Im sure just them getting together has sparked tons of rumors about reunions, but in a recent quote, Stinson pretty much said that he ruled that out, citing a number of factors. But one of the ones that jumped out at me was when he commented about Westerberg being in constant competition with his own past. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I suppose its sort of natural for anybody to be afraid to go back to some success of 20 or more years ago and think, can I resurrect that and make it as good? Im sure theres all kinds of trepidation in doing that. I think that one of the things about the Replacements that was so great was their spontaneity, and the idea of planning a reunion and going out on the road They had a whole different ethos back in the day, a lot of flying by the seat of their pants. They werent great every night. They didnt necessarily rise to the occasion in front of every audience they stood up onstage in front of.
How does that work for guys who are in their 50s? It sort of worked in an odd way back in the old days. It got to the point where some people came to the Replacements shows wanting to watch them get drunk and fall on their faces. The reason I fell in love with them was because they were great, not because they were awful, but some people just got off on the spectacle of it. Those guys arent hard partiers like they used to be, and so everybody wonders what the chemistry would be going back on the road. I think theres an attraction to doing it, and theres an attraction to letting the legacy be.
How involved were you with the documentary Color Me Obsessed?
Gorman Bechard, the director, is a really great guy, and he reached out to all of us early on. Its one of those things where the guys in the band and the people like myself, that were on the inner circle, so to speak, as you might imagine, over the years weve been hit up by lots and lots of people to talk and be interviewed for books, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or the Experience Music Project. Theres all kinds of people that want to talk about the band. At a certain point, its all flattering that people are interested, but its hard to talk to everybody who wants to talk about that stuff. And you dont know exactly how its going to turn out. You cant control those things. We werent directing the project or in charge of the project. So, we just didnt know what it was going to be, and it was like, oh, heres another person who wants to make a film related to the Replacements. We had been approached several times, and we all kind of said that were very flattered youre interested in doing it, you have our blessing, but were just not interested in being interviewed for the thing.
I have to say I was skeptical, to be honest, about the whole thing, and then when the director sent me a rough cut when it was nearly done, I was a little nervous sitting down to watch it, and I ended up absolutely loving it and being very engaged. My wife and I watched it together. Shes a huge fan of the band as well. Not to sound cliché, but we laughed, we cried, we were riveted. Maybe at that point I thought, damn, maybe we should have gotten involved with this; it turned out really well. But by that time, the movies done, so what are you going to do. And I think that the other thing is, too, that when you talk about being interviewed for either film or for journalists or authors, we actually figured that one day maybe somebody would write a real book, the real definitive biography of the Replacements, and thats happening right now.
You may be aware of it, a guy name Bob Mehr, a pop critic for the Memphis Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, a great music writer, great guy, approached us and said he got a book deal with a legitimate big-time publisher and asked if we would participate. I trusted him immediately, and I said yes. He said, can you help me get to the band, and I said, yes. He actually got to Paul himself through Pauls manager, but I helped him get to Tommy. Tommy was skeptical, but I said, look Tommy, dont you think the band deserves the right book to document the history? And he said, Yeah, Id like to think that we deserve it. And I said Bob Mehr was the right guy to do it, and if its not Bob Mehr, we could end up with some schmo writing it that isnt going to be as good or is writing it for the wrong reasons.
We were afraid somebody was going to want to write about, obviously there was lots of dirty water that went under that bridge with the Replacements, and the idea of somebody wanting to write about the drunkedness or the partying or whatever, I wasnt interested in talking to somebody who wanted to do that. I knew Bob Mehr wasnt that guy. So, I basically said to Tommy, he was still living in L.A. at the time, that Bob Mehr was going to be in L.A. in a couple of months, and hes going to come by the house for dinner and why dont you join us. I think once you meet him, youll understand hes the right guy. And if you meet him and you dont think hes the right guy, then so be it. Wed certainly accept you passing on the idea.
Tommy met him and pulled me aside afterwards and said, Absolutely. Hes the guy. Im with you, and this is the right thing to do. So, now we have the real Replacements biography coming, and thats because we were careful and cautious and didnt talk to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that called up and wanted to do an interview. Now weve got a great book thats coming out the spring of this year. I hope its going to be a great book; I havent read it, of course, but I trust Bob Mehr.
When you joined New West, did you just fold up Medium Cool, or did you allow it to get absorbed by New West?
Well, Twin/Tone was my label actually. Me and two other guys [Charley Hallman and Paul Stark] started it back in 1977. We had done tons of stuff between 77 and 91. In 91, I just had a wild hair and thought Ive been doing this with two partners for a long time, and they pretty much accepted most of the things. I handled, most of the A&R for the label in the early days, and it wasnt like I ever had to fight with them. But I thought, maybe Im going to try something thats going be absolutely my own project, and Ill do it through Twin/Tone. It was just an imprint of Twin/Tones to be honest, called Medium Cool. It was a little more I get to do whatever I want kind of thing.
I ended up making, I think, 13 records through Medium Cool. A couple with Tommy Stinson, a couple with Slim Dunlap. I did couple records with this great writer from down near Athens, Georgia, a guy named Jack Logan and a handful of other things. We just had a great time. And that was in tangent with Twin/Tone between 91 and 97/98. And then at that point, wed had several partners with Twin/Tone. We were a small independent label from Minneapolis, and we had different people who were affiliated with us, who helped us financially and helped us with distribution, etc.
Around 97-98, we just kind of felt that maybe Twin/Tone and Medium Cool had run their course. We thought, lets fold up the tents. Well keep the back catalog active, but were going to quit making new releases. So, thats what we did; we closed it up. Wed been affiliated with a label out here in L.A. called Restless. In fact, I moved out here and worked the Medium Cool stuff through their offices from 95 through 98. We just decided to fold up the tents, and we did that. So, in 98, I was thinking what am I going to do next. Ive been doing music for a long time, and Ive had a good run; maybe its time I go and do something else.
I was exploring my options, and the next year, 99, I got a call from Cameron Strang who had a one-man label called New West and was interested in expanding it slowly and thought I might be a good guy to get involved with. He liked some of the work Id done with Twin/Tone and Medium Cool, and he knew I had moved to L.A. where he was. He said, Would you like to join up with New West? And after meeting him a couple of times and talking about what he wanted to do with the record label, I said, Hell yeah! So, its a completely separate thing, but now were kind of getting a little bit of that old Twin/Tone stuff folded in here at New West. I have to say it was quite jarring a couple of months ago when I started putting together the list of credits, what we call label copy; here I am sitting at my desk at New West Records doing label copy for a Replacements EP. Fuckin hell, whats happening here? Pinch me, am I dreaming? Its a nice sort of, not to sound cliché, but a full-circle sort of deal.
Well, speaking of the Replacements and New West. You once commented on Westerbergs evolution as an artist from a rocker to his current mellower self. Have either you or he entertained the idea of joining New Wests roster?
We have actually. We talked very seriously about it back around the time he was recording the songs that came out on those two records, one called Mono and one called Stereo. We had talked very seriously about New West signing Paul and doing those songs that he was recording, which later came out on Mono and Stereo. It just didnt come together.
Paul and I had gone through a lot of stuff since we met in 1980, and I think we were both a little, Wow do we want to go back there? We certainly had our ups and downs, professionally and personally, and for whatever reason It wasnt for lack of trying. I think we both wanted to work together again. It just didnt ultimately make sense, so he decided to go to Vagrant. And that was fine.
One of the things that was probably an issue, not like this was a deal breaker at the time because the deal just didnt happen, but looking back on it, one of New Wests primary strengths is that were really a good label for artists that want to tour fairly regularly, and thats something that Paul doesnt want to do, or at least didnt at that time. I dont know if hes going to want to do that. If the Replacements do some stuff, hes probably not going to hit the road for six months. But that was something that in the back of my head I probably knew he wasnt going to do, and maybe that part of the equation with New West was something that subconsciously deterred us. I dont know.
Anyway, it didnt work out. I think under the right circumstances, Id love to work with Paul again, and I hope he feels the same. Im probably going to be at New West for a while, but you never know about that. Maybe well make some records together at New West; maybe well make some records together somewhere else; maybe we dont ever make records again. I dont know. Its a possibility, though. I love the guy, and I think hes still got it. I think hes still capable of painting another masterpiece, and I think tons of his solo stuff has been phenomenal. Obviously, Ive worked with him for a long time, but Im a huge fan of his work, and I would certainly consider that possibility.
Two of my favorite albums since the turn of the century (that sounds so weird) were New West albums: Chuck Prophets No Other Love and Blame the Vain by Dwight Yoakam.
Wow! Two of my favorites, too.
I know youve said that New West doesnt focus on specific genres, but the roster it does seem to favor the alt-country and country. Why do you think that is?
Well, I think, if you reallylook at all the records we did, Im always quick to point out to people that the first two records on New West were flat-out punk rock records by the Kelly Deal 6000. We also did a record with Stan Ridgeway from Wall of Voodoo. Thats hardly alt-country. Weve done the John Tiven Band, which is a blues-based group from Memphis. We did Vic Chesnutt. I think hes his own category all together, as unique an artist as Ive ever heard and one of my all-time favorites. We did a record with Alice Cooper for gods sake.
I read that, and that blew my mind. How did that happen?
Our first kind of sizable office we had some extra space, oh back in 2004, and so we rented out a couple of spaces to some other music business people. We had a producer/publishing guy by the name of Steve Lindsey, who did all kinds of different stuff, a crazy diverse list of things in his background. He produced a Leonard Cohen record; he produced a Burt Bacharach project. He had done work with Cher, and he did a lot of urban music at that time. He had been friends with Shep Gordon, Alices manager since 68, since Alice Cooper was started. He had known Alice and had actually worked on a record with Alice previously. So, when Alice called him up and asked if hed like to produce a new record, he said yes, and they started talking about where to record. We had a studio in our old building in Beverly Hills. It wasnt like a tracking studio, but it was a great over-dub room.
When we heard Steve was working with Alice, Cam, the owner of New West, said if you need a room to do any work, wed certainly be happy to have Alice come here. So he did. He came in and did all the vocals actually, in our studio. He came in at night, most of the time, when nobody else was around. I think he liked the vibe of the building. I know he used to come into my office all the time, when I would work late. Ive always been one to plaster my walls floor-to-ceiling with old rock & roll memorabilia and posters and things. He really enjoyed that, and he used to come and look at stuff on the walls, and we kind of developed a little bit of a friendship. It just really sort of blossomed from there. It was like, I wonder if New West would be interested in doing this. Hed been working with a company, some international company. I forget what they were called. So, they said, would you be interested in doing it? Again, when I heard some of the tracks… I had been a big fan of the early Alice Cooper records; I saw him live once when I was 14 opening for the Mothers of Invention. I was just blown away, right when the first album came out, Pretties for You, 1969.
So, we just took a shot at it, and we had a really fun time. He was a great guy to work with, but anyway, I think were digressing from the point of your question way back. How do we get the alt-country thing? Whats interesting about it, when Cam started the label, he started it with Kelly Deal. That was why they did the Kelly Deal records first, and then Kelly decided she didnt want to be in the label business. She just wanted to be an artist and had enough of the label ins and outs for two records. Cam said he wanted to keep the thing going and went to South By Southwest, as you do, to network. He literally went to visit a friend, knocked on a door, and it was the wrong door. He had gone to the wrong room number or something, and the door opened, and it was Billy Joe Shaver. Cam was a big Billy Joe fan, recognized him, and if you know anything about Billy Joe, hell have a conversation with a fence post; hes just a very talkative man, and so they started up a conversation.
Billy Joe said you got a record label, and I dont have a record label right now, do you want to do a record, and so he figured out a way to finance a Billy Joe record. That turned out to be a wonderful piece for us called Victory, an acoustic record he did with his son Eddie. Im not sure how the story goes, but I think Billy Joe introduced him to Stephen Bruton, and it was kind of like one Texas artist begat another. Cam had a wide variety of taste, but when youre a small label, sometimes having a niche can really help you build a platform from which to work. So, thats kind of how it happened, a little bit snowballed. Stephen Bruton introduced us to Delbert McClinton, and that was our first really big artist.
Later on down the road, Bruton introduces us to Kris Kristofferson. Bruton had been Kriss guitar player for many years. Because we got along so well with Stephen and Kris didnt have a label, Stephen certainly gave us the thumbs up, and we ended up making a couple of records with Kris Kristofferson. And we were good at it. We found that we were naturally good at selling those records. I like everything; I like all kinds of music. To me, as long as its great, I dont care what kind of music it is.
So, thats how it worked. We still do some different stuff. Weve got some very decidedly non-alt-country things right now. Its kind of funny, every couple of years we take a crack at something else and see what happens. Sometimes were successful, and sometimes were not as successful as other times. And the business is changing almost hour to hour these days. Its not like you get settled, eight to 10 years go by, and suddenly the industry changes. As you know, its evolving so fast and so drastically, its crazy.
When asked what your greatest career challenge was, you said it was handling A&R at New West. Even more so than when running Twin/Tone?
Yes, in some ways. With Twin/Tone, it was my label, or part my label, and we also all had day jobs that were paying the rent. I ran a record store and was a DJ. My partner Paul Stark was a sound man and kind of an entrepreneur in different facets of the music business in Minneapolis. The third partner, Charley Hallman, was oddly enough, a sports writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the daily paper. It wasnt a hobby by any stretch, but we werent relying on the label to pay the rent. And to be honest, I am not a business man. I dont have a business bone in my body, and so I just basically followed my heart, and those guys talked me off the ledge a few times and other times let me follow my heart.
Like the Replacements thing. You have to look back on that. At the time, people made fun of me for latching onto that band in the early days. I remember somebody saying to me, Peter, this is real smart. Youve got a 12-year-old bass player. Im sure this is going to work. It was just one of those things. I was blindly in love with the band, and I didnt care what other people thought. I believed in them, and I was going to stick with it. We were able to do those kinds of crazy things.
Fast forward to 1999 and I come to work with Cam Strang at New West, and Cam is very much a business man. Cam is one of the few guys that Ive ever known in this business that can really straddle the fence between the creative and the business. I need to stay on the creative side of the fence; I have no place on the business side. He was looking to build a company that not only made strong artistic records but handled the business side of it smartly, which was something, frankly, that Twin/Tone didnt do. Not to say that we did things badly or dumbly, but because we werent looking to Twin/Tone for an income, we were able to take all kinds of crazy chances. To do A&R well, youve got to do a whole bunch of stuff at once. Youve got to have a lot of balls in the air, and thats not an easy thing to do.
Frankly, Im not especially good at it. I like to get involved with a project and follow it through to its completion and then go on to the next project. Almost more like what a producer does, and I really am doing more producing these days, producing a lot of archival stuff rather than new, young bands in the studio. Im better suited for that. Im a little older now, and Ive done A&R for a long time, handling production and catalog for New West, and Im really pleased about that. But, yeah, the biggest challenge. It was a difficult situation because Im a very artistically oriented guy. Ive butted heads with the business side of the company many times, and Im glad to be out of that part of the operation to be honest.
When the question came up about what Twin/Tone acts you’d want to sign for New West, you said the Jayhawks. At the time you answered that question, the Jayhawks werent back together; now they are. Any thoughts about stealing them away from Rounder?
Oh, I would love to work with the Jayhawks. You know, we did a record with Mark Olsen and Gary Louris the first time they got back together, the two original singers. They broke up in 95; well, Mark Olsen left in 95, and Gary carried on with a different lineup with the one lead singer, himself. I would love to do another record with the Jayhawks. Im not sure theyre really back together again. They made that record for Rounder and did a bunch of touring. Maybe theres a version of the Jayhawks without Mark Olsen; I dont know, but I would certainly love to get involved with Gary. I think Garys one of the best writers in the world. Id work with him in a heartbeat if the circumstances were right. Hed have to be interested as well, and hes got a lot of friends in the record business and a lot of people vying for his attention, people at other record labels that want to sign him, and maybe people that have more money than we do, whatever it is. Not that Garys in it for the money, but to some extent you have to watch what youre doing carefully.
Any exciting new acts or releases on New West that we should pay attention to in 2013?
We signed Richard Thompson. Our first Richard Thompson record is coming out February 5th. I just think thats absolutely, excruciatingly exciting. I was a huge fan of Fairport Convention, his first band, and a lot of his post-Fairport, his solo stuff, so its a great honor and thrill to be working with him. Weve got a new Steve Earle record coming in April; weve done four with him, and I think this is he best that hes done since his time at New West. Hes back with Ray Kennedy producing. Its just a wonderful record.
We also have a band called the Wild Moccasins, from Houston, who are these young kids. Theyve got a girl singer, and its almost, to me, like a modern update on Blondie. Its just really fun stuff, not alt-country by any stretch. In fact, I think theyre doing some work now with the singer from of Montreal [Kevin Barnes] producing. I just heard some demos yesterday, so theyre on my mind.
Weve got another Delbert McClinton project with his friend Glen Clark, and thats called Delbert and Glen. Were going to be working with Patty Griffin. A lot of really great stuff coming up and some other things that I cant talk about that are in discussion.