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Westerberg straddles musical styles

Paul Westerberg relaxes outside a coffee shop in Minneapolis.
Paul Westerberg relaxes outside a coffee shop in Minneapolis.
Jim Mone, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Half-rocker, half-folkie, Paul Westerberg straddles musical styles on "Folker."

The latest in a string of do-it-yourself projects recorded in his basement, his new CD (now out on Vagrant Records) features both pop confections such as "As Far As I Know" and guitar rave-ups such as the closing "Gun Shy" and "Folk Star."

It's not a hard switch for Westerberg, who remembers bringing both his passion for rockabilly and a "secret love" of Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell to the mix when he led the Replacements, a post-punk, pre-grunge band known for its boozy on-stage antics, in the 1980s.

"Folker" also includes Westerberg's tribute "My Dad," about his father, Hal Westerberg, a Cadillac salesman who died last November at 85 after battling emphysema.

"It's pretty personal, pretty personal stuff. Maybe the most I've let myself be heard, laid my soul on the line here," Westerberg said as he smoked an occasional cigarette outside a Minneapolis coffee shop.

In his low voice, Westerberg, 44, talked about his recent attempt to re-form the Replacements for a benefit; his work on music for an animated Sony Pictures film; his 6-year-old son Johnny; and his own struggle with depression and anxiety.

AP: What do you like about recording at home? Is it just comfortable for you?

Westerberg: It's convenient, I guess. But I mean, I'm doing all the engineering, and I flip the tape on and then have to hop over one drum set and crawl around the back and knock over the lamp and knock over a mike and try to get there in time for the count-off. And it's a challenge a lot. And that's a lot of where some of my sounds, they'll say, "Ooh, how'd you get this?" and it's like, "The mike was in front of the amp when I pressed the button. By the time I strapped the guitar on, it was on the floor, three feet away." So, happy accidents, kinda.

AP:Did you see Tommy (Stinson, former Replacements bassist who now plays for Guns N' Roses) when he was in town?

Westerberg: No, no. (laughs) We exchange messages. It's like our last flurry was, I think that, I spoke to him through an old friend. What I did is I tried to get the band together to play a benefit (for Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who's recovering from throat cancer) and needless to say not all three members were willing or had time.

AP:Could it still come off?

Westerberg: Anything's possible, but I don't see it happening right now. You know, I've dreamt about it, thought about, I mean, literally dreamt about it, where I woke up in a cold sweat.

AP:How do you think it would go?

Westerberg: It would be a wondrous disaster. I think we'd all retain what we had to begin with, and it would be a blast. It would be a lot of hard work, I think mostly for me, to go back and relearn the songs and the words. . . . A little bit easier for them, maybe, to kind of just thump along.

AP:What's the movie?

Westerberg: It's an animated feature. I won't even say the name, you know, because they'll (Sony) probably call me and yell at me or something. (Sony later announced the picture is "Open Season," featuring the voices of Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher and Debra Messing in a buddy comedy about a grizzly bear and a mule deer.) . . . It's a major, major deal, so that's why I've gotta keep quiet, and you know, its release is set for years away. . . . It's going to allow me to make any record I wanna make one day, again.

AP:Is your son musical?

Westerberg: Yeah, he's musical in an odd, sort of savant way. I've given him like a little guitar and a ukulele someone bought him, and there's a keyboard for him.

AP:Would you steer him away from a music career?

Westerberg: No, not if he showed the fire. I would definitely tell him the downsides of what to look out for. For example, we were watching "Jailhouse Rock" last night, and the scene where Elvis brings in his demonstration record, and the guy takes it and has his own artist copy it and rips Elvis off. And I was saying to him, "Johnny, watch this!" And he was drawing, actually. So he prefers art, which is fine by me.

AP:How are you dealing with your dad's death?

Westerberg: I'd been preparing for him to go, it wasn't like a surprise at all, you know. I wrote a song actually about him on the new record a couple months before he died. And writing it, I knew he'd never hear it. I mean, he'd probably never hear it anyways. (Chuckles.) He wasn't a big music fan, he was more into sports and news and things like that. But I'm glad I did it.

AP:Did your dad approve of your being a musician?

Westerberg: He got a kick when he would see the family name in the paper. He never thought I was working unless I was on tour or I was performing. He didn't understand the other, writing songs and making records and getting paid for making the record.

AP:But your dad never saw you perform?

Westerberg: No, I even played on his birthday, here, for those shows at the Guthrie (Theater), and for some odd reason he had me like autograph (laughs) the ticket for him, 'cause "That's all I want." Because he must have gotten great pressure from everyone else, like, "Aren't you going to see him?" And it's like, I've always maintained — and I still to this day — I'm perfectly fine that he never came to my office and watched me work, you know? It kept it pure that I was his son, that I was no more than the little boy he played catch with, who now plays catch with his son.

AP: How are you coping with your hyper-anxiety?

Westerberg: I went through my natural period where I had nothing and simply would exercise and tried to meditate, and you know, full circle to like, you know, using alcohol as a way to calm myself down. But I went to a doctor and he'd say stop smoking and stop drinking caffeine and we'll give you this little pill. I've sort of been through it. . . . I take a variety of things that I'm fairly loose with and I don't religiously take every pill that I've been prescribed, every single day. I'll take an anti-depressant every day and something usually toward the end of the day to slow me down. The classic "get-you-up-in-the-morning-and-knock-you-down-at-night," sort of Judy Garland . . . .

AP:How do you feel?

Westerberg: I'm far enough on the side of depression and anxiety that they really can't treat me without me having to suffer an episode of one of the two almost all the time. And so if I'm feeling extra anxious I'll take an extra something to make me calmer, and if I'm feeling more depressed I usually don't bother to, and then it ends up that seven people end up calling a doctor for me and saying, like, he's acting like this again and he's not eating and he won't do that. But whenever I see my son, my mood brightens and if he wants me to come to the Christmas play, and I feel like killing myself, it's like, damn it, I'll go to the play and watch it and enjoy it. So he's been a great addition to my life, I think.

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