Interview: Tommy Stinson
Tommy Stinson is a rock legend. He was a member of famed Minnesota-based rock group the Replacements. Since 1998, he has been the bassist for Guns N’ Roses and Soul Asylum. His latest release is the solo album “One Man Mutiny.” For more info on Tommy Stinson, check out http://tommystinson.com/Â or follow him on twitter: @tommy_stinson.
McClain Johnson: As a solo artist, how does your songwriting process work?
Tommy Stinson: You know, I don’t really have one particularly. When I’ve got free time and my head is freed up from touring and all that stuff, it just sort of comes to me. It can come to me in any way, whether it is guitar, bass, drums, whatever. Stuff just kind of starts coming to my head. That’s about as good of an explanation as I can give. There’s no special chair I sit in and start contemplating shit.
McClain Johnson: Do you mostly start off with basslines or melodies? How do you get started?
Tommy Stinson: Sometimes, it will be melodies. Sometimes, it will be a beat. It can be anything. It could just be a phase that pops in my head. It could be any number of those kinds of things.
McClain Johnson: How does your approach differ within your solo stuff versus Guns N’ Roses?
Tommy Stinson: With GNR, it is more of a collaborative effort. Everyone is pretty much involved in the writing process. In a sense, that’s the way Axl has had it set up from day one. With me, I collaborate with whomever is around me, whether it’s my wife’s uncle, or in One Man Mutiny’s case, I wrote that with Dizzy and Richard Fortus. Soul Asylum is pretty much the Danny and Dave show. They do their thing, and I just kind of play along with that. I just do what I do for bass on that. It’s all kind of different in that regard. That’s what makes it fun to do all three of those things, because they are all different. They keep you on your tip-toes.
McClain Johnson: You do so many different things. That has to be great for keeping you musically into things.
Tommy Stinson: It does. It keeps you diverse and keeps you from thinking about stuff too much. It keeps you slightly off-balance, but in a good way.
McClain Johnson: Absolutely, I can see how over thinking would start to weigh things down.
Tommy Stinson: Oh, absolutely. You can over think things too much and it will come back in diminishing returns.
McClain Johnson: How do you feel that your songwriting has changed over the years?
Tommy Stinson: You know, I think I’ve gotten freed up. I think, over the years, I’ve gone from trying to create something out of nothing to letting what comes out create itself. Hopefully, it will become it’s own thing. At a certain time in the Replacements, we actually tried to appease the record company for a nanosecond. You always want to try and make a successful record. There’s really no way to really make a successful record unless you’re making a record that is true to what you are doing and what you’re believing in. That’s kind of how that works for me. I’ve gotten freed up from all that crap.
McClain Johnson: It’s like trying to apply someone else’s ideas of success, right? There’s something great about being successful on your own terms.
Tommy Stinson: Yeah, exactly. Successful or not successful. However it turns out, I’ve done it on my own terms.
McClain Johnson: What have been your biggest challenges over the years?
Tommy Stinson: Really finding the time to make a record, finish a record. It’s a daunting process to begin with, let alone doing it on your own. It’s good and bad. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s mine. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.
McClain Johnson: What advice would you have for artists just starting out?
Tommy Stinson: You’ve got to get ready to do a lot of work. You’ve got to really keep your mind open to what’s out there with the Internet. People keep saying the Internet has killed the record industry. I think it has opened up a lot of possibilities by getting rid of the compartmentalizing of music. I think that’s a good thing. You just have to find a way to straddle it and make it work for you That’s the hard part.