The Baseball Project's Steve Wynn on the Twins, Dream Syndicate, and origins

Categories: Q&A
thebaseballproject-summer2012-hi_Mary Winzig.jpg
Photo by Mary Winzig

The Baseball Project is a supergroup of four veterans of American underground rock and punk. Combining talents from R.E.M., the Dream Syndicate and Minneapolis's Zuzu's Petals, each member contributes 30 or more years of experience, and they are also huge baseball fans.

The band features Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Linda Pitmon. Their second record, Volume 2: High and Inside, is a selection of hits that play up baseball history, players and teams they're fans of, ballads such as "Here Lies Carl Mays," commentary, and yes, songs about the Twins, such as "Don't Call Them Twinkies," written and sung by guest artist Craig Finn, and "Fair Weather Fans," where Pitmon sings about the Twins in the '70s and today.

Gimme Noise spoke with Steve Wynn while they were taking a lunch break on the road to play Rock Island Brewing Company, in Rock Island, Illinois. From houses to stadiums, everything about this band is unusual. You can catch them tonight at the 400 Bar -- a bar which is like their second home.

How did it feel for the Baseball Project to perform at Fenway Park singing the National Anthem for the Red Sox vs. the Yankees double-header?

Steve Wynn: It was amazing! Fenway Park is one of the two great old stadiums in baseball - Fenway Park and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Now we've sung the anthem in one and threw out the first pitch in the other one. These are really the great fringe benefits of being in the Baseball Project. You get to do things you never imagined you would do. We did a good job, too! It's not the easiest song in the world to sing, I'll tell you that much! (laughs).

You've played at stadiums before.

SW: We did shows after the ballgame in Philadelphia and Milwaukee; we threw out the first pitch in Chicago. We've done bits and pieces here and there. But it was the first time we did the National Anthem at a Major League game.

Are you going to a Twins game?

SW: We are indeed! Yes! That's what we do! It would be pretty funny if you had a band called The Baseball Project and you actually hate baseball. We are all big fans, all four of us. We try, whenever possible, if schedule allows us, to see in a game. As it turns out, we will be able to squeeze in a Twins game between soundcheck and our show at the 400 Bar. So we will walk on to the stage of the 400 fresh from whatever happened at Target Field.

Tell me about the formation of The Baseball Project.

SW: The band began on the night before R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame five years ago. There was a big, lavish party. Great food, lots of celebrities, drinks were flowing and a good time was had. At the end of the night, with all that behind us, Scott McCaughey and I were propping up the bar at about two in the morning, and we started talking about baseball. I know Scott really well but I didn't know that he was such a big fan, and I don't think he knew that about me. We started talking about how each of us had always wanted to do a record about baseball. And I think when we knew out there was another guy out there threatening to do it; we figured we had to do it together so we wouldn't be the second one in line. (laughs)

Photo by Renata Steiner

And then Peter Buck and Linda Pitmon joined you two...

SW: Linda Pitmon is my wife and also has played with me for the last 15 years. She plays in my band, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3. And she's a Minneapolis native, and a Twins fan besides. She's a huge baseball fan. She comes from a family of many generations of big Minnesota fans, Twins fans and Millers fans back a hundred years. So that was a natural.

And Peter and Scott play together in about 50 different bands -- the Minus 5, Robyn Hitchcock, all kinds of different things. It was kind of a natural band to put together quickly. I should point out that once we decided to do something... it wasn't a plan to make a band that would last through the ages or have many records. We just wanted to get together, write some baseball songs and get them down on tape. It really has been a nice surprise to the band to become popular and last so long. It was just meant to be a quick little thrill ride and be done.

So there wasn't a lot of deliberation over how we would do it, who would be in the band. It was just like, "Hey! Peter, you play with Scott all the time, and Linda, you play with me all the time. Let's make a record.

What's Linda Pitmon working on currently and next?

SW: She's played with a lot of people: Freedy Johnston, Amy Rigby, Golden Smog - she keeps her Minnesota roots going as well.

Who writes the songs, and do you research for them?

SW: Scott and I write the songs, about half each and we almost never collaborate. Maybe that will change in the future. We each generally sing the songs that we write. We're both really big fans and so we write about things we know about and are excited about. We watch games, read books about baseball we've been following since we were kids. So it doesn't take a lot of research. But every now and then we have to go back and use the internet to make sure we're getting our facts straight. Because one thing you don't wanna do in a band like this is get our facts wrong. One wrong statistic and you know, one thousand baseball fans will come knocking on your door, telling you, you got it wrong. But we do know our stuff.

I saw that earlier in your life you were a sportswriter.

SW: I was! That's what I wanted to do with my life. When I was a teenager, I was writing sports out in L.A. I was already playing guitar, and writing songs and playing in bands. But that was a pipe dream. That's the kind of thing you don't imagine you'll ever be doing, so sports writing was my thing. That was the thing until punk rock came along and sidetracked me. And next thing you know, it's 30 years later and I'm making records for my life. The funny thing is, with the Baseball Project, I get to do both things - be a musician and write about sports at the same time!

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