Tommy Stinson can't slow down. The guy stays busy -- playing bass in Guns N' Roses (clocking nearly 14 years in the band, only Axl Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed have been in the band longer), releasing solo records (like this year's excellent One Man Mutiny), and playing in Soul Asylum. It's what you would expect from a guy who was freaking 11 years old when he started playing in The Replacements, one of the most celebrated "left of the dial" rock bands of the '80s.
I called Stinson (just before Guns N' Roses was announced as 2012 inductees to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame) to discuss the current Guns N' Roses tour (which winds its way to Comerica Theatre on Tuesday, December 27), whether or not Guns will follow up Chinese Democracy, and the ever-nagging question of a Replacements reunion.
Tommy Stinson [answering the phone]: Wow, hi.
Up on the Sun: Is this Tommy?
What was the wow for? Was I too timely?
Yeah, they fucking book me at 2:15, 2:30, 3 o'clock . . . it's like, 15 minutes almost isn't quite enough time to talk to somebody. Invariably, they want to talk about everything I've done in some capacity or another. So you've got 15 minutes [laughs]. Make 'em good.
You've been singing The Who's "My Generation" and The Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" in GNR's live sets. Curious, why those tunes?
They both came about as equally and accidentally as anything. We happened to be in Japan, and Axl introduced me as doing a "bass solo." The guys and I have been doing "My Generation" at rehearsal, just for laughs. It sparked that I had to fucking do something. I wasn't going to sit there and twiddle my thumbs and play a bass solo. I've never done that, that's kind of stupid. So we just busted into it. After that it was like, 'Eh, that's getting kind of boring.' He introduced me that way for a while, and then we did "Sonic Reducer," a couple times.
Then he stopped introducing me in that way, so I felt like it was time for that to go away, that whole element of the set had run its course. He asked me recently, "Why did you stop doing the songs?" and I was like, "I kind of thought you wanted me to because you stopped introducing me to do them." He was like, "No, you gotta do that." We'll probably work something new up. I'm getting a little bored of them.
What about throwing in a song from your last solo record, One Man Mutiny?
You know, maybe. "It's a Drag" might, but eh...I just think that would be kind of weird. The guys [in the band] want me to do one or two off my last record, "Motivation" or "Moment Too Soon." They keep pushing. But I could just hear him [Rose] getting a breather while we're doing that saying "Real cute, guys." Not really appropriate. Or is it? I just don't know.
You generally seem to keep that stuff separate. You have your thing and the Guns N' Roses thing, and they seem be two different worlds.
Totally. That's how I've been doing it for so long.
You're a busy guy -- GN'R, solo, and Soul Asylum.
Yeah, [Soul Asylum] did a whole new record, and I think it's probably going to come out soon. Hopefully first or second quarter.
You've been playing music since an incredibly young age. Does it just make sense to do it all the time?
It does. Until you get burned out, which is kind of where I am right now. I think I've made myself a little crispy here in the past few years. I think I might take a little vacation.
Sounds necessary. You've been in Guns N' Roses 13 years.
Shit, I think it will be 14 by the time fuckin' May rolls around.
What's the secret? Not a lot of people have stayed in the band like that.
You know, it's been a good gig for me. it's been fun, and you know, it's served me well in a lot of ways. Axl and I get along pretty good, and now is kind of the time to stick it out if we're going to make another record. The lineup is working, and the camaraderie is good; it's a good fit.
I thought about asking if GN'R was going to do another record, but I thought that might be the worst question in the word considering how long people asked about Chinese Democracy.
You know, I just see us making a record much quicker, because, in hindsight, a lot of what happened with Chinese Democracy, we could get around now. Mostly what happened with that record, why it took so long, was we just had no help from the record company whatsoever. [Axl] got zero fucking help from anyone outside the band to fucking do it. You know, it just got stupider and stupider as the record company kept throwing bad A&R guys [at us], or producers like Roy Thomas Baker who, you know, he made things sound better, but that wasn't' what we needed. We needed someone to help us fucking sow it up, and he came in fucking re-recorded everything five fucking times with every amp in the country. I just don't think that was something that was really important to making a record, that could have been taken care of in the mix.
In the time between when Axl started talking about that album and it actually came out, the whole music industry changed.
Oh yeah, tenfold it changed. Sadly, the help that was needed to try and capitalize [on] what could have been the biggest record of the fucking end of the industry as we know it, they just squandered it. Interscope didn't really get on board, and recognize that shit's changing pretty fast, and we can't really keep up with it. [They should have thought] We've got this record over here, the must anticipated record in fucking forever, and we should really be helping this guy out to get this thing together. Never happened. That shit happens every day to lots of band. But if you're Guns N' Roses, do something before everything really hits the shitter, I think you'd want to take advantage of that, especially considering the amounts of money they could have made.
So it's fair to say you're disappointed with the record.
The stupid thing was, it was pulled out of [Axl's] hands. He was already ready to give it up, but there were a few minor things that meant a lot to him artistically, but they pulled it out of his hands anyway. What was another couple fucking weeks waiting for the artwork? I mean really? That's what it came down to. That's just too bad.
The whole thing is a disappointment, considering how much time everyone put into it. But I still think it's a great record. I think it will go down as being a great record down the line. Compare it lyrically to past GN'R records, where his head was at and what he was trying to get out with the record, [and] I think there's some significantly deep, thought-out stuff. Down the road people will see that.
You worked some with Paul Westerberg (of The Replacements) on the Open Season soundtrack, and rumors were flying that you two were going to do shows together. As a Replacements fan, I have to ask, is there any chance of that?
Never say never. But it's probably about as likely as an original Guns reunion. [Laughs] About that likely. For the 'Mats, there's a certain amount of baggage that Paul still carries with him, and it's harder for him to get over it. He's done his solo stuff, and scored Open Season, and done some other things since the Replacements have broken up, but he still has that traveling with him.
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I don't know if it's the disappointment of not getting past it or just having to live up to being that guy. He was the singer of that band and wrote most of the songs, but it's harder for him to deal with that baggage of "Can I be as good as I was?" or "Should I even bother?" or "Should I just go play my songs and have fun?" He can't really get around that. I've been doing so much other shit, I would only be interested in doing it if we could go out and have a good time with it. You know, appreciate what we did.
I would never want to try and re-create our youth, it's fucking 20-some years ago, and there's been lots of different lifestyle changes since. There's the rub right there.
Guns N' Roses is scheduled to perform Tuesday, December 27, at Comerica Theatre.