Originally published in the Columbus Alive (July 25, 2002)
Fueled by Big Easy jazz and R&B; influences, Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner goes it alone
For the past 20 years, whenever Dave Pirner glanced to either side of the stage he always saw the same two familiar faces, his Soul Asylum brothers Dan Murphy (guitarist) and Karl Mueller (bassist). But with the forthcoming release of his solo debut, Faces and Names (Artemis), and the subsequent tour that kicks off July 27 in Columbus, Pirner is about to leave the comforts of Soul Asylum behind and explore uncharted territories.
“It’s a very, very, very nervous thing for me,” Pirner tells Columbus Alive. “I’m definitely missing my team, my guys. Doing it without them is going to be real weird.”
Pirner’s path down the solo trail was more a thing of happenstance than a well-thought-out plan. After living in Minneapolis for most his life, Pirner decided to give New Orleans a try, in part because of its rich musical heritage. He admits he did a lot of couch surfing before finally settling down into his own place.
The impending closure of the famed New Orleans recording hot spot Kingsway Studio led Pirner to start writing and recording material that would eventually wind up on Faces and Names. “The people at Kingsway Studio were kind and generous enough to let me record,” Pirner says. “It was a particularly focused and unconvoluted environment that I could never see happening in, say, New York.”
While many bands find the temptations of New Orleans to be a distraction, Pirner’s experience has been quite the opposite. “I had a pure intention of coming here for the music and the culture and could care less about Bourbon Street,” he says. “The distractions are all musical distractions and I feed off of that.”
Pirner explains that he often wanders around the Big Easy, slipping into jazz clubs where he discovers legendary performers that people have forgotten about. These musicians, Pirner says, will “blow you away with a minimal amount of effort and a smile on their faces.”
The relocation to New Orleans helped Pirner focus on the type of songs that he was interested in recording. The former garage-rock musician has always had a soft spot in his heart (and ears) for jazz and R&B and he incorporated elements of both into Faces and Names.
Soul Asylum fans shouldn’t fear, however. Faces and Names doesn’t stray too far from what you might expect, despite the various non-rock influences. Guest appearances by legendary keyboardist Billy Preston (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones) and guitarist Chris Whitley help fill out the soulful sound.
So what’s in store for the Columbus audience, the first to see Pirner on his solo tour? “Hopefully we’re going to have a whole new sound going on that will be refreshing and cool for people,” Pirner says.
Multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, who played on Faces and Names, and bassist Gwen Snyder and drummer Brian Geltner (both of the NYC band Johnny Society) will join Pirner on the road. “I kind of expected to be out with a bunch of slick studio cats,” Pirner admits. “But these guys [Snyder and Geltner] are vibey. They didn’t come from an indie-rocker vibe. They are really into it and enthusiastic.”
And what happens when the crowd starts yelling out Soul Asylum requests? “My plan is to keep these as two separate projects and this be an avenue for everything that is not Soul Asylum. I don’t have any intention of mixing that up too much,” Pirner says. “People will yell out a Soul Asylum song if I ask them what they want to hear. But if I don’t ask them, then maybe they won’t.”