Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner Keeps it Real
By Kyle Eustice
Sometimes you wonder just how long a band can hang on. Years go by without any output and then, as if they’ve realized their inevitable mortality, they come back with a vengeance, eager to jump back in the saddle. Soul Asylum is one of those bands. “Runaway Train” was a huge Grammy Award-winning hit in 1992. The single was a teenage angst anthem that catapulted Dave Pirner to momentary super stardom. Yet along with the popularity of flannel shirts and Doc Martens, the band eventually faded into obscurity.
“Grunge fucked it up for everybody. It wasn't fair at all. We were never a grunge band. You have a whole bunch of guys that used to wear plaid shirts because they were warm and now we can't wear them anymore. It screwed everything up,” Dave Pirner said in a 2012 interview with The Reader.
Candy From A Stranger tanked and the band was subsequently dropped from Columbia’s roster. Eight years would pass until Soul Asylum resurfaced with 2006’s The Silver Lining. During that time, Pirner was simply trying to do his own thing and reassess where he wanted to go with his music career.
“We lost our bass player and I made a solo record. All of that stuff was going on. It was a period of reckoning for sure,” he recalled.
In late 2005, ex-Replacements bassist (and current Guns N' Roses bassist) Tommy Stinson and former Prince drummer Michael Bland joined Soul Asylum. They finished their American tour in support of The Silver Lining in late 2006. However, that lineup was to be short-lived. On November 12th, 2012 via Facebook, it was announced that Winston Roye had replaced Tommy Stinson on bass and Justin Sharbono was Dan Murphy's replacement on guitar.
Soul Asylum’s new official lineup is Pirner, Winston Roye and newest member, Justin Sharbono. They have already been put to the biggest test when they spent weeks together on the road in extremely close quarters. Normally, Pirner travels by plane, but this time around, they’re all jumping on a bus together.
“So far, it’s been excellent. It’s great. We just spent 4 weeks together and it went pretty much without a hitch, which is all you can really ask for, you know. It’s never easy to be in such tight circumstances with a bunch of dudes that are trying to get the job done,” Pirner says. “So for all practical purposes, it’s very much a well-oiled machine at this point. There’s a bunch of other logistics, too, as far as the tour manager, the vehicle, the equipment and all this stuff and how it comes and goes. It’s all about the ability again to just sort of do what needs to be done. It’s working now. I knock on wood and cross my fingers that we can maintain it.”
While of course it’s impossible to predict the future, for now, the current incarnation of Soul Asylum is off to a smooth start. Pirner recognizes how important touring is during this digital age. Album sales are, at the very least, unpredictable, and they seem to be declining all the time.
“It’s really hard to gauge. It’s harder than ever to try to be competitive in a relative field [laughs]. To one degree, the music industry has shrunk to the size where it’s a whole new competition and the rest of the world is scrambling on the internet to keep up,” he says. “The ‘physical-ness’ of showing up has become more important than ever. Getting out of the house and going to a show seems like more work than it used to be. You can just stay at home and Google it or whatever. I don’t know. It does seem like physically being there has more of a cache than anything else you can do to get the music out there. In a weird sort of way, it’s always the way it’s been. It’s why I moved to New Orleans because I like that there is a lot of live music there. If people don’t support it, it just goes away.”
On the other hand, while Pirner knows how crucial it is to maintain a strong live presence, after so many years in the business, touring has taken its toll. As a person who loves museums and the ability to explore new places, that’s often not possible with such a hectic tour schedule.
“Touring has lost all of its allure for me. It’s not an adventure like it used to be because I’ve been to all these places and you know, it’s revisiting places where I’m not going to be able to visit a museum I want to. It wont be the first time,” he explains. “One can only hope that I will get to all of the museums one day because I like museums. I don’t have a lot of expectations to do a lot of tourist type things, even though those are the things I’d like to be doing. You get there, show up, you play and you leave. It becomes even more so the way we’re doing it now, which is to drive out after the show. We get done, drive to the next town and then wake up for the next sound check. You get on a cycle that’s just about being focused on the gigs. But that’s the way it should be.”
Spoken like a true musician. Yet, if Pirner could have his way, he’d hit up every museum along the way. If he were able to see any museum in the world though, he was stuck for a moment when trying to come up with an answer.
“That’s a good question. That’s a really good question because there are museums I haven’t been to,” he admits. “I would probably go to someplace in Moscow because I don’t know what that would be like. It would probably be a little bit different, but maybe not, maybe that’s what’s so great about museums.”