Interrogation—Jay Stringer Talks Replacements

Who: Jay Stringer

What: Jay Stringer was born in 1980, and he’s not dead yet. He’s English by birth and Scottish by rumour; born in the Black Country, and claiming Glasgow as his hometown. Jay is dyslexic, and came to the written word as a second language, via comic books, music, and comedy. He writes hard-boiled crime stories, dark comedies, and social fiction. Jay won a gold medal in the Antwerp Olympics of 1920. He did not compete in the Helsinki Olympics of 1952, that was some other guy.

Jay is the author of WAYS TO DIE IN GLASGOW, HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE and the Eoin Miller series. He is also the editor for WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN: STORIES OF CRIME AND HEARTBREAK, INSPIRED BY THE REPLACEMENTS, available Oct. 15 from Gutter Books.

Authors included in WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN: Hailey Ardell, Ed Kurtz, Rick Ollerman, Alex Segura, Gorman Bechard, David Accampo, William Boyle, Johnny Shaw, Jen Conley, Angel Luis Colon, Josh Flanagan, Eric Beetner, Mike McCrary, Rory Costello, Franz Nicolay, Tom Leins, Josh Stallings, Erik Arneson, Kristi Belcamino, Manuel Royal, Eyre Price, Jerry Bloomfield, Liam Sweeney, S.W. Lauden and Jay Stringer.

Where: Glasgow

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Your Replacements-inspired anthology, WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN, will be released by Gutter Books on October 15. How did this project come together?

I’d been toying with a couple of music-related ideas for years. One had been to put out a collection of short stories inspired by Lou Reed’s New York album. Another had been The Replacements. They’ve always been in the DNA of my work. Not long after Gutter Books released Joe Clifford’s Bruce Springsteen anthology, I mentioned on Facebook that I’d love to see a ‘Mats collection someday. Tom Pitts got in touch to say, well, why not right now?

img_0231Tell me about your fascination with the band. What makes them a good subject for this kind of anthology?

My own fascination goes back to my late teens. I’d been into grunge, punk, folk, country, and Springsteen. I was writing songs of my own that tried to combine all of these into one sound, and I was working in an independent record store. My boss liked to recommend new music to me, and one day he said, ‘there’s one band who will cover all of your tastes,’ And he was right. It was love at first listen.

Their songs conveyed complex emotions. They’re about mixed-up people. Sometimes in art and entertainment we tend to over-simplify. We boil people down to one note, we narrow a moment down to one simple emotion. But the real human experience is to be more than one thing. We hold contradictory opinions, we can be both ambitious and lazy, we can want something really badly, while also making it look like we don’t care. We can be miserable and happy. Love and hate. Kurt Cobain captured that for a brief moment, and people talked about it as if he was speaking for one specific generation, but I think those mixed emotions are something we all go through. The Replacements are the best embodiment of that, and it makes their work perfect for an anthology of honest, heartfelt, crime-ish stories.

What was the first album you ever heard by The Replacements? What is your favorite album? 

My first was Hootenanny. An album that captured them in a specific moment, figuring out that it was okay to grow and evolve. I can never really answer the favorite album question. It changes according to mood and time of day. Sometimes I just want the primal Johnny Thunders-inspired street rock of Sorry Ma. Other times I want the scope and ‘fuck it, why not?’ ambition of Let It Be. If I pick up my guitar, it tends to be something off Pleased to Meet Me that I play. If I’m tired or hungover, I want All Shook Down.

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Are there bands today that are following in the footsteps of The Replacements, or carrying the torch for them?

I think there are a lot of bands who have picked up a piece of the ‘Mats legacy, but none who have the total package. I still insist that Bobby Stinson’s guitar tone is what started grunge, and Cobain may have never said it, but I can’t believe he plucked the title Nevermind out of thin air. You can hear Please to Meet Me in the songwriting of Billie Joe Armstrong (to say nothing of his membership of the Les Paul Jnr club). There are a lot of bands like Beach Slang and The Gaslight Anthem who cite them. But ultimately, I think we see their legacy more in people who have picked up their spirit rather than their sound. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has paid tribute to them many times, and though Wilco don’t sound anything like The ‘Mats, they’re a band who continue to change and evolve, and Paul Westerberg gave a generation of writers permission to do that.

This collection features a diverse selection of writers. What’s the over all tone?

The whole collection feels like it’s falling on a bruise. I love that. There’s a wide variety of tones between the stories. Some are straight-up noir, some comedy, some love stories. We have tales of violence and death sitting alongside explorations of unrequited love, featuring single parents, criminals, and struggling musicians. Overall, it feels worn, wounded, but still defiant. You can tell this collection was inspired by the band who recorded both Sorry Ma and All Shook Down.

Authors chose the songs they wanted to write about. What songs were selected first? What unchosen songs surprised you?

I think the first three to go were Customer, Within Your Reach, and Darlin’ One. I pretty much hoped Johnny Shaw would pick Gary’s Got a Boner, and he did. I was surprised that a few of their more famous songs weren’t taken—Answering Machine, Can’t Hardly Wait, Skyway. I figured they would be definite choices, but nobody asked for them.

In addition to editing, you also contributed a short story called “I Will Dare.” Why did you choose that song?

I Will Dare has pretty much become my life’s motto. I spent too long putting up with shitty jobs, and compromises, then one day I listened to my favorite band while I was out for a ride on my bike, and that one simple phrase kicked me in the head. I Will Dare. Damn fucking right I will. I originally wrote a different story. It might see the light of day someday. It’s called Lay It Down Clown and it was about a depressed stand-up comedian who commits a crime. But then I was inspired by some of the emotional stories people were handing in, and I dived headlong into a story about unrequited love, a decades-old promise, and family ties.

Do you think that you would ever edit another music-themed anthology? If so, what band would you choose?

There’s room for many more, but I think it’s someone else’s turn to edit. I think if the same person did more than one band, we’d end up getting the same thing each time. I’d warn them it can be hard work. It’s a very rewarding experience, but it’s definitely something that needs to be a labor of love, because life doesn’t stop to give you time to do it. You’re still trying to write novels, hit deadlines, do live events, be in a relationship, socialize, all of it. Make sure you pick a band or a musician that you love. Make it the music that helps you through the difficult times, because that’ll keep you going to the end. That said, if anyone wants to do Tom Waits, Drive-By Truckers, Whiskeytown, Lou Reed or The Clash, I’ll be there.

Find Jay Stringer: FacebookTwitter, Website

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grizzly-seasonS.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in October 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.

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