|I had the opportunity to meet Tommy and talk to him at the show held at Pusterviksbaren in Gothenburg, Sweden on October 10th, 2004. He was opening for Jesse Malin.
The following interview is basically a transcript of the conversation I had with Tommy Stinson after his opening set while Jesse was on stage. Joe Reineke, Alien Crime Syndicate vocalist / guitarist, who plays guitar with Tommy also makes a special appearance.
This tastes like pretzels - the Tommy Stinson interview.
HTGTH: First I want to ask about your album, how did you decide what songs would go on the album? You know, "I wanna record these...."
Tommy: Basically I recorded a bunch of things and sort of narrowed it down as I went along by ones that either were mostly completed songs or, or what ones I had too much of or not enough of. I wanted to make a record that had some rock songs on it, had some mellower stuff, had some middle stuff, had some more experimental kinda stuff on it. Kind of, get a little self indulgent if you will.
Cause I like to listen to records like that. I like when bands take chances. Axl's probably the reason why actually, I even went as far as I did because, that's the record Guns is making right now. We're taking a lot of chances on... That's the way you should make records. You shouldn't get into this comfortable little zone and stick to, you know, a certain thing you know, cause it sells records. You know what I mean? You gotta grow.... I was inspired by him to actually get the balls to actually do that.
That's a nutty little bit. That song "Village Gorilla Head" for instance. I would've never thought to fucking put that out. That would've been one where I fucked around in my basement and left to myself to giggle at. You know, but I finished it and I liked it. I think it's a good track.
Hence I like listening to my record probably more than I like listening to any of my records that I've ever done. Be it Replacements or whatever, because of that.
HTGTH: Was it the same kinda thing with the sequence of the songs? To have this song here and make the record "flow"?
Tommy: Yes. I actually had my friend Peter Jesperson, who actually signed the Replacements to our first record deal. He's been a good friend of mine for 25 years now and he's always had a great ear for sequencing.
He actually sort of co-executive produced the record. I took everything to him, to run it through him to see what he thought of stuff as it was going down. But in the end I wanted him to sequence it because he's great at it. I gave it to him on a Friday thinking "Oh, I gotta couple of weeks to do it." He came back to me on Sunday saying "this is the way it's gotta be.".
There was no question about it, I tried a couple of other sequences just thinking "Ok, now it's kinda drastic" and a couple of my friends. My friend Sean mixed it, he came up with a couple of sequences but when it came right down to it, I went right back to Peter's sequence and I was like "you were right, that's the way it's gotta be and that's the way it is." It worked out great I think.
HTGTH: Do you read what people say about your album?
Tommy: You know, I really don't. I never read my press unless my manager fucking e-mails to me and I happen to open up the fucking link by just looking at, it's from my manager and then, there it is and you read it.
In general, you know one of two things happens when you read your press: You either believe it, or it hurts you. Either way is bad. So to me, I tell anyone I know that is in a band or whatever, it's cool if you're getting good press, it's cool if you're getting bad press cause you're getting press. But never read it.
Cause you know, you live or you die by it if you fucking pick up the page and fucking go in there you know. It's better just not knowing. Cool, I'm getting press, you know.
I watched what it did to Paul Westerberg (laughs).
Joe: Do you read the pictures?
Tommy: I read the pictures (laughs). That's Joe Reineke right there, he plays with me and with Alien Crime Syndicate. He's my boy; we've been fucking hanging out for seven weeks now. Way too much fun....
HTGTH: We have people on our message board wondering "where can we get Tommy's album?" Has it been released internationally? It seems to be hard to get in certain markets.
Tommy: It's really hard to get in Europe and in the UK only because, the record company didn't think to put it out here. I don't know, I don't know why, I'm working on it though.
The best answer to that question is: I'm trying to figure out why it's unavailable here and trying to make it available here. Joe and I got some work to do (laughs).
HTGTH: Next I have some questions about the tour and shows. I read your update from Copenhagen on your web site, so you basically answered my question already. But any other highlights, any good shows, places that you really liked?
Tommy: There's a lot of places that are cool and remarkable for different reasons. Last night [in Lund, Sweden] was fun because, after every solo that Joe did the crowd gave him an extra little thing (claps hands) and he got embarrassed. He turned all red. It was very funny. (Laughs) It took him by surprise. It was really cool, so that was fun.
Other than that, Copenhagen was definitely a good one, all the UK dates were awesome fun. How did we do in Amsterdam? We had a pretty good time there too.
Joe: Amsterdam was really fun. Brussels was amazing.
Tommy: Brussels was amazing.
HTGTH: Your birthday.....
Tommy: Yeah, my birthday was fucking fantastic.
Joe: Did you bring a gift?
Tommy: (Laughs) It's my birthday week! (laughs)
Joe: No birthday presents?
Tommy: He bought two t-shirts!
Tommy: That's a gift!
HTGTH: ....and I'm promoting his album on my web site! (laughs)
Tommy: He's got the biggest GN'R web site, Here Today... Gone To Hell!
Joe: Oh, is that you? Oh killer, I've heard lots of stories about that....
HTGTH: Yeah? Well I've heard stories too, from people who saw the shows. And if my web site can get a few people to see your show and maybe meet you, then that makes me feel good about it....
Tommy: Serves a purpose, exactly.
HTGTH: Which is a perfect lead in to the next question....
Tommy: There you go.
HTGTH: Are you surprised that GN'R fans are turning up at the shows and....?
Tommy: I have been. The most impressive thing is just that they seem to enjoy it and not that I would expect that they wouldn't enjoy it necessarily, but it's a long line to cross from a Replacements fan or a Tommy Stinson fan to a GN'R fan. There's a lot of territory in the middle there.
So it's really awesome to have people come up, "Wow, I didn't know about you until you joined Guns N' Roses." It's really cool, I really, really dig the GN'R fans that are coming out and showing the support. It's been great. Because I work hard for that fucking band.
HTGTH: Did you have an idea about what kind of crowds you might get? That's it's gonna be 15 year old or 30 year olds etc?
Tommy: No, I don't really worry about that either. What it really comes down to, I'm a very basic music fundamentalist. I just like bringing the music to the people.
I've been around, I was a rock star at 15 or so I thought. You know, I was really full of myself, so far up my own ass that I really thought I was the fucking cat's pajamas.
I've come around full circle now, I like just go out and play music and hopefully people like to buy my records. That's really what it comes down to. It's very simple to me.
HTGTH: I looked at your tour dates and you have shows every day....
Tommy: This is a nine date straight run with some fucking gnarly drives. I didn't realize until I looked at the itinerary and saw some of these drives. This is nuts. That's why we're crispy; we're real crispy right now (laughs).
HTGTH: How do you pass time on tour when you're sitting on a bus....?
Tommy: (looks at Joe, who's gesturing) Yeah, we jack off (laughs).
No actually, you know what, this of all the tours I've ever done, this one has been fun because I've actually, Joe and I have busted out a few times. We just made the attempt to just do something, go see something. Like in France we went to Paris, we had an hour and a half to kill so it was like "let's get in a cab and go see the Eiffel Tower". I've never seen it before, I've played there twice, three times in my whole life and I never saw it. So we went there and checked it out. And we've done that a bunch of times, you know, in certain cities. It's been really great.
That's been really the extra added bit to see some really cool places, to meet some really interesting people. We've met great people.
HTGTH: Do you have any favorite tracks that you enjoy playing the most?
Tommy: I like playing "Someday" a lot, live. Probably because the song has a...., holds a lot for me. The lyrics I wrote most of them when I first moved to L.A. I was going through some really hard shit. Mentally as well as personally and all the crap.
I knew something good was gonna come out of all these lessons I was learning, all this crap that was happening and so I wrote that song. It just took me forever to get the right guitar chords and make it a song.
Now it's pretty timely, it really has to do with lot of things going on in the world today. Whether it's a fucking crap president or whatever. Just hoping all the bad things had happened and something good can come out of the worst things.
HTGTH: Now that your tour is ending, I know you're going to Greece...
Tommy: Well, we think we are (laughs).
HTGTH: I heard from the guy in Greece and he says you are....
Tommy: In Greece?
HTGTH: Yeah, he's on our message board too.... (laughs)
Tommy: Oh (laughs) What does he say? What do you know about him? Is he on the level?
HTGTH: I think so...
Joe: Is he cool? Does he seem cool?
HTGTH: Yeah, he's really happy that you're going to Greece and he was working
hard to get you there.
Tommy: We're playing next week. I hope he can find some people to see us.
HTGTH: I've seen the posters for the shows....
Tommy: (laughs) Guess we're going to Greece! (laughs).
HTGTH: After this European tour ends, any plans to do more touring in Europe? USA?
Tommy: I'm planning on coming back. I'm planning on doing another States tour and another European tour in January and February, but I really need to kind of touch base with the folks at home to find out what's going on in the GN'R camp.
I don't wanna book anything without checking in. But I'm planning on tentatively to come back.
HTGTH: I have some questions about your song writing.
Tommy: I write some (laughs).
HTGTH: Yeah. Do you have a way of writing songs? Do you write lyrics, melody first or is it random?
Tommy: I have a very random way of writing songs actually. I don't have any one way I do it. And I think I kinda embraced the fact that I don't. Because, I like it to always be interesting, I like songs and ideas and things to come out of just nowhere. They generally come from nowhere.
The only thing that really seems to happen when I write songs is that I write, really downer lyrics when I'm at my happiest, when I'm most content in life, when things are really good. It's weird, I reflect....
You do that (to Joe)?
Joe: Yeah, I don't think that I do but you do. And then the opposite when you're really super..., sad, you write happy stuff....
Tommy: Yeah, it's weird. I don't actually write anything when I'm sad because I'm too in the moment I think. But for the most part I think, when I'm happy is when my mind is the most free and I can pull externally from different places to bring lyrics out. So I don't know, it's a weird thing, that's about the only formula of what I do at all.
HTGTH: Where do you get inspiration for your songs? Is it from sitting in a car or...
Tommy: Oh, it can be anything. (Looks at Joe, who's gesturing again) Jacking off (laughs).
It could be (laughs). It could be seeing a pretty girl on the walk to get coffee in the morning. It could be any number of things. I mean, inspiration comes from the most mundane things in life, I think, a lot of times.
I've had inspiration from putting on a fucking raggedy old coat you know. Fucking the smell of it reminded me of something that had happened. You fucking put a pen to paper you know....
HTGTH: Next up I have a few general questions...
Tommy: I know you're getting to them. It's ok. (laughs).
HTGTH: Is there any recent records that you like listening to? Albums that people who enjoy your album might want to check out?
Tommy: Alien Crime Syndicate, that would be one record, "10 Songs In The Key Of Betrayal".
The Burning Brides I think is a really good band from Philly. They're really rocking.
The Pleasure Club from New Orleans. They're fucking, you guys would go bananas for them. You know, you all like The Hives over here, you gotta see this band. This band is seriously off the fucking hook, I think. They're nothing like The Hives, but they're exciting and in your face and actually scary. (laughs) Kind of weird... You haven't seen them play before have you Joe?
Joe: No, I've heard the record. It's really good.
Tommy: Their live show man.... The singer was like a Baptist minister's son or something like that and he's got some dark shit going on there. Kinda creepy. Lyrically it's like, almost like a danceable like Iggy meets like, I don't know, fucking, like Jane's Addiction or something, I don't know. It's kinda crazy; it's all over the place. But it's really awesome, I like 'em a lot.
And then my friend Angela McCluskey made a really great record this year. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.
And the Guns N' Roses record is gonna be really great! You're gonna love it! (grins)
HTGTH: What do you think of musicians being politically active? For example Springsteen doing the Vote For Change tour now.
Tommy: Yeah... I don't really subscribe to mixing politics and music all that much. The Clash did it effectively. I mean they had some pretty lofty dreams I think about what they could do. And I think they realized after a while that, "wow, we're really just a rock band, that really has a limited amount of what we can do with the message".
I think everyone should vote and be involved with politics on a personal level as they see fit and how it affects their life. For me, the older I get, the more I'm getting socially conscious of those things. So for me, I'm not apathetic, I don't mix it with my music all that much but I do feel sometimes like I need to let people know. Like here, we're playing Europe, you know. Yes, I'm an American but I do not believe in George W. Bush. I'm an American, but I'm not that guy, and he needs to go away. I'm just here to tell you, just so you have any preconceived notions of "here's the ugly fucking Americans fucking George Bush's fucking pushing". I ain't a part of that you know. If that makes any sense.
HTGTH: Yeah, your president is giving the whole nation a bad reputation.
Tommy: Oh absolutely. The public figures they're speaking for you even though you didn't fucking vote for them. It's like, you have to realize that your only place in it is your own little place to vote.
Music is meant to be entertaining. I think music is meant to be, to take people away from those realities. Get you out of that mind space. You know what I mean? It's entertainment.
HTGTH: How do you feel about the Internet used for promoting your music? Also the downside, is of course the free downloading of your music. How do you feel about that medium as a way of promoting unknown bands etc....
Tommy: I think it's an awesome tool and I think at some point people are gonna figure out a way to make it so the musician can make money of that again.
Cause really the problem is for musicians like me, not even so much for me because I've sold millions of records, but the problem is that, the way the whole business works and doesn't work well.... It's basically taken, the musician who writes the music and turning him into the whore. And the pimp makes the money.
The Internet is kinda being the same kind of thing, only a more crafty pimp. I think that, there's got to be a way to do it where, the musician is paid for his music. Right now it's sort of sketchy and it's a little bit unorganized about how that's gonna happen, but I think as time goes on, I think it'll put the record companies out of business which I think will be good. The record companies are full of really bad pimps. Basically.
And, I think that hopefully through that something good will come where everyone makes a living. Cause basically, you know as a musician, first you have your lofty goals of like "I love music, I love playing music, I love the feeling of playing music in front of people." But when it comes right down to it, you play music and that becomes your career, for me 25 years in, that becomes your career and it's like you need to make a living at it. Because you can't really write songs if you're working at fucking, Taco Bell or whatever. Five days a week or six days a week, 40 hours... Whatever. You can't really do that, there's gotta be a balance I think.
HTGTH: Do you think the whole downloading thing has become so popular because record companies put "products" out, albums with one hit and 15 filler tracks and people see through that?
Tommy: Yeah, totally. There's so many things that the record industry are doing to feed it, much to their detriment. Obviously they haven't figured out a way to embrace it and make good records.
Because right now, it's like we're in that cycle. It's very cyclical, I think, the way records come around. Oddly enough as I'm saying this, I do believe that it all goes along with the like the social and political movements of the governments and stuff like that.
Like right now we're in a republican presidency in the States, all the radio's controlled by Clear Channel and all the radio is playing is about 20 bands, 20 groups, whatever. And they're all very, very crap. And I don't mean crap... There's nothing credible about them, there's nothing credible on the radio right now, in the mass arena. What it takes is, a new president, for people to get fed up. Things like Nirvana, stuff like that with a real aggression. Stuff like that comes up due to political movements, I think, in the world. And I think that, without getting too far into it, I just think that, that kinda shake up is good.
I think it's about to happen again. Clear Channel is controlling everything, but I think people are gonna start revolt in a way. They kinda already are... Like a lot of bands are learning how to make their own records without studios and learning how to put them out without record companies, and doing really well.
Like The Saddle Creek records. I mean, that record company's doing great by all their little bands that they have in Omaha, you know Bright Eyes and stuff like that. It's not my thing, but they're figuring it out, and the more of that kind of stuff that happens, the more you put.. It all turns over. And you start to get... Credible music comes back. I think people are starting to look for credible music again. I think they're kinda fed up with bubblegum. It's like the fucking, the mid-70s was full of bubblegum music and it's coming around again.
HTGTH: Do you download any music yourself?
Tommy: I don't even know how. I'm very Internet illiterate. I know how to work my computer to do, my music programs that I use to make music and stuff like that. The Internet.... It doesn't really interest me, because I don't have the kind of time to sit around to fuck around with that.
HTGTH: Now the subject of GN'R... Because you know if I don't ask, I'm gonna get into trouble or something......
Tommy: Yeah, you'd get bad e-mail tomorrow. Are you gonna transcribe this or are you gonna play this on the web site? Put sound bites?
HTGTH: I think I'll transcribe it, because I don't really like hearing my own voice too much (laughs)
Tommy: Fair enough, me neither.
HTGTH: Do you have any message to all the people who visit the Here Today... Gone To Hell! web site?
Tommy: Thanks for the support on my record. And, keep tuned in because I heard stuff before I left the States, some of the final mixes, or close to final mixes of a bunch of the stuff we've been working on for the record. They sounded epic to me, they sounded fantastic and I'm waiting as patiently as everyone else to make it happen. Honestly, it's gotta be right and when it comes out, it's gonna be at least as right as it is in our eyes.
So, it's definitely very close to being done and when it comes out we're just gonna have to hit the road and do the whole world and have fun with it. I'm just telling you that it's definitely gonna come out.
HTGTH: Do you keep up with what's happening with GN'R while you're out here in Europe?
Tommy: I haven't had a chance to check in with them yet. I always check in every few weeks just to see what's going on. Get the latest, what's happening, where I need to be, what's going on, you know.
HTGTH: Have you heard about the rumors about the new guitar player being auditioned?
Tommy: I knew there were some guys on the hook for checking it out. I haven't heard anything past that. I don't think we've actually..... I don't think there'd be any auditions without me being there. Because I think, we need to put the band together to hear them play. So I would imagine that's probably gonna happen when I get home at some point.
HTGTH: Everything that happened this year with GN'R, people are worried about the band. Are they together?...
Tommy: No, no... Buckethead going away is the best thing that could've happened to the band. It's gonna be great.
I won't get too far into that, because I don't really like slamming people or getting into people's personalities or anything like that. It's a really good thing.
HTGTH: You said "Chinese Democracy" is almost done. But people are wondering what's been happening all these years? Have you worked on 18 songs for one album or is it like a bunch of songs that you could put out within a year or so?
Tommy: Originally we had a fucking whole lot of songs we were working on. We kinda rolled around them and just kinda kept molding them as we went along.
The process of making the GN'R record is a long process to begin with. Because basically, Axl as a producer is trying to get the best out of eight guys and get them all in a song, like trying to pull everyone in. You know, mush it together like a fucking piece of clay or something. Trying to form a piece of art work out of it. It takes time.
It's not like when I was in the Replacements, Paul would come to rehearsal with a couple of songs. "Ok, this is how they go, watch me play the chords," we play it, go to the studio and knock it down in an hour. It's not like that.
He has a way of working with people and pulling them in. Get you to bring something to the plate that's gonna be special and cool for that song. And it just takes a long time. Because you got eight guys you know. So that process takes a while.
When you're working on 35 or so pieces of music that you're trying to finish. Trying to... Basically the cream of the crop of that, to make a record of. It's really hard to decide. Because out of 35 things, we might all like parts and bits of 30 songs. So then you gotta further narrow that down, and you know. It just takes a while. That's all I can say about that. It just takes a while and when it's done, it'll be done and when it comes out we're gonna totally tour behind it and fucking, and rock out.
It's really, to say to the GN'R fans that are waiting for that.
Axl ain't just sitting up there fucking, sitting there watching fucking TV, waiting for the fucking sun to come up. It's like he's been working on this shit for a long time, we've all been working on it sporadically throughout. It's gotta be right.
HTGTH: It's gonna be like your album, all kinds of styles or focus on just one...?
Tommy: No, no, no... This record is definitely, you know, got some chances on it that I think are great.
There's some really beautiful pieces, some really hard pieces, there's some real fucking, you know, somewhat self indulgent creative pieces that people are either gonna love or hate. But they're fucking there because, as an artist that's how you fucking have to make records you know.
HTGTH: You've all been writing songs for it? Everyone's basically credited for every song?
Tommy: Yeah, I mean, I think pretty much everyone's brought something to the plate that we've turned into one thing or the other. I don't know if the song or two I wrote is necessarily gonna make this record or the next record. But everyone's brought stuff together that we've worked out and turned into stuff and it'll probably used at some point one way or the other. We've all contributed to pretty much everything on it in some form or another, you know.
HTGTH: I've got a few random questions from our message board users.
Tommy: Sure, ok.
HTGTH: If you hadn't become a musician, where would you be today?
Tommy: Most likely I'd be in jail right now. Because when my brother taught me how to play bass, when I was like 11, prior to that, I'd gone to jail a couple of times for like stealing and that. The last time I went to jail before my brother taught me how to play bass, they wanted to send me away to a boys' reform school for about six months. They just thought I was going down that road. Next thing would've been grand theft auto, then I would've fucking...., murder, fucking rob a grocery store or whatever. I was just a fucking total hoodlum at a very young age, so he kinda saved me from that.
HTGTH: If you consider all your songs you've worked on during your whole career. Is there any song you can say that "this is me", I'm most proud of this one.
Tommy: Other than my new record.... Other than that record, probably me at my best would've been The Replacements' "Tim" or probably the new GN'R record. I think, I feel like I've, what I've contributed to the GN'R record in particular, I think I went above and beyond what I thought I could do. I've really pulled stuff out of me that I didn't know was there as far as a bass player. I mean, I never tried to fill Duff's shoes necessarily, but I definitely wanted to rise to the level he was at. Cause I think he's a great bass player, so I wanted to try and bring it up, you know, and do some special things, and do some different things. I think I got that, I think I got a lot of that.
HTGTH: If you were stranded on a desert island with a solar powered CD player and you could have five CDs with you, which ones would you want with you?
Tommy: It'd be "Revolver" by The Beatles, probably "Highway 61 Revisited" by Bob Dylan, "London Calling", a record by my friend Angela McCluskey, a side record she had called "Curio." It's a beautiful record, standards, but she sings in a very precious way, that's beautiful. What else? Probably "Chelsea Girl" by Nico.
HTGTH: That's the questions I had for you....
Tommy: Thanks a lot, I appreciate it man.
HTGTH: It was really nice to talk to you and to nice see you here [in Sweden].
Tommy: Can't wait to come back. I hope my record company puts my record out over here!
Thanks to Tommy, Joe, Diane and the rest who made this possible (you know who you are).
Copyright © 2004 Jarmo Luukkonen / Here Today... Gone To Hell!