Paul Westerberg Returns In 'Stereo' & 'Mono'
After a three-year absence from the music biz, Paul Westerberg is to return April 23 with a two-CD set on Los Angeles independent label Vagrant that spans both sides of his musical personality. The paAfter a three-year absence from the music biz, Paul Westerberg is to return April 23 with a two-CD set on Los Angeles independent label Vagrant that spans both sides of his musical personality. The package is to be set up as a single-disc Westerberg solo album, featuring first and foremost a collection of acoustic-leaning songs titled "Stereo." Inside will be an entire new album from the former Replacement's punk-veering side project, Grandpaboy, titled "Mono."
Whereas the 42-year-old's past solo efforts have mixed quiet and loud, there's a wedge between the two styles on "Stereo"/"Mono." "It will instantly sound like the first Replacements record, and it'll sound a lot like my last solo record," Westerberg tells Billboard in an exclusive interview, his first in roughly three years.
"One [style] always inspires the other," he continues. "As soon as I play with an acoustic guitar and sing a song where there's lyrics where I want you to hear the words, I get that out of my system. And my next instinct is to strap on one of my old, noisy guitars and pound out one that makes me sweat. So it's kind of a yin and yang thing."
Westerberg says his song surplus is partially a result of being a free agent for much of the past three years. He parted ways with Capitol not long after the release of his coldly received, Don Was-produced 1999 set, "Suicaine Gratification." "The fact that I wasn't on a label, didn't have a deal, [and] didn't have the responsibility to produce anything that sounded like anything else, I was able to amass so many songs that I found myself with one big pile of quiet songs and one big pile of rock'n'roll songs."
Hence the titles, the Westerberg album was recorded in stereo and the Grandpaboy effort in mono. Of the latter, he says, "I ran it all through an old Fender amp. And that's, like, the most ass-backwards thing in the world you would do right now with the technology that's available. But I love it."
Westerberg has spent the better part of the past few years at home in suburban Minneapolis, where in his basement he wrote and recorded the bulk of "Stereo"/"Mono" and "Suicaine." Shortly after the release of the latter, his son, Johnny, was born, helping to affirm his decision not to tour in support of "Suicaine." Well before his son's birth, though, the singer says he had already decided to take a break from the album-tour-album cycle.
"It wasn't like I wanted to stop and become a dad -- I just wanted to stop, and I became a dad at the same time. And, oddly enough, my rock'n'roll education certainly helped being a father in the beginning, so that staying up all night and not sleeping was no big deal for me. It wasn't like I was used to having to look good in the morning."
"I imagine he'll come bursting in here any minute, like he always does, and interrupt. That's the reason it's probably taken three years for me to get the record going. On, like, every f***ing take, I had to, like, start over because he would come bursting in the room. I left him on one."
Now, however, Westerberg is considering a return to the road. "I'm gonna have to come out of my hole and rear my ugly head ... How actually and [with] what configuration, I'm not sure yet."
For Vagrant president Rich Egan, working with Westerberg is a dream come true: "I started the label based on the inspiration of the Replacements and the impact they had on my life. And, now, to be working with him -- it defies words. I said to somebody, 'Imagine if you started a basketball team based on watching Michael Jordan play, and then Jordan told you he wanted to join your team, your sandlot team.' That's pretty much the equivalent of where I'm at right now."
Having first met Westerberg during a meeting with managers Gary Borman and Steve Moir several years ago -- Egan was an associate manager for Borman and Moir, and Westerberg was seeking new management -- Egan, now 32, remembers being starstruck, gushingly telling the singer that the revered Replacements album "Tim" "changed my life." As it turns out, recounting that meeting helped Egan secure the deal.
"That sealed it for me, just the fact that things have come full-circle," says Westerberg, who was also in discussions with Epitaph and is admittedly unfamiliar with such new labelmates as Dashboard Confessional and the Get-Up Kids. "It's like the guys who used to make the coffee are now the guys who are making the decisions. And the guys who used to be listening to the records are now the guys who are producing the records ... I think it's an opportunity for me to maybe align myself with a fan who is definitely bright and on the way up."
Click here to read excerpts from the Paul Westerberg interview, exclusive to Billboard.com.