The Baseball Project, which began as a conceptual (and honestly, a bit goofy) side project that came about from an assumedly flavored discussion during R.E.M.’s 2007 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, are currently a punk/ jangle pop/college rock-inspired outfit that may have just recorded the year’s best rock record. At the core of The Baseball Project is Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3) and Scott McCaughey (Minus 5, R.E.M.), who decided to put a lineup together that would honor their presumable greatest love, and America’s national pastime, by writing odes to the sport that are as quirky as they are informative as they are, as of recently, just plain kick ass. The band now officially includes drummer Linda Pitmon and Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M. Their third album, 3rd, is out next Tuesday, March 25th, on Yep Roc, a week before the 2014 season begins. It includes odes (and anti-odes) to the Phillies own entertainingly laughable Lenny Dykstra; Robin Yount’s younger brother, whom apparently played one major league game, in which he injured himself during a warm-up pitch; and Pirates’ pitcher Dock Ellis, who once tried to have his baseballs make contact with every single guy in the Reds lineup in a single game. There are also a handful of fictional tunes that existentially muse about baseball’s relationship with the very world in which we live. The band have no dates currently announced, but they apparently have a summer tour in the works. Steve Wynn and I recently got a chance to chat about the project, how much their latest album fuckin’ rocks, and all the perks of being a part of The Baseball Project… Oh and a bit of MLB commentary, as well.
Izzy Cihak: So since this is a Philadelphia-based publication and you’re all such baseball fans, I have to ask both, what are your thoughts on Philadelphia as a city and what are your thoughts on our Phillies, whether the current team or the team’s history?
Steve Wynn: I’m a big fan of Philadelphia and have had such good times and so many memorable shows there over the years. What can I say? The town of cheesesteaks, Connie Mack, Todd Rundgren, Dr. J, and so much more? Oh, and WXPN is a mighty good radio station who have always been supportive. I’m even over you guys grabbing Cliff Lee away from my Yankees, where I was sure he would end up. Then again, I guess we may have jinxed Roy Halladay with our song “30 Doc” so you just never know how things are going to work out.
Izzy: You’re about to release 3rd. How do you feel the album compares to previous releases? You’ve said that you’re quite proud of it and I would agree that it’s actually a really fucking amazing album, regardless of your other musical ventures or for being a “concept” project.
Steve: That’s the thing. We all think it’s our best record, and it’s a mighty good baseball record but most of all, it’s just a good rock record. We made most of it live as a 5-piece (with both Peter and Mike in the fold this time) and it feels like the best elements of all of our past bands. Just one of those sessions where everything clicked.
Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite album track? I’m obsessed with “From Nails to Thumbtacks” and not just because of the local connection…
Steve: That is a pretty damn good song and one that has the local connection, of course. I really hate to choose any one song. I like them all. It all fits together as one long journey — kind of like the baseball version of London Calling.
Izzy: So I’m usually more curious about a band’s non-musical influences but, since you wear yours on your sleeve, I’m curious what have recently been your most significant collective musical influences? Your latest album covers a pretty wide range of sounds.
Steve: We’re a band of music obsessives, always have been and still remain so. In fact, aside from Mike, we all worked in record stores at one point or another. So, what can I say? We all have good collections and a pretty big pool of history that we can draw from at any time. And new things always come along to tickle our fancy — one example being our new pals the Twin Tones from Mexico City. They blew us all away at Peter’s festival in Todos Santos and we ended up bringing their trumpet player, Alex, into the band for a few songs.
Izzy: You’re signed to Yep Roc, which I’m quite a fan of. What are your thoughts on the label? Do you have any particular favorite label peers? (I’m really into Cheyenne Mize and Peggy Sue.)
Steve: What a great label! I’m not just saying that because they pay the bills. It’s just an amazing roster. We played on their South By Southwest party this year and once my guitar was packed away I was able to enjoy amazing sets by Phil and Dave Alvin and then Tony Joe White. And that’s just scratching the surface. To quote our Yep Roc mate, Nick Lowe, “I Love My Label.”
Izzy: I understand that you have a summer tour planned. What can be expected of the live experience?
Steve: You know, at this point we have recorded about 60 baseball songs. That’s something I’m sure that nobody else in history can claim. And even if it’s not true, I’m going to claim it. So, we have a good pool to draw from at this point and I’m sure we’ll shake it up every night. Then again, I think we’re all most excited to play the songs of 3rd at this point.
Izzy: Since this project began you’ve been afforded a lot of really cool opportunities to experience the world of baseball up-close. What have been your favorite experiences?
Steve: It’s hard to top singing the national anthem at a July 4th weekend game between the Sox and Yankees. Then again, throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley wasn’t bad. Oh, and how about singing “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” at a Phillies game! Or talking movies with John Axford, or sharing a stage with Jack McDowell. Or having been on the field at about a dozen different parks in the last few years. Guess it’s hard to narrow down just one.
Izzy: And, finally, what are your predictions for the 2014 season? And your hopes, for that matter?
Steve: My hopes? That the Yankees ride Tanaka all the way to a World Series ring. My prediction? Hmmm… that one’s tougher. I’m gonna say the Dodgers over the Tigers in 6. Eventually I’ll get one of these prediction things right.