“When I listen to it, it seems like a real natural part of the evolution of the band,” says Dave Pirner, band visionary and the musical force behind Soul Asylum, talking about the new lineup and the new album they are currently recording. “When I’m listening to the new Soul Asylum, and hear Winston [Roye] playing bass, wow, that’s the direction we should have sounded like 30 years ago! But we didn’t have Winston 30 years ago. There’s no such thing as perfect, but it’s pretty awesome, it’s a done deal. Justin [Sharbono] did all his guitar overdubs in my basement, and it’s astonishing how good these guys are. We were a punk band, and we started out just learning how to play our instruments, so it’s been a really fascinating evolution. It’s partly just letting things happen, and partly being so fucking stubborn, I’m not going to let anybody stop me. The vehicle gets more fucking awesome all the time.”
Dave, along with bandmates Michael Bland on drums, and the aforementioned Winston Roye on bass and Justin Sharbono on guitar, are part of this summer’s Summerland Tour, which also includes Everclear, Eve 6 and Spacehog. The tour is kicking off this month and has several stops in this area.
The new lineup has been garnering rave reviews, but of course there are always fans who are going to be skeptical of changes. “Soul Asylum always had kind of a cross breed, a broad audience,” Dave relates. “You’re almost always playing in front of a bunch of people, and one person is hoping Tommy Stinson is going to be there, one person who’s a big fan of Dan Murphy. When I talk to Michael about the future of the band, he’s very pragmatic. He says, ‘Dave, it’s really the material that makes us Soul Asylum.’ When he says that, it makes me all warm and fuzzy.”
Winston also realizes there will be some growing pains for the fans. “Everyone’s been really nice,” he says. “Of course, there are some that won’t ever accept the change with me and Justin, but you can’t please everybody. We’re trying to though. We all want to play a lot, and this summer and fall, we’ll be going to places that we haven’t been to in a long time. “
The touring has been a great experience for Winston, and he likes the mix of both fun and serious performing. “It’s a little of both,” he says. “Everybody has a really great sense of humor in the band and crew, so the dark, brooding band stuff isn’t really our thing. We have a simple stage setup, and travel light, so we don’t have all that junk to deal with too. But when we hit the stage, it’s all business.”
Dave also is happy with the musical dexterity the new lineup brings to the table. “Yeah, it certainly keeps me going. I gotta keep up with the guys from the band. I’m the thing that’s dragging the band down,” he laughs. On the Summerland Tour, they are sharing the bill with three other bands, so there’s not as much time to experiment as he’d like. “The thing is that the set is shorter, so there’s not as much room to stretch out. My ambition is to try and stretch the band. As far as players, I’m just scraping the surface to see what these guys can do with the music. And I loosely include myself.”
The new album is in the process of being completed, and should be out by year’s end. “I’m working on mix number five,” explains Dave. “Last night I did some overdubs on it, and we have the modern technology to send files back and forth. I have a manager who tells me we need to sign off on this mix. The thing I need to do is be in the same room with the mixer. It’s old school, but I’ve always been in the room. It’s not a thing anymore, it’s not necessary. It wasn’t that great in the first place, just standing there watching a guy mix a record, but it has the immediacy.”
When Grave Dancers Union hit big at radio, Dave reportedly turned down the opportunity to perform on the Grammys, because of the competitive nature of it. So the idea of shows such as American Idol and The Voice must have struck a similar chord with him. “Paul Westerberg from The Replacements wrote a song called ‘Talent Show’,” he says. “It was a charming song because it reminded one of the talent shows you used to do as a kid. To sort of take that format, and make it seem like it’s a new thing, it shows us our own gullibility and our need to try and make something seem new. For my money, I have no interest in judging people for their musical performance. One of my favorite shows was The Gong Show, which was almost making fun of the ‘talent show.’ That makes more sense to me!”
Dave is much more into the organic, natural way that new artists develop. “I have a studio in New Orleans, and there’s an astonishing amount of talent that comes out of this city,” he says. “There may not be a Nashville or an American Idol context for it, but honestly, that shit sucks. There, there’s music in its sort of natural habitat. It’s oozing with talent. Every once in a while somebody pops out of New Orleans and makes it, whether it’s Lil Wayne or Trombone Shorty or Wynton Marsalis.
“It keeps the tourists coming in and going out. You gotta come down a couple times and get used to it. To me, it’s like a kid in a candy store, because there’s bars everywhere and people playing everywhere. Standing on a corner and hearing music coming from four different directions, and it all sounds good. Whatever direction you pick, there’s a shit hot band and it’s all fucking great. There’s music coming out of every doorway when you’re in the right spot at the right time. That’s a unique, thrilling situation.”
Soul Asylum will be playing at NYC’s Irving Plaza on June 17, Atlantic City’s House Of Blues on June 21 and The Paramount in Huntington, NY on June 22. For more information, go to soulasylum.com.