Multi-platinum alternative rock legends, Soul Asylum and Everclear are coming to the U.K. for a joint tour that kicks off in Southampton in November 2022. Not only will the trek be a treat for fans of '90s rock, but it also marks Soul Asylum's first dates on these shores for more than two and a half decades. "It kind of defies explanation", admits front man David Priner as we sit down for a chat. Talking the dates, playing at the White House, and the highs and lows of the mania the followed 'Grave Dancers Union', we joined David over Zoom for a chat about life after 'Runaway Train'. Black gold; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Dave, how are you doing?
I’m good. I’m here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at my humble abode.
You’ve recently wrapped up touring in the USA; how was that?
Yeah, we’ve just got back from… somewhere! Where did we just get back from? [laughing] Yeah, we’ve been kind of playing weekends all summer. When summertime comes around we either go out for a three month tour, or we jump around a lot, so one show’s a plane trip, the next show we’re taking a bus somewhere; it’s very erratic.
You must be glad to get back on the road given that latest album ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ came out just before the pandemic, stalling the touring plans behind it.
Yeah, it really sort of blindsided us. We were in San Diego, and we actually had only three more dates left on our tour when we got the news that the tour was over, and that’s when the whole COVID thing started. Then I put a book out ['Loud Fast Words: Soul Asylum Collected Lyrics', 2020] and I couldn’t go out and promote that either, so I had a record out and I had a book out and I was stuck inside with my sweatpants and my slippers on!
Soul Asylum are coming back to the U.K. for a tour with Everclear in November, and that’s a perfect ‘90s package, isn’t it?
Yeah, we did a long summer tour with Everclear, and we do tend to get put on bills with, I guess, yeah, ‘90s bands. You know, we started off in 1981, I think, so it’s a mixed bag because they try to pair or put bands together on a bill, that, you know, it’s not necessarily a perfect match. It’s; “if you’ve heard of THIS band, you may have also heard of THIS band”, so it is what it is. When Public Image played Minneapolis, they had like a Scottish bagpipe band open for them, and I just thought that was great. I like the idea of being exposed to something that I never expected to hear. This is more of a situation where you know what you’re getting yourself into, I suppose.
Apparently Soul Asylum haven’t played in the U.K. since 1995; is that true?!
I wish it wasn’t true! It kind of defies explanation for me because you know, we used to be over there all the time. I honestly don’t know what the hell happened. I mean, we just focused more on playing here in America. There was a couple of times when we were going to go over to England and it didn’t happen, so yeah, it’s been too long.
You first played in the U.K. in 1988, and came up through all the legendary venues; did that mean a lot to you?
Yeah, I mean, I think if there is a venue, it’s like playing Red Rocks [Colorado] or someplace like that you’re always heard about and then suddenly you’re playing there and pretty much, you maybe never thought you’d see the day when you were actually on that stage. It is pretty cool, it’s kind of a thrill. At the same time, we’ll play anywhere, so..! But, Gaye Bykers on Acid was a band that opened for us on one of those shows, and they were so funny. I don’t know what happened to that band but, it just sticks out in my memory.
When Soul Asylum released the ‘Grave Dancers Union’ album in 1992, it exploded; what was it like being lumped in with that grunge and alternative scene?
Yeah, again, it was kind of a mixed blessing, I suppose. Yeah, we had been around for quite some time and I think when the Nirvana thing swept everybody off their feet, all these other bands started getting exposure, and all of a sudden; the Meat Puppets and the Butthole Surfers and some of my favourite groups were getting attention for the first time, and that part of it is pretty great. It did get to a point where labels were signing every band that sounded even remotely like whatever it is you want to call it, so yeah, I guess, I suppose being swept up in the grunge thing is not the way that I would like to envision it.
People have certain associations with periods of time, and as we were saying, we had been around for ten years when the record came out. We had, I don’t know six or so records, so we were really more part of the SST and the Twin/Tone [legendary independent Minneapolis record label] era and the Meat Puppets and the Butthole Surfers, and groups such as.
As we speak, it’s the 30th anniversary of the album, which became a huge commercial smash hit; what is it like to be looking back on it?
I guess it it’s a rare achievement, I suppose. I feel good about it because when I hear it, it still sounds good to me. I just had an experience not too long ago where, we are going to release the original demo tapes from ‘Grave Dancers Union’, and one day I was listening to eight-inch reels from the practice space that was kind of eight-tracks, and the next day I remixed ‘Runaway Train’ in 5.1, which was like the new quad or something, so I had gone over 48 hours on it, through the oldest technology for when the song was originally started, to the new modern thing. But yeah, the songs still resonate for me, and we got that one right [laughing]!
You worked with producer Michael Beinhorn on that album; what was it like working with him?
He is extremely thorough. He is not an easy person to work with because he has a very high standard, sonically, really, so he is going to get the sounds that he is looking for, come hell or high water. He’ll spend five days working on a bass tone, or tuning a bass drum, or just some of the minutiae of it; there’s never a detail too small, and it’s never expected that it’s going to be easy to get what you’re looking for. He’s always very articulate about what he’s looking for, and he won’t stop until he gets it, so if you have to play that guitar part a hundred times, he’ll make you do it! He’ll make you suffer until you get it right.
We have to talk about ‘Runaway Train’, which Michael produced; do you remember working on the guitars and what that demanded?
Yeah, I mean, I remember the guitar. We had rented this beautiful old Gibson J-200. It just had a really, really… in fact, after that I stated playing J-200s because it just seemed right. This was a really special guitar, it was very old, so I mean, there was a lot of “try this”, “try that”, and as far as getting the song to sound the way it ended up, if I go back to that original demo, it’s not that different. At the same time, when Booker T [Jones III, Hammond organ] came in and played on it, it was very subtle, so there’s a nuance to it that was not easy to capture, I would say.
221 million Spotify plays, 18 million YouTube views; the song has taken on a life of its own; how does it feel to have a song that massively successful?
Yeah, it’s got legs, as they say! Now I’ve heard other people cover it, I’ve heard somebody do it on ‘America’s Got Talent’ or whatever those shows are called; it’s been re-recorded by some younger artists, and it just was re-recorded again by a woman, so there’s another version of it out there, and I really enjoy that. You know, Prince covered one my songs ['Stand Up And Be Strong', and I just got a huge kick out of that, just to hear what he done with it.
So, there’s a big part of music that’s kind of an aural tradition that you pass it on and you pick things up, and it’s like telling a joke, and everyone puts their spin on it. So, yeah, that’s just one part of music that I love, I mean, ending up living in New Orleans for twenty years, sort of chasing down that kind of a nuance where, you get to hear all these jazz bands play standards and they’ll all do their own spin on it, and it gets really interesting just to hear everybody interpret ‘My Funny Valentine’ differently or whatever the song may be.
What was it like for you when that song took off and catapulted you into the mainstream?
It was blinding. It was a blur of activity that just seemed endless. I mean, there’s parts of it where I, at least, was going; “what am I doing?!” It was just so many photo shoots and weird appearances and things that you just didn’t really sign up for. It was just going constantly, and our space is getting bigger; we’re going to Australia, we’re going to Japan, and we’re doing all this constant... I don’t want to call it ‘promotion’, but you’re just out there; you’re always getting up and going to a radio station, to do something. You’re playing late last night and now you’ve got to get up early and go to a radio station; it gets pretty grim, for lack of a better expression [laughing]!
You don’t have a lot of time to sit around and congratulate yourselves. The more attention the record got, the more activity would happen around the band so that we were constantly just going. I don’t really remember sitting around congratulating each other, patting each other on the back and sitting back with a big cigar and going; [affects Groucho Marx voice] “hey! We’re good, we done it!” It was madness. It’s good to be busy but you know, it’s better to be busy with just music.
They turned you into something of a poster boy, and that’s a level of fame I can’t imagine; how did you cope with that?
Yeah, we were touring in Germany and my tour manager came backstage and he throws these magazines down on this coffee table and he goes; “look what they’re doing to you”, and I open this magazine and it’s like a two-magazine sort of thing, and I’m leaving a gig and I’m getting mobbed by kids, and I remember specifically there was a bouncer who was holding back all these fans – for lack of a better expression - and they’re reaching at me and they’re grabbing my hair, and I turned around and I just threw my beer at the crowd, and instead of it hitting the horde, it hit the bouncer right in the face. It was like; “oh god, I’m so sorry, man! I just panicked”. It was frightening. I didn’t really know how to compartmentalise that sort of thing. So yeah, there was a little bit of mania going on that frankly, scared the hell out of me.
During that time, you played at President Bill Clintons inauguration. I’m not here to talk politics, but what was that like?
I don’t mind talking about politics, but I think we played three events for Clinton; one was the inauguration, one was the passing of a youth service bill where we played like three songs on the White House lawn, and then we played a gig where he came to Minneapolis when he was leaving office, and he asked me for my harmonica which I gave him. He was very sweet, and if I’m not mistaken, I think that Chelsea brought the band to her dad’s attention. But it felt very inclusive. It felt like; “wow! Here we are hanging out in the Oval Office, talking about saxophones with Bill Clinton”. Stuff like that where it was, I guess, we had a sense of absurdity and kind of ironic sarcasm that when we get into a situation that’s probably a situation that we did not expect ourselves to be in, we had a tendency to kind of laugh it off and go; “isn’t this something?! What the… what are we doing here?! Let’s just enjoy it while it’s happening, and make fun of it as much as we can!”
Back to the present, and are your looking to focus on promoting ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ now, or are you looking forward to working on new music?
We are moving on. We are making a record and I expect it to be a little louder than the last one. Yeah, it sucked that COVID kind of took the opportunity to go play our last record all over the place. We didn’t really properly tour the last record, so I mean, we can sit around and keep talking about that or we can just make another record, which is what we’re doing, which is kind of how it works. Sometimes your timing is right, and sometimes, you know, a pandemic takes away your opportunity to go out and play.
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Soul Asylum and Everclear tour the U.K. in November. Get tickets here.