The Baseball Project Hits a Grand Salami with New Album

Steve Wynn talks sports, supergroups and home runs 

The Baseball Project L-R: Mike Mills, Linda Pitmon, Peter Buck, Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey (Image: Marty Perez)

Steve Wynn could

rightfully be called an indie god. Or, perhaps more to the point, the hardest working man in show biz (the late James Brown aside, of course). Or, even more succinctly, a prodigious and ultra impressive multitasker. 

That may come across as outright obsequious, but the again, the praise is well deserved. One need only look at Wynn’s resume, one which includes some of the most significant names in what’s broadly considered the indie realms. His first major outfit, The Dream Syndicate, was one of the underground’s most prominent projects, lasting throughout most of the ‘80s and then successfully reformed a decade ago. He served in other noteworthy outfits as well, the supergroup of sorts called Gutterball, which also included  Stephen McCarthy of the Long Ryders, Bob Rupe from the Silos and Cracker and Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott, members of the band House of Freaks.

In addition, Wynn can also claim credit for being half of Danny and Dusty, a duo that found him paired with Dan Stuart of Green on Red, as well as various one-off projects that have taken him in various extraneous sojourns. He also has a strong solo career, both on his own and at the helm of his own band, The Miracle 3.

While he hasn’t abandoned those outside interests entirely, these days his attention is drawn to his ongoing ensemble, The Baseball Project, a supergroup of sorts formed in 2007. Aide from Wynn, the band currently consists of former R.E.M. members Peter Buck (guitars, keyboards) and Mike Mills (bass), along with Scott McCaughey, a member of The Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Linda Pitmon from Filthy Friends and the Miracle 3 (drums). The band has released four formal albums to date, including their latest, Grand Salami Time!, a superb set of melodic power pop that represents the band’s first album in nine years and is arguably their best album to date. It’s a joyful, jubilant set of songs reminiscent of classic late ‘70s and early ‘80s power pop, added and enhanced by contributions from producer Mitch Easter (who performed the same function on the early R.E.M. albums) and additional input from fellow travelers Stephen McCarthy and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.

Naturally, one has to wonder how Wynn manages to find time for his various projects, given the fact that he always seems to have a new project on his plate. Nevertheless, Wynn insists it fits into his plans perfectly, and in fact, it’s a band built to last.

“It’s a weird band,” he suggests. “It’s a very odd thing. If you would have asked me 15 years ago, if I thought this would be a band, and it would last longer in some ways than any of my other bands, at least in the unbroken length of time of being open for business, I wouldn’t have figured this would be the one. I think it comes down to a couple of things. One, we actually do really like baseball. And we find it just as easy to sit in the bar and talk about it as we do to sit in our studios and write songs about it. It’s the same muscle being exercised, drinking the last beer or two in the morning and saying, ‘Well, I think Ted Williams was better than Willie Mays’ or if you’re holding your guitar and saying ‘If I go from a D chord to an A minor chord on this song about Sandy Koufax it’s gonna sound great. It’s the same difference. So we might as well make a record while we’re at it. But to be honest, one of the main things that keeps his band going is the fact that the five of us really like each other, and like hanging out and making music together. I think that, if anything, explains why we keep doing it. We’re just a group of people who are friends with a shared history, a lot of stories between us, and our little clubhouse way of getting together and doing an odd thing, whether it’s standing on a stage or in a studio and singing about baseball.”

The Baseball Project Grand Salami Time!, Omnivore Recordings 2023

Oddly enough, the fact that they live in different parts of the country is another reason why the process works so well. “Another reason for us doing these projects is that we can have an excuse to get in the van and hang out together. Linda and I live together in New York City. Scott and Peter live in Portland. And Mike’s down in Athens, Georgia. Still, being far away from your bandmates isn’t that hard when you’ve been on for a while, and you know, how to play together and all you need is, like one rehearsal to get back up to speed at any given time. It doesn’t isn’t that hard, especially these days where you can practically be together between the email and getting on the phone or whatever. Nevertheless, we do find an excuse to get together, and being apart does give us extra reason to do so. That’s why we’re excited about the tour coming up, not just because, oh, man, we got to go out and promote the record or we gotta go out and pay the, bills. Both those things are true, but it’s also because we’re gonna have a blast. It’s going to be an adventure.”

Even so, Wynn admits that coordinating their schedules in the midst of all other obligations does take some strategizing.

“It can be tricky,” he suggests. “Everybody’s got a lot going on. I But I believe it’s not like work if you love it. Peter, and Scott are in a lot of bands at any given time, more than I’ll ever be in, and those guys at various times will have ten bands going between the two of them, that they’re both playing in. So that’s what I mean about being really tricky. Mike’s got his projects, and Linda and I do our thing. Nevertheless, we do make a point of setting aside time for this band whenever possible.”

Still, Wynn insists that he thrives off being a multitasker. “I think it’s fun to do things simultaneously, because each one feeds off the other,” he suggests. “For instance, last year, last year I did a Dream Syndicate record,  we went on tour behind a pretty trippy record. And now I’m kind of like reining it in, and being in a band where it’s all about finely crafted pop songs. So  you better be on your toes and be ready to hit the harmony on the last last line in the verse and then be ready for the chorus. That’s a different muscle. And it’s, it’s a different challenge.”

Clearly Wynn makes it seem like the challenge is worthwhile. Happily, all five manage to sync in the studio. “It’s a really different kind of band, especially the way we work on songs in terms of the songwriting. Most songwriters that I know tend to start with the music, and maybe have a title or an idea about what the song might be about. But in the Baseball Project, we start with with the words. So that’s kind of kind of different from the get-go. I’m sure there are plenty of songwriters out there who write the words first, but I think it’s in the minority. Also, we’re a band of five band leaders, five people who are used to being the driving force in their band, You could, say, on the one hand, that’s a recipe for disaster. There are going to be battles and fights, but we tend to trust each other enough to make it work. That comes from having done it for a long time, and having had a lot of experience. So if Linda comes up with a really cool beat to turn the song around, we’ll go with it. I think we kind of feed off each other’s input, rather than bristle against it.”

From what Wynn implies, the egos are submerged.

“I’d like to think that musicians, as they get older, become more accepting of other people’s ideas,” he muses  “When we’re starting out, we have a little more of that sense of jealousy or rivalry. It’s unavoidable. You start to think, ‘Wow, that guy’s getting all the credit. There’s silly stuff like that when you’re young, because you feel like you’re not being appreciated. As for the Baseball Project, this is probably the only band I’ve ever been in where I’m sharing the songwriting credits. I’m used to being the, the sole writer and the creative voice of every band, I’m in, at least to some extent. I cowrote in Gutterball and Danny and Dusty, But in this band, I’m only writing and singing half the songs. Scott, and Mike are bringing in songs, so I can sit back your favorite song on the new record? It’s always one of Scott’s because I love what he does. And he surprises me with his approach to things. I’m not just being magnanimous.”

Baseball Project baseball cards! (Image: Facebook)

Nevertheless, one might suspect that Wynn does have a way of being a diplomat and perhaps is generosity has something to do with purveying goodwill. Yet, to hear him speak, it’s clear he genuinely does enjoy the give and take the Baseball Project affords.

“When I was 23. I probably would have been a bit more guarded,” he allows. “Like, ‘What do you mean, you like Scott song? But it’s not that way anymore. I just kind of get off on making good music, where everybody adds something. And then I can sit back and say, Wow, I did not see that song coming, or that riff or that beat or that little, little moment that you brought to it. So I’m just blown away, and now it’s my favorite part of the song. That’s exciting. There have been a lot of collaborations like that over the years with other people, and to a certain point, I’ve grown to really like that about collaboration. I’ve written around 1,000 songs, and I’ve recorded about 500 of them. That’s a lot of stuff. And I hope write another 1000 before I’m done. But when somebody else comes into the picture, like Scott, or like Peter, or like people I’ve worked with and they bring something in that I didn’t see coming. It excites me. It’s like, ‘I didn’t know you could do that. Well, let me try something here.’ It’s the kind of collaboration I’ve enjoyed more and more over time. When I think I’ve run out of ideas, somebody else surprises me.”

Wynn also admitted that it’s nice not always being the frontman, or having to take on all the responsibility.

“It can be really nice,” he said. “But it goes both ways. I enjoy elements of all of it that with what we all do. It excites me in a different way. But I also love love going into a Dream Syndicate record where I have to write a bunch of songs and think of about what the tone of the record is going to be, and then be the sole writer, and hearing how the band is going to shape what I do with some improvisation. So that’s exciting, too. But that’s a different kind of thing. I really do enjoy being in a band where, where I’m not carrying the weight all the time, where I can just sort of look forward to being on tour, and playing some new songs that Scott wrote, where I will just be standing three feet away from the mic with Linda and Mike, as part of the rhythm section and coming up to sing it back in a song or two. It’s great putting the spotlight somewhere else, where I can share it once in a while.”

Ultimately then, Wynn is a very satisfied individual.


VIDEO: The Baseball Project “Disco Demolition”

“At the end of the day, we all ended up here. Everything we did brought us here,” he explains. “You learn all the things you learn. I had that this dream early on that I kinda liked doing this, but I was only 23 when I started out and I wasn’t looking ahead to 40 years later. If you last long enough, all you think is well I guess I got the gig so now so let’s have some fun. Let’s try something I never tried before. It might be weird and I might fall on my face, but what the hell, if I falls on my face, we’ll just pick it up and do something else next year. That’s kind a real liberating feeling. I think all of us feel that way. For all of the heights Peter and Mike might have hit with R.E.M., or that Scott had playing with them for the years he played with them., and for all the wonderful accolades I’ve had over the years, we’re all in the same place now, just five people who enjoy being in the playpen, messing around with all the toys and seeing what kind of mess we can make. I think this band brings out the best in all of us.”

To that end, Wynn says it leaves a band with a genuine sense of accomplishment, and the feeling that maybe they’ve actually become unintended ambassadors for the sport they have general affection for.

“I think our grand mission is to not just appeal to baseball fans but to music fans in general,” he allows. We’ve been doing that which is great. I don’t know whether the feel good or bad when I meet people along the way who say, ‘I never care about baseball until I heard your band and now I love the game.’”



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville, Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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