Thirty-five years and 11 albums creates a pretty hefty back catalog, as well as certain expectations. Throughout their career, Minneapolis alt-rock stars Soul Asylum have been through the ringer.
Vocalist Dave Pirner is the band’s only remaining founding member. Though he’s moved south to New Orleans, guitarist Justin Sharbono and former Prince drummer Michael Bland keep the band semi-local, even if some NOLA sound is seeping into Pirner’s work. It's reflected on the Soul Asylum’s newest, crowd-funded album, Change of Fortune, which was released last week and will be celebrated Saturday at First Avenue.
Pirner may have moved away, but he says Minneapolis is still near and dear to his heart, as the band practices in town before each tour. He says he's always excited to get back on the lakes ice skating or checking out new talent in town. It’s a dual existence, comparable to the vibe on the new record.
City Pages: How long was Change of Fortune in progress?
Dave Pirner: Oh, forever. It basically started when the last record came out and it was done in a similar fashion. Me and Michael Bland go to L.A. work with John Fields and he plays bass and engineers and produces.
The three of us put a skeleton together for the song, bring it back to Minneapolis and get Justin [Sharbono] and Winston [Roye] on it, it goes back to L.A. and they tweak things. We redo some vocals in a studio in New Orleans.
The list of studios that the record was made at is pretty hilarious because it’s all people’s silly names for their home studios. It was made all over the place.
CP: What brought you back here to practice?
DP: Justin and Michael are still in Minneapolis. We’ve always been based out of Minneapolis, so I always come and rehearse before we go on tour. It’s always been a Minneapolis band, more or less.
It’s been quite an evolution and a journey. We’ve had all the typical and atypical cliché and disasters along the way that go with being in a rock band. It’s pretty gratifying to still be at it. I’m very happy with the new record. I’m very excited to go out and play it.
CP: Last time we talked you were looking for a label. How did eOne get involved?
DP: My manager said, I’ve got a label that would be interested. I’d been watching Trailer Park Boys and I saw the logo for eOne. I’m on the same label as Bubbles; I’m excited to have a reference point.
They’re great people. You work with different labels over the years and you find the people that are real music lovers, the people that survive.
CP: What stands out to you as representative of the years making Change of Fortune?
DP: I think the title track is the thing that mostly connects my living in New Orleans experience with what the band had done in the past.
I’m trying to put the stuff that sucks you in at the beginning of the record. It’s really cool for me to have a record that’s more experimental and spontaneous and true to form. There’s no limitations on what the band is capable of.
CP: To me, the New Orleans presence is easier to spot in the latter half.
DP: I wanted to soak it up, not co-opt it and make a jazz record but to immerse myself in what was refreshing about being there in the first place. There were so many different polyrhythms and grooves and second line beats that drew me into the city. I think it’s in there. It’s pretty subtle, but if you’re spending time in New Orleans maybe you’d be able to notice the nod, I’m not really sure.
CP: How did that integrate into your songwriting?
DP: You’re always looking for something new and something to reinvigorate what it is that drew you to music in the first place. You have to come at it with this naïve excitement. Then you put the experience on top of that and it all comes out as something that I think is called rock ‘n’ roll which there are no rules.
CP: With the history of a band like Soul Asylum, is it a challenge to involve new sounds while still meeting fans’ expectations, or is that what keeps it exciting for you?
I think this time around I’m not feeling anybody’s nostalgia. Nobody is saying, “There’s nothing that sounds like 'Runaway Train' on this record.” There isn’t, which is great. It will be exciting for people as it is for me. It goes in different directions and there are chances being taken. Trying to be predictable is not really what I’m going for.
CP: How do you view the overall emotional tone? For example, “Moonshine” sounds really personal in the way your vocals come through. Is it a personal record?
DP: There’s always going to be some sort of element of introspective singer-songwriter going on where it can sound personal. I don’t even know the right word for it.
I think something that really touched me about being in New Orleans was after coming out of this punk rock thing that was always filled with angst. Being in New Orleans all the musicians were smiling and they all seemed to connect. That makes the full circle from gospel music to rock ‘n’ roll. I hope that I have embraced some of that uplifting element.
Somebody today said, “Wow that sounds like a happy point of view on the world coming to an end.” If that’s how you want to perceive it, it works for me.
CP: Is that how you see the artist/listener relationship?
DP: Pretty much. It’s like making a painting and everybody sees something different in it.
CP: Have you read the new Replacements biography, Trouble Boys?
DP: I have not. I don’t know if [Replacements bassist] Tommy [Stinson] is giving us shit or whatever. It’s all good fun if they’re happy with it. I know they weren’t thrilled with some of the things that people were writing in retrospect. I don’t read a lot of rock literature.
CP: How is it to see retrospective angles of your early days, being on your side of the story?
DP: I was in New Orleans and when the article came out about the CC Club. It was fun for me to read what everybody said and what people could remember of it. That part is the fun part of looking back.
With: Bruise Violet.
When: 8 p.m. Sat., March 26.
Where: First Avenue.
Tickets: $20; more info here.
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