An Interview With Legendary Bassist/Songwriter Tommy Stinson

We sat down with Tommy Stinson, founding member of the now fabled Replacements and longtime bassist for Guns n’ Roses, for a quick chat about his experiences and about his headlining set at the XPonential Music Festival.

Rock on Philly: Tommy, you’ve been playing in bands since you were 12 years old. I read in an interview that you did with Spin Magazine that your brother Bob (Replacements guitarist) used to bribe you into learning bass. Were you initially interested in music at all? Or was it something that you came to appreciate?

Tommy Stinson: You know  I was into music as much as any kid was. I loved songs and I loved music and all that. I played baritone sax in sixth or seventh grade or whatever and then I played upright bass at one point. I had these kind of things going on, I guess back then when I was in school we were lucky enough to have music programs as part of the curriculum, back in the 1900s. So I was into it, I had my own records, I listened to my sister’s records when my brother was away.

ROP: What keeps you going as an artist having been in so many different projects?

TS: One person who really keeps me going at the moment is Josh Homme, he has the whole Rock n’ Roll market covered right now, I love what he does with the Queens of the Stone age and the things he does production wise. So I think he really has it going on right now. Besides that, it’s not really one thing in particular that keeps me going, I’m all over the place, yeah know? Different people and certain things I look into inspire me.

ROP: Who were some of the first bands you were into?

TS: Some of the first bands I was really really into were the Clash, Generation X, that kind of stuff. My brother and I listened to Yes and all that kinda crap when we first started playing. When I first starting to buy my own records I was really into the Clash and the Sex Pistols, though I was definitely more into the Clash. I liked the Jam a lot too.

ROP: Who were the first bass players you looked up to?

TS:I really liked Slade’s bass player Jim Lea a lot. He had this crazy SG bass thing going and a great tone. It was killer. Then I got into the Clash and Paul Simonon. And Paul McCartney too, you can’t count out that guy. But yeah, Jim Lea on those early Slade records will always be great for me. He also ended up being a great producer, yeah know.

ROP: How did the Minneapolis music scene impact your own playing and your taste in music?

TS: Well I think it was a time when we were all really coming up, we had a really interesting little scene there. We had dance bands, we had rock bands, we had hardcore punk bands with that Husker Du kinda stuff. It was a really cool mixture and it all kinda revolved around one record store back in the day. It was a really interesting time and I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t lived in a place yet that has as vibrant of a music scene as we had back then. It was a really special time to be there. A “Magical” time, yeah know? haha.

ROP: When did the idea of writing your own songs come into the picture?

TS: I started writing songs early on in the Replacements. That was something I started running with pretty quickly. By the time the band broke up in ‘91, I had a whole record of stuff I was ready to work on. I had been in a bunch of little bands, playing drums and different stuff, but by the time the Replacements broke up I was ready to record and Warner Brothers released it. If only I had gotten a day job.

ROP: Looking back on your career so far, is it weird to see that what you have done has influenced so many artists? Like in the 90s when bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam….ect had chart topping hits, was it weird for you to hear them all site the Replacements and bands you played with like R.E.M, Husker Du and other bands of the mid 80s generation as their main inspiration?

TS: Half the time I think they’re f***ing lying, cause half the bands who cite the Replacements don’t even sound like the band. I think for the ones that do, it’s a great honor.

ROP: I know you’ve been asked about working with Guns n’ Roses quite a bit, but what was it like working with the band, particularly Axl being the notorious front man many think he is?

TS: That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about him. He is a very hard working dude that has a very particular way he wants to do things. I’ll be honest with you, if he’s doing anything other than he wants to be doing and you’re in the room, you don’t want to be in there, but when he’s doing what he wants to do, he’s great and he’s doing a great job. I’ve seen Guns n’ Roses twice now with the whole band and he is kicking ass and I’m very happy for him. I’m really happy for all my friends who are in that band.

ROP: What has been the most fulfilling project for you? Which project of yours have you enjoyed the most or does that change from time to time?

TS: I have two things going on right now, I made a band record and it’s turning into exactly what I want it to and I’ll save the punch line for another time, but it’s been very satisfying. I love the energy you get from a band, that’s the most satisfying thing for me ever, and that should come out in the new year. I’m also very excited to be going out on tour with my buddy Chip Roberts from Philly who’s worked on a bunch of my stuff. We’re going out as Cowboys In the Campfire and we’re going to be out there writing stuff, playing shit on the spot and having a good time. Two of us in a van. It’s my paid vacation if you will, and I’m stoked about it. It’ll be a lot of fun.

ROP: What was it like reuniting with the Replacements after 22 years and doing that tour?

TS: It was fun, it was exactly what it was supposed to be for a while there. We probably reached our expiration date a little earlier than we should have, it might have been a little too worn out by the end. But it was good while it lasted.

ROP: How’s your relationship with Paul Westerberg been lately?

TS: Yeah we still call each other up sometimes. There are only certain things that he gets and all.  

ROP: What’s it like looking back at your career with the Replacements?

TS: I’m going to be honest, it’s been years since I put one of those records on. No offence to anyone in the band or anything, I just haven’t. I didn’t even go and listen to them before we played those shows. Probably should have. (laughs)

ROP: Are there any bands coming out today that you’ve been really impressed with or like to listen to?

TS: I haven’t gotten anyone new that I’ve grabbed on to recently, and that’s probably cause I haven’t been really listening too much. I’ve been working on my own stuff for a while, I like to kinda go underground when I do that.

ROP: Are there any artists or bands that people would be surprised to know that you like? Are there any guilty pleasures of yours?

TS: I don’t think so, because I’ve always maintained that my musical palette is all over the place. I’ve always been into a bunch of different stuff.

ROP: I saw that you are embarking on a tour with the Cowboys in the campfire, could you tell us a bit about that? Chip Roberts from the Drinkers is in that too, isn’t he?

TS: He has been my best friend for the past 10 years, we get together and just start goofing around and magically just start writing songs, a lot of which end up on my records. On the new record, he has a song that he penned and brought to me that’s probably going to be the first single. It’s been great. It’s great having a comrade like that.

ROP: Your manager mentioned that you had some strong ties in Philly, what brings you here and is this a place you come often?

TS: I have always gotten along really well with Philadelphia since I first started coming there in the 80s. I have a lot of friends there that are in the industry that are good buddies of mine. Matt Cord from MMR, Debbi Calton, some Live Nation people, Geoff Gordon, Dan Reed, they’re all good friends of mine and I’ve always played good shows there. The people at XPN have also always been very supportive and have been playing my stuff from the beginning. It’s a good second home for me musically.


ROP: What do you think of Philly’s music scene?

TS: You know, there’s a lot of good stuff going on there. There’s a lot of cool little pockets there, and it seems to have some of the old school musical community there and some new school stuff that’s good.

ROP: Are you excited to be playing at the XPonential music festival?

TS: Oh hell yeah, I’m stoked. I haven’t seen Ryan (Adams) in a while, and I think we played with Kurt Vile a while back with the Matts.

ROP: Is there anything I missed or haven’t gone over that you’d like people to know?

TS: Just tell them to get their a**es out to the show on Friday haha.

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