Death of bassist gave Soul Asylum sense of urgency

Janet Hostetter/associated press


Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum talks about the group’s new CD, The Silver Lining. It was released just a year after the death of bassist Karl Muelle.

Soul Asylum had reached a dead end. No hits and no new studio albums in years. Disgust with the music industry. Not even a record deal.

Then bassist and founding member Karl Mueller was diagnosed with throat cancer. Mueller's health crisis gave the Minneapolis rockers best known for the 1993 hit Runaway Train a sense of urgency as they headed back into the studio.

The result was The Silver Lining, a strong CD that comes out just over a year after Mueller's death.

“Definitely I felt it's what Karl wanted and the band has his blessings. And the new record is pretty much a tribute to him,” said guitarist Daniel Murphy.

Mueller's illness “kind of lit a fire” under Soul Asylum, Murphy said. After leaving Columbia Records, where Soul Asylum hit it big with 1992's Grave Dancers Union and its successful 1995 follow-up, Let Your Dim Light Shine, Murphy said the band took “a very long yawn” — one that ended up lasting eight years.

“We really needed it. We were sick of each other, we were sick of the music industry, the business,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the band, whose last studio album, Candy From a Stranger, for Columbia in 1998, had stiffed, already was planning a return to recording when Mueller was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. Mueller had been feeling sick when a fist-sized tumour was found lodged against his esophagus, Murphy said.

Before his diagnosis, Mueller had quit drinking and was trying to give up smoking, said frontman Dave Pirner.

“He was really making an effort, you know, a really big effort to straighten it out,” Pirner said.

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