[Neon Reverb 2017]

Bash & Pop’s Tommy Stinson talks the Replacements and ‘going bonkers’ in Vegas

Bash & Pop orders a few large rounds.
Annie Zaleski

Tommy Stinson rose to prominence as the bassist for ’80s college-rock titans The Replacements, who reunited for a few well-received tours in recent years. After the band once again dissolved in 2015, the 50-year-old Stinson reactivated post-’Mats band Bash & Pop, which released January’s brash, ragged rock ’n’ roll record, Anything Could Happen.

When did you start amassing the songs for Anything Could Happen, and how did those come together? It came on the heels of the ’Mats reunion, really. I had a few songs before we started going in that direction with the ’Mats reunion. The Replacements did some recording while we were doing the three-year reunion tour; we just started working on some songs in the studio that never came to. And the stuff that I brought with me, I decided, “Well, I still like those two songs. I’m going to keep those and maybe do something else with them.”

On the heels of that, we were still touring. I was still writing in between gigs. The songs started coming to me, and the direction the songs were gonna take started coming to me. I wanted to record them quick and easy, not like a typical solo record where I’m wearing too many hats playing bass guitar, drums, all this sh*t. It just gets a bit tiresome. You end up overthinking things by doing it that way sometimes. I wanted something a little more immediate—and more vibe.

So I decided to call some friends up to come play and record it live. Soon after that, the songs and that idea unfolded, and it was clear I was making more of a band-type record. More rock ’n’ roll, and immediate. Not too much fuss and muss. I embraced the pain.

Why did you release it as Bash & Pop, rather than use a new name for the project? As I was playing it for people in my circle, they started saying it reminded them of [Bash & Pop’s 1993 debut, Friday Night Is Killing Me]. I was like, well, I guess I own the name. Why don’t I just call it that? It ended up being more of a band record, which was the intent of the first Bash & Pop record. It made some kind of goofy sense that way.

[Friday Night Is Killing Me] was meant to be a band record as well. After The Replacements broke up the first time, I really didn’t want to be a solo artist, per se. I tried to make that the band, and sadly, it didn’t come to fruition, although it came out to be a record that people seemed to like.

How aware were you of the cult following that first Bash & Pop record had amassed over the years? I made it and toured behind it a little bit. A lot of musician folks really kind of revered it as a good piece of work. I think there’s a possible perfect-storm scenario. I had Don Smith produce it, so there’s a tonality to it that’s really good. And I had a lot of piss and vinegar in me still. I think [The Replacements’ last studio album] All Shook Down was a great record. It was one of my favorites that we did, but we lost a lot of wind in our sails doing different things. You know, the kind of things that break bands up. I still had a lot of angst in my belly. I guess you can kind of hear some of that on that record. That’s why people liked it, I suppose.

Was there anything in particular that you wanted to do differently this time? I wanted to make a live band record. I have a home studio up here in Hudson, New York, so I’m close enough to the city where I can get guys who are around that I’ve played with before. If they’re in the city doing a gig, I’d get them up here easily. Once I did that a couple of weekends and got really satisfying results out of it, I followed that mode over the course of the summer and the fall of the last year. I had my friends come on out when I’d get them close by.

Everything is as live as can be without losing tonality. Most everything you hear is within two takes of the first time we played the song. That was what I was aiming for. It wasn’t so much harking back to The Replacements days, but I was intent on making records like the way we used to: Just show up to the studio; don’t really know a song; someone’s got some songs in their head; okay, let’s hack ‘em out. Get that spark. It either works or it don’t. You can capture some magic that way that you can only get if you’ve got four guys sweating in a room together. Or gals. We had [bassist] Cat Popper up here, sweating it out, too.

You can tell when someone is like, “We’re going to track everything individually and then put it together.” There’s something intangible that’s sometimes missing with those records. It sounds good, but it’s a little sterile almost. Now that I’ve gotten back to square one, I think I’ll stay here for a while. There’s a few things about it. One, it’s less time-consuming, less thought-out. As a musician, the worst things we can do for ourselves is get stuck in our head, and thinking way too much. It’s just good to take new songs, throw ’em against the wall and see what sticks. I think I’ll stick with that way of doing it for a while. If you look back in history, all the best records were f*cking recorded like that. All the best rock’n’ roll, anyway.

You can overthink a country song into a disco song, and come right back to what sounded good and go, “How the f*ck did I spend a year doing that?”

Your first instincts are usually right. Isn’t that what they always say? Yeah. The Replacements, we lost track of that right around Don’t Tell a Soul. That record was just ... there was so much over-tinkering happening. It started off one way and ended up another. It’s the most dishonest record we made. Luckily, [on] All Shook Down … there was tinkering and stuff on that, to a degree, but the songs were so powerful on that record that it made up for it.

You left Paul [Westerberg] to it …. he would get stuck in his own head worse than anybody I’ve ever known. It’s just ’cause he’s got a lot of thoughts inside, and it’s really hard to articulate those to anyone when you don’t know exactly what it is. It’s gotta come out somehow. Guys like that really have a tough time making records that they’re happy with.

You have some great musicians playing with you in Bash & Pop’s touring lineup. The funny thing is, I had two different lineups when I started. It started with one, and then those guys got busy—Luther [Dickinson] got busy, and Cat Popper got busy. Then I got the second lineup, which is the touring lineup I’ve got now, which has worked out really good. We’ve had time now to really congeal and get it together. An onstage repertoire and all that. I think they like doing it. So that’s the plus there.

[The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’] Joe Sirois is such a great drummer. When I saw he was drumming for you it seemed perfect. Funny thing is, now that I’m picking up shows, they suddenly want to tour. (laughs)

How did your club tour go earlier this year? I told your publicist that only someone born in the Midwest would go on a club tour of the Great Lakes in mid-January. Well, you know, what else am I supposed to do, wait till the f*cking snow thaws? I’ll have written another record, started another thing and gotten completely lost [by then].

In my case, when I roll a record out, I’ve got to follow through, because I get bored quick. I start fragmenting. It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve actually been able to take the time and put it aside to go and pursue one of my own records. I was in Guns N’ Roses forever. Not that that was the busiest gig on the planet, but it did have restrictions to how much I could actually go and tour behind any one given record I’d make. So this is the first time I’m really putting it to it, seeing what I can do.

Was that a big adjustment for you? It was a massive adjustment, but one that I embraced. I’ve been kicking sh*t around, and it’s been kicking me around, for so many years in so many directions, that I finally feel like, “Okay, now I’m just going to be me for a while, and see how that works.”

I can see making more Bash & Pop records at this point. I’ve already got a few extra songs in the can that I’m looking at. These guys are all fun to play with. We have an absolute ball playing together. And they like the material. They’re actually good at participating in it, which makes it more of a band thing.

You have an acoustic duo, too. Yeah, Cowboys in the Campfire. That’s me and my uncle Chip [Roberts]. We’ve got a little, stripped-down duo. We make as much racket with two guitars as we can possibly make. He and I wrote the song “Anything Could Happen” together. We write together whenever we get together and hang out. So we’re working on probably making a Cowboys in the Campfire record at some point this year. We go from place to place, and we just have a hoot and blow it out.

What kind of stuff are you writing and performing? What’s your approach with that It’s got a little bit more of a country twang to it than most of my stuff. But we’ve kind of been all over the place. It’s starting to get its own sound to it—kind of country-ish, kind of pop-ish, but more like … a duo with a guy with a guitar, an acoustic, who sings, and then [Roberts] plays electric and a lap steel over stuff. It’s intimate, which I like. It gives me a chance to not have to yell in front of loud amps to get a song across.

All punk rockers seem to have an acoustic side project. Exactly. Following John Doe’s model. You see him out with X; you see him out by himself. You see him with this girl, or that person doing sh*t. You just gotta keep moving, you know? Do whatever sounds fun to you and can keep you from just sitting there getting old.

What is the animal that needs to keep moving or they die? I think sharks do that. Sharks have to keep moving or they die. They shut down half of their brain in sort of rest mode.

You mentioned in a recent interview you have a variety show pilot. Tell me a little bit about that. I can’t let much of that cat out of the bag. We’re trying to map it out and figure it out before someone steals the idea. [It’s] loosely based on sort of a music, lifestyle, cooking, political, goofy kind of show. I’m not necessarily the host—there’s gonna be hosts chattin’ through the shows, the interview segments and band segments. It’s a labor of love at this point. So far we’re about half the way there. We’re going to see who wants to pick it up.

You had some very fun interactions with your daughter in a Rolling Stone article. Does she care that you’re a musician in bands or like your music? Not really. She knows this is what I do. She hates that I have to leave sometimes, because I am a single father, and it presents a certain amount of turmoil. But she gets it. She likes music and screws around with instruments a little bit. I took her to The Colbert Show when we were on that, and it was her birthday that week, so they gave her a cupcake with a candle on it. They did her make-up when they did my make-up. But ultimately, she was like, “Okay, that’s cool. More candy please!”

Have you played any memorable Vegas gigs? I know you played there with GNR. Anything stand out? Not really. The Guns N’ Roses gigs were so chaotic. You’re cramming a bunch of people in a small space. All this lighting and sound, all that stuff. You’re there way too long. I mean, doing a residency in Las Vegas is akin to chewing tinfoil to me at this point in my life. There were things about it that were fun—you could some of the shows, some of the cool stuff that goes on there—but, ultimately, if I’m in any one place that’s not my home for three to four weeks at a time, I’m going to go bonkers.

In the mid-to-late-’90s, early 2000s, me and my buddies would all suit up and hang out together—hit all the cocktail spots and just kind of do our thing. Suiting up like Mad Men, just kind of throw ourselves together in a particular way, get our shoes shined and sh*t. Once in a while we’d get in the car, and we’d go to Vegas for, like, a three-day run, and that was fun. We would hit all the real old spots Downtown and play cards or whatever, craps or roulette. I loved doing that with my buds.

Neon Reverb 2017: Bash & Pop With The Soft White Sixties, Black Camaro and Mercy Music. March 10, 10:15 p.m., $15, Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.

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