Soul Asylum

  • Alternative rock band from Minneapolis Minnesota, formed in 1981. The founding members were Dave Pirner (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, songwriting), Dan Murphy (lead guitar) and Karl Mueller (bass guitar). They’ve had several drummers – Grant Young was their drummer in their early years.
  • Murphy and Mueller were high school friends, and they met Pirner through some mutual friends. Murphy had played guitar in high school, and Mueller was learning to play bass. They wanted to form a band, so they asked Pirner to join to play drums and sing. They started to play at parties and clubs, using the name Loud Fast Rules, developing a faithful following of fans that liked their dynamic live shows. Soon, they realized that Pirner was a better guitarist than drummer, so they brought in another person for drums, and in 1984 they changed their name to Soul Asylum.
  • A local independent record label signed them, and they released their first album in 1984 – Say What You Will Clarence…Karl Sold The Truck. Two more albums were released in 1986, and an EP in 1989, but they still were not able to breakthrough nationally, though they constantly toured in the U.S. and Europe, especially as an opening act for the band Hüsker Dü. Their music was unique, described as “…an unholy mix of Kiss and Hank Williams thrown under the wheels of a runaway train.”
  • In 1988, they switched to a national record label, and 2 albums were released between 1988 and 1990 – Hang Time and And The Horse They Rode In On. Neither made the charts, and the band nearly broke up as the label lost interest in supporting them.
  • In 1992, they found another label that was willing to take a chance on them. They produced their sixth studio album – Grave Dancers Union – and this became their breakthrough. The first single they released was Somebody To Shove – it did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100, but it did hit #1 on the Alternative Songs chart. Their follow-up single, Black Gold, hit #6 on the same chart, and their third release made them rock stars – Runaway Train. This song hit #5 on the Hot 100 chart, and was a top 10 song throughout Europe. It won a Grammy award for Best Rock Song in 1994. Its success drove sales of the album to 2x platinum.
  • Their next album, Let Your Dim Light Shine, was released in 1995. It had one significant hit – Misery became their second #1 song on the Alternative Songs chart, and it peaked at #20 on the Hot 100.
  • One more album was released in the 90s – Candy From A Stranger, in 1998. Sales were modest, and their original hardcore fans were unhappy with the evolution of the band to a more “mainstream” sound. I feel bad for alternative bands that actually sell a bunch of records – inevitably, they are accused of “selling out.”
  • It would be 8 years before their next release. The Silver Lining was released in 2006. Bassist Mueller contributed to most of the album – he died of throat cancer in 2005, and Tommy Stinson (previously of The Replacements and Guns N’ Roses) joined the band after Mueller’s death to finish the album and to carry on with the band until 2012.
  • Two more studio albums were released – Delayed Reaction in 2012 and Change of Fortune in 2016. Popular with fans of the band, none of the music managed to make the charts. Pirner is the last man standing from the original group, with guitarist Murphy retiring after the Delayed Reaction album.
  • Soul Asylum has had quite a journey – as many alternative rock bands have. Timing certainly helped them become rock stars – Runaway Train was released soon after Nirvana had made the music world comfortable with indie rock, and this enabled them to get the exposure on radio and MTV that they needed – even though ultimately their alt rock fans and the alt rock press savaged them. As you follow music history, Soul Asylum has a solid place in the 90s sound – here is their video for Somebody To Shove. 

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