It’s been six years since Soul Asylum’s last record, The Silver Lining, hit the shelves, and the band has stayed pretty quiet in the time since that release, only playing the occasional benefit show. But though they have stayed out of the limelight, the band never stopped pushing forward; after touring behind The Silver Lining, frontman Dave Pirner got to work crafting songs for their next record, and the past four years have been spent recording different parts in L.A., Minneapolis, and his homebase, New Orleans. The final product, Delayed Reaction, will be released July 17 on the band’s new label, 429 Records, and they’ve just announced that they will celebrate the release with a show at First Avenue on July 20.
Today, Pirner stopped by The Current to debut one of the band’s new tracks, “Gravity,” and chat about the new album. Along the way, we also touched on his recent performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where he paid tribute to one of his favorite musicians.
Just last week, you performed at an Alex Chilton tribute show in New Orleans. What was that like?
It came together in a really cool way. I’d been running into Alex Chilton on the street in different places around New Orleans for as long as I can remember being in New Orleans, and he always just had this sort of disposition that he was a rock guy in a jazz town, trying to figure it out. And I couldn’t be more similar with my disposition. There were times when Alex just seemed just sort of over it, as far as trying to understand how to be a rock musician and just sort of have a life, and sometimes he would come off as sort of — not bitter, but just ‘I can’t stand the B.S.’ And I think it wasn’t really until I did this particular project and we were doing a lot of songs off a record called Like Flies on Sherbert, it’s really irreverent stuff, and I started to really see the connection between punk rock and Pete Jesperson and the Replacements and all this. It’s called the Jazz & Heritage festival, and there I was in New Orleans sort of rediscovering my own roots through Alex Chilton. Which is just cool. It’s kind of what Jazz Fest is all about; it’s about educating people as to what the history of American music is, and you can’t really have popular music without having Congo Square and all this kind of music heritage that we have here in America. I’m constantly wondering where it all comes from, and that’s what led me to New Orleans. So this was a cool full circle to be playing tribute to Alex Chilton.
Do you spend most of your time in New Orleans?
I have been in New Orleans for 14 years now, and we have been spending summers in Minneapolis.
That seems wise.
Oh my god I was sweating my [ahem] off. You’re sitting in your own sweat not even doing anything. I do love New Orleans, but I spend plenty of time talking up how great Minneapolis is.
The new album was recorded in several places, including New Orleans, L.A., and Minneapolis. Where, specifically, was it recorded here?
We recorded at Flowers and a place called Shock & Audio, which is right across the Bryant-Lake Bowl there, and various other studios in town that may or may not be in people’s basements. And Terrarium, which is over in Northeast. If I’m missing any other studios that’s entirely possible because it was so — let’s go to LA and cut some drums and then we’ll go back to New Orleans and add some vocals, and then we’ll come up to Minneapolis and we’ll add some guitars. Each track has a different evolution as far as oh, this track needs keyboards, let’s get the Minneapolis guy! It ended up being really interesting — I got string players from New Orleans and background singers from New Orleans and people from all over the place.
It was not piecemealed together, though. It was very focused as far as trying to make it sound like a Soul Asylum record. There’s a cohesiveness that we have to have, it’s a very elusive standard that will not get past Dan Murphy or Michael Bland. So as much as you’re trying to make it this homespun, homemade, organic project, you also have this serious industry standard you’re trying to meet the whole time. So hopefully we achieved those goals
How would you describe the new record?
I would describe it as a really good cross-section of everything the band has ever attempted to do. With Michael Bland, he really appeals to the harder and faster stuff. When I was in Golden Smog playing drums it was the same way, ‘let’s rock, let’s rock!’ And people love to rock, but people also want to hear “Runaway Train.” And Michael just gets really excited about the more aggressive stuff, which pushes me in a direction of writing more aggressive stuff. The aggressive stuff on this record is probably more aggressive, more in tune, harder, and faster, and just really realizing something that we were probably trying to nail in 1981.
Something like that, yeah. We’re finally getting the loud and the fast and the rules all together. And of course these are rules that are made to be broken, and we’ve got a jazz song on the record that I wrote right when we came down to New Orleans, and I didn’t know what it was. The whole band was just like, Dave, that is the weirdest thing you’ve ever written. And I was like, it doesn’t sound that weird to a jazz musician, but I don’t know how to play jazz. I was playing it for a jazz piano player down there, and he said, well, what you’re doing there is playing jazz. And I went, ‘well great!’
So between appealing to the lifespan of everything that the band has ever attempted and all the new directions that I’ve tried to take the band, and then the full circle of going to New Orleans and understanding where all this kind of music comes from, I’d like to think this record sort of embraces all of that, and that’s kind of the diversity I sort of set out to have. ‘Eclectic’ is the other word that people bring up, but I don’t think it’s that. It’s not like I’m going to make a Paul Simon’s Graceland or something like that. It’s more like trying to apply everything you have to everything you’ve heard, and then sort of breaking it down to its most primal elements.
What is the song “Gravity” about?
I think that there’s some sort of life and death situation going on, as far as everything that is holding you down, and everything that makes you want to feel some sense of weightlessness. It reminds me of The Unbearable Lightness of B.S. [laughs] The notion of gravity being a concept that you can apply to metaphor and that you can also apply to science fiction and what people think about outer space, it’s just really interesting to me. The way that sometimes you can just feel so heavy, like everything’s just weighing you down, and you want to get that off your back or off your shoulders. So I see other people that just deal with it so well, and I just don’t know how they can do it. I don’t know how they can be so up and so happy and floating around all the time when it feels like it’s just pushing me down. So it’s a thing where I’m expressing frustration, and I’m expressing admiration for people that deal with that so easily.
What led to your decision to sign to 429 Records?
Well, I think we were, once again, sort of in a place where we just didn’t know what to do. Even though the band is sort of comfortable with that position — when we started out, we didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing or why we were doing it — it’s a very strange element to feel comfortable in, because nothing happens if you don’t just go, well maybe we should record something? So we started recording a record four years ago, and I went out to LA and me and Michael started recording basic tracks, and as we started feeding these tracks around and coming out here and working with the band, we started seeing what was out there. This guy Jared, who used to work for our management company about 10 years ago, had said to Dan, hey, I’m working at a new record label, if you ever want to put out a record just let me know. He’s a great guy, he’s a younger guy, he was Robbie Robertson’s manager, and I’ve just always known him, so we felt like we were in good hands and we felt like we were going to work with someone we knew and trusted and liked — and that’s three out of three right there. Especially if it’s somebody that you’ve known that long and still trust and like. [laughs]
For more from Dave Pirner, listen to his live chat on air with Mary Lucia: