To most of us, Tommy Stinson will always be a fresh-faced teenager, the bratty, hard-drinking kid brother from our favorite bunch of beautiful losers. But in the years since the 'Mats gave up the good fight, he's proven surprisingly prolific, the most tireless and hard-working musician of the lot. Maybe it's ingrained in him because he grew up onstage, but the guy never stops performing. He spent virtually all of last year touring with Guns N' Roses, and now he's getting ready to go on the road with Soul Asylum. Somewhere along the way, he found enough time to finish up his second solo album.
"I was trying to do all this shit at once, like I always do. The solo stuff sometimes takes a back seat, which is a drag," Stinson admits over the phone from New York. He speaks briskly and deliberately, his breathing suggesting he's walking at a brisk pace. But there are still some rough edges, from the rasp in his voice that bears the mark of years of abuse to the casual belches sprinkled in his conversation.
The new material, due to be released in August, has been in the works since Village Gorilla Head was released seven years ago. "All my stuff is pretty similar to the stuff I've done in the past," he says with a hint of sarcasm. "Even if you look at it as a Replacements kind of thing, I haven't really changed where I come from or how I got there. The model's still the same, it just gets a different paint job every few years."
With Stinson paying for the new record mostly out of pocket, he sees it as a step toward starting his own label. "Record labels don't really have a lot to offer a guy like me anymore. I'm not going to get a million-dollar contract—not that I'd want that. I've done that before and it's a pretty bleak picture." The thought alone seems to conjure a vague bitterness, but his tone quickly jumps to one of defiance. "I've reached the age where I don't fucking have to put out any certain kind of anything if I don't want to. I can do what I want and like it or lump it." Earlier this year, Stinson did a series of acoustic gigs accompanied by his fiancée, Emily Roberts, "just to get out of the house." Now he's making the rounds with a full-on touring band and they're playing "a little bit of everything," from Bash & Pop to Perfect and, "if I can stomach it, a cover or two."
Once this weekend's First Ave date was announced, the predictable speculation arose over possible guest appearances. "I ain't shutting the door to that and I ain't going to open any can of worms either," he says with a mischievous cackle. "Tons of buffoonery could ensue.... If Prince wants to come out and play a little 1999, that's fine by me." He trails off, then loses it completely: "I can't even say that without making myself laugh! It's such a ridiculous idea."
Of course, it wasn't all that long ago that Stinson got together with Paul Westerberg and Chris Mars to cut a couple of "new" 'Mats songs, or that he and Westerberg "messed around" in the studio. "He might brave the elements; you never know with that guy," comes the wry response. As a matter of fact, the two are in touch pretty regularly. "We were never that far [apart]. We could talk once a year and still be pretty in touch with each other. It's good like that."
Sadly, there's one old friend and bandmate who definitely won't make an appearance in the Mainroom: In March, Bash & Pop bassist Kevin Foley died in his sleep. The news came as a double blow given that Foley's brother, Steve, also passed away suddenly just two years prior. "Anyone who knew him knew he had the greatest heart. There couldn't have been a nicer guy on the planet," Stinson says of Kevin. As the memories start coming back you can practically hear his smile. "And anyone who knew him also knew he could party. Boy, could he get himself in some trouble!"
Even with his busy music schedule, Stinson has gone to great lengths over the past year to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. After going down to visit the devastation himself, he organized an auction that raised over $50,000 for Timkatec, a school in Port-au-Prince for orphaned and abandoned children.
"That money puts another 40 kids to school for a year and helps build a second story on the building.... It's incredible what that much money can do," Stinson enthuses. As a father of two, he's particularly touched by being able to help children. "The kids are so thankful, even without knowing what exactly I'm doing. It's real humbling."
In fact, after more than three decades spent working as a full-time musician, it's not much of a stretch for Stinson to imagine shifting his focus elsewhere down the line. "The older I get the more I do think about my philanthropic desires," he says thoughtfully. "I've had a good career and I've been very lucky. There's a time to give back, and I think that time has come."