With their 11th studio album titled Change Of Fortune which comes out on March 18th, Dave Pirner (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Michael Bland (drums, backing vocals), Winston Royce (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Justin Sharborno (lead guitar, backing vocals) of Soul Asylum are making quite a comeback, and we had a chance to get caught up with Dave Pirner just as he returned from a close friend’s funeral in Washington D.C. While he misses his friend Jim and the funeral was sad, it was a celebration of Jim’s life and a “Big Chill” moment with all of his friends he grew up with and hadn’t seen in 25 years! However, it wasn’t the same since one person was not present. Just a shame it usually takes a wedding or a funeral for everyone to reunite. With the recent passing of many iconic musicians since the start of 2016, this just brings a more intimate and personal feeling of pain and loss for Pirner but he was in high spirits and could not express enough just how much he missed his dear friend and was happy to have had him in his life.
Originally called Loud Fast Rules, Soul Asylum was founded by Pirner along with former members Dan Murphy, Karl Mueller and Pat Morley in 1981. Pirner says “I was in a band called The Shits and it was probably our last gig and a club that used to be called The Longhorn which all of the Minneapolis punk bands I was a fan of played at. It was kind of like the CBGB’s of the area and Danny and Karl came down to see us play and I think it was the first time they saw me. Karl was bagging groceries at the time and I was in high school and I met him through a friend I had just seen at my friend Jim’s funeral. I swear sometimes it seems like life is flashing before my eyes.” Pirner goes on in detail about the formation of the band and says “Danny and Karl went to Marshall High School and I was wondering who the heck these guys were that were dating all of the girls at my high school. Karl was just awesome, he was a total punkrocker and Danny was in a band called At Last and they played Stones and Zeppelin covers but the punk thing was just starting up back then. I realized that Danny was teaching Karl how to play bass and my band was breaking up and I just thought these guys were really cool. Over the summer, we just decided to start a band and we did and I was the drummer.” Pirner emanated his passion for playing the drums and how much he loved them and wanted to be a drummer. “There was this rockabilly band that Pat was in as well as being in Dan’s band At Last,” Pirner says. “We ran into the people who were booking the 7th Street Entry and we gave them a horrible demo tape which even included the song Taking Care Of Business and some other songs but we were young and funny enough that we were able to get gigs. Because we were still trying to learn our instruments and the music business organically, it made things a lot more interesting. Once we were signed by Twin/Tone Records, that is when it hit me. I never thought we would have made it that far but we did and it still blows my mind till this day, to know I was actually going to be able to make a record while I was still wanting to stay in school.” Recalling how the band went from the name Loud Fast Rules to becoming Soul Asylum, Pirner goes into detail about how he just felt the band was sort of pigeonholed with that name and they would never be able to do much more with it musically. “Now, it worked out for bands like Metallica but for us, we needed to come up with a name that would allow us to be limitless musically. I had written a poem called Soul Asylum and I was just coming up with anything at that point,” Pirner tells us. “Danny and I had pieces of paper on a bus just going through them and I suggested that name and everyone agreed. Unfortunately, Pat amicably decided to leave the band because the rock n’ roll lifestyle really wasn’t his thing so we brought in a different drummer and recorded Made To Be Broken and things took off from there.”
Pirner’s first obsession was playing the drums but later switched over to do lead vocals and rhythm guitar for Soul Asylum and as it turned out, the drums weren’t his final destiny. With quite a pool of musical talent, we could only wonder what inspired him to pass the sticks on to someone else and become the frontman of one of the more poignant bands to come out of 80’s and early 90’s. Their 1992 album Grave Dancers Union when went triple platinum and launched their hit ballad Runaway Train. “I was writing songs and I knew that I had been the frontman with my first band and it was really what I wanted to do but it still blows my mind that guys like Iggy Pop and Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder had started off as drummers but it does teach you the detrimental fundamentals in playing music and writing music,” Pirner expresses. “At that point, I was just learning the foundation of beats and things like that but in the end, I ultimately wanted to be the frontman. I still love the drums and always will but as soon as we found an amazing drummer I didn’t want to let him go. The drums can make or break a band and when Sterling left to go play drums for David Bowie, I was traumatized but I couldn’t blame the guy. It made me decide to go back to the drums and it definitely worked in my life for stress management” Pirner jokes. “A few drummers later, Michael Bland came in and that was it. He was just incredible and held the show together and I had no choice at that point.”
Pirner’s mother was one of his main inspirations musically when he was growing up and he remembers fondly how she sang in church and also his sister who played the clarinet and the saxophone as well as attending music camps. “My sister was in a band and I would actually go to school before it started just so I could play in the jazz band. It was just amazing” Pirner says. “A friend of my sister’s was a badass drummer and when I entered the third grade, it was time for me to pick my instrument and my mom wanted me to play the piano which was probably a good place to start but I didn’t want to play the piano. I wanted to play the trumpet especially because it was the loudest instrument in the band. But I played it for years and took the lessons and practiced day after day but I just never really grasped how to play it to the level I wanted to. Once I went to New Orleans, I realized and saw this guy playing the trumpet, that is when I knew I didn’t know what I was doing and that was what was missing in my childhood” Pirner says with a chuckle. From there, Pirner picked up a guitar and started playing along to Ramones records and thought to himself “wow, I can do this” and he did.
When bands start out, they hope for the best and of course, they go into it with the expectation of becoming successful and becoming the next best thing and staying relevant for years to come. Not all bands reach that point and the music industry has definitely been one that is defined by only the strong survive. When the musicians in a band or the solo artists truly love music and remain true to themselves and their sound, they can attract lifelong fans. Soul Asylum is one of those bands. Starting off in the early 80’s and peaking in the 90’s, they have continued to put out music over the course of 32 years. Pirner feels so fortunate to know that they still can put out albums and tour and people still listen to them. “At first, I felt like a deer in headlights. Touring and playing all over the world, photo shoots, it was intense but it was pretty cool and you’re in Tokyo and it seemed like more was accomplished during a radio show than during a live show” Pirner says. “We were forced to fly all over the place just to do press and I felt like we should have been spending more time playing live shows and it was frustrating and it never made sense to me. I was always thinking well, why don’t we play while we are here but it was all about press. I didn’t want to ride around in limos and do interviews all day, I wanted to play music, that was the whole point. But, in retrospect we are lucky we caught the tail end of the music industry and it is so great to have been a part of that and whatever it was that made all of these rock bands important. Bands that came in before bands like Nirvana. Regardless, I am always trying to make more music and better music and not lose my edge and just keep going. It took my entire adult life to make it happen and we still struggle. I just tell people to come see Michael plays drums, that alone is worth the price of admission.” Pirner’s philosophy is that without patience, passion and persistence, you won’t get far in the music industry and this could be pertained to anything really. “I just wish people were still buying records these days and I could complain how computers choose our music for us but the world is better with music and if you are turned off to music because your computer picked the wrong mp3 then you didn’t try hard enough or perhaps you don’t love music enough but there really is nothing better than going to a record store and purchasing an album,” Pirner concludes.
2016 has been a series of loss for the music industry. With the loss artists like David Bowie, Lemmy Kilmister, Glenn Frey, Scott Weiland, Jimmy Bain and others, it has impacted musicians and fans alike. Soul Asylum took some time off and while we knew this was a hard subject to talk about, we wanted to discuss the life of one of the original founders of Soul Asylum, Karl Mueller. Mueller passed away in 2005 from cancer and we can only imagine what kind of a traumatic experience this was for not only Pirner but past and present Soul Asylum members and their fans as well. “We were spending time in New Orleans and that’s when I submerged myself in the music. I had done a solo record and once I came back from touring and we did the next Soul Asylum record, that is when Karl got sick” Pirner sadly recalls. “He barely made it to the end of the record and death can be hard and at the time, I came close to walking away from it all and till this day I still hate being on this planet without him. Anyhow, you have to carry on and I know that’s what Karl would have wanted and Tommy Stinson stepped in and took over for Karl and it just naturally brought new enthusiasm and we were off and running again. But, then he was gone and it gets harder when you have families and then you have to play at hockey games,” Pirner says with excitement.
Change Of Fortune will be Soul Asylum’s first album since their 2012 Delayed Reaction scheduled for a March 18th release and Pirner has assured us this new album was done with a lot of nurturing and while everything can be done digitally which saves money on recording nowadays, it worked and to that effect he says he is incredibly happy with the record and the band and how he sat down and thanked the members personally for their part. We can anticipate an upcoming tour to promote the album and many more years of Soul Asylum.