Sunday March 31, 2013
Guns n’ Roses bassist Tommy Stinson stays true to himself
By DARYL GOH
Guns n’ Roses bassist Tommy Stinson has lost none of his edgy persona from his early days with The Replacements.
IF rock icon Axl Rose was handing out long-service awards to his present-day Guns n’ Roses bandmates, then the band’s bassist Tommy Stinson, who joined in 1998, would be one of the main recipients in the honours list.
Where the rest of the band is concerned, only keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who joined in 1990 and hails from the band’s Use Your Illusion era, has put in more years of rock ’n’ roll service than Stinson.
Commitment and the long-term are hard things to come by these days in the rock music scene, but surprisingly enough, Stinson noted that life could not be better now being in Guns n’ Roses.
In an interview on Monday morning at the JW Marriott hotel in Kuala Lumpur, the easy-going Stinson, 46, joked that he has yet to see a long-service watch from Axl Rose, but he isn’t too fussed.
“I was just waking up today, and thinking, man, that’s a long time to be in any band,” said Stinson, shaking his head in disbelief, of his 16 years with one of rock music’s most storied bands.
Over his second cup of coffee of the morning, the bassist, who hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States, was more than eager to talk about his career in Guns n’ Roses and also his illustrious past with garage punk pioneers The Replacements in the 1980s.
“Back in the day, both bands were on the opposite side of the tracks. I didn’t know much about Guns n’ Roses, they never existed to us because The Replacements came from such a difference place,” he said.
On this tour, Stinson revealed that he has been getting back to listening to 1980s-era alternative bands like Mission Of Burma, X and Dinosaur Jr.
“I bought a few of those albums again and the music still holds up, especially the early albums from (California punk band) X like Los Angeles and Under The Big Black Sun.”
Stinson sobers up more when we mention that this current Appetite For Democracy tour has been on the road for a fair amount of time. This tour bandwagon made a Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix 2013 post-race concert stop at the Sepang International Circuit last Sunday.
In fact, the band has been actively touring since the arrival of Guns n’ Roses’ long-awaited album Chinese Democracy in late 2008.
“We need to start thinking about making a new record. You know, it’s due. We’ve been travelling around the world and touring behind this one record for long enough,” said Stinson. “I really don’t know if there’s a lot more touring we can do behind this record that we haven’t done already ... twice even! It’s probably a good time to get back and write some new songs.”
The last time out, Guns n’ Rose took 15 years between albums, with the stop gap The Spaghetti Incident? in 1993 and Chinese Democracy in 2008.
“I think when we get back Stateside, we only have some small weekend runs for a while ... I think that should give people time to write some new material.”
The excruciating wait for a new Guns n’ Roses album left many fans fatigued by the time Chinese Democracy actually came out. The album garnered less than favourable reviews, but in the recent year, Guns n’ Roses, or more specifically Axl Rose, has registered praise for the band’s touring form.
“The music cuts through the bullsh*t, that’s how Guns n’ Roses works. But I don’t think we would need to spend that amount of time to make another record. The reason we took such a long time was because Axl was kind of assembling a band as the (Chinese Democracy) album was being made ... so you had a lot of guys coming in and things changing.
“Hopefully , each of us will write a song or two, throw them in the mix, then we all get together in one studio ... in short span of time, hopefully. That would be the goal. No one has 10 more years to spend making a record, you know.”
The difficult part is finding the right time to record the new Guns n’ Roses material. As with any modern day band, there are side projects to consider and according to Stinson, things get harder when each and every member stays in a different part of the US.
“That’s the hard part with everyone scattered about ... I live in Hudson, New York, (guitarist) DJ Ashba lives in Las Vegas (Nevada) and Axl lives in Malibu (California). You know, if everyone wrote one song and we went and recorded those eight songs, we would have more than an album’s worth of material. We have some leftover tunes from the last record. We could feasibly make a record quickly ... it could happen. But we’ll just have to accept it: our art is as big a stumbling block as anything.”
Before rocking the Sepang International Circuit, Guns n’ Roses came through an Australian tour with little controversy and the positive concert reviews have been a boost.
Stinson also kept it straight when asked about his relationship with Axl Rose.
“He’s a singer of a band and he’s a friend ... we have, you know, a working relationship for 16 years now. He’s a lot of fun to play with, he’s a good entertainer and he’s a force to be reckoned with,” he added matter-of-factly.
Have the critics finally softened up on Guns n’ Roses?
“If you think, historically, Guns n’ Roses were never a critic’s darling band ... critics always had it out for the whole thing, it was no big deal there. I was in The Replacements; we were the critic’s darlings from day one, to day end. You know, that did not help us sell f***in’ squat. You know, it gave us at least something, but selling records? No.”
As the conversation moved on to The Replacements, which was one of the notorious bands from the alternative US music scene in the 1980s, Stinson’s eyes light up.
Even with two solo albums to his name and a stable career with Guns n’ Roses, this father of two daughters (aged five and 23) cannot get enough of his original band.
Stinson was only 14 when he picked up the bass and joined The Replacements in 1980. The Minneapolis-raised hellraisers, originally featuring frontman Paul Westerberg, drummer Chris Mars and Stinson’s half-brother Bob (guitar), were renowned for self sabotage, heart-on-sleeve songwriting and a career blessed/cursed as critically acclaimed legends.
In 1995, Bob, who was a pioneering member before he was kicked out, died of organ failure.
Of late, The Replacements have been in the news again with fans anticipating some form of a reunion this year. The recent charity project Songs For Slim EP to benefit the band’s guitarist Slim Dunlap, who joined in 1987 (as Bob’s replacement), has created a buzz among The Replacements faithful.
The Replacements reunion EP has raised thousands of dollars for the ailing Dunlap, who suffered a stroke last year. The five-track covers EP – features four songs covered by Westerberg and Stinson, plus one extra from drummer Mars.
The Songs For Slim website has this listed as “the first new Replacements release since 1990’s All Shook Down”. The EP includes Dunlap’s Busted Up, Hank Williams’ Lost Highway, Everything’s Coming Up Roses from the Broadway musical Gypsy, and Gordon Lightfoot’s I’m Not Sayin’. Mars comes through with a solo version of Dunlap’s Radio Hook Word Hit.
“It was (former The Replacements manager) Peter (Jesperson) who came up with the idea to help Slim. We then came together and worked out the idea for the EP. You know, recording one of Slim’s songs as The Replacements. Later, Paul had a couple of other covers in mind. It was recorded live. When we started playing together, we had a lot of fun.
“Paul and me, you ask? We’ll probably do it again, get into the studio in the next couple of months to write original material ... it’s just like getting back on a bike. I don’t know if we’ll call it The Replacements, but we had a blast recording the Slim EP. So long as it’s enjoyable, we’ll do it.
“As I’ve always said, The Replacements never really broke up, we just walked away,” he said smirking, before taking his leave.