The idea that rock ‘n’ roll can be a life-saving force has become a bit of tired cliché.
At the age of 11, young Tommy was enlisted by his older half-brother, the late Bob Stinson, to play bass guitar in The Replacements, derailing what was becoming a burgeoning life of crime and mischief.
“That’s exactly my story,” says Stinson, in an interview from his home in Hudson, N.Y. “It did save me. I would probably be in jail or dead by now.”
Stinson has said similar things before, and will likely say them again. After all, his early history has become part of the formidable lore surrounding Minneapolis icons The Replacements, that beloved train-wreck of a band whose contributions to the post-punk canon are surpassed only by what seemed like a stubborn strain of anti-careerism.
Now 50, the father-of-two has turned that early tutelage into a rich history that covers plenty of ground, from his raucous days in the Replacements, to a presumably lucrative 17-year stint playing bass for Guns N’ Roses, to his current adventures with a reborn Bash & Pop.
Bash & Pop was Stinson’s first post-Replacements stab at independence. Formed in the early 1990s after his first band collapsed, it only lasted a few years and one album, 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me. The new album, Anything Could Happen, was made with various musicians, none of whom appeared on the first record.
But its perfect balance of raw rock energy and mature song craft seems a natural continuation of Stinson’s past work. In fact, after two solo records, he was determined to give the record a sense of off-the-cuff camaraderie that defined the Replacements classic outings, such as 1984’s Let it Be and 1985’s Tim. When he was told that the songs were reminding people of Bash & Pop, he decided that was as a good a name as any to record under.
“I was recording it in a way that we used to make records in the ’80s,” says Stinson, who will bringing Bash & Pop to Calgary for two shows for Sled Island.” I wanted to have some friends come up, play the songs with a band feel and get the band magic in there without fussing over the songs so much. Back in the early ’80s, in the Replacements days, that’s how we used to do it. Get in the studio and hack it out real quick and let the songs be the way the songs are going to be.”
Still, while the album might be reminiscent of Bash & Pop’s first in some ways, it’s hard to listen to the 12 tracks on Anything Can Happen and not be reminded of the Replacements and the songwriting genius of its leader, Paul Westerberg.
The endearingly sloppy openers Not This Time and On the Rocks, the lazily rollicking Can’t Be Bothered and irreverent revelry of Unf — k You and Jesus Loves You seem vintage Replacements. When Stinson offers ballads like Anytime Soon and Shortcut, he also seems to capture that mix of tunefulness and underlying sadness that his old bandmate is so good at creating.
“It’s my feeling that, no matter what I do, it’s always going to sound like I came from the Replacements,” Stinson says. “Unless I started doing house music … and even that would probably have some kind of Replacements to it. That said, I guess I’ve kind of made my own niche in what it is that I do. You kind of learn what things work and don’t work and you stop fussing around with things that don’t work so much.”
Stinson certainly seems at peace with his old band’s legacy. In fact, he has spent the past few years entrenched in it. He worked closely with Bob Mehr on his book, 2016’s Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, which gave Westerberg and Stinson a chance to tell their storied history on their own terms.
“The reason why we did it was to set the record straight,” Stinson says. “That Jim Walsh book that came out (2008’s The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting) was such a pile of crap, it was kind of incumbent on us to get up and say: ‘let’s tell our story,’” Stinson says. “I think we did good with that and I think now people get an idea of where we were and where our heads were at any given time back then.”
There was also the Replacements reunion, where Stinson and Westerberg teamed up for the first time in 22 years to tour. Some of the songs on Anything Can Happen were meant to be for a new Replacements record. But three attempts at recording them fell flat. The two toured under the Replacements banner off and on from 2013 to 2015. During the tour, Westerberg wore mysterious white T-shirts with different combinations of letters on them. At the final show, in Portugal, he revealed that those letter spelled out: “I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past.”
It was not a particularly promising sign that the reunion would continue.
“It was a little surprising,” Stinson said. “I wasn’t quite sure quite where Paul’s head was. I knew we had been doing it for awhile and perhaps we had overstayed our welcome a bit. I wasn’t quite sure where he was at with it until the very last show when he unveiled the last letter of his T-shirt. It was like, ’What the f — ck is that all about?’ I don’t know. I don’t know if he was that miserable the whole time or what the deal was with it and I never really asked him about it either. It was what it was.”
As for that other famous band in Stinson’s history, he says he emerged from his years with Guns N’ Roses completely unscathed. It did seem a bit strange 17 years ago when it was announced that the mercurial Axl Rose had enlisted Stinson for the GnR reboot. He was not really a fan of the metal juggernauts. But he respected the fact that Rose wanted to move on after the messy and public falling apart of the band’s original lineup. It was only Stinson’s home life, which included a failed marriage in 2012, that brought his membership to an end.
“I look back at it fondly,” he says. “It was a great gig for me. The people were great to me, they are all still my friends. The way it was left was somewhat unfortunate for me because I got to a place where I couldn’t tour anymore because my home situation had gotten to such a degree that I had to stay home and take care of my kid and be a stay-at-home dad. After awhile of having to turn down tours from those guys, they had to move on and Axl got the old band back together.”
As for Bash & Pop — which now includes Mighty Mighty Bosstones drummer Joe Sirois, The Hold Steady’s Steve Selvidge and former Screeching Weasel bassist Justin Perkins — Stinson says he has no intention of making it a one-off enterprise.
“It feels like I have a rock band now,” he says. “The Replacements were at times a great rock band. But I think, in my own right, I’ve got a good band right now. I’m really having fun with it and people seem to be responding to shows really well. All things considered, it’s a good place for me to start and grow from.”
Bash & Pop play Dickens Pub Thursday, June 22 at 11 p.m. and #1 Legion on Saturday, June 24 at 11:30 p.m. Sled Island runs from June 21 to 25 at various venues in Calgary. Visit sledisland.com.