“Everything from your parents trying to keep you from dropping out of school to your bass player dying…if you want a life that’s free of obstacles, don’t join a rock band…Because there’s always something that needs duct tape or there’s always something that is falling apart faster than you can put it back together.” –  DAVID PIRNER of SOUL ASYLUM


How does a guy from Minnesota cheer his entire childhood for the Green Bay Packers only to be converted into a New Orleans Saints fan?

More importantly, how does a man who started one of the biggest rock bands of the 90’s, continue making music after the rise of technology, the fall of albums and the death of a friend?

20 years after the release of “Grave Dancers Union”, Dave Pirner is looking more into Soul Asylum’s future than its past.

A few weeks before Soul Asylum played Vinyl Music Hall (and Super Bowl XLVII in the New Orleans Super Dome) I interviewed Pirner for my Music Matters column in the Pensacola News Journal.

MS: Have you guys played Pensacola before?

DP: Yeah, but you know what? It was probably 10 years ago. A long time ago, we played a whole bunch of shows in Florida and we’ve been coming back ever since then. Our first time to Pensacola was part of something we called our Florida Tour and it was-every now and then, that will happen, we’ll get like 12 shows in Germany and this was like eight shows in Florida. Who knew there were eight places for us to play in Florida in 1980 something.

MS: You are only playing two shows this tour in Florida, cool that you are coming here.

DP: Right on.

MS: New album. “Delayed Reaction” first Soul Asylum album in six years…what does this album mean for you as an artist?

DP: It was difficult to make…in a way that I cannot begin to explain because it would take me forever and I could probably make another one because now I’ve figured out how to do it. It was a situation where the band was just in a state of upheaval and we were trying to replace Carl and I’m always anxious to make a record, but I think the band is hesitant to be more prolific as we’re…(inaudible). I think that’s gone out the window. It doesn’t mean that much to me that…a time between records I’ve certainly compiled quite a bit of material and now we have another record finished, almost. That’s just kind of the way it goes; it sort of the ebb and flow of, not really supply-and-demand, but more like…I don’t know, someone dies and the band goes through a cycle were the internet has taken over the industry and you connect all the dots and go, “What’s my incentive to put out a record?” and you can’t really find one.

MS: What’s inspiring your writing now? I mean compared to since before “Grave Dancers Union”, the time before then and the time before now, what’s the difference for you, as far as creating?

DP: I went into the studio recently with the band and I realized how much the band is the vehicle and how much the band does inspire the material. Not so much in its theme and content and stuff like that, but just in like the players involved in the band inspire me to write certain things that they have the ability to play. The idea is to have everyone in their element and then you’re all acting naturally. I’m in a situation now where I can really challenge the vehicle, really challenge the band and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. I don’t think there’s anything these guys can’t play.


(David starts talking to someone near him)

MS: Just hearing you say that, a few weeks ago, I talked to Dweezil Zappa and he was talking about composing compared to being a player in a band. You as the composer for your band, how has it challenged your creation right now? Like you just said; you’re seeing the band, making parts for the band. Do you see yourself as more of a songwriter, composer? How do you see yourself now?

DP: I’m not sure I understand the question. It’s never really been any different as far as, you know, I’m making music for a four piece band, so even when I compose and use a fake string section on a keyboard or something, Justin will just turn them into guitar chords, so it’s kind of a beautiful thing and it hasn’t always been that way. I’ve done some soundtrack work and that really frees it up because you can do anything you want, really. So, I guess I would be the singer/songwriter in Soul Asylum, that’s a lot of “S”s. But it does really sort of mean something that I’m writing into the catalog. It’s sort of part of the same body of work per se, but the fewer limitations I feel to what I can talk about, the better.

MS: You said the players; you’ve worked with some amazing musicians, Tommy Stinson, Sterling Campbell, who are the players now with Soul Asylum?

DP: Michael Bland (drums), Justin Sharmano (guitar) and Winston Roye (bass replacing Tommy Stinson).

MS: First Ave. in Chicago. How did that special night of “Grave Dancers Union” go?

DP: A little too well, actually. Because now, we’re getting requests to do it more. It was Michael who came up with the idea, he said, “It’s the 20 year reunion, do you want to do something?” and I said, “Sure” and we had a string section come up for the last song because there string on the record, we have the sound of a needle coming off a record in the middle of the record for, you know, it’s all very cute and charming and nostalgic, and I mean, it still felt fresh to me. It’s not like I’m singing a bunch of songs from a bygone era but, it’s definitely kind of…I don’t know. It’s just fine, it’s just seems a little nostalgic for me personally. You know, everybody seems to enjoy it and it was a fun thing to do, yeah.

MS: With all of the history, the music, the concerts, the fans, what is the coolest part about the entire Soul Asylum experience for you?

DP: Probably just the amazing fact that I’m still doing it. And more importantly still, really enjoying it and it’s really important to me and it’s what I do. I put my whole life into it. So that and it effects my mood a little bit too much, like if things are going good for the band, I’m in a good mood and if things are going bad for the band, I’m in a bad mood I guess. Or a bit too much like that, but it’s one of those things.  It’s just something I’ve had my entire adult life and I feel insecure without it. I need a band. I need to be in a band and I need a band that’s ready to go when the Batphone rings.

MS: Bat Signal!…Soul Asylum!…Dave, I have to ask you a guitar question and I know it’s a guitar geeky thing, but do you still have that white Fender Tele Custom with the black pickguard?

DP: Yep, I’m still playing that. I have two of them.

MS: I bought one, like the Keith Richards’ one, but what’s the story behind it and where did you buy it, or buy those?


DP: Shit, I can’t remember. The first guitar I ever had was a Tele Custom, so I’ve always played Tele Customs and I just…I like em’ because they’re Telecasters. They’re a little heavier sounding or something. Depending on which one you get, I mean it seems like every other one is an absolute piece of shit. So, I’m not really sure, it’s just sort of an idiosyncratic sort of thing just like me; I saw it on a wall at a grocery store and I went over and opened the case and it was all that sort of cliché “Oh there it is” it was the…Excalibur. (Big coughing, raspy deep laugh) I don’t know, I saw a white one or somebody saw a white one and told me about it and I thought “That’s even better.” I think I have two or three of them and they’re just warhorse guitars, so they don’t break and that’s the best thing about them because they don’t really stay in tune very well and they can have just a piercing high-end. You have to sort of have to have the right kind of amp and they’re not great instruments, but they’re more or less punk rock instruments, which is sort of what they need to be. The acoustic guitars, they keep breaking and it’s getting expensive.

MS: Aside from guitar expenses, what are some of the greatest obstacles you’ve had to face and what keeps you going?

DP: Oh gosh. I don’t know. Everything from your parents trying to keep you from dropping out of school to your bass player dying. If there’s a current list of obstacles, I’m sure there is one and today’s obstacle is trying to get camera-ready artwork to the manager and my artwork is in a place called Fast City where I’m headed right now, but if you want a life that’s free of obstacles, don’t join a rock band, that’s a bad idea. Because there’s always something that needs duct tape or there’s always something that is falling apart faster than you can put it back together.

MS: On that same line, what would Dave of today tell a younger David just starting out?

DP: In the future, people will listen to music that is not attached to anything solid.

MS: I miss that. Yes, albums.

DP: (laughs) I don’t even know if I said that right. In the future, music will be virtual; you will not need to go to a store to procure the recording. And that’s what I think I would tell myself because it’s the most futuristic thing that’s happened in my lifetime.

MS: Do you still have time to go out and shop for vinyl?

DP: Oh yeah, there’s always time for that, man. If you can find a place to do it, which is almost impossible.

MS: When you come to Pensacola, there is a place in town called Revolver Records in Pensacola, the owner, Eric Jones has an awesome collection of vinyl.

DP: Cool.

MS: Here’s a crazy question for you. It’s a food question; Do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?

DP: Fuckin’ A, man!  I’m going with creamy. I’ve vacillated back and forth throughout my life, but man, it’s funny, I just made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a couple of days ago and was not missing the crunch, man. Wasn’t missin’ it.

MS: Have you kept in touch with Neil Strauss since his book “Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead”?

DP: (Laughs) Have I? No. I don’t know what that book is and I don’t…I try not to follow whatever path he’s on.

MS: What can fans look forward to on this tour?

DP: The gigs. I mean, it’s all about the gigs, I can’t wait. I was talking to Justin about it and he’s just like kinda, “Whoa, this is going to be weird.” And I’m like, “No. It’s not. It’s actually the most agreeable bunch I’ve ever seen  in my life and the gigs are going to be incredible and to me it’s all the stuff in between the gigs that make it a huge pain in the ass, but once the band is playing, I’m in my element. I love it.

MS: Is there anything else you’d like the fans in Pensacola, Florida to know before you hit town?

DP: See you in New Orleans at the Super Bowl.

MS: Yes. Oh. Are you a football fan?

DP: Uh…I don’t know where this is going.

MS: I’m thinking Minnesota and I thought the Vikings; I didn’t know if you had ties pushing for the Vikings or anything. I don’t know how you…I know you were born in Wisconsin, but then…

DP: Wait a minute. What are you saying now?

MS: I’m just curious as to, do you have an allegiance because (you’re) from Wisconsin, but living in Minnesota and then living in New Orleans…

DP: That’s a pretty easy question to answer.  (laughs) I was not born in Wisconsin. That’s funny because people think I’m born in Wisconsin apparently because that’s what it says in Wikipedia, which…(laughs) people put whatever they want on there, so that kind of makes me laugh. Anyways, my mother is from Green Bay, Wisconsin and she raised me a Packer fan. I grew up a Packer fan which pissed off everybody in Minnesota and it still does and I still call my brother and I give him shit about the Vikings. And there’s a lot of good smack talk going on there. But then, post Katrina, I became a Saints fan and I was overwhelmed with that whole situation where the town was hurting and the town needed a win and the town got a win and it turned me into a Saints fan, which got me into kind of a weird place, but…you know, it’s pretty much…I don’t know…it’s pretty much, that’s as far as I can take it.

MS: Will you be in New Orleans for the Super Bowl?

DP: Yes, I will be.

MS: Will you be in the Dome?

DP: I’m afraid to be asked who I want to win the Super Bowl because I just don’t care about those teams, but, that’s not a very nice way of putting it, I should probably start doing some research…some fantasy research (laughs).

MS: Will you be inside the Dome?

DP: No, I’m not going to actually be at the game, but the band is doing some sort of a gig around a charity event during the time the game is in town.

– Michael Smith