Q&A with Dan Wilson of Semisonic – Show @ Rams Head On Stage Sat., June 14th

Dan Wilson - www.americansongwriter.com

Credit:  www.americansongwriter.com

Tickets are still available for the Dan Wilson show at Rams Head On Stage this Saturday, June 14th.

Wilson is the phenomenal songwriter who penned and sang Semisonic’s string of 90s hits, including the never-fading classic, “Closing Time.” The band released it’s last album in 2001, and their songs would persist on radio airwaves through the next decade, but Wilson seemingly faded from radar.  In that time, and unbeknownst to many, Wilson has continued to produce fine-tuned, impeccably crafted songs for a multitude of other artists, winning Grammy’s along the way, and influencing a new generation of young music lovers with his effortless wit and lyricism.  He recently released his second solo album, Love Without Fear, and continues to collaborate with artists new and old, familiar and unfamiliar.  As you can imagine, Wilson was very busy earlier this week, spending two nights in New York City, before day tripping down to Philly, but he was able to answer a few questions while on the road.  Here’s what he had to say:

You’ve enjoyed a long and successful career performing with many bands, as a solo act, and as a songwriter/producer for other artists – in every instance you’ve been able to produce award winning music.  How do you continually muster up this creative energy to produce such a wide-ranging and critically acclaimed catalog of work?

I have no idea! I’m pretty sure that most of what happens inside my mind all day is music, new and old. I’m “mostly music,” and as long as that’s true, I guess it won’t take any particularly special “creative energy” for me to keep making music.

You have a new album out now, called Love Without Fear.  Where does your songwriting inspiration come from these days, and have your writing and recording processes changed over the years, if at all?

I keep trying to learn how to live better and how to make better music. Making new albums, writing new songs, producing new tracks, those are all chances for me to get better and better at what I do and to learn more. I feel lucky to be able to show people my work as I go on.

This is your first solo album in almost 7 years.  Does Love Without Fear have a central theme that’s been building up during that time or is this record more so a collection of songs you’ve written and have been holding on to for a few years?

No it’s pretty unified. Most of the songs are about longing for connection, losing someone and wanting to have them back. I wrote a lot of songs but these are the ones that spoke to me to most deeply.

Despite your solo hiatus, during that time you managed to work with artists like the Dixie Chicks, Adele, Pink, and Taylor Swift.  Do they explicitly seek out your songwriting abilities, or is it more a case of mutual respect?  Does your writing style change when writing for other established artists?

At least for now, I have a pretty good reputation as a song co-writer: if you and I get together and write, we’ll come up with a keeper, possibly a single, and possibly something truly great.

I try to keep my style the same and let my collaborators’ different personalities and obsessions create the differences.

Are there any guest artists on Love Without Fear?  And how does this solo album differ from your previous two?

Sara Bareilles, Natalie Maines, Sean Watkins, Missy Higgins, Blake Mills, Sara Watkins and Lissie all sing or play on the songs. I got pretty lucky.

Love Without Fear is a continuation of the sound I created for myself with Rick Rubin on my last album, Free Life. Hopefully it’s like a better version of that album.

I also saw that the deluxe version of your latest album is accompanied by a book of illustrations and calligraphy, and you’ve also done something similar with your “Illuminated Set List” souvenir series, not to mention your Sketchbook Tumblr (your hipster caricatures are spot on).  Until now, I was unaware that you attended Harvard to study visual arts, specifically printmaking.  Would you say your visual artistic background contributed to your pursuance of a successful career as a musician?  And, is there any creative crossover between the themes of your sketches and your music?

I’m just now figuring out how to get my visual art integrated into my musical life. It’s been extremely fun and interesting. I hope people enjoy the book a lot.

How have your musical tastes shifted over the course of your career?  Has your mindset changed about what makes a good song?

Actually I think I get closer and closer to the kind of thing I liked when I was about 10.

Other than touring in support of this album, do you have any other projects or collaborations coming up that we should know about?

I have a couple of songs I wrote with the British artist Birdy in the new movie “The Fault in Our Stars.” That was fun and she is a great singer. John Legend’s next single is a song he and I wrote, called “You and I,” and I love that song. Still waiting to hear from Florence and the Machine and also Tom Odell on a bunch of songs I wrote for their albums. And I did two songs with Brooke Fraser on her upcoming LP, too. That should be cool.

Check out Dan’s cover of Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend,” below.

– Matt Ellis
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