Dave Pirner talks exclusively with the Rock & Roll Globe about a busy year put on hold
There’s a certain cosmic something about the title of Soul Asylum’s latest, Hurry Up and Wait.
Dave Pirner and Company were set to support one of the finest records in the band’s 39-year history and had even knocked out a series of early 2020 tour dates with Local H when the COVID-19 crisis arose, shuttering road plans for at least half of the calendar year. Pirner had also readied a collection of his collected lyrics, Loud Fast Words, a long overdue recognition of his prowess as a wordsmith and raconteur.
Both of those are out in the world now and although Pirner can’t hit the stage in front of faithful Soul Asylum fans, he’s been conducting live performances from his Minneapolis home of late and talking up a storm with reporters eager to get the scoop on both the album and his book. It’s a different kind of promotional cycle and one that Pirner is handling with grit, despite his obvious disappointment about not being able to support either of his current projects in the traditional way.
VIDEO: The Quarantine Sessions with Dave and Ryan
An unexpected luxury of the pandemic for many people is time and time may allow Soul Asylum fans to dig into Hurry Up and Wait with deep attention and appreciation. Whatever the specifics behind the songs, it’s clear that communication was lurking in the background: There are references to dead letters, landlines, messages sent, some of them received, and others left dangling, one-sided.
Joined by drummer Michael Bland, guitarist Ryan Smith and bassist Winston Roye, Pirner reminds us once more of his ability to craft haunting melodies and the way in which he and his band can bash and growl their way through a rock ‘n’ roll song the way few others can.
Pirner spoke with Rock & Roll Globe from his Minneapolis home, just days after the record’s release, about the record’s themes and whether or not he’ll ever write a memoir.
A lot of the songs on this album deal with communication and antiquated forms of communication.
I guess communication is always on my mind in a weird kind of way. When you travel as much as I do your relationships are all on the phone. I used to make fun of myself for making too many songs about phones and trains and stuff. But, yeah, communication is a big thing for me. How it has evolved is pretty interesting but it kind of sucks. I’m not really tuned in to the internet and all that sort of stuff. You could call me a luddite and I’d probably say, “That’s accurate.”
I think about that a lot because you see people glued to their phones now. When I was growing up, you’d miss a phone call and it might be a whole day before you could connect with the person. Almost no one is ever out of touch now.
Every generation has its set of communication devices to deal with. I never expected the FaceTime thing to really happen. “In the future, you’re going to be able to see the person you’re talking to on the phone.” I don’t like it! [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] How have you been dealing with all of that in the time of quarantine?
We had gone into the long nights of winter before we left for tour. You get accustomed to being holed up. You get a little bit of cabin fever now and again. When it’s that cold for that long in the wintertime it’s just kind of a natural thing that occurs. You end up inside a lot. Our tour started but then got cut off in San Diego. We came back to Minneapolis and when you get back from tour you kind of want to be alone. You’ve been in tight quarters with a bunch of dudes for way too long. But not this long! [Laughs.] A couple of days just hiding in my room turned into weeks and months.
I have a roommate who’s in a band. He plays and writes. We both make paintings and stuff so we keep busy in that. We jam out every day. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff on the internet which is strange. We’re in peoples’ phones instead of playing to people. The most annoying part of our shows is when everybody pulls their phones out and now it’s just the phone. It’s weird.
Am I correct that this is the first Soul Asylum album you’ve made since moving back to Minneapolis?
What was it like to be back in the place where it all started? I know you worked at Nicollet Studios, where some of the early records were made.
It was a nice feeling. There was a familiarity that I didn’t expect to see again. The studio we recorded in is really the only business on the block from the old days. But this suited me. It’s different than what we would usually do, which was to go to New York or got to L.A. and be in a hotel, spend a bunch of money on living expenses. This was much more laid back. We could go in, work for a while, then take a break. “When’s the next time you guys want to work? Tomorrow? A week?” We had this flexibility that helped the process. We weren’t in a lockout for a month. Youre able to go home where all your notebooks and your instruments are. A lot of that had a real positive effect on the record.
You also have this collection of your lyrics that’s out. How did that come to be?
My manager said, “Would you want to do that? A book?” I said, “Yeah, I’d like to do that.” I didn’t want to write a memoir. I’m tired of people’s road stories. I think Mötley Crüe killed the whole genre. [Laughs.] I decided to put out the collection of lyrics. It turned around pretty quick. I wrote a little bit about every song, a few paragraphs, a couple sentences about how or why or where a song came to be.
There are some songs you’ve been singing for years and years on an almost nightly basis but I would imagine there are some that you haven’t really thought about in a while.
There was one song we listened to over and over again and I couldn’t make out a single word. I was just screaming back in 1981. There were a few things like that. Songs I had forgotten that I wrote. There were moments of “That sounds like something a 19-year-old would write.” A lot of ghosts in the songs, strange memories that are personal. I remember exactly how I was feeling when I wrote a song 25 years ago. I couldn’t tell you what, exactly, I was thinking but I can tell how I was feeling.
You mentioned not wanting to do a memoir. How would you feel about an authorized biography?
I have been approached by a couple of people and maybe I’d take a stab at telling the story myself. I’m really the only one that can tell the story. I could probably make it pretty interesting! [Laughs.] Road stories are not glamorous, so the other option is to turn it into a fairytale, which our story definitely was not! [Laughs.] There’s a lot to try and put together and trying to make sense out of it is probably impossible. It’s been a long, strange trip for sure.
You’ve got a new album out and the normal thing to do would be to go out and promote it with a bunch of shows. Touring is up in the air or off the table for a lot of people right now. Are you starting to think about new models and ways of delivery if this continues for some time?
It’s kind of crazy. Usually you put a record out and go after it. I’m supposed to be signing books at a bookstore right now, doing all these things I can’t do right, so that is really frustrating. We do do live broadcasts on the Internet at least once a week. So we’re playing a lot of songs that we don’t usually play. That’s kind of interesting. Me and Ryan are just doing acoustic versions of anything and everything. It seems to be going fairly well. We had every continent tuning in except for Antarctica and Africa, so there are still a couple of places I’m trying to get to! [Laughs.]
The first time we did it there were a lot more people tuning in than if they had showed up for a gig. I don’t watch them because I’m not into that but I’m getting more comfortable with it. We do it from my house in Minneapolis. At one point it’s kind of comfortable and convenient. At another point, it’s just really invasive. I don’t know if I want to let the internet into my house. We’re doing what we can. It’s frustrating and it was frustrating to be cut off before the tour ended. It leaves you with this feeling of incompletion. It’s very odd.