Once the public pegs you as something, it's hard to break out of the box. For proof just look at Tommy Stinson, who's performed on more than 10 projects since 1991 but always seems to have his name preceded by the words "ex-Replacements bassist."
Stinson wouldn't mind the association if it were simply a reflection of how evocative, forward-thinking and influential he is as a musician. However, when most people draw the Replacements connection, it's coming from a completely different place.
"When I'm out, people literally come up to me and go, 'Dude, I saw you. You guys played, and you were so f---ed up you couldn't stand up. You were falling down and it was the greatest show I ever saw,' " Stinson said. "I think we made some great records, but no one ever says, 'Man, I think your music was amazing.' "
After forming the groups Bash & Pop and Perfect in the mid-'90s, Stinson joined Guns N' Roses in 1998 and has worked with them in the studio and on the road. And in his abundant spare time, he wrote and recorded his first solo album, Village Gorilla Head, due July 27.
The disc contains 11 songs Stinson has written over the past 10 years, and it covers a variety of styles. "Without a View" is acoustic and melancholy, "Something's Wrong" features serrated guitar chords that mingle with classic pop melodies, and "Couldn't Wait" is bristling and agitated, conjuring the brazen spirit of punk before the rise of Green Day.
"I didn't set out to make a certain kind of record," Stinson said. "I like to hear albums that have peaks and valleys, and different musical textures going on that maybe have nothing to do with the song before."
Stinson named the album Village Gorilla Head after an electronic-flavored song colored with horns and strings, which was cobbled together from three musical pieces, each of which illuminated different areas of the musical spectrum. "One of them kind of sounded like the Village People, one sounded a bit like Gorillaz, and the bridge on the other one sounded like Motörhead," Stinson said.
While Stinson explores various musical styles, his lyrics are fairly dark. Over the course of the record, Stinson obliquely addresses his marriage, his divorce, being a father, and numerous romantic relationships that didn't last. But even in the darkest lines, there's always a glimmer of light.
"I think these are a lot of bleak stories being told with hopeful endings," Stinson said. "The vibe of it is, as bad as things are, they're gonna get better."
Stinson plans to tour for Village Gorilla Head, but his road trips may be somewhat limited by Guns N' Roses, who are finishing up their long-awaited album, Chinese Democracy, in fits and starts.
"There are just so many little aspects that are being finalized on that record that every once in a while someone will go, 'God, I just realized you hit a bad note in this one place. We just found it.' And I'll go in and sort it out."
After having worked with a long list of producers — including Roy Thomas Baker, Bob Ezrin, Sean Beavan and Moby — Axl Rose has taken over production duties for the album, Stinson said. The reason the disc isn't done yet, he added, is because Rose is a methodical perfectionist who wants to make the creation of Chinese Democracy as democratic as possible.
"He likes to take all the members of the band and get the best out of each guy for each song," Stinson said. "It's a brilliant process that gets everyone involved so everyone owns a piece of the song because they've put themselves into it. That way you don't have people going, 'Well, I'm not gonna play on his song if you're not gonna sing on my song.' And that's a lengthy process because you have to get eight people to basically write a song together that everyone likes."
Stinson added that he thinks the record is finally almost done, and the only thing that's holding back its completion is legal issues. Even the recent departure of guitarist Buckethead (see "Buckethead's Hand Puppet Says Goodbye To Guns N' Roses") isn't slowing anything down. "As far as I know, he hasn't been replaced, but we already have enough guitarists," Stinson said. "We have Robin Finck and Richard Fortus, and Buckethead will be on the record, too. I really have no idea why he decided to leave, but it didn't come out of left field because he's always come and gone. Even when I do see him, I don't know what he thinks."