Tommy Stinson is good bassist and a tremendous fella, but he's best known for being in both the Replacements and Guns and fucking Roses. As he told us, dealing with the outsize egos of Paul Westerberg and Axl Rose hasn't been easy, but it's certainly had its rewards. Stinson has now been a member of G n' R longer than Duff McKagan, and he seems to exude a calming, steadying influence on those he plays for.
Ahead of the group's show tonight at The Forum, we talked with the former L.A.-resident Stinson about the two mercurial frontmen, life on the road with G n' R, and the possibility of new albums from both that band and his other outfit, Soul Asylum.
How has this tour been going?
Pretty good. Compared to all our tours in the past 10-12 years, this one's gone pretty smoothly. I hate to say that because I don't want to jinx it, but we're near the end. I think everyone has a better mindset. The addition of DJ [Ashba] helps — him and Axl have a pretty good relationship. All of us have pretty good relationships, actually. The shows tend not to be so bagged down with the baggage of the past. We don't give a shit, just go out and have fun and move on.
What kind of baggage, specifically, are you referring to?
There was always an underlying thing of trying to compete with the past. I never really felt that, I never gave a crap. I joined this band because it sounded like a good idea. Whether it was Axl [competing with] it or whatever, I don't think it's there anymore. It's not like we need to compete anymore. We've been a band now longer than they were the old band.
What do you think drives Axl nowadays?
I think he wants to go out and put on a good show and have a good time. It's what you're supposed to do in the first place. Trying to compete with the old band — fucking Slash, all that stuff — is extraneous. Thousands of people will come see him every night because he's Axl Rose.
From which Guns n' Roses album do you most enjoy playing songs live?
All of em have good bits to 'em. I put a lot of time and effort into Chinese Democracy, but I like playing stuff off Use Your Illusion and Appetite as well. The [title] track to Chinese Democracy is one of my favorites, also “You Could Be Mine.” You can't help getting into watching people go bonkers for “Paradise City,” that's always a kick in the pants. We've been closing on it, but Axl's been really switching things up and throwing some curveballs, so I think it's going to be interesting [in L.A.].
Who's the person in the band you spend the most time with?
We actually have three buses. Axl's got his bus, with his managers, and I hang out with Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Del James — the guys on my bus.
Do you ever get tired of trying to explain why Axl is the way he is?
Yeah, because there's really nothing to explain. He's been doing the same thing his whole career. Going on late — what's new about that? It's sort of rote at this point. He does his thing, and he works really hard to put on a good show every night. He prepares a lot to be the best he can be, and I think that's commendable. This guy can still fucking wail.
What would you say Axl and Paul Westerberg have in common?
Jeez, there are a lot of similarities. One is they're both the real deal, both without a doubt the real thing. Axl's the great singer, sold tons of fucking records, and Paul is one of the great writers of the era. They're both somewhat hard to deal with. They have definite ways they see things, and that's the way it's going to be. Not that it's a bad thing — they both stick to their guns. Maybe sometimes to a fault. It's gotta be hard on both of them to be so immovable at times.
Do you and the other guys in G n' R drink a lot? Are there substances like in the old days?
Most of us have all calmed out shit way down, aside from some cocktails here and there. None of those kind of shenanigans. Certainly no one shooting up dope.
You're a part-time member of Soul Asylum, right? How does that work with also being in Guns n' Roses?
My first commitment is to Guns, but Soul Asylum are great friends of mine, I can pretty much come and go with that. Their new record will probably [come out] in the first or second quarter of the new year. With Guns, I'd like for them to get back in writing mode and see if there's another record to put out.
Where do you live these days?
I live in upstate New York. I moved out of L.A. two years ago; I'd had a baby with my then-fiancee and moved to the Philly area first because her family was there, and then we moved upstate. We got married two months ago. I originally moved to L.A. in 1993, and lived in Hollywood, Silver Lake, and Burbank for a while.