As the frontman of Soul Asylum, Dave Pirner reached levels of 90’s alternative rock success that few musicians from his era could plausibly aspire to. At the peak of Soul Asylum’s fame, the band had a #1 hit, a triple-platinum record, and Pirner was thrust into tabloid-level fame.
The storied band will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of this year’s Riptide Music Festival, which is taking place this weekend at the Fort Lauderdale Beach Park. In advance of the group’s performance at the festival, Pirner spoke to Boca magazine to discuss being back in Minneapolis, the new music he’s listening to, and playing in the sand.
“I know more about this than most things because I know the date,” said Pirner of this weekend’s festival. “Winter’s coming in Minneapolis, so I can’t wait to get to Florida.”
Pirner, who recently lived in New Orleans for well over a decade, now finds himself spending most of his time back in his hometown of Minneapolis, where grueling winter weather looms large.
“Last year I went through my first full winter in Minneapolis in like sixteen years, and I made it through it. I haven’t completely lost my snow legs… I can’t tell you how many people I’ve brought to Minneapolis and they get this look on their face: it’s the ‘why do people live here’ look. And I know they’re gonna say it, and then they say it. And I’m like, ‘that’s a really good question.’”
After a bit of commiseration about the brutally cold weather, the conversation shifted to Pirner’s relationship with music and his wide-ranging taste. He’s likely one of the only people to have ever mentioned Lizzo in the same breath as Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, and that was just when the discussion was limited to musicians from Minneapolis.
That eclectic taste has been integrated into Soul Asylum’s live performances for decades, and years ago the group would pepper a slew of different covers into its set lists. After years of including cover songs by artists from James Brown to Wings, the band seems to be moving away from playing other groups’ tracks.
“We just don’t do it as much as we used to,” Pirner said of playing covers. “I think when [drummer and former member of Pince’s backing band The New Power Generation] Michael Bland joined the band… he’s tired of playing covers.” Pirner didn’t seem too torn up about it, adding, “there’s nothing that I’m dying to play. We talked about a couple obscure songs from local bands from years ago.”
When asked what he’s been listening to recently, he mentions Khruangbin, Kendrick Lamar, The Velvet Underground, Metallica, and The Mars Volta in a short span, almost as if to show off his eclecticism. But with Pirner, there was no showing off. He was affable and relaxed, despite the fact that he had friends waiting on him for a jam session, and it was on hold until our call was over.
“A friend from a band just came over, and when I get off the phone me and this friend and his brother are going to jam, and it’s just a thing that always makes me feel better and grounded.”
Pirner’s deep love for music clearly hasn’t abated after nearly 40 years in the business, and it was at the forefront of the conversation.
“I wouldn’t wanna live without it,” he said of his relationship with music. “I enjoy every part of it. Listening to it, seeing other people perform music, watching kids figure it out, watching the elder masters learning from other musicians and songwriters and whatnot. I don’t know, it’s just always been a part of my life, ever since I can remember singing in church when I was a kid… It’s always been a part of my life.”
“It’s better than ice skating, which is one of the other things that I can kinda do, so when I start skating I feel comfortable. Playing music is that, times many.”
Asked if he’s looking forward to performing on the beach for Riptide, Pirner took a moment to reminisce on a similar gig from years back:
“I do remember playing a gig on the beach, and it was crazy fun. There was just sand everywhere, and that made it kind of surreal in a way, because I’m not used to having sand in my shoes when I’m playing. You can do Michael Jackson moves. You can spacewalk… not that I would do that, but you start sliding around, so you have to be a little bit careful.”