Looking back, if there was a single driving force nudging Chris Mars, Bob and Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg out of a Minneapolis garage and into the world, it was desperation. So attests the latter, who notes, “We had no skill. [Guitarist] Bob [Stinson] was a cook, and I was a janitor. It was like, ‘We make it in rock’n’roll or we die trying.'”
More than two-and-a-half decades later, desperation isn’t much of a factor in any of their lives anymore. Chris Mars has given up music altogether and enjoys a second career as a painter (canvas, not house), Tommy is a solo artist who also pulls a steady paycheck as the bassist in the latest version of Guns ‘N Roses, and Westerberg is the proud father and homebody who enjoys family life, quietly making records in his basement, sometimes touring to support them, sometimes not. Of course, Bob died in 1995 at the age of 35.
When they were the Replacements, though, that desperation took the band far indeed. And, in a sense, that journey hasn’t really ended yet, despite the band’s split in 1991. The desperation nestled the band, and Westerberg’s sweet and smart, defiant and timeless songs, deep in the hearts of a generation of teens and 20-somethings who tuned left of the dial in the 1980s, eager to discover new sounds emerging from the American indie rock underground.
And even if Westerberg or Stinson act too cool to smile about it, they’re proud of the fact that it’s a cycle that’s repeated itself several times since, which has of course made the band one of the most beloved cult acts of all time. Unlike maybe the Jam, they didn’t really go out on top, but if they stuck around longer than maybe they should or could have, they didn’t churn out a crappy record before waving goodbye. “We left it before it left us,” says Tommy.
In the time since, the band’s legend has grown to mythic proportions. Generations of songwriters have utilized Westerberg’s songs as inspiration for their own, and bands from Coney Island to Los Feliz have tried to wrangle the Replacements’ elusive chemistry.
Now, more than 25 years after the band’s birth — as that legend continues to grow — Rhino/Warner is reissuing its entire recorded output, complete with new jackets and liner notes, and, more importantly, more music in the form of bonus tracks. The label has just re-released the group’s first four albums — “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,” “Stink,” “Hootenanny” and “Let It Be” (all recorded for the fabled Minneapolis indie Twin/Tone) — and the band’s refurbished Sire discs (“Tim,” “Pleased to Meet Me,” “All Shook Down” and “Don’t Tell a Soul”) will arrive later this year.
After pouring over the first batch of reissues, Westerberg was maybe a little surprised by himself. “I thought to myself, ‘Damnit, I was good. I was real. I know what I was saying, and this was real,'” while Stinson, understatedly, says, “It kind of makes you go, ‘Oh, yeah, we did something back then.'”
Indeed they did. And with any luck they just might do it again soon. Stinson and Westerberg, the only two original members in the band when it folded, have reconvened in the studio twice recently, and have even sat down to discuss a full-blown reunion. Coachella is interested, as are others, according to Stinson. Yet, drummer Chris Mars most certainly isn’t.
So, with the Replacements again on their minds for at least the moment, Billboard reminisces separately with Paul Westerberg, who calls from the same Minneapolis basement studio in which he’s cut all of his recent albums, and Tommy Stinson, who chats at home in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for more than a decade.
Click here to read Billboard’s Q&A with Paul Westerberg.
Click here to read Billboard’s Q&A with Tommy Stinson.