Soul Asylum has a new release called no fun intended (QRO review) that is the first of a series of tribute releases, where they cover songs of the bands that influenced them. Songs on no fun intended include “Attacking The Beat” from Minneapolis legends The Suicide Commandos, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” from Joy Division, and “Shakin’ Street” from proto-punks MC5. QRO talked to Dave Pirner about those CDs, his adopted home of New Orleans, technology, producing New Orleans artists in his backyard studio and finding a guitarist to replace Dan Murphy, who resigned from the band in 2012 after 30 years.
QRO: It’s really cool that you get to hang out in New Orleans a lot.
Dave Pirner: We’re pretty much there all the time. I’ve been there almost 13 years, I think. I love it. It’s a beautiful, cultural, mecca.
QRO: I remember once we talked about us both loving the Mississippi River.
DP: When I was just in Minneapolis, we had some background singers and one of them is a guy named Larry Long and he does a lot of benefit work for Native Americans, and there was a native woman there and she said that she had walked down the Mississippi River, which I thought was kind of amazing. I don’t remember how long she said it took but it was like 100 days, I think.
QRO: That sounds about right. That’s a really long walk. That’s quite an accomplishment. Are you still surviving these days without the internet and cell phones as much as possible?
DP: I just lost my phone the other day and people get very frustrated with me because I’m hanging onto my old phone. I’m doing some internet interviews later today, but now I use the computer quite a bit for recording. I’m still trying to understand the essence of the internet, where it’s going, and I still have seen so many things come and go that I just don’t feel like I’m needed in that situation very much, you know. Just as I’m having a conversation with you right now, I feel like I’m almost forcing people to talk on the phone, which they really don’t want to do, but somebody needs to keep that tradition alive, so it might as well be me.
QRO: A couple of guys in your band are on Facebook, aren’t they?
DP: We had a meeting about it and Justin [Sharbono, guitarist] kind of rebuilt the website and the guys are trying to post, “Oh, that was a good show,” after the show and things like that. You know, I really like our fan site. It’s interesting to me to let the fans run their own site, not necessarily because I don’t have to do anything, but because it’s not being generated by us. Somehow it’s more authentic. We’re not trying to push anything on anybody, and that’s kind of interesting to me. I talk to those people when they come to the shows and that’s kind of interesting, too, because I do have friends from the fan site that come out and see me and talk to me in person. I don’t know, it’s kind of strange, actually, now that I’m thinking about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out. When you say that about another band [that they do well at internet skills], I’m a little envious and I wish I could figure it out and it’s not something I don’t do because I hate it. It’s something I don’t do because I don’t quite understand it.
QRO: There are still some people that are a little older than our age that don’t even go on the internet, so we’re trying, right?
QRO: OK, let’s talk about your new CD releases. Did you record those at your own studio?
DP: Some of it was recorded in my backyard, but most of it was recorded in Minneapolis. The first three songs are recorded at Flowers, which is a studio in Minneapolis. And then, I did a bunch of the overdubs in my studio in the backyard in New Orleans, and one of them is actually one of the first things that Winston played on. Winston [Roye], the bass player, came in and played on “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, and I think that was the first time I played with him, and that’s kind of cool, now that I think about it. And there’s a Suicide Commandos song on there, and that’s important to me because Chris Osgood was sort of a mentor to me, the guitar player. Me and Michael Bland sort of had a challenge going on, where we were sort of trying to out-punk rock each other. He was sort of trying to dig into the past of what kind of music I grew up with and he wanted to play it mostly and sort of, not really reinterpret it, but try of get it under his grip, in a way that I also wanted to realize some of these songs, in a way that you’re used to hearing certain recordings and you want to see how it sounds if it’s recorded a little bit differently. To me, everything Michael plays on, it gets a little bit better because he’s such an awesome drummer.
QRO: Last year, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ released a set of CDs, one genre per CD, as a tribute to music they loved. Is that the same kind of thing you’re going to do?
DP: I don’t know. We don’t really have a plan for turning it into a solid object at any time. I think we’ve got a few more things that we’re gonna put on the internet and if there’s a reason to make a CD out of it, I’m sure we probably will, but we don’t have any real plans for that at all.
QRO: Is it digital release only right now then?
QRO: I didn’t know that. So is it going to be on iTunes?
DP: Yep, they should be available wherever fine digital releases can be found.
QRO: So, how many more songs do you think you’re going to be covering? I think you’ve done four now.
DP: Theoretically, it’s a trilogy. Threes set of three or four, something like that. That’s just kind of in the back of my mind.
QRO: That could definitely become a CD at the end if you decide to make one.
QRO: So how is the band doing without Dan [Murphy, original second guitarist]? Is that kind of like starting over?
DP: No. I sort of had a conversation with Michael about it and he just went, “You know, it’s really about the songs.” And I just went, “Well, if you say so, then I guess it is.” So it really was just getting someone in there. Justin’s pretty amazing and once we made the change, it fell into place very quickly. I mean, we were playing gigs almost immediately.
QRO: I was just wondering if you felt like you had more creative freedom, to go forth in the future. I know when you had Dan in the band, you and him or you and the other members that started way back when, that you had to confer with each other and now, you’ve kind of got full control. Does that give you any more freedom to do what you want?
DP: I sort of have to sell the song to the band, no matter what. I write the song and bring it to the band, and the band plays it or the band doesn’t play it, or the band likes it or the band doesn’t like it. That’s kind of it, you know.
QRO: Your new guitarist Justin is really great. Where did you meet him?
DP: He was the second or third person to come in and audition. That was a no-brainer. He kind of walked out of the room and we all went, “That’s the guy.” He is actually distantly related to Dan Murphy.
QRO: So he probably knew some of the songs already then.
DP: Oh, yeah, that’s how he got the gig. He knew them all backwards and forwards.
QRO: I’ve gotten to know your old keyboardist Joey Huffman a little bit. He’s a nice guy.
DP: Yeah, Joey’s great.
QRO: He wrote a couple of road stories about Soul Asylum and put them online. Did you know about that?
QRO: There was one that’s particularly interesting that he called “The Pants that Feed Us”, about your pants, and how they’re kind of your soul essence or your uniform onstage, like what you put on to become you onstage, and that they caught on fire once at a hotel and you could hardly put them out. That was an entertaining story.
DP: True story. Now I have a new pair of pants that I wear all the time.
QRO: How did the Delayed Reaction CD do last year?
DP: It was well received, I would think.
QRO: That’s good. In your current press release, it said that you were going to be starting a new full release. Is that right?
DP: Yeah, we’re pretty deep into it right now. We’ve been working on it.
QRO: Do you still have the muse hitting you up to write all the time?
QRO: How was the ‘LP Tour’?
DP: What we were doing was the Grave Dancer’s Union thing. We were just playing the album from beginning to end. It’s cool to play songs that we have never really played live. It’s cool to perform something that’s never really been performed in such a way. To me, it seems like, these days people aren’t as aware of a situation where you sit down and listen to a whole album and sort of expect to listen to the whole album. And that’s kind of nice to me, that it becomes kind of an interesting art form that is maybe not as popular as it used to be, but it’s the genuine article somehow.
QRO: I love albums myself. They capture a place in time or a feeling that’s going on in the world. What do you listen to nowadays?
DP: Living in New Orleans, I listen to a lot of New Orleans music. And I’ve been working on an album by a guy named Jamie Bernstein, and it’s all local players and, to me, it’s pretty exciting. I mean, the essence is that there’s not a lot of music industry in New Orleans. So to record some of these great players, it really has sort of a righteous cause to it, for me. And some of these guys have never really spent much time in the studio. They just have a completely different angle as far as what somebody who plays rock and roll would do. In other words, some of them, most of the time they’re just playing music that’s not like most pop music. They’re playing New Orleans music and they’re playing jazz music and they’re playing funk music and they’re playing not a lot of stuff with a backbeat, for lack of a better expression. So some people really revel in it. They don’t get a chance to play straightforward music like that, and then others, just don’t really get it. They just don’t understand it and they don’t understand why people would want to play music like that. So, it’s kind of funny. It’s really two different headspaces.
The way that I have recorded records, with big-time New York producers, in big time New York studios, is completely different than how a lot of the music that I really love, the old music from New Orleans and stuff like that, and how jazz music is recorded, and how the various, different theories on what’s the best way to capture a performance is. I’ve sort of picked up things along the way and learned from all these great producers, and it’s really capturing a moment and then really seeing the forest instead of the trees and having that extra ear, listening, who’s not in the band that can really focus on only one or two things. So, it’s good work for me because I’m kind of good at being able to listen to a lot of things at the same time, and I just really enjoy it. I really enjoy work like that because it enables me to help someone else be creative and it’s a really good feeling and all the pressure is not on me to come up with all the ideas, and I can nurture other people’s ideas and I’m pretty good at it, actually, because it’s always refreshing when someone has an idea besides me.
QRO: Are you trying to produce more, or are you just doing it whenever the situation arises?
DP: I mean, I’d rather be working on my own music, but it’s work that I really enjoy, so I take it when I can get it and hopefully it’s something that I can help out in a way that makes my contribution worth it.
QRO: Will we see, in the future of your tribute releases some jazzy stuff like you did on your solo record or Candy From a Stranger?
DP: It’s kind of funny that you should ask, because I think that during the making of my solo record and a song like “Cruel Intentions” and things like that, it is a direction that I’m always sort of exploring, but the theme of these EP things was to sort of take it back to the sort of music that we were listening to when we were growing up, which was, oddly enough, it was jazz before I turned to punk rock. But this is Michael sort of going, “Let’s hit it hard, let’s make some aggressive music and pull out your gnarliest favorite song from the past and I’m gonna destroy it,” and this is how it happened and that’s sort of the theme of it, so yeah, we probably won’t be exploring any jazz odysseys on this particular project.
QRO: Do you think you’ll do a solo record again in the future?
DP: I hope so. When I got back from the solo experience and started doing Soul Asylum stuff again, it was comforting in a way that I don’t really like my name and I don’t like using my name and I don’t like saying it’s all about me. I like being part of a band. I like being on a team. Every team has a coach and a quarterback or whatever that is, and you’re part of something and that’s where I’m more comfortable. I just don’t like seeing the band as people that are backing me up. I like being part of the band.
QRO: A lot of people nowadays are naming their projects a different name than just their personal name so they can do different types of music. Is that something you might think about?
DP: Yeah, it is definitely something that I think about.