Q&A: Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy on their runaway year

The guys in Soul Asylum were certainly propelled into another tax bracket this year, thanks in part to the platinum-selling Grave Dancers Union. To the band members' delight and mortification, they were everywhere. MTV. The cover of this magazine. A bazillion benefit albums. The White House, for God's sake. Curiosity increased further after lead singer Dave Pirner started gallivanting up and down both coasts with actress Winona Ryder. At the moment, however, things are relatively low-key. Calling from a hotel room in Calgary during the Canadian leg of the band's tour, Pirner and guitarist Dan Murphy were in particularly jovial moods.

Looking back, what has been the most surreal moment for you this year?
MURPHY: The White House. I hadn't shaved in quite a while, and I was wearing a baseball cap that said FBI on it; I thought it'd be kind of funny. We went by the president's office, and he was there watching himself on TV. I couldn't think of anything clever to say. I remember walking out of there just giggling to myself.

Did you have a conversation with him?
Yeah, we talked a little about jazz, and then Dave commented that the White House lawn wasn't quite up to snuff. We tried to get him to play sax with us, but he wouldn't bite.

Dave? How about you?
Being at home. I was sitting at a bar that I always used to go to, and all my friends were there, and it had this unrealistic element to it, although it was just too normal. It was a great feeling. It was something I thought was gone.

Who have you met that you've really been impressed with this year?
MURPHY: Joe Strummer. When we started playing, we used to cover the second side of the Clash's first record. We told him that, and he wasn't impressed. For a British guy, he had a great sense of humor.

PIRNER: It's like a name-dropping festival if I talk about all the great people I've met. It's been so reassuring to find people that have always been your heroes and find out they're real people who just want to play music. I felt support from people that used to seem like imaginary characters.

OK, fill in the blank. When I'm in a 7-Eleven, the first thing I grab is...
PIRNER: A key to the bathroom.

MURPHY: Mountain Dew.

Not the burrito?
MURPHY: No, I don't eat that crap. Karl [Mueller], our bass player, does. He's the king of rude food. The shit he drags out of those places.

You ever have Jolt?
Jolt and Jack Daniel's is a very common drink in Midwestern bars.

What has been the weirdest thing written about you this year?
MURPHY: A music paper in Canada said our record sounds like an acoustic version of the Cars.

PIRNER: I was reading a French paper about us and the headline said, Bombed Retards, meaning "late explosion." [Pirner and Murphy laugh] I thought that was appropriate.

You're in the high-school cafeteria. What table are you at?
MURPHY: I was pretty shy. I would grab a couple of my dirt-ball friends and go to McDonald's. I didn't like high school very much. I ain't going to my reunion, I know that much.

PIRNER: Lunch time was an excuse to get out into the real world. Smoke cigarettes and drink coffee.

And be back in time for geometry. So what's the most embarrassing record in your collection?
MURPHY: I got that, easy. David Soul, that guy who was Hutch. I bought it because he does "Bird on a Wire," a really beautiful Leonard Cohen song. I wanted to hear his interpretation, and it was everything I never wanted to hear.

PIRNER: I have one of Raymond Burr reading poetry. And I have a record by the Cult that has a song called "Soul Asylum" on it, and I got it for that reason. It brings a tear to my eye.

Who in the band has the worst musical taste? And own up if it's you.
MURPHY: Easy. I'll let Dave say it.

PIRNER: Grant [Young, SA drummer]! [They laugh uproariously.]

MURPHY: He's the only guy I know who bought every fucking Tubes record there is. In Grant's house, the Tubes rule. Oh, this is harsh.

So name a word that you hope to never hear again after this year.
MURPHY: Grunge. It's pretty silly.

OK, last question: For our critics' poll, we had to pick a Hype of the Year. What would you vote for?
MURPHY: Can we say us? The "Runaway Train" video? We're right up there.

PIRNER: Drug addiction and suffering. It's getting a little tiring.

MURPHY: It's definitely us, and Suede.