Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner "surprised and delighted" by Prince's cover of "Stand Up And Be Strong"

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Interview with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum
Interview with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum (Photo Courtesy of Artist | Graphic by MPR)
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We caught up with Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner about navigating live performances in the age of Covid, and what it felt like to hear Prince covering "Stand Up And Be Strong," which appears on the posthumous Prince album Welcome to America. Stream audio of the interview with Sean McPherson above, and check out a full transcript of the conversation below.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

SEAN MCPHERSON: You're tuned in to The Current I'm chatting with Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum. Dave, thank you so much for taking time out of your traveling schedule and your life schedule to chat a little bit with The Current.

DAVE PIRNER: Thank you, Sean, I appreciate it.

One reason we wanted to reach out and connect with you was A.) There's always a good option to get the chance to chat with you. But it's pretty cool to see that the song recorded by Prince but penned by you "Stand Up And Be Strong" came out on Welcome to America. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of finding out that Prince was going to cover one of your tunes and also what you think of the actual performance?

Sure I can Sean. I wrote the song a long time ago, and it was almost--it's like the last, I think it was the last song we put on The Silver Lining record. And Michael Bland, my drummer, called me up and he was at Paisley Park. And he said, "Prince would like to do 'Stand Up And Be Strong' and he wants your blessing." And I said, "I'd be honored," and that was kind of it. Then I just figured it'd probably end up in the vault forever. I didn't really think it was going to see the light of day.

So some time passed and somebody told me it was gonna be on the record, and I was as surprised as anyone. I was really thinking that that vault was going to not not open up so quickly. But yeah, we got a copy of it. Me and Janine listened to it in the car, and we did not anticipate a woman singing the first verse. So in the first line of the song when the voice came in, we both thought something had happened to Prince's voice or he discovered some new effects or something. But then he comes in on the second line and it's like, "Oh! There he is." But yeah, it's pretty different, and I like it. I think it's really cool. It's got almost kind of a gospel flavor to it, and I love gospel music, and I'm a big fan of interpretation. So I'm--what is the word? I'm pinched? I'm pleased, something. I'm surprised and delighted.

Now is that particular track, "Stand Up And Be Strong"--when you were writing that song did you think like, "Oh, this might be the one that an artist like Prince would smile upon," or for you was it just another tune as you're working through getting out a bunch of Soul Asylum material and you just said, "Oh, cool. I'm glad it's this one," but it didn't have a sort of--it didn't seem particularly coverable to you, or did it seem like one of those ones that might go further?

Oh, that's something I rarely think about. But like I was saying, it was like the manager at the time was like, "Okay, what else you got?" And then when we recorded that one, he seemed to be very excited about it. He's like, "Now you've given me a song I can work with," or whatever. Not that it really meant anything, but yeah the manager seemed to think it was something significant. Other than that, yeah, it's another tune.

Gotcha. Well, you know, I understand that a lot of your working technique is kind of make another tune, churn them out, make the songs, get into the studio, and keep on working. And it's a formula that has worked for Soul Asylum for 40 years. And you guys continue to churn out not only cool records, but also continue to be a really powerful force as a live act beyond just kind of a "finish the song and get it out". What do you think is the formula that's helped Soul Asylum last so much longer than the majority of rock groups?

Probably just ignorance and just sort of a blind ambition that says to keep going, not knowing when to stop, I suppose. But I think it started out pretty hard scrabble. I think that we probably faced as much diversity as anyone could face, so at some point or another, we've sort of been through the grinder. And for me anyways, it was never sort of taking advantage of the situation and resting on your laurels or anything like that. It was just kind of, this is what you do, and it's a grind, and we sort of just keep your head down and keep going. It's worked to a varying degree, I suppose. There's been times where it's like, oh, should we continue on or is this the end? But it's still something that is obviously important to me, and it still feels vital, and I'm still enjoying it. I love it. And I'm either too stupid or I can't afford to retire, I don't know.

Well, it certainly sounds vital. And it sounds important, especially in the live setting. This new EP that just came out does feature the studio version, the Soul Asylum studio version of "Stand Up And Be Strong". But then also some really impressive live performances from First Avenue. It's so clear that your crowd loves what you do and really connects with in the live setting. Now you've been out on the road for a little while. So I was curious if you could talk about playing during this COVID pandemic, perhaps maybe knock on wood, the waning months of the COVID pandemic, and then also the specialness of recording at First Avenue and sharing that on that new EP?

Well, you know, the live stream thing from First Avenue was weird because we had done one live stream in the studio on Nicollet Avenue, where we recorded our first couple of Twin Tone records, our second and third Twin Tone record. So it had kind of a surreal time warp element to it. I was playing songs from Made To Be Broken that was recorded in that studio. So there's something really comforting about that, and that was the same at First Avenue. It's just the stage and an atmosphere that we're used to, although it kind of seemed like we were doing soundcheck, there was nobody in the audience. So playing to a camera is not my favorite thing. But we certainly did quite a bit of it over COVID just once a week, me and Ryan did a acoustic thing. And you know, I forgot what the question was.

My other question was, how's it been being out on the road now that you've been playing shows for a little while with crowds?

There's a bit of trepidation. There's a bit of distancing, where you know, you can't really--we're farther away from the front row of so everyone's not spittling on each other or whatever. So you feel that little more distance, and you have to sort of avoid people in a way that's not great. So you feel kind of bad. You can't give everyone a hug or whatever. But, you know, different cities and different clubs have--everybody's got their own interpretation of what's appropriate. And that gets confusing, and some people get upset. So the first show, they announced that you'd have to have a COVID test to get into the show, which we were not aware of, some other artists had imposed it. And then there was I think 70 people canceled their tickets because they didn't either weren't vaccinated or did not want to be interrogated at the door, or whatever. But that was immediately kind of a red flag for me. I was like, "Oh, my God," it really does depend on the club, like some clubs are like, "We don't care." And sometimes like Janine has to get into an argument with some sound guy who's anti vaxxer. It's hard to know what's right, and everybody has kind of a different idea of what it is. Nobody really knows the right answer, I don't think. So you sort of have to wade through it. It has definitely been, well, different. Now you find yourself wondering, "Well, what what would this have been like if this COVID thing was not happening?" So it's prevalent, and we're kind of trying to make do I guess.

Well, it sounds like simple, easy times out on the road in 2021. But honestly, for your fans, who are jonesing to hear you, I'm so glad that you guys are back out on the road, you're tuned to The Current I am chatting with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, and Dave, one more question for you before we let you go. You've been back in Minnesota now for some time after calling New Orleans home for quite a while, being in Minnesota for a while now are you gathering any thoughts about how you feel the scene here has changed or improved or needs improvement and the observations from sort of making Minnesota your home base again?

Well, I mean, it's so different than the music scene in in New Orleans. I think that's what I was looking for, was something that was kind of radically different. However, I always felt like I was a rock boy in a jazz town kind of. So my trumpet playing increased and got a tiny bit better. But then there's so many great players down there. But I mean, especially over COVID, it's kind of it's hard to tell what's going to prevail. So it's hard for me to really assess what's happening on a local level with music right now in Minneapolis, because so much has not been happening for so long. So, you know, it's good to get out play. And it's also understandable that people are nervous about it. We had Juliana Hatfield on the bill and she backed out, it was just too...a decision was made that it's not worth the risk. And you can't judge people for that. Everybody's got their own level of you can never be too safe. So yeah, I'm looking forward to the Minneapolis music, the live music scene, picking up it slowly. It seems to be happening, and it seems to be good. It seems to be as healthy as ever to me.

Well, that's great news. And yeah, I think we're all jonesing for it to get back to some more performances, and hopefully some relatively safe performances. Dave Pirner, I really appreciate you taking some time to chat with The Current. I do want to go out on the tune "Stand Up And Be Strong," which is the lead track off of the new EP, and I wish you luck out there on the road and can't wait to see it back in some clubs in Minneapolis when that again becomes part of our routine.

Thanks Sean.

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