|By Susan Carpenter, Times Staff Writer
When Tommy Stinson released his first solo album, his goals were modest. The former bass player for legendary '80s rockers the Replacements wanted to begin making his own records, to find a label, to build an audience.
The results, unfortunately, were equally modest. Since Sanctuary Records released "Village Gorilla Head" last August, it has sold just 15,000 copies and received almost no radio airplay
"There's always an excuse for why. All you can really do is say, 'OK. Cool. I made another record, put it out, toured, and I'm going to keep doing it because that's what I do,' " said Stinson, who's scheduled to play a solo show at the Hotel Cafe on Friday.
Now 38, Stinson was just 12 when he and older brother Bob formed the Replacements in their Minneapolis basement. He was 13 when they fleshed out the lineup with drummer Chris Mars and singer Paul Westerberg, 14 when the band made its recording debut with "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash," 15 when the group started getting a lot of attention and 18 when they reached their creative peak, releasing the seminal punk album "Let It Be." When the band split up, the Replacements had eight records to their credit. Stinson was only 24.
He now lives in Los Angeles. In the 12 years he's been here, Stinson has never had a car; he gets around via bicycle and public transit. He still "gets his drink on," he said, but not to the point of stumbling around onstage, as the Replacements were known to do.
His thin frame and face topped with tousled two-tone hair, his wrist carrying a cluster of jewelry, Stinson is still very much the rocker. In the mid-'90s, he formed the short-lived groups Bash & Pop and then Perfect. Since 1998, he's been the bass player for Guns N' Roses.
Musicians from each contributed to "Village Gorilla Head," including Perfect drummer Gersh and Guns N' Roses' keyboardist and guitarist, Dizzy Reed and Richard Fortus. For his part, Stinson not only plays bass on the record but six-string guitar, keyboards and, on one track, drums. He also sings -- both lead and backing vocals.
"I wanted to switch it all up," Stinson said, "not just say, 'Here's the one good song and eight others that sound like a crappier version.' "
As a whole, he has succeeded. His first solo record is a multifaceted life snapshot of lessons learned the hard way. The record is rock with a spit shine -- its guitar-driven melodies steeped in disappointment, its lyrics ping-ponging between pessimism and hope. Vocally, it's clear Stinson's picked up some tricks from Westerberg. His delivery has the same energy, sneer and sarcasm of his former bandmate, but there's an endearing, wounded-puppy sensitivity beneath it all, belying a life that's had a lot of downs along with its ups.
Stinson credits the Replacements with saving him from a life of delinquency. Before forming the band, he'd been arrested twice for stealing. Later, the band caused a family rift when Stinson sided with his bandmates to throw his own brother out of the group. Bob later died from alcohol abuse at age 35, in February 1995.
Fourteen years since the group's disintegration into alt-rock also-rans, Westerberg in particular remains a source of bitterness and disillusionment. Stinson and Westerberg saw each other for the first time in eight years in January, when the two collaborated on music for Sony's upcoming animated feature "Open Season."
Ask Stinson about future collaborations with Westerberg, however, and his mood quickly darkens.
Will there be a reunion tour?
"No," he said, directing his full attention to the meatless burrito he was eating at the 101 Cafe in Hollywood.
"No," he repeated without further prompting.
It wouldn't be fun?
After a long pause, Stinson explained. "If they were throwing the kind of money at us like they were throwing at the Pixies, I would have to look into it because I'm in this to obviously sell records and make a living, but they're not," Stinson said. "And would it be fun even if they did throw that kind of money around? I don't know. It doesn't really entice me. Do I really want to go out and play 'Alex Chilton' again? I've done that. I don't know if I want to play with Paul live again because I've done that."
At Westerberg's initiative, a Replacements box set is in the works, but Stinson is getting involved only because "otherwise I'll get screwed," he said.
Stinson seemed much happier on the subject of Guns N' Roses and his work on one of the most talked about unreleased records in history, "Chinese Democracy." He and the other seven members of the group worked tirelessly on the album from 1998 to 2002.
"There are so many different musical textures and different things going on, you can't pinpoint it as just another drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll record, which is kind of what they celebrated back in the heyday. There's elements of that sort of a musical vibe in a way, but it's a lot more diverse," Stinson said.
"That record's really close to being completed and put out," he added, but declined to guess when exactly that will be.
"It's been scheduled every month for the last 10 years," he deadpanned, adding that once the record's out "there will be a flurry of chaos that I'll be thrown into."
Until then, he's focusing on his own music, which has been getting a slight boost from local station Indie 103.1, which added Stinson's "Moment Too Soon" last fall.
"It's Tommy Stinson," Indie 103.1 music director Mark Sovel said of his rationale for adding the song. "I grew up on the Replacements, and even if the record wasn't getting widespread play, it was still good songwriting and a good record. If he doesn't deserve a shot, who does?"