By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
"It wasn't fun. I quit."
After about 80 songs, Westerberg finally ran out of tape, which, he says, is what "finally got me off my ass." Rather than erase material, he contacted friend Darren Hill (who played bass on the 1993 14 Songs tour, as well as with the Red Rockers and who now acts as Westerberg's de facto manager) and asked him whether he wanted to take a listen. "Darren knew Rich [Egan] at Vagrant, and the idea of going back to a little label sounded kinda cool. [The rep for] being difficult is well warranted in my case. I am. I confess. I admit it now. I really couldn't see it at the time. But the truth is, I'm really not equipped to do certain things that a big corporation requires you to do. And the Replacements were never equipped to do that.
"Plus, the record probably cost me $1,000 to make. So whatever deal I made this time was the best deal -- times 300 -- I've ever made. Also," he says, laughing, "everyone [at the label] is 10 to 15 years younger than me, so they actually listen to what I say!"
The Father of Grunge, as he's often been described, says he's been jamming with a band that includes a steel-guitar player, top Minneapolis jazz drummer Michael Bland (a former Prince sideman) and bassist Jim Boquist of Son Volt -- but nothing's written in stone yet. "We have a country-folk thing going on the bass, this powerhouse R&B drummer, and I'm playing shitty little Keith Richards chords.
"It's different. And it doesn't sound anything like the Burritos," says the guy the Brits have credited as one of the fathers of alt-country/Americana (and who laughs when Ryan Adams' name is mentioned: "Well, my first idea was to say somebody should probably kick his teeth down his throat").
As for breaking up what many consider the most influential rock band of the '80s, Westerberg remains unapologetic. "It was obviously the right thing to do," he says in response to fans and critics who viewed it as almost a betrayal. "I think the real fans knew it was time. And let's face it, the real fans are pretty old now. I mean, the ones who never saw it will never see it again, because even if we got together, we could never be it.
"But I've got a lot of interesting [video] footage that nobody's ever seen, and I've also got a whole lot of tapes that nobody's ever heard, so if there ever is a let's-go-to-the-bank-and-cash-in reunion, I'm ready. And make no mistake: That will be the reason. I mean, I wanted Tommy to come and play bass in February because he was the only guy in the world crazy enough to do it. But if the Replacements reunite, we would want to make a bundle of money to rectify being screwed for so many years.
"I never signed any contract with Twin/Tone or Restless -- I had a lawyer tell me our contract was worse than James Brown's from 1962 -- so if they think they're going to continue repackaging that stuff, I don't think so. I want to get all the records together under one label and do it that way. And there has been talk -- but it's still just that."
Westerberg's lost touch with final Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap (though not because of any animosity), but he's friendly again with the band's original drummer, Chris Mars. "But even if Chris didn't want to do [a reunion], I would still be comfortable with Tommy and whoever else we had," he says. "I've talked to him more and more over the last six months. I do have a long-range plan. I haven't even told it to myself yet, so don't expect a scoop here. But there is no Replacements without Tommy. We'd probably have to take [late guitarist Bob Stinson's] ashes up there, too."
Tommy, of course, is keeping busy (well, maybe not that busy) as the only consistent member of the new Guns N' Roses. "It's the most fun he'll never have," jokes Westerberg of the never-ending (and barely starting) Axl Rose project, adding, "Look, I'm supposed to be the one who made money from the Replacements. And I didn't make any money, so he damn sure didn't make any. How can you begrudge him making a living [with Axl]?"
For now, then, it will remain Paul Westerberg, solo artist. "It's something I've always resisted doing," he says of the acoustic in-stores. "But I've got the Grandpaboy thing -- if I want a rock & roll band to play those, I've got that option. But right now, I can just hop on a plane, show up alone and not be forced to tell anybody what to do.
"Y'see, the beauty of Tommy and Chris was, I never had to talk or explain it to them. I'd move my toe or my head, and they'd just know. I've yet to really find that with another band."