Since he's more interested in talking about his new band coming to the Turf Club on Saturday, Tommy Stinson offered these short answers to the two most heard questions about the old bands he is probably leaving behind:
1) Ask Axl.
2) Ask Paul's T-shirts.
"At this point, they probably have their own [publicists]," the veteran bassist joked of his Replacements bandmate Paul Westerberg's letter-encoded white tees.
During the final stretch of his two-year, 33-show reunion run with Stinson (and replacements) as the Replacements, Westerberg wore a series of shirts with letters painted on the front that seemed to spell out the end of the band. Or at least they spelled this one encrypted message: "I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past."
A friend of Westerberg's since he joined him in the Replacements at age 12 in 1979, Stinson laughed at the presumed epitaph: "I really didn't know where he was going with all that. I got home and was like, 'Oh, that's what that meant.' "
Decoding Axl Rose is a whole other matter.
Now 48, Tommy has been playing bass with Rose in Guns N' Roses since 1998. Even before rumors started flying a few weeks ago about the late '80s lineup of GNR getting back together, he said his status in the group was up in the air. His last GNR gig was April 2014 in Las Vegas.
"I reach out once in a while to that crew of people — a lot of whom are also my good friends — but I really have no idea what's going on," he said, clarifying at least this much: "I didn't quit the gig or walk away from it. We just all sort of left it in Vegas."
Stinson also made it clear that after two years of playing with Minnesota's most legendary rock band and 16 years with one of the world's, he's content to front his own band again.
If not legendary, the group he has assembled for an upcoming record and tour dates includes some impressive players: guitarist Luther Dickinson, ex-Black Crowes sideman and leader of the North Mississippi Allstars; bassist Cat Popper, who has played with Ryan Adams and Jack White; drummer Frank Ferrer, also a Guns N' Roses vet, plus keyboardist Tony Kieraldo.
Stinson assembled the group in February to record songs he had been storing up for several years, including a few he tried to record during short-lived sessions with the revamped Replacements.
"It was kind of a perfect-storm scenario where a few of my friends were going to be in New York state at the same time, so I seized the opportunity," recalled Stinson, who now lives in upstate New York. The resulting sessions, he said, "just had a really good vibe, in addition to the fact they're all really good players."
"I haven't had a chance to make real band recordings like this since probably Bash & Pop," he added, referring to the fondly remembered group he formed immediately after the Replacements broke up in 1991.
Other records he has made since then were recorded more piecemeal, including two solo albums and an EP and record by another band, Perfect.
For the first taste of the new material, Stinson is dropping a 7-inch and "cassingle" on Friday with a should-be-classic song, "Breathing Room," and "Not This Time."
He also recently dropped the charity single "Can't Be Bothered," which he recorded in London when the Replacements played there in early June.
Acknowledging the less than cheery tone in those new tunes, Stinson said, "There's a lot of personal upheaval in these songs. A lot of my experiences over the last few years have pushed me to the brink in a lot of ways, but I think I'm going to turn a corner soon."
Part of the idea for the Turf Club show and surrounding three Midwest gigs is to road-test those new songs. The Hold Steady's Steve Selvidge will be filling in at these dates for his childhood friend Dickinson, who had prior commitments, but Dickinson plans to play with Stinson once the album arrives next year.
"I'm proud of my other records, too, but I feel really good about what's coming now," he said. "And one big difference now is it looks like I'm actually going to have time to put into it for once."
Here's more of what Stinson had to say
His postscript on the 2013-2015 Replacements: Of course, the Midway concert [in St. Paul last September] was very special, but as far as I'm concerned, all of those shows were special. Paul had been playing those songs in his solo shows since we broke up, so it maybe wasn't as big a deal to him. But for me, strapping those songs on again after 20-some years meant a lot to me.
"There were some things I didn't like about it, but that's [expletive] rock 'n' roll. Emotionally, it had its heavy moments. And it still does, but that's the nature of our beast. And if you read into Paul's shirts, it probably went on about a year longer than he felt he wanted it to go. As for me, I was fine with how far it went."
Replacements recording sessions: "It was one of those things: We dipped our toe in the water, and it didn't feel so good. The water was a little too hot. I won't say never, but the songs of mine that we recorded, I've redone. You know, if [Westerberg] called me up and said, 'Hey, you wanna try this again?' of course I would do it, if only to [mess] around a bit. Do we need to do that right now, though? I don't think so."
A postscript, if needed, on his stint in Guns N' Roses: "I'll be honest with you: [Axl Rose] was always very good to me, and it was always a really good gig. It wasn't necessarily the easiest gig, but it was always good. I have nothing but gratitude for it. If they got [the modern lineup] together again and wanted me to play, of course I'd have to think about it."