In 1998, the American rock group Semisonic released a popular song called “Closing Time” which has remained popular on the radio. The song was a hit in both the US and Europe, combining a great melody with a positive message that suggested leaving a bar at closing time was not the end, but rather the beginning of a new chapter in life. Following the success of the song, the band had three more successful singles on the British charts. However, less than three years after their initial success, the band decided to disband. According to frontman Dan Wilson, they always knew there would be a time for them to reunite, but they didn’t expect it to be so much later than originally anticipated.
In fact, there has been a 22-year gap between the release of Semisonic’s last album, All About Chemistry, and their new album, Little Bit of Sun, which is set to debut on Friday. This delay was largely due to Wilson’s busy schedule in the interim. In the past two decades, he has become a highly successful and unexpected collaborator in the world of modern pop music. Despite being significantly older than many of the artists he has worked with, the now 62-year-old Wilson has had hits with big names such as Taylor Swift (including the song Treacherous), the Dixie Chicks (with their chart-topping songs like Not Ready to Make Nice), and Adele (for her powerful ballad Someone Like You). Wilson’s list of collaborators is impressive, with over 100 artists so far, ranging from Nas to Josh Groban to Chris Stapleton. “I consider myself lucky and pleasantly surprised by my success,” he remarked.
Wilson’s absence from Semisonic was not only due to his success as a collaborator, but also because of the difference between writing with others and writing for the band. He struggled to remember how to write a Semisonic song, as he was focused on supporting other artists’ creative visions and lost touch with his own identity as a member of the band.
Simultaneously, the desire to distance himself from his previous persona as an overly ambitious lead singer of a popular rock band, served as a primary driving force behind the group’s split many years ago. Both he and his bandmates, John Munson on bass and Jacob Slichter on drums, were exhausted after spending eight years constantly touring. Additionally, the birth of Wilson’s first child, who has severe disabilities and needs extensive care, was a significant factor in the decision.
The leader of the band stated that there was little tension or disagreement when they decided to split. However, as the primary songwriter, he had an advantage over the others in finding new opportunities for work. In fact, he had already tested his skills as a writing collaborator while the band was still together. His first job outside of the band was in 1999, writing with New Zealand artist Bic Runga. Then, in 2001, he had the chance to write a song with renowned songwriter Carole King for Semisonic’s album All About Chemistry. King had heard their hit song “Closing Time” and was impressed, leading her to reach out to the band’s leader. This was a dream job for him since King had been his songwriting role model since he was a child. “My parents used to play Tapestry all the time,” he recalled. “Once I found out that Carole King had written all these songs for other artists, I realized that this was something I could also do.”
In the 1980s, when he was in his twenties, he started to pursue his dream. During that time, the city of Minneapolis was experiencing a thriving rock music scene that included popular bands like The Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Husker Du. Wilson became a part of this scene with his first notable band, Trip Shakespeare, which released four albums between 1986 and 1995. He then went on to form Semisonic in 1995 with John Munson, who had also been a member of Trip Shakespeare. Despite writing the majority of the band’s songs, Wilson made the decision to split the royalties equally among all members. He explained, “While I wanted credit for writing those songs, I also believed it was fair to share the profits.”
The decision likely aided the group members in preserving their friendship following their separation. In the years that followed, Muson played with several lesser-known bands while Schlicter pursued a career as a college professor and wrote a book about the music industry called “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n Roll Star.” However, every few years, the remaining members would reach out to Wilson to see if he had any new songs for Semisonic. Thirteen years ago, he attempted to write new material, but it ultimately fell flat. “The songs I wrote just didn’t have the same impact. None of us were enthusiastic about them.”
Occasionally, the group would come together for occasional performances, but it wasn’t until three years ago that Wilson was able to compose new songs that truly captured the essence of the band. This resulted in a five-song EP titled “You’re Not Alone” in 2020, setting the stage for a full album. The new songs maintain the band’s original power pop style musically, while lyrically reflecting on the passage of time and the members’ ages. The lyrics also acknowledge the strong bond between the musicians, particularly in the song “If You Say So,” which suggests that our oldest friends are our most reliable witnesses. The song “Grow Your Own” carries a sense of nostalgia as it reminisces about the band’s early days and mentions words of encouragement from fellow musicians, including “the bassist from ‘Til Tuesday.” Wilson playfully refers to Aimee Mann with this description, which he believed would amuse her. The song also includes the line “I never believed it was dead and gone,” alluding to the band’s chosen genre of rock. Wilson commented on the recent resurgence of rock music, citing Olivia Rodrigo, Boygenius, and Chris Stapleton as examples of this enduring genre.
Simultaneously, Wilson’s interpretation of rock in Semisonic does not fully utilize its capacity for aggression or upheaval. Rather, it highlights its more delicate aspects, similar to most of his musical partnerships. Wilson’s songs possess a level of understanding that could potentially elucidate why he has achieved significant success while collaborating with female musicians. “A majority of my musical compositions do not have a distinctly masculine tone,” he stated.
Additionally, only a small number of his songs linger in darkness, and they never contain snarky elements. Wilson explained, “I am a very sincere person. In college, my friends nicknamed me ‘Mr Literal’ because I often mistook sarcasm for sincerity. I was oblivious to any type of insincerity or cynicism.”
He possesses the unique ability to combine his youthful perspective with a wise outlook. This is a rare trait that he shares with other intelligent optimists such as Ron Sexsmith and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. Writers like them must be careful to avoid falling into triteness or overused phrases, something that Wilson is fully aware of. In a humorous exchange with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, they once joked about their “cheese meters” being broken or non-existent while working on an idea together.
It is evident that Wilson possessed a talent for crafting songs, such as “Closing Time,” that artfully combine two contrasting emotions. In his own words, the song is both sorrowful and celebratory, striking a delicate balance that Wilson finds captivating. He strives to capture this same authenticity in all of his work.
The release date for Little Bit of Sun is November 3rd.