It's been six years since Soul Asylum has issued a new album. But as evidenced by the arrival of 'Delayed Reaction' (the group's first release for 429 Records), the wait was most certainly worth it. Fans will be happy to discover the group's trademark ragged-but-right sound is still very much intact, and that they've turned back the clock to the good old days when full albums actually mattered - rather than just a smattering of singles padded with filler. And the proof is in the pudding - such tunes as "Gravity," "The Streets" and "By the Way" prove that Soul Asylum has created an incredibly consistent album from front to back.
"It feels like approaching it as an album and a thing that has a sequence, and a thing that is a piece of work in itself is almost an archaic process," explains the band's singer/guitarist, Dave Pirner. "It's almost like there's no venue for it. Today, I was trying to find a CD player, and I can't tell you how frustrating that is, when you're making what you think is a CD, and there's no stores that sell them, and there's no players that play them! So be it, if that's the way you've got to stay in the game, that's the way you've got to stay in the game. I can't be a crotchety old man about it - it's how people are putting music out, and everyone can come to their own conclusions about what's the best way to get music to people. It's just different for people that are born in a different environment."
"Some of the stuff we recorded 18 months ago," adds guitarist Dan Murphy. "We did it in bursts - like three or four studio dates. Some of it was recorded in LA, some of it was recorded in Minneapolis - but a lot of it was recorded down in New Orleans. I guess with Michael [Bland] playing drums and Dave and I playing guitar, and the harmonies that Dave and I do, it's always going to sound like Soul Asylum."
'Delayed Reaction' (which was produced by the band, with additional input by John Fields) also marks the first Soul Asylum studio album to not feature original bassist Karl Mueller, who passed away from cancer in 2005. Ex-Replacements/current Guns N' Roses bassist Tommy Stinson is now a full band member, as is former Prince drummer Bland.
The other half of Soul Asylum's rhythm section, drummer Bland, sees the difference between being a hired hand with Prince, and a more integral part of the songwriting process with Soul Asylum. "This is definitely a situation where people come up with their own ideas and try to make them work with the other ideas that are coming up at the same time. Prince is definitely more in control of the entire picture while it's happening. Not that he doesn’t have an interest in what your ideas might be, it's just the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, really. But both have their advantages and disadvantages. When you have Prince decide what's going to happen, then it's easier to follow instruction. Prince is not going to compromise his vision, whereas Pirner really wants you to feel involved, like your statement is actually being made."
And according to Murphy, another welcome arrival was the relationship the band has built with their new label, 429 Records. "It's funny - a guy we've known in the music business for quite a while is Jared Levine, who worked with Danny Heaps, who was our manager during 'Grave Dancers' and 'Dim Light Shine.' Jared was a good guy, whose function at that point in time was the go-between, between the artists and Gibson guitars and amp companies. I guess he was their 'musician business contact.' I saw Jared when we played in LA, and he said, 'You guys sound great. I work at a record label now - if you guys ever wanted a record deal, I'd love to give you one.'
But with a solid line-up and label in place, why did it take so long for a new Soul Asylum studio effort to appear? "I think we can't agree on anything like we used to be able to," jokes Pirner. "And we sort of have a wider variety of tastes going on in the band. It was difficult to find the label, and I was making the record on no budget. So Michael had called me, and said, 'You should come out to LA and work with John Fields.' I spent about a week out there, and that was when it got started. At that point, I was just getting the ball rolling, and not really entirely sure what I was doing as far as if I was recording a solo record, or if I was demoing things. In fact, a few of those things wound up on the record."
Interestingly, although 'Delayed Reaction' harkens back to the days of "album rock," it was not recorded the old fashioned way. "It was made in a more modern way," continues Pirner. "It was made in a way that so many more people are working today, where quite a bit of it comes out of my home studio. It was going in and out of the studio quite a bit, to save money. Honestly, it's more organic. Even though you're using some of this newer technology, the fact that you're doing it yourself is what made it take so long and the process unique, this time." Whatever it took to record 'Delayed Reaction,' it certainly worked, and Murphy, Pirner, and Bland each have specific tracks that are their favorites.
Murphy: "The first three that we did, I think we did 'Into the Light,' 'The Streets,' and 'Gravity.' And all three of those seem immediate to me. 'Gravity' is kind of like a vintage Soul Asylum song, although it's got great drumming on it - Michael killed it. It's got a real crescendo guitar and interplay that's exciting, and it plays itself. I like the song 'By the Way,' it is really just a beautiful lyric. Dave always has a tendency to look at a thing two ways, like 'By the Way.' I could listen to that song forever - it's really timeless."
Pirner: "It's cornball, but each one is like my kid. I think 'Cruel Intentions' was nice, because it was spontaneous and was a song that I wanted to record for a long time. I think 'Take Manhattan' was nice, because it started off with different lyrics, and I sort of wrote this story into it, and we used the original tracking. It had a long and concentrated development period, which is true for a lot of the material. It went from New Orleans to LA to Minneapolis back to LA to Minneapolis, until it was done. Believe it or not, it gives it a multi-cultural thing, where it's passing through the headspace of me and my engineer from New Orleans, and then John Fields in Los Angeles, and then the whole gang up in Minneapolis. You get that influence of whatever's going on around you."
Bland: "'Let's All Kill Each Other' is awesome. It's pretty defiant. The track was started out of thin air - it was just an idea Pirner had. We were both paling around in Minneapolis, everybody else was out of town, and we ended up going into the studio and started to work on it, and it fell together immediately. It's a simple song, the message is pretty direct - it's an anti-war song. It pretends only lyrically to be about some urge that people have within them and why they should ignore it - maybe. But I'm pretty sure when people hear those kids singing along, they're going to get disturbed."
Originally formed in 1983 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Soul Asylum has consistently issued heartfelt and passionate rock n' roll, first starting out on indie Twin/Tone, before scoring two major hits on Columbia, 1992's 'Grave Dancers Union' (including the hit single "Runaway Train") and 1995's 'Let Your Dim Light Shine.' And the group is one of the few rock acts that can say that they played a presidential inauguration, when they did so for Bill Clinton in 1993.
Long one of the most electric live bands, Soul Asylum will be supporting 'Delayed Reaction' with a mix of live dates.
The delay is now over, Soul Asylum fans. Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy, Tommy Stinson, and Michael Bland are back, and have readied a very potent 'Delayed Reaction.'