Soul Asylum

Still moving forward

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By Gary Graff  

After a considerable absence from the music scene, the Minneapolis rockers known as Soul Asylum are back, but it's a different Soul Asylum than we've known before. Frontman Dave Pirner and guitarist Dan Murphy are all that's left of the original lineup that originally formed in 1981, and was part of that city's fertile underground rock scene that also produced Husker Du and the Replacements.

Bassist Karl Mueller died in 2005 after losing a long battle with throat cancer. That makes The Silver Lining, Soul Asylum's first album since 1998, a poignant affair, though not necessarily a sad one. And Pirner says he and Murphy plan to keep the Asylum open, at least partly in tribute to their late comrade in rock 'n' roll arms.

Q: Was there a period during the past sevearl years where you felt like there would never be another Soul Asylum album?

Dave Pirner: I think that was sort of looming as far as something that could possibly happen. We had just sort of hit a wall with what to do next. And then Karl got diagnosed. Needless to say, it means a lot that the record has actually come out.

Q: You had moved to New Orleans and had also done a solo album (Faces & Names in 2002). How did you manage to keep working with the band as well?

Pirner: We were sort of doing this thing where I would go up to Minneapolis and we would cut five or six demos, or Dan would come down to New Orleans and we'd cut a bunch of demos, or I'd send the guys a bunch of acoustic songs and we'd sort of pick through them. Then we kind of figured we had enough good material, and then we got a deal and started getting it finished.

Q: Karl is on some of the album. What kind of shape was he in?

Pirner: When we started tracking the record, he had been through chemo and radiation already. There were some very heroic days on his part. We'd say, "You sure you want to come in tomorrow?" "Absolutely!" He was really fighting for it. We're all in denial, really. None of us thought he was going to die. We're still pretty much in shock.

Q: You and Dan tended to get most of the attention, but Karl was really an integral member of the band, wasn't he?

Pirner: Oh, for sure. He was the enabler. It was his mom's garage where we first started practicing. He was just a guy that loved being in a rock band and just had this undying enthusiasm for it. He really didn't like it when we weren't working. He called me up before he died and said he really liked the material, which is something he'd never done before.

Q: Did doing the solo album give you any perspective on Soul Asylum?

Pirner: I got a lot of perspective, actually. I learned that I like being in a band. I realized that's what I do. I play in a band. That answered the question for me. My solo album was kind of like wanting to feature the bass and drums, just 'cause I'd been doing the loud guitar thing forever. But I do love loud guitars, so I wanted to return to that and indulge it and feature it more.

Q: How did you and your family weather Hurricane Katrina?

Pirner: We were extremely lucky. Relative to what most of the people had to deal with, we did great. We couldn't have been luckier. We lost trees and a piece of roof, so we really couldn't have been more fortunate. It's a pretty desperate situation. There are still parts of town that are full of garbage and look like a bomb went off. But it's still a special place. All we can do is grieve for our friends and the people who cannot come back.

Q: After spending so much time out of the limelight, is there a feeling that Soul Asylum has to re-establish itself with its audience?

Pirner: Yeah, sure. The main thing is that to re-establish the band we needed to make sure the record was right. So there was a lot of apprehension and a lot of taking our time and trying to make it worth it. Now we have something we want to make sure people know about.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.