

You know, we did have fun with it for the most part. We might have overstayed our welcome a little bit. It might have been better to kinda cut it like a year shorter than we did. And this is why. You can only go so far just sweatin’ to the oldies and the way we did that before it becomes stale. I think we did that and then we kind of dragged it out a little bit longer than getting stale.

The reason why is I think there was a thought that we might want to work up some new material and that that was gonna be a thing. I’ll be honest with you: if I had thought for sure that we weren’t gonna bother trying to make a record, I might have probably said something about maybe not doing it that long.

For myself, I get bored quick. I like going back in the time machine and playing all those songs but to do it for a couple years and just to keep doing the same shit? We weren’t even really getting deep into, like the later stuff. We were just trying to kind of do the hits that everyone wanted to hear. There’s a reason to do that, obviously to make people happy. But what are we doing to make ourselves happy after that?

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You were kind of going through the motions?

A little bit, towards the end there. A little drudgery involved, I suppose.

So we shouldn’t expect anything more from the Replacements any time soon?

Exactly. Exactly. A little fun, a little drudgery [laughing].

On a more serious note, I wanted to ask how Slim is doing.

Last I heard he was at home and doing as good as he’s gonna get. I mean, he’s pretty well incapacitated at this point. He’s kind of just living and breathing. Eh. It’s a sad thing. It makes you really, the older we get, think about how would I want this to go for me?

It makes you dig in to yourself a little bit and find out “What would happen if that were to happen to me? Would I want to have a plan beforehand?” I don’t think I would want to be alive if I were that incapacitated, to be honest with you. That’s just me speaking honestly from my point of view. It gives pause. You gotta really think about that and it has made me think about that.

It’s very heavy but it’s cool that you’ve helped out Slim and you do a lot of benefits.

Yeah, you have to give back. You know, I’ve had a really good run, I’ve had a pretty gifted life for the most part. It’s had its ups and downs, obviously. But at the end of the day I’m pretty grateful and so it’s important that you to give back.

Bash & Pop plays Mercury Lounge on Wednesday, January 18 and play their record release show on Friday, January 20 at The Saint in Asbury Park, N.J. Catch them on tour here. Purchase Anything Could Happen here and here.

Tommy Stinson on Guns N’ Roses, Bash & Pop and a New Replacements Album