The last decade for Minneapolis rockers Soul Asylum has been a pretty shaky one.
At one point the band didn’t have a permanent drummer after Sterling Campbell left. But the biggest blow came on June 17, 2005 when original bassist and co-founding member Karl Mueller succumbed to cancer.
“I just played a benefit for the Karl Mueller-whatever foundation concert for whatever the fuck he died of,” singer/guitarist Dave Pirner said in his familiar baritone from his New Orleans backyard. “All his friends were there. So much time has passed since he died, but in situations like that it seems like it just happened yesterday. But it was good to see all the old friends again. We raised a mess of cash for his foundation, which his wife runs. They were all there to support Karl, but he wasn’t there, and it’s still very emotional to this day to play those shows.”
Editor’s note: Please visit the Karl Fund
Soul Asylum used Mueller’s last bass recordings on their 2006 release The Silver Lining, but it didn’t feel like a Soul Asylum record. Now, six years later, with a new lineup, the band returns in a big way with Delayed Reaction.
Along with Pirner is co-founder and guitarist Daniel Murphy; former Prince drummer Michael Bland firmly slotted in as drummer; and former Replacements and current Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist Tommy Stinson on bass. The addition of the two has breathed new life into the band and given them that classic Soul Asylum sound again.
“Recording with these guys in the studio was absolutely fun,” Pirner said. “Tommy isn’t Tommy for no reason. He loves being in the studio like me. And Michael is just…I haven’t felt this comfortable with a drummer in, well, forever really. Their enthusiasm is awesome. Some people just loathe being in the studio, but these guys love it, so it made recording the new album that much more fun.”
When asked if Tommy and Michael sat around in the studio telling good stories about Axl Rose or Prince, Pirner just shrugged it off in typical Pirner fashion.
“No, not at all. They didn’t volunteer any stories, and I didn’t ask. That’s none of my business. If they want to talk about it, that’s fine, but I don’t really care to know. I find that people have to be respectful. That’s the way it is. We seem to live in a People Magazine world these days. Everyone seems to want to know everything about you. I went through that, and it wasn’t fun.”
For Delayer Reaction they spent a lot time in the studio, three different studios in fact. They recorded the album in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and the majority of it at Pirner’s studio in New Orleans.
“It’s just what we had to do to get the record done in the manner we wanted it to sound. If we had to record with giant amps we would record in one studio, or if we wanted a certain vocal sound we would record at another studio that was great for vocals. This is very abstract compared to how we recorded in the past. It was nice not being stuck in one studio for weeks at a time.”
The end result is one of Soul Asylum’s best albums in years. Delayed Reaction has that Hang Time indie rock feel to it with the growth of Grave Dancers Union.
“That’s good enough for me, I will take that,” Pirner said of the comparison. “I am glad you got that about the record. It’s a rare achievement to sound like you really want to when you go into the studio. We were, or at least I was, waiting with unbridled anticipation to record these songs. It was a lot of fun this time, more laid back and relaxed compared to the last record.”
The reason for the laid back atmosphere and ability to record at their own pace is, in part, because Delayed Reaction marks the first time Soul Asylum has been on an indie label since their Twin/Tone days.
“We have known a guy at 429 Records since forever, and he wanted to put our record out, and we said okay. It was that simple,” Pirner said. “ We have always liked this guy and trusted his instincts.”
Despite not having a new record in six years, Soul Asylum has consistently toured in those years, and they are gearing up to hit the road again support of the Delayed Reaction.
“We tend to play weekends more often because gas is expensive,” Pirner explained. “We normally fly to the gigs. We like to get in and get out, you know? With everyone’s schedules it’s really difficult to spend a great deal of time on the road like we used to. What are you gonna do, right?”
For whatever reason, the band has kept it going for almost 30 years now. Asked if they plan on doing anything special next year for their anniversary, Pirner isn’t quite sure.
“We were talking about doing something. I don’t care what the fuck we do, if anything at all. We thought about playing Hang Time in its entirety, but there so many words on that fucking record. It’s the most challenging record we have; that’s why we thought about doing that one. And I’d love to hear Michael play that entire album on drums. He would kill it.”
You can’t really call Delayed Reaction a comeback album, because Soul Asylum never really left. The band has consistently released good records and put on one of the best live shows you will ever see, and there’s no simple formula to that.
“Without blowing a lot of smoke, I think we sound pretty good right now. “I don’t want to go out and play songs at less than their full potential. That is why Michael and Tommy are so important. They make us feel like a band again.”
Read the CD review of Soul Asylum’s Delayed Reaction here