Dave Pirner made a name for himself with Soul Asylum — the Minneapolis rock outfit he formed in 1983 with fellow vocalist-guitarist Dan Murphy — and won a Grammy for the 1992 single “Runaway Train.”
But before that, he was banking on something else entirely: his proficiency as a trumpet player.
“I auditioned for classical orchestras and symphonies, and was even trying to understand jazz improvisation,” he says. “If I’d been exposed to more really good trumpet players when I was young, maybe I would’ve stayed with it. Because when I first started going down to New Orleans, I was like, ‘Oh! So that’s what that thing’s supposed to sound like!’”
Pirner, 48, grew so fascinated with New Orleans and its jazz heritage, he moved there 14 years ago, married a local girl who ran Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio, had a son and built a home studio, Stealth, where he conceived much of Soul Asylum’s pile-driving new comeback, “Delayed Reaction.” The group backs the album, its first in six years, in The City on Friday.
He also uncrated his trusty old trumpet.
“I play it a lot more since I’ve been living down there, because you really get inspired to play it,” he says.
“New Orleans is pretty much ground zero for American music. It’s a living history, and I wanted to be where it was all coming from,” he says.
He got a feel for the town by following his favorite jazz musicians wherever they played each night, an experience he recounts in the punk-scrappy track “The Streets,” which thanks his wife in a shouted chorus: “She keeps me off the streets.”
Creatively, however, Pirner was in limbo. After recording 2006’s “The Silver Lining,” original Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller passed away, and Replacements founder Tommy Stinson — along with powerhouse Prince drummer Michael Bland — joined to complete the tour.
Bland himself prodded Pirner back to work, and the pair’s initial “Delayed” sessions proved so productive, Soul Asylum reconvened.
New Orleans may spice up earthy new anthems such as “Gravity” and “Leave This Town,” but Pirner admits he’s not feeling like a full-blooded native yet. “I’m a Yankee in the South, I’m a rock boy in a jazz city,” he says. “But I am bringing something diverse, which is what New Orleans is all about. They need some more stuff like me to throw into the gumbo down there!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com