Their first choice of producer had gone off the grid. Their second and final producer had gone a little deaf. Their guitar player was falling off the deep end. And the guy who was supposed to mix the album fell off the project.
"It's a bit of a miracle we actually wound up with a full record at all," Tommy Stinson said.
After all that disarray, it should come as no surprise that the album Stinson's old band did wind up with — one that some fans (including yours truly) consider their best — sounds much better after a careful tweaking 38 years later.
Enter "Tim: Let It Bleed Edition," a new box-set version of the Replacements' highly influential but also widely nitpicked-over 1985 record, "Tim," coming Friday via Rhino/Warner Records.
The new four-CD, one-LP edition includes the usual trove of outtakes, demos and live recordings that fans have come to expect after three prior deluxe-edition reissue sets by Minneapolis' unexpectedly popular-as-ever 1980s band. Like the previous handling of the Replacements' 1989 album, "Don't Tell a Soul," though, it also features a whole new remix of the original studio LP — essentially a sonic makeover.
Ed Stasium, who was invited to mix the album in the first place, finally completed the job for this new edition. The New York studio engineer who worked with the Talking Heads and Ramones was a close associate of "Tim's" late producer, Tommy Erdelyi, aka Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone.
As was prone to happen with the Replacements, though, things didn't go as planned. For years now, the final mix of "Tim" has been criticized for sounding flat, muted and muddy, despite featuring some of their best-loved songs such as "Left of the Dial," "Bastards of Young," "Waitress in the Sky" and "Here Comes a Regular."
Not anymore. Stasium's new mix of the album is discernibly cleaner and crisper but also louder and heavier. The guitars and especially the drums are more distinguishable, more in line with a good live mix.
"It's a chance to really hear the record the band made for the first time," said Bob Mehr, the Replacements biographer who co-produced the new reissue. "Stasium went back to the original multitracks and did a mix from scratch that is a revelation sonically."
For Stinson, who'd dropped out of high school to tour as the Replacements' bassist, the "Tim" makeover just made sense.
"As long as we were not trying to rewrite history, I was all for it," he said. "There are two records we did I was never really happy with: 'Tim' was the first one, and 'Don't Tell a Soul' was the other."
Citing the growing pains the band suffered moving up to Warner Bros.-run Sire Records starting with "Tim," he added, "We were coming from the indie stratosphere trying to break into the big leagues, and we really didn't know what the [expletive] we were doing. And we didn't really have anybody who did working with us."
Stinson, 56, had a lot more to say about the new box set and the original sessions behind it in an interview last month. In fact, it was the most in-depth discussion he's had with his hometown newspaper about the Replacements since they split up in 1991, and certainly since his big brother Bob Stinson — the quartet's brilliant but troubled guitarist — died in 1995.
In the interim, the Minneapolis native had many other ventures to discuss, including his early '90s band Bash & Pop, solo albums and stints playing in Guns N' Roses and Soul Asylum. He's currently touring with Cowboys in the Campfire, a twangy new duo with ex-uncle-in-law Chip Roberts, which just dropped its playful debut album, "Wronger."
Stinson remains the most active of the Replacements' surviving members — although drummer Chris Mars did quietly just release his first solo album in six years. Frontman Paul Westerberg hasn't performed or released new music (or talked to the press) since 2016, not long after he and Stinson wrapped a run of Replacements reunion concerts with replacement band members.
On tour in recent years, Stinson said, he regularly hears from fans how excited they are about these Replacements reissues. And nowadays that excites him, too.
"I think we're uniquely still relevant, which is crazy to me," he said, "but I think it's really cool."
Here's an edited-down transcript of what else Stinson had to say on the new box set.
Why 'Tim' wasn't mixed right in the first place: "When Ed [Stasium] wasn't available, Tommy [Erdelyi] kind of got pressured to do something that wasn't necessarily his forte," Stinson recounted.
"Tommy would've been the first to tell you his ears weren't great. So he had to listen to things on headphones to hear what was going on. That's the only person I've ever worked with who mixed on headphones. There's a lot of audio quality missed that way."
What he hears differently in the new mix: "The original mix to me always sounded almost nasally. It had this weird kind of one-dimensional, midrange sound that really didn't sound like our instruments and how we recorded them. I remember the amps and instruments we were using back then and how they sounded in the room, but a lot of that never got across."
What he loves most about "Tim:" "Paul was getting into another headspace about writing, getting a lot more serious about it. It was no longer, 'Let's just go throw some songs at a wall and bash them out in the basement.' We pulled that off on the earlier records.
"With ['Tim'], Paul had a particular bundle of songs that were more serious, more thought-out. He was upping his game. I don't know how intentional that was on his part — I think he was just naturally evolving. Chris and I were trying to figure out, 'Well, what do we do with this?' So it was a hard record to make for all those reasons."
As exemplified by the closing ballad "Here Comes a Regular:" "We were a bit surprised he went and did that all by himself, and it was so [expletive] beautiful, admittedly. I remember thinking that right out of the gate. Really from the 'Let It Be' record on, it was a foregone conclusion that Paul had other sides to his songwriting and personality to show off. If you were paying attention, you knew it was there, and Chris and I were definitely paying attention.
"I think Bob hated that stuff, though. That was part of the rub. Chris and I were more amenable to Paul's changing landscape as a songwriter. We were more on par with that and supportive of that, whereas Bob was more like, 'What the [expletive] does that have to do with me?!' But I thought it was a beautiful song, and when you hear the story of it being the second take during recording. That's lightning in a bottle.
Why that evolution was a hindrance for his brother Bob, though, who would be ousted as the guitarist a year later: "I don't know if Paul would agree to this, but it does seem to me some of the songwriting that went into that record was written knowing that Bob wasn't going to be around much longer. When I look back on songs like 'Left of the Dial' and 'Little Mascara,' there's a particular tuning Paul used where he was playing the melody and the rhythm guitar at the same time to essentially do what two guitar players would do.
"I think my brother was kind of confused about what to do. Here are these songs where Paul already had melody kind of in the body of the song that he's already playing. I don't know if Bob really knew where to fit in. To be fair, Paul did try to work with him and try to figure out where he should play.
"When I look at that record, that's a really big moment in that regard — on top of the fact that Bob was having substance abuse troubles, too. Not that we weren't all having trouble with that, mind you, but Bob was really lost."
Why they shelved the "Tim" sessions with Big Star singer/guitarist Alex Chilton, tracks from which are highlighted in the box set: "For all the romantic notions everyone originally had about what that would be like, it just didn't pan out that way. No one had a clue what to do with [the sessions]. We thought it'd be so cool to have him as a producer, since he made these great records himself.
"The disconnect was: Alex had been off the grid at that point, so what we wanted from him, I don't think he really had it in him; or at least he didn't have it in him for us. So we quickly came at an impasse on that."
How the new bonus track "Having Fun" was the first song Stinson wrote that was recorded by the band, with Westerberg on vocals: "Paul as our leader was was really open to anyone bringing a song in. He wasn't like, 'I'm the [expletive] songwriter here!' He was open-minded to us and encouraging to us to a degree. That song is part and parcel to that. He was encouraging me try it, at least, even if didn't pan out that great."
Why and how the Replacements continue to roll out reissues: "None of us in the band would have put any of this extra [expletive] out — save for maybe the remixing, I think at some point we maybe would've all sat down together and agreed these two records never sounded good enough.
"The rest of it, though, really comes down to Bob Mehr. He tells a bigger-picture story on the band. He does a really good job — like investigative journalism — figuring out what's what, and how it came about. I gotta give it to him. As long as fans want to hear that story, and this stuff means something to them, I think it's really cool."
Whether the reissue campaign has reshaped the band's cultishly celebrated but commercially tepid legacy: "I don't think it's done that. There is no redemption for the Replacements, to be honest. We did our thing, and we left a mark on the modern rock 'n' roll/independent/college-radio scene that was flourishing at the time.
"Our legacy is, for one, uniquely Minneapolis. It's also about us. We left something people still admire, and that's great. Not a lot of people can walk away from doing something in their youth, walk away from it and still have people think it's good and still talking about the records we made. When you look at that from the outside, that's inarguably a cool thing."
What the next reissue will be then (answered with a sharp laugh): "I don't think there's anything left to say, to be honest."
First Avenue is hosting a listening party/pre-sale event for the new "Tim" box set on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Depot Tavern, 17 N. 7th St., Mpls.