When Soul Asylum hit it big with 1993's "Runaway Train," the band itself may have been as surprised as anyone. This natty little punk band from Minneapolis was now playing arenas and enjoying all the accoutrements that go along with such success. Problem was Soul Asylum were never really cut out for the big time and the band's time there was decidedly brief.
From a tour stop in Colorado and in anticipation of Tuesday night's show at Trees, lead singer Dave Pirner talked with DC9 about his band's lengthy career and how the band went back to basics on the recently released Delayed Reaction.
Is the new album's title referring to anything specifically?
It came about in kind of the usual way. We throw around a mess of titles and someone says that one is sort of working for him. I had a list of many, many titles and management told me that this one had traction. The folks at the record labeled liked that one so I said OK. I had a lot of titles to choose from but this one had a lot of practical applications. It was about seizing the moment. I live in the south now and people react different down here. Sometimes, your life could be over and you're sitting around thinking, shit man, I could have had a V-8.
The new record features Tommy Stinson [Replacements, Guns N' Roses], but he is not in the touring lineup.
He got the call from Axl. He is kind of in and out of the band depending on what Axl Rose decides to do. That got kind of old.
The new album has gotten some great reviews, probably the best since Grave Dancers Union in 1992. Did this surprise you?
I guess I am because I haven't read a single review and people tell me that they have been positive. That is always a good thing. I don't read any of that shit because it psyches me out. If you believe the good things people say about you, you have to believe the bad things, too. It's just people talking. I do think that it's a record that we put a lot of time and effort into and I am real proud of it.
Do you consider it a comeback record?
It's just another Soul Asylum record. We go about making records the same way we have since day one. We had no fucking idea what we were doing. There is a lot of learning that has gone on since the band began. It's all demonstrated on this record. We used to go to L.A. and New York and work with these expensive producers in expensive studios. We used to need that kind of help and now we don't. That makes this record an extra special effort for me. It was so hands-on. It was hand-made by the band.
The album has a very back-to-basics feel. Was it your intention to go back to the sound of your earliest recordings?
I've heard that and that's cool. I think it has a lot to do with [drummer] Michael Bland. He has an angle that I have when I play the drums. It's let's fucking rock out. I was reading a drum magazine and the magazine said Michael Bland is credited with bringing Soul Asylum out of its mid-tempo malaise. That is probably true. We were trying to find a place where making music made everybody happy. And that is not what it is about. That's not the way we started out. Before, it was we don't give a fuck. We're more like that now. I really feel good about that. There comes a point where you can't worry about everything. It can't have everything to do with commerce. It got to a point where people were confusing making music with making money. That part is over now.
Since you began as a punk band, but found more mainstream success with the mellower material, are there two separate audiences for your music?
It sort of has always been the same. Some people want to hear the mellow shit and some people want to hear the more aggressive shit. I can't distinguish an era or a time when I looked out into the audience and saw a type A or type B. People who have been with the band from the beginning and people who discovered the band later, I can't see much difference. There are some people who want to be very involved in what songs we play. They complain about us playing one song and not playing this other song. We respond to it more than we used to because there is all this Internet shit now. We will check it out and go, "Oh, fuck, people want to hear that song." So we end up doing it and that is a big change for me.
Some fans only know the band because of "Runaway Train." Is that one of those songs that you have to play each night?
Yes, it was one of those songs that was too big and when I started not playing it, people got kind of upset. People would come up and say, "Hey man, I drove a hundred miles and paid 20 bucks and you didn't play my favorite song." It would take me 10 minutes to go blah, blah, blah and it became more challenging to not play it. By the time I was done explaining why I didn't play it, I realized that I could have already played it. I enjoy playing it. The weirdest thing is that when we do play it, that's when everyone pulls out their camera phones. I really don't understand the mentality there. It happens without fail.
Years ago, I saw you in Salt Lake City and the encore was Concrete Blonde's "Joey." Do you still pull out the oddball cover song?
Holy shit, that was a long time ago. I think that is the only time we played that song. It was a fucking whim. I'm trying to remember how the reception went down. We didn't know the song at all. There was always those moments of tomfoolery. On the last couple of tours, we've done "We Are the World." It was hilarious. I'm sure half the audience thought that was the funniest thing they have ever seen, while the other half were thinking what the fuck?
I seem to remember you guys playing Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero" as well.
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Hey, that's a winner. That was another one of those things where we were joking around and over half the crowd doesn't realize that. It's fine both ways. You don't have to know that we are poking fun at it.
Do you still keep in touch with the people who were so influential in the Minneapolis scene in the '80s, people like Husker Du's Bob Mould or Paul Westerberg from the Replacements?
They were such a big part of my life. I can't remember the last time I talked with Bob. I did talk to [Husker drummer] Grant Hart recently. I've had Tommy Stinson in the band and that is my connection to the Replacements. I don't live in Minneapolis. Grant and Paul do, but Bob and Tommy do not. I have a lot of respect for those people and the scene that we all came out of. It was a unique time. There were 27 bands that all supported each other. I think it was more unique than I give it credit for.