Soul Asylum frontman discusses band longevity and state of the industry

Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner says his 'heart has been warmed' by the success of Record Store Day twinned with a spike in fans purchasing albums on vinyl but he admits the restrictions of modern industry make it increasingly difficult for his band to tour internationally.

Formed in 1981, Soul Asylum have carved out an impressive career, topped with the triple-platinum 'Grave Dancers Union' record in 1992 which was spearheaded by the Grammy-Award winning single 'Runaway Train.'

The follow-up record 'Let Your Dim Light Shine' scored the Minneapolis band another platinum hit but the music landscape has changed considerably since then.

Speaking exclusively to New Rock Times' Eric Mackinnon, Pirner discusses the state of the current music industry: “Seeing the before and after and being able to bear witness to what it once was and what it is now it is really hard for me to imagine how you could explain to an internet 12-year-old what it used to be like,” he says.

“However Record Store Day and resurgence in vinyl going on which warms the cockles of my heart. It is so not retro to me. Just people are paying more attention to what they are listening to and I hope it is really good news. Everybody thought no one now could tell the difference between an LP and an MP3. But its not true and it never has been. It is a beautiful thing.

“There is a part of me which feels lucky to have been part of the end of the industry as we know it. It is frustrating now and I'm not much of an internet person but making a good record is more important to me.”

He continues: “I would love to get out there to Europe and the UK to tour. Its frustrating to me that the state of the music industry is not accommodating for. We did a lot of gigs and work and had a lot of fun in Europe. we played St Patrick's Day in Ireland where I hung out with Bono. It was crazy.

“We'd love to get over to the UK again but it just doesn't seem to come together. It is much harder now to tour internationally. It definitely is.”

Keeping a band motivated and productive is a balancing act says the frontman who reflects on the longevity of a band with a massive 35-years on the rock n' roll clock

“I ask myself every day (how we have kept going) because it seems like every other day the other shoe is about to drop,” reflects Pirner.

“The second everything seems to going just perfectly something fucked up happens. It seems like it barely holds itself together most of the time but it is some form of determination.

“When Michael Bland I decided we were going to move forward with the band regardless of what anybody thinks it was a relief to me but it wasn't the way I interpreted it.

“The difference is he sees it as sort of everyone is replaceable while I see it as everyone is a gang or a family or something. Somewhere in that balance we have managed to get better.”

This year Soul Asylum released their 11th studio album with 'Change of Fortune,' a record which dips a toe into the pools of a range of genres. Ska and punk rock are both visited in different tracks and flirting with new sounds is a trend and habit Pirner has long advocated.

“I've always championed that,” he says.

“I remember going to labels years ago and talking about loving records that go all over the spectrum. I was just thinking about that yesterday and the Rolling Stones record 'Some Girls' and that is a good model as they have a disco song, a country song. It is intentional but it is all kinda the Stones.

“I try to keep all those avenues open and I try to practice within them as far as a four-piece rock band can take them. It is still something we can play live but I wouldn't want to play live with a bunch of recordings.

“I like to stretch the limits of whatever they are. Fuck those limits this is rock n' roll, a melting pot of cultures and sounds.”

Many artists describe the turning in of a new record to a label as a difficult process. Comparing the handover to seeing your children head off into the world. But Pirner tells New Rock Times that this is his favourite part of the job which provides the most peaceful and satisfying of feelings.

“Initially you are terribly excited when its finished as it feels like a long and arduous process no matter how it happens its always been that way for me,” continues the Soul Asylum founder.

“Whether its an album with a budget of a million dollars or $10,000 it is the same process and it has to meet the standards I set myself. When I turn it in it's probably the best time.

“My friend Paul Esterberg told me it is that time between the record being finished and the record coming out which is the best time because you feel complete and you are not being exposed to people's reaction yet.”

In 1993 Soul Asylum released a video for their hit single 'Runaway Train' and the band suddenly went viral, exploding into the mainstream and onto televisions across the world.

MTV put the video, which showed pictures of missing children during the choruses with their full names and the year they had been missing since.

Each country and region had different missing children featured with 26 repoerdly reunited with their families as a direct result of the video.

'Runaway Train' reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100, number two on the U.S. Top 40 mainstream and sold 600,000 copies in the United State en-route to being certified gold. It also earned the band a Grammy win for Best Rock Song in 1994.

“Its interesting the video really gave people an idea of what the song was about but that wasn't what the song was about at all,” explains Pirner.

“The concept for the video was the idea of a guy called Tony Kaye. I loved his stuff and I sat down with him and he had the idea of missing kids from milk cartons. The whole concept came from there and I thought it was great. We used real kids and tried to find them. It did feel like it went a little bit above and beyond what the potential of what a music video usually is.”

“I did get exposed to a few families,” continues Pirner, “but there is a clarification that needs to be made between someone who runs away from home and someone who is abducted.

“The family I was dealing with whose kid was abducted was probably the most tragic thing I've ever borne witness to. Sad, unnecessary and fucked up.

“A couple of occasions, one mother and daughter came backstage after a show and they seemed very happy to be together. The daughter had runaway with he boyfriend and was watching TV in a hotel when she saw her face and thought 'oh fuck.' She called her Mom because of the video.”

Pirner credits AC/DC's 'Back In Black' for turning him onto rock music after a long time as an avid listener to punk rock and he reckons the news that Axl Rose is to front AC/DC – at least in the short term – could be a good move by the veterans.

“Brian is going through hearing issues which is a fairly common thing in bands like that,” commented Pirner.

“Back in Black is one of my favourite records ever. We were all pretty serous punk rock dudes in our teens and we didn't listen to anything other than Minor Threat or Black Flag.

“Everything else was commercial bullshit in our minds but then one time we were listening to music when someone put 'Back in Black' on and we all looked at each other at the same time. It was a holy shit moment and it sounded so much bigger than other records.

“I was pretty distraught when Malcolm got unwell. That bummed me out. Thinking about it is kinda funny and I think Axl could sing those songs. Bon Scott, it is super unique and I was big into him.

“Brian doesn't sing like Bon Scott but I think Axl would be a good fit. I don't know if I'd go see it but it makes sense when you consider how much money they can make.”