Die-hard fans of alt-rockers Soul Asylum know that the band originally went by the name Loud Fast Rules when they formed in Minneapolis, Minn., back in 1981, and frontman Dave Pirner developed a reputation for presenting a dynamic stage show and living up to the original moniker.
“I played trumpet in second grade and I always wanted to be involved in music and it was my dream to do this for a living, but I never thought it would happen,” Pirner said. “In high school I homed in on songwriting and how I wanted to present it, and moved to New Orleans to try and pick up on the living history that’s so abundant. I approached it fairly blindly with sort of a naïve wonder.”
The switch to Soul Asylum came a few years later, the band developed a strong underground following in its first decade, and its unrestrained punk style started to creep into college radio stations around the country.
In 1992, Soul Asylum finally connected with the masses, as it signed a record contract with Columbia and delivered the hit single “Runaway Train” on its debut “Grave Dancers Union,” which led to the band playing at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
“Runaway Train” is one song that can be expected to be heard when Soul Asylum plays the State Theatre on Tuesday, as will lots of the band’s old and newer tunes.
“We just got done playing the 20th anniversary of ‘Grave Dancers Union’ and our catalogue is expanding rapidly in a good way,” Pirner said. “The more songs we can get under our belt, the more we can mix things up. There seems to be some impetus for us to really start doing radically different shows from one to the next, and we’re pretty much getting up to speed for three completely different sets we can play on any given night.”
At one point, Pirner stopped playing “Runaway Train” in concert, but got tired of explaining why he wasn’t, so he put it on every set list for good.
“Hopefully, what they can expect is spectacular. What we aim to bring is a real hybrid of what a rock band can be,” he said. “I’m really excited in a way I haven’t been in a long time.”
The band has had its share of heartbreak. In 2002, tragedy struck when bassist Karl Mueller developed throat cancer and died a year later. Soul Asylum also was dropped from its record deal, and the remaining members decided to take a break.
By 2006, Soul Asylum regrouped with Guns N’ Roses bassist Tommy Stinson and Prince drummer Michael Bland, and the band released a new album in “Silver Lining.”
It was critically well received and connected with fans, but for some reason, no new music would come again until last year’s “Delayed Reaction” album, which captured a lot of what made them so popular in the first place, turning back the clock to the days when full albums actually mattered.
“It took a long time because I think we can’t agree on anything like we used to be able to, and we sort of have a wider variety of tastes going on in the band,” Pirner said. “It was difficult to find the label, and I was making the record on no budget … but it all came together.”
Pirner believes that people who know the repertoire of the band will appreciate the new stuff, but Soul Asylum can connect to a younger fan base as well.
“I can see young people around coming to the shows and I like that. We’re still trying to prove ourselves I guess, and that can be difficult when you’re facing a real broad audience,” he said. “We want to give people something that’s challenging and satisfying without driving ourselves crazy.”
While the lineup has changed, (Winston Roye now is in for Stinson), Pirner thinks the essence of Soul Asylum still exists, and it might even be better.
“Michael might go through the old catalogue and pull out a song and say, ‘I want to play this’ and he’ll play it and it’s sort of like I am hearing it for the first time because it was never played the way that brings the best out of the material, and you’re getting a bizarre rebirth of the song,” he said. “That makes me all warm and fuzzy. It’s pretty great.”
Looking ahead, Pirner isn’t sure how much longer he will continue, but he can’t really imagine a life without music.
“Making music is what I love to do and what I stake my creative worth off of,” he said. “I went right from high school to rock and roll and I really feel I have to keep challenging myself and continue to pull it off with a four-piece rock band and that definitely gets harder through the years, but I feel in my element in doing it.”