Dave Pirner is doing just fine. The founding and last original member of Minneapolis alt-rock legends Soul Asylum, Pirner thrived in the late 1980s and well into the ‘90s on righteous anger and deceptively well-crafted songs. Peaking commercially in the mid-1990s when hits like “Runaway Train,” “Black Gold” and “Misery”—which is really one of the most underrated singles of the decade, but I digress—were prevalent on radio and the charts, Pirner didn’t flame out or fight changing tides into the new millennium. He grew up.
Moving to New Orleans, getting married and having a son gave Pirner a new sense of artistic freedom. Continuing to make music in the 2000s (The Silver Lining in 2006 and Delayed Reaction in 2012, Soul Asylum is set to release the aptly titled Hurry Up and Wait. It’s the band’s first album since Change of Fortune in 2016, as well as the first since getting a divorce and returning to his hometown stomping grounds of Minnesota.
Sitting in a lounge overlooking an ominously stormy day in the Century City section of Los Angeles, there’s a slight unease in the office just days before coronavirus would shut the city down for the foreseeable future. Still, Pirner is in good spirits, cracking open the first craft beer of the interview and chatting about finding a copy of Elvis Costello’s Greatest Hits on cassette at a truck stop recently. He looks great, by the way, like he could still post up with the best of them in a game of pickup basketball. He’s as smart and witty as one might imagine, taking everything from his comfy spot in the world of music to the creeping pandemic in stride.
“I embraced the ‘no future’ part of punk rock where there was just kind of nihilism and you didn’t worry about what was going to happen the next day,” Pirner chuckles about his view of 2020 way back in his band’s beginnings. “Me and my silly friends from Minneapolis, there was part of us that never thought we’d make it to even 30 years old, let alone here.”
As talk turns to the Hurry Up and Wait, the first Soul Asylum album recorded at Minneapolis’ Nicollet Studios in years, the question remains: can you go home again?
“That was the question I asked myself every day,” Pirner ponders. “For so long, I felt like I didn’t know where home was. I finally tried to settle down in New Orleans, and that didn’t work out. There are certain parts of being back in Minnesota that are surprisingly satisfying, like being able to go see my mom and hanging out with my nephews. It’s sort of the polar opposite of New Orleans, which is why I went there in the first place. I’m used to six months of winter. You should take advantage of it if you can handle it. It’s like living on the moon or something.”
Digging into the inspiration of Hurry Up and Wait, Pirner says the process was “natural and spontaneous. I can’t really explain why, but part of it was being back in Minneapolis, and just being able to hit the studio at a moment’s notice. I liked being back where I started and feeling comfortable with the band. It was pretty painless.”
Before he heads over to Hollywood to dig through some vinyl, Pirner contemplates the career arc of his band from the planet of Minnesota all those years ago maneuvering its way into 2020.
“I’ve just been playing in this band, and all this crazy shit has happened around the band. I think I was reserved about buying into a lot of it like this isn’t gonna last,” he sighed. “Part of it is a relief. I don’t know where any of this is going, but to sort of come out on the other side like, I’m still able to do this. My experience in New Orleans was amazing. People down there, they play until they drop dead. So to still be here…it’s nice. A pleasant surprise.”