Soul Asylum’s Karl Mueller

Though singer Dave Pirner is the face of thrashy garage-rockers Soul Asylum, bassist Karl Mueller is key to the sound of the band, which he formed in 1981 with his then-roommate, guitarist Dan Murphy.

Mueller was born 36 years ago today in Minneapolis. He and Murphy (from Duluth, Minn.) formed a garage-rock band in Minneapolis called Loud Fast Rules. The band, which also included Pirner (then a drummer), was influenced by other Minnesota bands such as Hüsker Dü and the Replacements.

Pirner, who had been in a band called Shitz, was soon switched to lead vocals and eventually Grant Young joined as drummer. The group changed its name to Soul Asylum and signed with the indie label Twin Tone, also home to the Replacements. Soul Asylum acquired a reputation as an exciting live band.

Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould produced Soul Asylum’s 1984 debut, Say What You Will, Clarence … Karl Sold the Truck. The group then switched from a low-fi sound to loud anthems about youthful struggles to fit in.

In 1988 Soul Asylum issued Hang Time, produced by Ed Stasium and the Patti Smith Group’s Lenny Kaye, and were signed by A&M Records. The label was owned by Herb Alpert, whose band the Tijuana Brass’ LP Whipped Cream & Other Delights was lampooned by Soul Asylum on the cover of the latter’s 1989 EP Clam Dip & Other Delights.

Soul Asylum had been issuing albums to moderate success, but 1990’s Soul Asylum and the Horse They Rode in On performed so poorly that the group considered disbanding.

When the band switched to Columbia Records for Grave Dancers Union (1993), its luck changed. The multiplatinum LP was Soul Asylum’s biggest hit by far. In addition to the #1 ballad “Runaway Train,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 1994, the band scored with the hits “Somebody to Shove” and “Black Gold.”

But within the next few years, Soul Asylum’s huge chart success and Pirner’s high-profile romance with actress Winona Ryder seemed to create a backlash against the band, which once prided itself on its indie crassness. Young was replaced by Sterling Campbell on Let Your Dim Light Shine (1995), which included the top-20 hit “Misery.”

After a hiatus, Soul Asylum returned last year with the poorly received Candy From a Stranger, which included such cuts as “Draggin’ the Lake” and the single “I Will Still Be Laughing” (RealAudio excerpt).

The band is now carrying on without Campbell, who quit last year.

Other birthdays: Nick Reynolds (Kingston Trio), 66; Bobby Gentry, 55; Michael Vaughn (Paper Lace), 49; Suzi Carr (Will to Power), 46; Conway Savage (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), 39; Aisha Tanner (Atlantic Starr), 26; and Juliana Hatfield, 32.