Soul Asylum's Pirner Steps Out

Excerpted from the magazine for

While thumbing through vintage threads at a New Orleans thrift store, Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner is singing the praises of the Crescent City, his home since 1998. "I love this city. Honestly, New Orleans is perfect for me," he says by cell phone, noting that he still maintains "a little place" in Minneapolis. "It's an intensely personal place, and there's always something to listen to.

"I feel like this city holds the origins to a lot of American music," he continues, "and everything here sounds fresh to me every day."

No doubt influenced by his experiences in the Big Easy is "Faces & Names" (Ultimatum), Pirner's recently released solo debut, which just may throw off a Soul Asylum fan or two. It's an album that favors old-school soul to power-pop or punk. Also, "Faces & Names" sees the formerly dreadlocked singer veering for the first time, lyrically, into the sort of late-night, romantic songwriting territory occupied by such friends and fellow Minneapolis scene mates as former Replacements leader Paul Westerberg.

"I grew up on the loud, loud guitar songs, and I love it. It's been my thing for a long time," he says. "But I'm also very big on grooves, drums, and bass. With this record I've become more attuned to the rhythm section, and I think the album reflects the whole syncopation of New Orleans in general."

Indeed, where Soul Asylum's sound seems to settle on a formula of either relentlessly driven guitar rock or downcast acoustic ballads, Pirner's solo cuts settle somewhere in between.

While such tracks as "Much Too Easy" rock in a very straightforward manner, these moments are rare on the album. Experimenting with slide guitars, horns, and organs, Pirner tantalizes the listener with buoyant, thick basslines, percussive polyrhythms, and brassy female background voices. Pirner's voice may be too delicate to put him in league with great R&B vocalists, but he makes noble attempts to fashion his voice in these styles.

Pirner just finished playing select shows in major U.S. cities to promote the album. That run kicked off at the end of July in Detroit and wrapped last night (Aug. 15) in Denver. Pirner is in the midst of recording demos with the other members of Soul Asylum for a new album.

Excerpted from the Aug. 17, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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