Best known as the leader of the legendary '80s alternative band the Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn has found surprising success in channeling his love of baseball into his songwriting. A few years back, Wynn found another baseball junkie, Scott McCaughey (best known for his work with the Young Fresh Fellows), and the Baseball Project was born. Now augmented with two REM alumni, Peter Buck and Mike Mills, the band has released three albums of songs strictly about baseball.
From a rehearsal space in Athens, Georgia, and in anticipation of his performance on Friday, August 15, at the Oriental Theater, Wynn talked about how he transferred his love for baseball into a viable musical project and how he's comfortable with the shadow cast by his former bands.
Darryl Smyers: Where did the idea for the Baseball Project come from?
Steve Wynn:Strangely, Scott McCaughey and I had never hung out together over all of these years, even though we have a lot of friends in common. We got to know each other at this party for REM's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We ended up in a corner of the room talking for hours. We realized that we were both big baseball fans, and we had this far-fetched idea about doing a record about baseball. We were kindred spirits on that idea, and we just ran with it. It happened very quickly. The time between that conversation and the record being completed was two months.
And you've just released a third album.
Yes, it's pretty wild. There are so many bands making records, and it is rare to be number one in anything. That goes for REM or some garage band in a corner. I can guarantee that we have written and recorded more songs about baseball than any band in history.
Each member of the band associates with one major-league team. Seeing that you are from Los Angeles, why did you pick the Yankees?
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I did grow up in L.A. and I was a fan of the Dodgers. But I didn't like them in the '70s because they were too squeaky-clean. I couldn't go with the whole Steve Garvey vibe. I wanted to be a rebel like the Reds and the A's, with crazy hair. I wasn't a diehard Dodger fan. It was come and go. I moved to New York twenty years ago and it is my favorite city. I always wanted to live here. I had to adopt one of the teams to be a true local and I chose the Yankees because the Mets were in the National League. That would be a conflict with my Dodger roots. It was all thought through. I chose the Yankees when they were in the midst of a long, Don Mattingly lead dry spell. I didn't jump on a bandwagon.
You did write a song about A-Rod.
There are a lot of songs about the Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. We were joking about that yesterday. I had to write about A-Rod because I was so disgusted with him. I think the entire steroid scandal started when he was with the Rangers.
How did you get Peter Buck and Mike Mills involved in the band?
That was a natural thing because we are all old friends. I didn't know Scott, but I did know Mike and Peter. We toured together in the '80s. This band, besides having people who love baseball, we are all old friends. Scott and Peter have easily played together in a dozen bands. When Scott and I started writing songs, his partner in crime was Peter. For me, it was Linda. We had played in bands together and we were a couple. It was a natural combination. The first gig this band had was the night before I got married. Our second gig was on the David Letterman Show. The third gig was at a festival in Spain. It certainly wasn't the typical way to start a band, especially a band about baseball. We've had a platoon system of bass players from the very start, but on this new record, we finally got to record as a five piece.
Are all five on this tour?
No, sad to say, Peter is involved with several things and couldn't do the tour. Mike is playing bass and Peter will make a few shows here and there. I don't know if he will make Denver, but I wouldn't rule anything out.
Are Buck and Mills big Braves fans?
Mike is a huge Braves fan. He is the only member who has supported one team from day one. The rest of us are fair-weather fans who like multiple teams, but Mike is Braves, Braves and only Braves. Pete is the least fan of baseball out of all of us, but he sees it from a literary and historical perspective. He is a student of Americana, so his favorite team is the Washington Senators.On this tour, are you only doing songs from the three albums about baseball?
When we started out, we only had the one record, so we played REM and Dream Syndicate songs. We also played songs from Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows. This time out, because we've recorded over 60 songs, we stick with the songs from the three albums. There will be some surprises here or there. We are a band with a catalogue, so we are going to be mixing it up every night.
Do you think some fans might come expecting to hear Dream Syndicate songs?
Early on, that might have been the case. We are touched and fortunate that people like our history. We don't shun that in any way, but at this point, we really fill the show with what we've done as a band. Fans seem to really love the Baseball Project.
Are there people who first hear the Baseball Project and are then turned on to REM and the Dream Syndicate?
It's that like people hearing Wings and figuring out that Paul McCartney was in the Beatles? I heard someone tell me that once. At this point, we've picked some fans from the baseball world, folks like announcers and front office people, some players and people who know the game. But I would have to say that most people who come to see the band know us from what we did before. I could be surprised. You never know.
The Dream Syndicate was such an iconic band in the '80s. Has the shadow of that band haunted your other projects?
Not so much. It is a good shadow. I am proud of what the Dream Syndicate did. And we are back together. We do shows sporadically these days. That has been great. When I went solo, I didn't stop playing those songs. I am proud of those songs. Now it's been 25 years since the band broke up. I think there are people who prefer my solo records to what I did with the Dream Syndicate. I think all of us will always be in parenthesis, former this or former that. It's not a bad thing. It's only bad if you hate what you did before.
The Baseball Project performs with the Minus 5 and Dressy Bessy o Friday, August 15, at the Oriental Theater.
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