Tommy Stinson’s Life of Hustle

Tommy Stinson

“It’s mayhem over here,” Tommy Stinson exclaims breathlessly from his home in Hudson, NY. “I’ve got hand-stuffed boxes of my new Bash & Pop record with cool extra bits for contest winners ready to go out. I’ve got gear going out to the van, and I need to load my guitar. If you could see what the fuck is going on in my house right now…”

In his 50th year, the Replacements bassist—and frontman for cult power pop outfit Bash & Pop—still has the manic energy of a young puppy. He swears like a kid delighted at hearing the words fly from his mouth, and the new Bash & Pop album Anything Could Happen, the insanely belated follow-up to 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me, pulses with the optimism of youth. Since joining the Replacements at the age of 12 in 1979 at the urging of his brother Bob, who tragically succumbed to the tolls of hard living in 1995, Stinson has been all about the hustle. In between solo records, as if hell-bent on masochism, Stinson shouldered the bass for the notoriously volatile Guns ’N Roses from 1998-2014. Not only did he win over hardcore G’N’R fans, he survived the Wrath of Latter-Day Axl.

On January 12, the new and improved Bash & Pop touring band, featuring lead guitarist Steve “The Sleeve” Selvidge (The Hold Steady), Joe “The Kid” Sirois (Mighty Mighty Bosstones) on drums and Justin “Carl” Perkins on bass guitar, hit the road. With an opening date in his native Minnesota at the legendary 7th St. Entry, things have come full circle for the freshly engaged Stinson.

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The Active Listener’s Compilations Showcase Psych From Around the World

The Active Listener

In late 2011, New Zealander Nathan Ford started his music blog the Active Listener during some down time from his longtime job at a record store. As he explains it, “An hour after having the initial thought to start a blog, I’d set up the platform, come up with the name, and written my first post. All on a wet, quiet afternoon.”

From there, the Active Listener grew into a project featuring Ford and, over time, other writers reviewing releases by modern psychedelic, progressive, and acid folk acts—as well as, starting with its first anniversary, a Bandcamp site featuring an open-ended series of samplers with songs from the bands they reviewed. Along with further single-artist collections and themed releases, including a tribute to Love’s famed Forever Changes, Active Listener grew to become a busy and wide-ranging resource for bands and listeners all over the world.

Ford recently decided to wind down regular posting on his blog and Bandcamp site, celebrating with some final reviews and a last sampler to conclude 2016. But both sites remain live, for anyone to explore and listen to.

We talked with Ford about his work and goals, his decision to refocus, and what the future might hold.

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An ESP-Disk’ Primer

ESP DIsk

There’s a motto on the cover of every ESP-Disk’ album: “The artists alone decide what you will hear on their ESP-Disk’.” Coming from most record companies, that might sound dubious. But listen to any given ESP-Disk’ release, and you’d be hard pressed to argue. What profit-oriented businessperson would ever choose music this uncommercial, adventurous, and rebellious?

Bernard Stollman was not a businessperson when he started ESP-Disk’ in New York in 1963. He was barely scraping by as a lawyer, and had to borrow money from his mother to continue his label after its first release (a record about how to sing in Esperanto, the language that inspired the label name). Why take this chance? Because of Albert Ayler.

One night in 1963, blown away by an Ayler performance in Harlem, Stollman immediately offered to put out the saxophonist’s music. Soon, he found himself saying the same thing to dozens of free jazz musicians in New York. “I just plowed blindly ahead, without giving a great amount of thought to how it could be sustained,” he explained in 2012. “It took over from my law practice very quickly, because it was closer to my heart.”

Quickly is right: In September 1965, ESP-Disk’ released its second album, Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, alongside 11 other full-lengths from jazz artists including Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, and Ornette Coleman. Over the next 18 months Stollman put out 45 records—many by players who were appearing as bandleaders for the first time—and helped launch careers that continued for decades. Disputes over royalties complicated that legacy, but being on ESP-Disk’ added immeasurably to the stature of these musicians among free jazz aficionados.

The music these artists made for ESP-Disk’ still sounds bracingly original 50 years later. It’s mostly outward-bound free jazz, but the label also supported boldly experimental rock and folk. Many similar imprints emerged not long after ESP-Disk’ began—BYG-Actuel in France, ECM in Germany, and Emanem in England—that were just as innovative. But ESP-Disk’ was there first, and remains the prime model for independent avant-garde sounds.

Stollman folded his label in 1975, after which its catalog re-emerged periodically via official reissues and unauthorized bootlegs. He re-launched ESP-Disk’ in 2005, and though he passed away in 2015 at age 85, it continues today with his original vision intact. “I approached music with the tacit question ‘Is this art?’,” he once said. “Entertainment is something else.”

To welcome ESP-Disk’ to Bandcamp, here’s a guide to some of the best releases from the label’s early years.

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Bill Laswell Shares the Stories Behind Some of His Most Memorable Releases

Bill Laswell

With approximately 4,000 projects to his name since 1978, it’s fair to say that bassist-producer Bill Laswell has been around a block or two in his day. As house producer for Celluloid Records, he recombined New York’s rock, jazz, funk, reggae, and hip-hop scenes in the ‘80s with inspired abandon. In 1983, he struck gold with Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” which led to lucrative production gigs for Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Public Image Ltd., Motörhead, and Iggy Pop. In 1990, he bought Greenpoint Studio in Brooklyn and launched his own label, Axiom, which provided him with a home base for increasingly esoteric experiments in improvised fusion as he began reaching out to the sounds of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. At the same time, Laswell was laying down the sonic groundwork for aggressively avant-garde outfits like Last Exit, Praxis, and Painkiller while forging career-long relationships with looming figures like John Zorn and the late P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell.

Laswell’s currently moving forward with the combination musical collective and label Method of Defiance (M.O.D.), whose recent emergence on Bandcamp gives us the opportunity to check in on this free-ranging American original.

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Album of the Day: 아버지, “Reflection”

아버지 is the owner of the Business Casual, an imprint largely focused on future funk. But on Reflection, 아버지 mostly bypasses that genre’s usual peppiness. Essentially consisting of tiny micro-samples that are looped and looped and looped again, almost to the point of becoming maddening, its eight tracks don’t evoke the optimism and playfulness of bl00dwave or Ursula’s Cartridges, so much as they do an inescapable descent into claustrophobia and confusion.

In fact, Reflection barely even resembles 아버지’s work as the occasionally challenging (yet still recognizably vaporwave) chris†††. Its nearest benchmark is the latter’s No Lives Matter from March 2016; but where that record’s mechanistic repetitions still left plenty of room for actual melodies and songs to play out, Reflection traps the listener in a tiny box of infinitely-repeated blips and stutters.

This might make Reflection seem too difficult for its own good, yet it’s an impressive testament to 아버지’s talent that his subtle manipulation of microscopic source material can create such a powerful atmosphere of detachment and isolation. His ceaseless jolts disrupt time’s flow, and in so doing they make Reflection one of the most absorbing ambient vaporwave records of the past year.

Simon Chandler

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 아버지is the owner of BLCR Laboratories.