Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner on jazz, Slim Dunlap, and Bill O'Reilly

Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner on jazz, Slim Dunlap, and Bill O'Reilly
Photo by Tony Nelson; design by Mike Kooiman

See Also:
*Cover Story: Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner on Delayed Reaction and all that jazz
*Soul Asylum: Promo Photos and Outtakes

*Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy thinks the band is making the best music it's ever made--and wonders if it's worth it anymore

Dave Pirner has happily been a New Orleans resident for the past 14 years, but Soul Asylum's ties to Minnesota are robust enough that roll-out for a new album is happening here. Delayed Reaction, the band's follow-up to 2006's The Silver Lining and first via 429 Records, is out this week, and the Entry and First Avenue play host to release shows.

Pirner spoke to City Pages from his Uptown (the New Orleans 'hood) home studio for this week's cover story (read it here), and conversation flowed well enough, that there are some extra bits to share here. Find out why there's a song called "Let's All Kill Each Other" on the new record, and hear how Pirner's feeling about the 20th anniversary of Grave Dancers Union within.    

City Pages: So from living in New Orleans for so long, have you picked up any habits or quirks? Do you crave more hot sauce now?

Dave Pirner: Well, I just read in the local paper that some politician from Minnesota was tweeting about how nasty and dirty it is down here, and it is. I was talking to someone recently about it and they didn't understand it, and I was trying to explain that art and culture and music and things like that are important. People see cooking as art down here. People do things differently in New Orleans and that's what makes it good. I moved here because it's a different kind of a place from any place I've ever been. It's extremely multicultural and it's extremely open-minded, and it's extremely geared towards the arts. That means there's not a lot of money here, not a lot of efficiency sometimes. And that means that there's know. Sometimes the trains don't run on time, but you get to where you need to go. It's a different set of priorities. I love New Orleans and the reasons why seem to be lost on people. You can ask anybody who lives here that's not from here why they're here. It doesn't have to do with any of the bad things, but there's bad things everywhere.

Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner on jazz, Slim Dunlap, and Bill O'Reilly
Photo by Tony Nelson

CP: I've recently listened to Soul Asylum's latest album, Delayed Reaction, and it seems that "Cruel Intentions" really has that New Orleans vibe to it.

DP: A song like that took me forever to write. I had to live here to write it. And it's really kind of amateur hour, but it really is trying to sort of embrace the spirit of a standard. I was playing it and I didn't know what it was, and I wrote a song. When other people hear it, they sort of try to tell me what I'm doing, but I still don't know what I'm doing. That part of jazz music has always been elusive to me in a way that it's drawn me towards it. So I knew that I needed to live in New Orleans to understand where rock 'n' roll comes from and what happens when the music of the people becomes sophisticated. To me, that's where the Julliard characters come into play. That's where jazz gets really intellectualized in a way that you just can't do with rock 'n' roll. That's what I embrace, the primitive element of rock 'n' roll. I was explaining to someone today that I started out as a trumpet player, but I've never heard it up in Minneapolis.

Down here in New Orleans, it sort of just came full circle. I was just like "Oh, shit! That's what that is supposed to sound like." I just had never really heard it before. You could almost say the same thing about an electric guitar in these parts. I mean, it's that easy of an analogy. There's clubs down here that just sound amazing until you put a Marshall amp in 'em. Then the ceiling starts rattling, and the whole place just doesn't work because they're quieter rooms made for brass music.

CP: So it's official you guys are doing a First Ave show and packing yourselves into the Entry. It's been rumored you guys are going to do a bunch of punk covers at the Entry gig. Is that going to be a bit of a flashback for you guys?

DP: There's different expectations in the Entry than there is in the Mainroom, which is funny and also interesting in a way that I don't really know. I think Danny [Murphy] might feel different about it and Michael [Bland] might feel different about it. We all have sort of a different history of the building. But you know, you're absolutely right. It's going to be a sweaty mess either way you look at it. [laughs]. It's funny, our gear is bigger than it used to be. Shit like that. Stuff you wouldn't imagine. It'd be interesting to see if we still have room to rock in there. I don't even know what that means anymore, but I love the Entry. Like I say, I still love to go down there and get sentimental in the worst sort of way because I don't see myself as a sentimental person. But when I walk into that room, I sort of feel oddly comfortable, you know? I like to see new band night down there. I love the Entry. I could only imagine that it could be a disaster and even if it is, it will be just like old times.

CP: Are you touring with Winston Roye on bass?

DP: Yep. We are at this point. Hopefully I'll see Tommy [Stinson] on the East Coast. Winston is incredible. He sort of fits the mold like Michael did, in that weird way that he's perfect for the job without even having to think twice or even make a whole lot of obvious suggestions. There's not a lot of things he doesn't know how to do and there's not a lot of things that he hasn't done already. He knows music. It's nice to come in contact with people that are like me that I haven't known my whole life, I guess. None of it is lost on him. I rarely have to tell him anything [laughs]. That's great!

CP: Have you been in contact with guitarist, Bob "Slim" Dunlap's family after his recent stroke?

DP: Well, I talked to Chrissie [Bob's wife] for a while. I was really sort of shocked. I mean that's as far as I really need to go. God, I hope he's doing better. I think about him every day. I can't really speculate on it because it's so mysterious. I love Bob. The first time I saw him play, I thought he was one of the greatest guitar players I had ever heard. I was really thrilled when he joined the Replacements. When I first saw Bob, he was playing with Curtiss A. He was just sort of an idol to me in a way that now, he seems more like a friend. [At the Kill Kancer benefit] it was really cool to have Chan [Polling] up there with the Golden Smog, and the time that I've spent talking to Chris Osgood [Suicide Commandos], and how the generations of Minneapolis musicians have sort of bonded in a way that it has sort of become a timeless, seamless thing. That's really meaningful. It definitely feels like there's a man down right now. I'm worried.


CP: Oh my gosh, Grave Dancers Union is approaching its 20th anniversary.

DP: Oh my goodness. I know, it's really strange, isn't it? I can't believe I've been in New Orleans for 14 years. It doesn't seem right either. Yeah, I'm not real keen on time passing faster and faster. I don't see myself as a sentimental person. Yeah, I like that the new record sort of covers or evokes the Grave Dancers' color. I've liked that there's a lineage in the music that may be... me and Danny [laughs]. I don't know, it's a funny thing to look back on as a unique experience and feel like we're the thickest thread. I see it very objectively you know? It's not a banner that I wave around. It's just sort of a body of work.

It's hard for me to separate the actual songs from the ones that came before it or the ones that came after it. They've definitely taken on a little bit different of a meaning. Particularly, I guess the songs that I think about are the ones that nobody ever talks about. And I think "Well those are the ones people got anyways." The more the music becomes more Top of the Pops and more single oriented on the interweb, the less likely it is that you're going to be listening to the four songs on the Adele record that you didn't realize you were going to get -- because you actually went out and bought the whole record.

CP: Which songs from Grave Dancers are more meaningful?

DP: I was thinking "Homesick," "Growing into You," and "99%" -- probably in that order. And it's for three completely different reasons. Some of it's the production and how they were done, some of it's like "Wow, man. These people, they only know the stuff they've heard on the radio" but a lot of people listen to some of the more outrageous things I've done, and they have it and heard it. Whereas, I don't know if that happens so much...I just don't know, because if I put "Let's All Kill Each Other" on a record, it's obviously... you have sort of have the whole breadth of the album to get the sense of humor or whatever it is. I don't know, man. It becomes real interesting to see how people listen to music, you know? I don't know, what's a B-side?

From left: Winston Roye, Dave Pirner, Michael Bland, and Dan Murphy
From left: Winston Roye, Dave Pirner, Michael Bland, and Dan Murphy

CP: Obviously "Let's All Kill Each Other" is not supposed to be taken at face value, but what sparked that?

DP: Yeah, I think it was more or less related to the axis of evil and that sort of talk. That sort of came out of me post 9/11 era, if you will. As a general reference, it was coming more from that, than it was World War II. [laughs] Hostility and violence and that stuff. It's a throw your hands up in the air sort of situation and I got real sarcastic about it. It made people laugh I think. I think people get the joke, you know? I hope that it's just a joke and it's not lost on anyone because it's something that I feel very strongly about. It can only come out of me in that way, because I've already said it in so many other ways. I could probably continue to have an angle on it, the Hatfields and the McCoys. And I'll continue to take that approach whether it's a ballad or...something that's influenced by industrial music. The sentiment is always intact and I don't think that it can be overemphasized without being at least slightly subtle in a way that it's not browbeating. I try to sort of be creative about it, if you will. [laughs]

CP: We'll see what Bill O'Reilly thinks about it if he ever hears it.

DP: Yeah, well. He will. [laughs]

Soul Asylum play album-release shows on Thursday, July 19, at 7th St. Entry, and Friday, July 20, at First Avenue; 612.332.1775. 

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