INTERVIEW: David Pirner of Soul Asylum

Soul Asylum

Keeping your name relevant in today’s music industry isn’t an easy task by any means. Soul Asylum, however, have managed to accomplish that task for the past 25 years or so. The band’s most recent album, “Change of Fortune”, shows that the band hasn’t lost a step sonically since their peak in popularity, which garnered two double platinum albums along the way. We spoke with frontman David Pirner, who was en route to Green Bay from the band’s Minneapolis practice space, to talk ahead of their Thursday night appearance on the Miller Lite Oasis stage at Summerfest:

B&E: You guys are from Minnesota, and you’ve played a lot of venues in Milwaukee. What are some of your earliest memories of playing here?

DP: My earliest memories are sort of being mixed up in a bunch of different bands like Die Kreuzen, Mecht Mench and back in the day, when the punk rock bands were playing in bowling alleys and stuff. Just a lot of sleeping on people’s couches and feeling good, because my dad’s from Milwaukee.

B&E: So do you get to see the city a lot?

DP: Yeah a little bit! I actually used to go to the Museum of National History a lot with my grandma.

B&E: Are there any other bands that you remember playing with in the Milwaukee area?

DP: I mean, I know the guys in the Violent Femmes, and they’re great. I’m sure we’ve done a couple of gigs with them. I did a Hurricane Katrina benefit that they were on once, and they showed up on short notice for that.

B&E: What is the biggest change in the music industry that’s affected your band?

DP: The obvious answer is that you can get music for free on the internet, so why would you pay for it, you know? That’s affected our trajectory. It probably didn’t help that I was a bit of a technophobe or whatever you’d want to call it. It hit everybody in a way. I was speaking with Desmond Child, and he’s written all of this stuff. You know, stuff that you hear on the radio, and he was not happy about the internet at all. So, that sort of affected everybody that makes music in a negative way initially.

B&E: Does touring still feel the same for you after all of these years?

DP: Well right now it has exactly the same feel as the nineties (laughs). We’re all in a van headed to Green Bay. This is very comfortable for me. This is my element.

B&E: Let’s talk about your most recent record, “Change of Fortune”. What was the process in making that record?

DP: We’ve sort of developed our own process, where me and Michael Bland, and John Fields skeleton out the tunes. It’s different, but I think we’ve perfected it (laughs). It’s sort of born out a Mothers of Invention situation, where people are in different places, and you need to send somebody a file. It’s sort of put together in a different way than when we would go to New York City and spend a million dollars, and basically hemorrhage cash the entire time that we were there. I think we’re gonna try something a little different for the next record, too.

B&E: Speaking of records, are you guys working on anything new?

DP: Yeah! We’re sort of putting it together in the same style for right now. Some of the demos have no drumming, or my drumming, or they’ll have a click, and Michael is the master of that. He’ll take care of that, and then we’re either going to have a record or a really, really good demo tape. But I do have a vision of going back to tape. I really miss the sound of analog tape. I notice it more and more when I’ve been trying to archive things. We cut some demos in our practice space on 1/4″ analog tape with a machine that I bought, and it’s astonishingly noticeable to me, as it was when I listened to the test pressings of “Change of Fortune”. I went out to the Spotify offices, and they played a couple songs off the record, and I immediately went “is this an MP3?”. It’s that thing, where depending what line of work you’re in, it’s either very noticeable, or not noticeable at all.

B&E: So you’re preferential to vinyl then?

DP: Yeah. I never really stopped buying vinyl. I do have a lot of CDs, and now it’s hard to get a CD player. In terms of today, I really don’t understand how people can get a free couple of months of music and they can just take it away from you. It kind of reminds me of the “buy records for a penny” ads that you’d see in comic books and shit (laughs).

B&E: Just curious, but what’s your favorite record in your collection?

DP: Ooh. I think it’s “Kind of Blue”, a Miles Davis record. I actually have about three copies of it, but I have one that belonged to my bass player, Karl Mueller’s father, and his mother gave it to me, so it has extra sentimental value to me. Plus, it’s a really clean, old, heavy record that sounds incredible.

B&E: Lastly, we have a lot of young local bands coming up in Milwaukee. What would your advice for them be?

DP: Well, you can’t practice too much. At a certain point, you think you’re good enough to play without practice, but we used to practice five, six, or seven days a week. That’s how we learned how to play music. So I would say that.

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