Many can say they grew up with rock ’n’ roll, but only a select few actually grew up in rock ‘n’ roll. Tommy Stinson is one of them. After surviving stints with the Replacements — the first beginning at the age of 13 — and later serving as Axl Rose’s chief lieutenant for 18 years in the Slash-less Guns N’ Roses, he’s back fronting his own band, Bash & Pop (whose new album Anything Can Happen is out now on Fat Possum Records, while the first vinyl release of their 1993 debut, Friday Night Is Killing Me, comes out Jan. 24 via Sire/Reprise). Having lived through the Replacements and Guns N’ Roses raises the question: Who’s easier to work with, Paul Westerberg or Axl Rose?
“They’re more similar than dissimilar,” Stinson muses. “They’re both very much focused on how they see it in their head and how it needs to be, so you have to roll with that a bit. They’re both strangely perfectionists, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just part of genius involved with both of them. Other than the music being completely different in a lot of ways, it’s not derived from all that different of a place. Axl and [original GNR bassist] Duff [McKagan] come from the punk-rock school of things from a big degree, and the same records were probably on the turntables owned by Paul and Axl at one point or another, whether it was the Heartbreakers or the Sex Pistols.”
Stinson, who turned 50 this past October, says he was inspired to reform Bash & Pop after his recent three-year reunion with Westerberg in the Replacements. While the ’Mats attempted to record new material during that time, it never panned out. “We kind of half-ass tried to record three different times,” Stinson recalls. “I say ‘half-ass’ because we never hooked up the right scenario. It was like it was on the cheap and comfortable for whomever and then it ended up being the wrong studio, the wrong scenario altogether, so it didn’t work out. We went for comfort and expense; we ended up comfortable with nothing.”
As for the Replacements’ reunion tour — with Neighborhoods guitarist Dave Minehan and drummer Josh Freese rounding out the live lineup — it was a joyous occasion for the fans. For the band? Well, not so much. It all ended on June 5, 2015, with Westerberg calling the group out onstage at Primavera Porto in Portugal, grousing that his bandmates had failed to show for the sound check, smashing his guitar, and calling them “lazy bastards to the end.”
“It was a lot of fun at the beginning,” Stinson says. “It was like, ‘Let’s go out and have some fun and make everyone happy.’ But going back and sweating to the oldies, we got to the point where we were a little staid. We were only pulling certain songs; we didn’t have anything new to play, and we didn’t feel like diving into the deep cuts — which I think ultimately would have been more fun for us, and we probably wouldn’t have ended in such a weird way. We probably overstayed our welcome by a half-year or so.”
Speaking of reunions, Guns N’ Roses had an even more hyped comeback in 2016. Stinson was also a member of that band as they famously struggled in the studio for years, working on what ended up as the infamous 2008 album Chinese Democracy. “There were a lot of variables with the record company,” Stinson says. “[Interscope chief] Jimmy Iovine really mucked up the works quite a bit in some ways. There’s a certain thing you have to have when you work with Axl, and I don’t think we ever had the right guy. [Producer] Sean Beavan was the closest, and most of the songs on that record pretty much started and ended up with what he did.”
Eventually, it was clearly time for Stinson to do his own thing again. He had previously issued two solo albums, 2004’s Village Gorilla Head and 2011’s One Man Mutiny, during his tenure with GNR, but when he recently started recording with various players, friends told him the sessions reminded them of his first post-Replacements outfit, Bash & Pop — so he decided to revive that name.
“It’s more of a rock ’n’ roll record, and I meant it to be,” Stinson says of Anything Can Happen. “I kind of wanted more of a high-energy feel behind it, and that’s the way it panned out. It’s kind of just a rock ‘n’ roll, albeit rootsy to some degree as well. I dare say ‘roots rock,’ because that conjures up some negative connotations as far as I’m concerned, but there’s some stuff on there that goes back to square one for me.”
‘Mats fans will undoubtedly hear echoes of Westerberg in the grooves, as well as touches of the Faces, the Rolling Stones, and, as Stinson notes, some GNR influences as well. “I think it’s fair to say at this point that anything I’ve done in the past is f***ing represented in some way or another,” Stinson says. “I think I’d be lying to you if I told you there wasn’t Replacements or Guns N’ Roses or Elvis Presley, whether I played in the band or stuff I listened to. That’s just kind of the way it works.
“Even when [former Replacements drummer] Chris Mars made his first solo record, 100% Fat Free or whatever, his stuff sounded like [the Replacements]. You can’t really hide from your past. It’s all f***ing in that soup, no matter what.” [Editor’s note: Horseshoes & Hand Grenades was actually Mars’s solo debut; Mars’s second album was titled 75% Less Fat.]
Joining Stinson on some of the new Bash & Pop tracks are North Mississippi All-Stars guitarist Luther Dickinson, onetime Ryan Adams bassist Cat Popper, and Guns N’ Roses drummer Frank Ferrer. Lead guitarist Steve “the Sleeve” Selvidge of the Hold Steady, drummer Joe “the Kid” Sirois of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and bassist Justin “Carl” Perkins of Screeching Weasel, who played on the bulk of tracks, make up Bash & Pop’s touring unit. The album was recorded during a series of weekend sessions at Stinson’s home studio in Hudson, N.Y. “The best Replacements records were done as close to being live records as possible, and that’s kind of what I was going back to,” Stinson says.
So which are the best Replacements records, according to Stinson? “Oddly enough, I think Stink! was one. Pleased to Meet Me I like a whole lot, and I think All Shook Down, those are the Replacements’ shining records. Let It Be I think has some good songs on it as well.”
Like the Replacements and GNR, the Bash & Pop lineup has changed over the years. Stinson, who is the one constant, says the lineup was even in flux even while recording Friday Night Is Killing Me.
“That record was actually meant to be a band record, but what happened was the bass player [Kevin Foley] wasn’t up to snuff, and I hate to say that, because he’s dead now, but that’s what happened,” Stinson says. “I ended up playing all the bass on it. And the guitar player, Steve Brantseg, while being a great guitar player, really wasn’t able to — to no fault of his own — get in my head and hear where the songs were going guitar-wise, so it was easier for me to grab the guitar and come up with the parts I was hearing in my head, so he didn’t play on the record a whole lot.”
A few session players were called in to assist Stinson on the first Bash & Pop album, including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell, and Wire Train drummer Brian MacLeod and guitarist Jeff Trott. For Anything Can Happen, “I didn’t have to do so much work on my end. It was a quicker process and more enjoyable process,” Stinson says.
While the new album has its share of dirty, bar-band rockers, it also shows more depth and maturity than Stinson’s previous efforts. As former Replacements manager Peter Jesperson notes, two songs in particular stand out: the bluesy ballad “Anytime Soon” and the rocker “Never Wanted to Know.” In the former, Stinson sings the holiday season blues, backed by a bittersweet slide guitar. Despite his troubles, he sings, “You won’t see me dangling from these rafters anytime soon.” Stinson confirms the song is meant to be an anti-suicide statement.
“My family has plenty of that in it — suicide, depression, the whole f***ing nine yards,” he says. “I kind of grew up not knowing too much about, or not enough about it in some ways. But I never felt like I was going to kill myself.” Stinson goes on to explain that the song is loosely based on an ill-fated relationship. “It’s like you can push me as far as you want, but you won’t make me kill myself. That’s basically the short and skinny on that one.”
In “Never Wanted to Know,” with the lyrics “Shot down, bleeding from his back in the rain/Some kid, they didn’t even know he was 8,” Stinson offers some commentary on the rash of police killings in recent months. “I follow world affairs enough to have it permeate my life a bit,” he says. “I grew up in a melting pot in Minneapolis, with desegregated schools in the ’70s, and I remember going through that and having empathy for every race, color, and creed that I came across. And, also, I knew what it was like to be sort of an outcast. That song is about all the social injustice that happens every f***ing day that’s on the news. I wake up some days and say, ‘Holy s***, this is 2000-f***ing-17 now, and this is still the way some people view black people? We’re going back in time to pre-Civil War racism?’ It troubles me. I’ve got two kids.”
On a much happier note, Stinson is pleased to be calling his own shots again, and he’s enjoying the ride. “This time around [with Bash & Pop], it’s fun,” he says. “I’m doing interviews, playing shows, doing TV shows, and doing this, that, and all the other stuff that you do when you actually dedicate yourself a little bit to your own stuff. I get to be me for a while, and kind of ride it out and see where it goes.”