Soul Asylum & The English Beat: Alt-Legends & Ska Pioneers Paint the US Twin/Tone 2-Tone [Q&A]

By Philip Trapp | Jun 23, 2016 07:00 AM EDT

Soul Asylum and the English Beat are heading out and rocking venues across the country this summer for a tour uniting the Minneapolis alt-rock chart-toppers and Twin/Tone Records alumni with the Birmingham, U.K., 2-Tone new-wavers. The two raucous acts will fire it up tomorrow night, June 24, for an 8 p.m. show at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, New Jersey.

Music Times chatted with Soul Asylum singer-songwriter Dave Pirner and English Beat frontman Dave Wakeling ahead of their East Coast performances this week.

Soul Asylum (L-R : Pirner, Michael Bland, Justin Sharbono and Winston Roye) (Photo : Jeneen Anderson/Independent Music Media)

Rock and roll stalwarts Soul Asylum released Change of Fortune in March, the first new album in four years -- and eleventh full-length overall -- for the "Runaway Train" and "Misery" hitmakers. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Pirner put in a call to Music Times after a recent soundcheck.

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Music Times: You're on tour with the English Beat right now. How are the shows going so far?
Dave Pirner:
Well, we've gotten off to sort of an odd start. We played a show in Minneapolis and then we drove to Kansas City and played at 1:30 in the afternoon -- God bless the English Beat for playing even earlier -- and it was really hot. And then we've just been driving for the last two days. We went to Toronto right before we played in Minneapolis, so it's been a little bit scattered about. I'm just kind of trying to locate the phone and figure out where I put my shoes. You know, stuff like that.

Your new album, Change of Fortune, presents a different take on the Soul Asylum sound. Even the first single, "Supersonic," is something I probably wouldn't have expected from the band at this point; it sounds to me nearly like a debut single from a brand new band. Were you looking for an alternate angle into your production and songwriting this time around?
That's an interesting question. I mean, I'm glad it sounds that way because that's probably the way it's supposed to sound. I think it's a bunch of guys in a band that have pretty much refined our method of recording; we kind of know how to do it by ourselves. To that effect, we know what we want. You don't know it until you hear it, but you don't need a lot of extra cooks.

DP: We've found a way to work that's really efficient and really fast. I just go in and nail things, and [drummer] Michael [Bland] is unbelievable for that. There'll be things on the record that are second or third takes, which never used to happen before. You know, it involves a lot of [digital audio workstation] Pro Tools technology and stuff, too, which is new since I've started out. That also gives it a new angle, since I can operate the studio by myself. I have a studio in New Orleans and a studio in my basement in Minneapolis. And they're idiot-proofed, especially for me, so I can work fast.

There's a lot of spontaneity on the record; there are also songs that I've been working on for ten years. It's really liberating to be in the situation where I have musicians [Bland, bassist Winston Roye and guitarist Justin Sharbono] and a producer [John Fields] who understand me and challenge me.

I was wondering what was the thought process behind the monkey holding the smartphone on the [Change of Fortune] album cover?
DP: I saw that picture in a magazine and immediately thought it was perfect for an album cover. I also immediately thought that I would never be able to get it. You know, I'm always looking for album artwork, I guess. It's always something that's in the back of my mind.

DP: Sometimes you get the thing you want and sometimes you don't. This was on the back of a big magazine; I thought there'd be no way. I called the guy up and he said, "Sure." You know, "All you've got to do is give me some music for my next safari documentary." And I was like, that's a brilliant barter system. I was just really happy to get that record cover. I think it's perfect, it's very timely.

To get political for a second, you played Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993 and I read you were "Feeling the Bern" this year. Now that it seems Sanders won't take the Democratic nomination, will you be rooting for Hillary?
DP: More often than not, I do think that you're voting against somebody. But you've got to go with Hillary. It could be so much more abstract, at least we know what we're dealing with. I don't have any problem with Bill being back in the White House, it's kind of funny. It's an interesting angle.

It is sad, though, in a way. It did seem to me like Bernie was the smartest guy in the room. But, yeah, you got to come out for Hillary. It's just too much of a dictator situation on the other side.

Dave Wakeling of the English Beat (Photo : Eugenio Iglesias/Reybee, Inc.)

The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling is finishing up their new album and hitting the road hard ahead of its tentative release date this February. Music Times caught up with Mr. Wakeling.

Music Times: You've been touring quite a lot with the English Beat recently and are about to release your new album, Here We Go Love -- your first under the Beat name since 1982's Special Beat Service. Did you ever think in the '80s you'd still be doing the Beat in 2016?
Dave Wakeling:
You know, I always thought I'd be doing my songs. Once I started, I thought I'd found a job for life, really. I'd found a home. When you find something that you do that you enjoy that much that you don't notice it's a job, you can even spend way more time on it than you should for less money than you ought to get, but you still don't notice. It's a bit like journalism. [laughs]

That's very true, actually. [laughs]
DW: Absolutely. It's like a vocation. It satisfies other parts of you -- other than your ability to count money. So I always thought I would be doing it. I never guessed that it would end up being as popular or last as long as it did and I'm very grateful at that. I'm grateful for what people tell me the songs have meant to them over a number of decades now, and [they] quote my lyrics back to me and tell me what those lyrics meant to them and how it helped them.

That's a real honor. Regarding the upcoming record, you're working with Pledge Music to put it out. Even after three decades since the last Beat release, fan participation in the album's backing has gone above and beyond. Were you surprised?
DW: I was. What was nice about it was there was an initial surge, and then I started posting some videos and demos of the songs and involving people, giving guest list passes so that pledges could come to multiple shows and meet us backstage. The word started to spread. It's consistent. Even this week, we've been getting more and more pledges.

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