Soul Asylum is an alternative rock band formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1983. They are best known for their double-platinum album Grave Dancers Union (1993), and their Grammy Award-winning single Runaway Train. As of 2006 they have sold well over 3.5 million albums in the United States alone.
The group was an outgrowth of a previous band, Loud Fast Rules, formed in 1981 by guitarist and vocalist Dave Pirner, guitarist and backing vocalist Dan Murphy, bassist Karl Mueller, and drummer Pat Morley.
Soul Asylum began performing around the Twin Cities (including First Avenue). They quickly developed a core following, and became known for their powerful, dynamic stage shows.
Their 1984 debut album, Say What You Will... Everything Can Happen was originally released on LP and cassette by local record label Twin/Tone as a 9 song EP. This is since out-of-print, but was re-released on CD as Say What You Will, Clarence...Karl Sold the Truck, which includes five additional tracks that were cut from the original album.
Between the release of Say What You Will and their second album, Grant Young joined the group, taking over the drums from Morley.
In 1986, Soul Asylum released three albums, Made To Be Broken followed by the cassette only release of Time's Incinerator and While You Were Out. Despite critical acclaim locally and internationally, they remained unknown to the larger US audience.
The group signed with A&M Records in 1988. Shortly after releasing their first record with A&M, one final album from Twin/Tone was released, and speculation remains that this album may have ruined their chances of success with A&M. The album was Clam Dip & Other Delights (1989), a parody of A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream & Other Delights. According to legend, Alpert was less than delighted.
The titles of the A&M albums may show the group's frustration. Hang Time was released in 1988, followed by And the Horse They Rode in On in 1990 (Produced by X-pensive Winos drummer Steve Jordan).
Due to poor sales and Dave's hearing problems, the group considered disbanding.
After playing a series of acoustic shows in the early 1990's they were picked up by Columbia Records. In 1992 they released Grave Dancers Union, which became their most popular album. On January 20, 1993, the group performed at the first inauguration of United States President Bill Clinton. The next year, Pirner received the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song for "Runaway Train."
The music video for "Runaway Train" featured photographs and names of missing children in a public service video style. At the end of the video, Pirner appears and says "If you've seen one of these kids, or you are one of them, please call this number" before a missing children telephone helpline number appeared. For use outside the USA, the video was edited to include photos and names of missing children from the area the video would be used. The video was instrumental in reuniting several children with their families.
Before their next studio album, drummer Grant Young was fired, and was replaced by Sterling Campbell. Campbell had been listed as providing "percussion" on Grave Dancers Union (although it turned out he had actually done at least half of the drumming on that album ). The next release, Let Your Dim Light Shine saw the track "Misery" reach the Top 20, but the album was not as successful as the band's previous one. In 1997 they recorded a live benefit concert for victims of the Red River Flood of 1997. After the Flood: Live from the Grand Forks Prom, June 28, 1997 was released in 2004, which includes some of the songs that were played during the prom. The group returned in 1998 to release Candy From a Stranger, which would be their last studio album on Columbia Records.
Dave Pirner has become good friends with Kevin Smith, a longtime Soul Asylum fan. Soul Asylum have had music in three Kevin Smith films, Clerks, Clerks II, and 1997's Chasing Amy (which Pirner did the score to). They even filmed a music video (directed by Smith) for "Can't Even Tell" which was featured on the Clerks soundtrack.
In 2002, Pirner released his first and only solo album to date entitled Faces & Names on Ultimatum Music.
In May 2004, bassist Karl Mueller was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent treatment. In October 2004, a benefit concert was held for him in Minneapolis at The Quest nightclub, and featured many popular local groups and musicians from the 1980's and 1990's. It included artists such as the Gear Daddies, Paul Westerberg, and Bob Mould who reunited with Hüsker Dü bandmate Grant Hart for the occasion. At the time, Mueller's cancer was in remission, and he played with his bandmates during the show. Mueller recorded his last Soul Asylum album that year (which would be 2006's The Silver Lining). However, the cancer later returned, and he passed away at his home on June 17, 2005.
Soul Asylum released their new album on July 11, 2006, entitled The Silver Lining. This was their first album of new material in 8 years since Candy From a Stranger. The new album has been referred to as considerably more "old school" than Candy From a Stranger.
In the Fall of 2005, ex-Replacements bassist (and current Guns 'n Roses bassist) Tommy Stinson and former Prince drummer Michael Bland joined Soul Asylum in tribute to the late Karl Mueller.
They completed their American tour in support of The Silver Lining in late 2006. In November and December 2006 they opened for Cheap Trick on their American tour.
David Pirner provides vocals on The Hold Steady track "Chillout Tent" from their 2006 release Boys and Girls in America.