The California Rocker Interview: Soul Asylum Founder Dave Pirner Talks ‘Change of Fortune’

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum at the Whisky A Go Go - Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker
Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum at the Whisky A Go Go - Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

New Orleans Resident Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum Rolls to Whisky A-Go-Go July 21

Dave Pirner sits down with Donna Balancia of California Rocker
Dave Pirner sits down with Donna Balancia of California Rocker – Photo courtesy Dave Pirner

By DONNA BALANCIA – Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum has put a lot of time into the new album, Change of Fortune.  He’s had some major changes in his life and the album reflects that.

“It’s got loose architecture to it; it strives to be filthy and accurate at the same time,” he told in an exclusive interview. “The rythms are tight, and I got some stink in there.”


Dave, 52, has been living in New Orleans, raising a son, and playing music.  He looks basically the same, he’s still strictly anti-commercial and won’t sell his songs for TV ads.  His band is ON TOUR this summer with groups like The English Beat and The Fixx.  Soul Asylum plays Whisky A-Go-Go on July 21.

‘Runaway Train’

Change of Fortune album cover Soul Asylum
Change of Fortune album cover Soul Asylum

Yes, it’s a different Soul Asylum than in the days of the band’s 1994 superhit “Runaway Train.”  Soul Asylum 2016 consists of Dave, Michael Bland on drums, Winston Roye on bass, and Ryan Smith on guitar.

“We enjoy playing together and we’re having fun,” Pirner said.

“Runaway Train” reached number 2 on the U.S. Top 40 mainstream and sold 600,000 copies in the United State en route to being certified gold.

Soul Asylum had previously been called Loud Fast Rules with guitarist Dan Murphy, bassist Karl Mueller, and Pirner who had been on the drums – Murphy and Pirner were taking turns on vocals.

Dave moved from drums to lead vocals and rhythm guitar in 1983 and the band became Soul Asylum.

A lot has happened in the years since “Runaway Train” hit the charts and won a GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Song in 1994. Dave’s had a family, he survived the death of his best pal and bandmate Karl Mueller, and he evacuated for Hurricane Katrina to Minneapolis only to return to a devastated New Orleans.

“New Orleans is resilient,” Dave said. “They’re true believers here. There’s a real pride and you could see it when the Saints won the Super Bowl.”

And yes there’s been a lot of change all around. But he said he’s undergone one change that is truly unfortunate for someone living in New Orleans: “I lost the ability to eat spicy foods,” Dave said.

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum
Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum photo courtesy Dave Pirner for

Dave speaks like a guy with a swagger looks. He pauses when he speaks, he’s thinking, and he’s uncensored.

The album and title track off  “Change of Fortune” were influenced by living in the Big Easy, Dave said.

“The drum rythms are inspired by the parades or the syncopations that are so fundamental and intimate to New Orleans,” Dave said.

Did a lot of people leave New Orleans?

“Whenever I’m in Houston, musicians ask ‘How’s the scene back in New Orleans,” Dave said. “So I think people relocated.

As far as playing the old haunts of New Orleans, Dave initially was taken with the appearance of history on the walls of the joints there. The changing face of New Orleans brought some initial trepidation.

“Tipitina’s has always been the place to play,” Dave said. “So when House of Blues came in I was resistant, but for the musicians that live here, they were like, ‘Wow a good lighting system,’ ‘A good sound system,’ Wow a clean bathroom,’ so in that respect it’s good. But I’m here in New Orleans where the legends are.

Dave Pirner’s Film work

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum
Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave’s been longtime friends with filmmaker Kevin Smith, since Smith directed the video for Soul Asylum song “Can’t Even Tell” which appeared in Smith’s comedy, Clerks.  Pirner then scored his next movie Chasing Amy.

“Kevin’s been lecturing at Kent State,” Dave said. “Kevin asked for a song he liked and ended up making a video on the roof where Clerks was shot. I did the Chasing Amy score and now I’m working on a documentary about a magic shop that I know from my childhood. That’ll be directed by Dave Roth who directed Artificial Heart our Black Gold video.”

And he may be working in films, but he won’t do ads, Dave said.

“I’m not putting my music in commercials,” Dave said. “It’s almost problematic that I’m not interested. I won’t even play on a stage that has a beer sign on it. I’m not interested, but If Greenpeace wanted to use my music I might reconsider. Or if a bullet train from California to New York, I would consider letting them use ‘Runaway Train.'”

The industry today is a little different than when “Runaway Train” went off the charts.

“Today, it’s impossible for me to support my own band,” he said. ” They would love for us to license a song for an Advil ad to feed their children.

“But as George Michael said, “You got to have faith.”

Dave paused for a few seconds.

“I can’t believe I’m quoting George Michael,” he laughed. “But Soul Asylum would not be around if we didn’t have faith.”

The Soul Asylum Tour

Dave Pirner - Photo courtesy Woohoo120
Dave Pirner – Photo courtesy WH120

Last summer the band toured with the Meat Puppets. This year they’ll be touring with English Beat and it’s a different crowd. They’ll be playing Whisky A-Go-Go July 21.

Dave said he likes playing the smaller venues.

“You know, it’s a fact that the bigger the venue the more impersonal it is,” he said. “I remember some of the festivals in Europe, before Lollapalooza, you could look out and see the crowd goes on forever, you couldn’t see the end of the crowd.”

Dave said he’s been fortunate enough to have a wide range of performance experiences and a few come to mind as standouts.

“We opened for Guns N Roses in England,” he said. “Then there was the time we played the White House. One time we were playing ‘Runaway Train’ on a baseball diamond and a train went by right at that moment. We’ve been really fortunate.  And we’ve done a lot but there’s a lot more ahead.”