Dave Pirner is a noted American songwriter and singer, best known as the front-man and lead vocalist of the alternative rock band, Soul Asylum. Born into a musical family, he formed the group while still in his high school. Initially named Loud Fast Rule, the band later changed its name to Soul Asylum and began to tour the country. In 1984, the group cut their first album, with Pirner as their main songwriter and vocalist. However, they had to wait for few more years to gain commercial success, eventually emerging as one of the most successful rock groups of the time with ‘Grave Dancers Union’, earning the Grammy Award with one of its singles, ‘Runaway Train’. As the new millennium set in, they began to cut fewer albums; but continued to give live performances, with Pirner leading a new version of the group.
Childhood & Early Years
David Anthony Pirner was born on April 16, 1964 possibly in Minneapolis, located in the US state of Minnesota. However, according to some other sources, he was actually born in Green Bay, Wisconsin; but raised in Minneapolis.
Both his parents, Donald Dale Pirner and Arvilla Lynn nee Burrall, were into music. He later described his father as ‘Jazz hound’ and his mother as someone "who gave up her artistic dreams to care for the family". He has at least one brother called Paul Pirner.
He must have shown musical inclination early in his life because when he was still very little his parents presented him with a toy drums set. However, while studying in his elementary school, he began playing the trumpet, receiving extensive training in it over a period of time.
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In 1980, while attending West High School, Dave Pirner formed his first musical group, a punk band called the ‘Shitz’. It must have disbanded very quickly because in the summer of 1981 he formed his second band, the ‘Loud Fast Rules’.
Initially he played the drum while his friend, Dan Murphy, served as the guitarist and Karl Mueller as the bassist. He and Murphy took turns to sing. Later, as Pat Morley joined the group as the drummer, Pirner became the lead vocalist and also the rhythm guitarist.
‘Loud Fast Rules’ started playing in garages and parties and held their first gig at a local club called First Avenue. In 1982, two of their songs were released on the Reflex Records cassette compilation called ‘Barefoot and Pregnant’.
In 1983, the band changed its name to ‘Soul Asylum’. In the following year, Grant Young replaced Morley at the drum. Also in the same year, they signed with Twin Tone Records, releasing their first studio album, a nine-song EP entitled ‘Say What You Will’, on August 24, 1984.
During their early years, they toured relentlessly, developing a cult following. Eventually in January 1986, they released their second full length album, ‘Made to Be Broken’. It was followed in June by a cassette-only release, ‘Time's Incinerator' and in November by another full-length album called ‘While You Were Out’.
In spite of having a cult following and releasing four albums, they were not yet commercially visible. Finally in 1988, they had their major label debut, releasing ‘Hang Time’ through A&M Records. PDave irner wrote most of its songs. However, commercial success continued to elude them.
In 1990, the ‘Soul Asylum’ released their fifth full length studio album, 'And the Horse They Rode In On'. The songs were mostly written by Pirner and one of its tracks, ‘We 3’, was later featured in the 1997 film ‘ChasingAmy’.
In 1992, ‘Soul Asylum’ signed with Columbia Records. In the same year, they gained commercial success with their sixth studio album, ‘Grave Dancers Union’, which spent 76 weeks on the Billboard music charts. Pirner not only wrote all the tracks, but also performed as its lead vocalist.
In 1993, ‘Grave Dancers Union’ was certified triple-platinum. By then, ‘Soul Asylum’ was hailed as one of the most successful rock groups of the time, winning Grammy Award for one its singles, ’Runaway Train’. Also in 1993, they played at the President Bill Clinton's first inaugural ball.
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In 1995, they released their seventh studio album, ‘Let Your Dim Light Shine', with most of the tracks written by Dave Pirner. He was also the lead vocal and played rhythm guitar, keyboards, and trumpet.
In 1996, ‘Let Your Dim Light Shine', peaked at the number sixth position on Billboard 200 Album chart. Three of its tracks, e.g., ‘Misery’, ‘Just Like Anyone’ and ‘Promises Broken’, released as singles, also hit various charts. Among them, ‘Misery’ and ‘Just Like Anyone’, were written by him.
In 1998, they released their eighth album, ‘Candy from a Stranger’. It charted at 121th position on The Billboard 200, as a result of which the band was dropped by Columbia Records. Realizing that people were looking for something new, the band members decided to take a temporary break.
In 1999, Dave Pirner moved to New Orleans, where he continued to work solo. By then, he had started working with film directors like Kevin Smith, providing music for films like ‘Clerks’ and ‘Chasing Army’. He had also begun making guest appearance on albums by many well-known artists.
In 2002 Pirner released his only solo album, ‘Faces & Names’, on Ultimatum Music. Two years later, the members of the ‘Soul Asylum’ reunited in Minneapolis in order to appear for a benefit concert for bassist Karl Mueller, who had been undergoing treatment for throat cancer.
They also recorded a few songs, which were later included in their 2006 album, ‘The Silver Lining’. The songs in this album were all written by Pirner and one of the singles, ‘Stand Up And Be Strong’, was selected by ABC and ESPN for their college football coverage for 2006-2007 season.
The group also went on national tours to promote the album, which peaked at 155 on The Billboard 200 Chart. Concurrently, Pirner continued to work independently, contributing as backing vocal on the song ‘Chillout Tent’ in The Hold Steady's album, ‘Boys and Girls in America’.
In 2010s, Soul Asylum released two albums, ‘Delayed Reaction’ (2012) and ‘Change of Fortune’ (2016). All the tracks in these two albums were written by Pirner. He also served as the lead vocalist. A third album, ‘Hurry and Wait’ is scheduled to be released on April 17, 2020.
Dave Pirner is best known for ‘Runaway Train’, the fourth single from ‘Grave Dancers Union’. Written and sung by him, the song was released as a single in 1993, peaking at number five on US Billboard Hot 100 and selling 600,000 copies in USA alone. It also topped charts in Canada.
Awards & Achievements
In 1993, Pirner received Grammy Award for Best Rock Song for his single, ‘Runaway Train’.
Family & Personal Life
Little is known about Dave Pirner’s personal life except that he was dating actress Winona Ryder since 1993. Later he got married to someone else and had a son called Eli with her. They later divorced and both his son and ex-wife now live in New Orleans.