It all started in Minneapolis. Within a year of the band's first shows, the city was exploding with music. The Replacements and Hsker D were drawing underground attention for stretching the definitions of punk with tough, tuneful songs and over-the-top live shows. Meanwhile, Prince was becoming one of the most famous artists in the world. Soul Asylum found themselves stuck in the middle of one of the most exciting music scenes in the country.

Pirner lights up when he talks about that time. "It was great," he says. "If you talk to Bob Mould or Paul Westerberg, they may have a totally different outlook than I do. But to me it was a very nave time, and a very open-minded time. It was so flailing! Nothing really mattered and nothing made much sense and nobody cared about anything other than rocking out and having a good time. It was really inspired. It had all this energy to create for no particular reason. What made it interesting was the whole irreverence of it all. It never occurred to me to wonder what the repercussions might be to screwing up. Or screwing up was a part of it. Throwing caution to the wind, and screaming, and not being so. (laughs). musical for lack of a better word. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't have a clue. There were all these warehouse parties, and it was all just chaos. [For the superfans, that is Pirner cussing at the Minneapolis police as they break up a warehouse party on the intro to the Replacements' "Kids Don't Follow."]

"There were 15 or 20 bands," he continues, "and we were all playing the same three bars every night. There was always something to do. There was always a show to go see or a show to play. There were all these bands, like Ground Zero and Rifle Sport and Man Sized Action, and we were just another one of these bands. And the Replacements and Hsker D were too. It's not surprising which bands prevailed, but it is also important to remember that we were all part of the same fabric at one time. And Prince would come through the 7th Street Entry, the punk club we all played, and he was just another part of this freaky little scene that we were all a part of."

Murphy remembers it all fondly as well. "We got a record deal by opening for the Replacements. We opened for them at Merlin's, this little bar in Madison, Wisconsin, and had a particularly good show. Afterwards, Peter Jesperson, their manager [and founder of Twin/Tone, the Minneapolis-based indie label that documented some of the best moments of the era] came up to us with Tommy. He bought us a pitcher of beer and said, 'Let's make records.' Of all the record deals we've ever had, and I guess we've had three, that was by far the most exciting. The Replacements were about two years ahead of us, and they were much better than we were. They were a really powerful, inspiring band. I saw them hundreds of times in the early years. I knew Tommy from high school. A girl I knew said, 'My friend is in a little punk rock band' and I went to see them and I was blown away. I was like, 'that's not some little punk rock band!' (laughs) Tommy must have been all of 15. I remember I lent that '57 Les Paul Junior to Paul to play a show. I got it back a few days later and it was just covered in blood (laughs)."

Signed to Twin/Tone, Soul Asylum began touring extensively, loading up to promote promising Bob Mould-produced records like Say What You Will, Clarence. Karl Sold the Truck, Made to Be Broken, and While You Were Out, all bursting with youthful energy and creativity. More than any other band at the time, Soul Asylum leaned into and explored the limits of their guitar parts. The Replacements contained two incredible guitarists-Paul Westerberg and Bob Stinson-who staked out their own territory in each song, and Hsker D showcased Bob Mould's ability to sound like two incredible guitarists at once. But Pirner and Murphy have always hinted at Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and what Keith Richards and Ron Wood have called an ancient art of weaving. Their twisting, intertwined guitar meltdowns ("Freaks," "Closer to the Stars," the great "Passing Sad Daydream") drew from a hodgepodge of punk, metal, and classic rock, and prefigured and influenced what would go on to become grunge.

"It's always been pretty unplanned," Pirner says. "Everything was always so loud; you didn't know what anybody was playing most of the time. It was always: Don't step on me and I won't step on you, and let's not make it a song full of clutter. But sometimes I'd be like, 'Danny, listen to what we're doing! We're doing that weave thing!" It is an instinctual way of playing together that the band honed through endless touring.

The early 80s were one of the most exciting times in American rock 'n' roll, as a small army of bands-diverse in sound and background, but seemingly all inspired in some way by the Ramones-crisscrossed the country in battered vans. This was the post-punk groundswell that eventually got lumped together and labeled alternative rock and, later, grunge. "In the early days, we'd travel around in a van and get to these towns," Murphy remembers. "There were maybe 12 or 15 little scenes that were popping up. Obviously, there was Athens, Georgia , and there were really good bands in Richmond, Virginia, and there was the whole Flaming Lips thing in Oklahoma, and Soundgarden and Mudhoney in Seattle. We'd get to these little pockets where there would be punk rock clubs to play, and there would be lots of musicians. And then we'd get to bigger cities, like New York, and it would just be kind of quiet. It was very pre-Internet. It was the days of fanzines and stuff, where it was almost like underground comics, trying to spread the gospel of punk rock. It's kind of a lost thing."

"I loved it," Pirner says. "It's that time of your life where all you want to do is travel, and that is all we did. We didn't really live anywhere. We lived in a van. We never had a hotel room, and we always just slept on people's floors, and everywhere we went, we just entrusted in the company of strangers. I'd like to think that is an ethic that has been going on forever and will continue to go on forever. I'd like to think that the Gypsies lived the same way. It is what it is: a traveling musician not making any money, staying on the road, keeping the wheels rolling."

page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5