Dan Wilson has had a unique career as a musician, to say the least. After graduating from Harvard University, he was a member of Trip Shakespeare, which released two major label albums in the early 1990s. With Trip Shakespeare bandmate John Munson and drummer Jacob Slichter, Wilson formed Pleasure, which morphed into Semisonic. Just a few years later, Semisonic was a major label band and all over the radio with “Closing Time,” “Singing in My Sleep,” and “Secret Smile.” After Semisonic stopped toured in 2001, Wilson moved on to a solo career, in addition to writing and producing for other artists.
As a producer and songwriter for other artists, the successes of Dan Wilson include songs by Adele (three songs on 21 including “Someone Like You”), the Dixie Chicks (six songs on the Grammy-winning Taking The Long Way, Dierks Bentley, Weezer, Florence + The Machine, John Legend, Josh Groban, and Nas. His 2017 credits include Halsey, K. Flat, Noah Cyrus, Cold War Kids, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. In turn, no matter the genre, one truly never knows where the music of Dan Wilson is going to appear next.
Last month, Dan Wilson released his third studio album, Re-Covered. Mostly a collection of reinterpretations of songs Wilson wrote for other artists — including Adele, The Dixie Chicks, Chris Stapleton, Mike Doughty, and Taylor Swift — Re-Covered was not a self-produced effort. Instead, Wilson relied upon the production services of Mike Viola, a Los Angeles singer/songwriter and producer who has worked with Ryan Adams, Andrew McMahon, LOLO, and Panic! At The Disco. Viola also contributes guitar to Re-Covered, while Elvis Costello’s long-time drummer Pete Thomas can be heard behind the kit.
On behalf of the Inquisitr, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan Wilson about his past, present, and future as an artist. Even more surprising than his credits may be his belief that he has not yet written “the one.” Wilson is currently on the road in support of Re-Covered — upcoming dates include September 22 at Saint Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater, September 23 at Chicago’s City Winery, September 28th at New York’s City Winery, September 30 at Nashville’s City Winery, and October 13 at Los Angeles’ Troubadour — and more information on such can be found at www.danwilsonmusic.com.
What was your first cut as a co-writer? Evan And Jaron?
Dan Wilson: “Ready or Not” [by Evan And Jaron] — I love that song. Maybe. I think so. Or it might have been a song I wrote with Jacob Slichter and John Munson for Kristin Mooney.
When you worked with Carole King on Semisonic’s Chemistry album, were you aware of the possibilities of succeeding as a co-writer?
Dan Wilson: I didn’t really think about success versus failure in the charts so much as I thought about simply getting my songs on other people’s albums. I didn’t really have the first idea how to do that, so I was trying to figure out how I could make it happen. It was complicated enough to get a complete song to happen with a co-writer.
Carole definitely gave me a model for being a successful co-writer! But I didn’t think about achieving her heights of greatness. I learned a lot from the way she treated me in the session. So respectful, so funny, so generous with coming up with ideas. She was utterly spontaneous, plus she played me a bunch of my favorite songs of hers. It was a life-changing experience.
How did you first encounter Mike Viola? I know you two first worked together to write “Get You Back” for Mike’s album.
Dan Wilson: I first heard Mike Viola on an album by his band Candy Butchers. Semisonic used to listen to that first full-length of theirs in the van. So great. Then a few years later I was working with Bleu, a singer-songwriter from Boston who knew Mike. Bleu played me the Hang On Mike album and it blew my mind. A bunch of years passed and then I got the notion of writing with him, so I asked a mutual friend for his phone number. I cold-called him and we got together to hang out. That first time we jammed, we wrote “Get You Back,” which Mike put on his Electro De Perfecto album.
— Dan Wilson (@DanWilsonMusic) August 4, 2017
What about Steve Schiltz, who you’ve used as a touring guitarist on more than one album cycle? Were you a fan of Hurricane Bells or Longwave?
Dan Wilson: I loved Hurricane Bells and Longwave. A mutual friend of ours introduced us and Steve came onstage to play with me at Joe’s Pub on my Free Life tour. He’s an amazing musician and we have a lot of fun hanging out.
Your upcoming tour dates include four shows at different City Winery venues. What is it about City Winery that keeps you going back?
Dan Wilson: They’re working on a great model of a listening room that somehow remains casual and rocking. People listen quietly when they must, but they also get really involved at those venues. I like that.
Back to Mike, as a producer, was it tough to let another producer take the reins on Re-Covered?
Dan Wilson: It was great to have a producer. I was able to forget about everything but the song and the singing — to get into that deep mode of connection to the song without worrying about the drum sound or making sure the band is playing the bridge right. And Mike was able to tell me, “That was it, you sang great on that one,” and I could just go, “Okay! If you say so, that’s the one!” It was a relief.
Do you have a favorite song on Re-Covered?
Dan Wilson: I love “Borrowed,” “Landing,” “Never Meant To Love You.” Probably if you ask me tomorrow I’ll have a different list.
— First Avenue (@FirstAvenue) September 12, 2017
When did the idea for a book to accompany Re-Covered come about in the process? Was it made after the album was done?
Dan Wilson: Oh man, how did that book happen? I think I’d been thinking of writing a long set of liner notes, and at the same time, I’d been thinking about what it would mean for me to write a book. What shape would that take? Would it be more about my history, more about my songwriting sessions, or more about my philosophies of creativity? As I thought about that more, I got excited about making a longer book for Re-Covered than I had for Love Without Fear.
I know Re-Covered was recorded in just a few days. How long did the book take to put together?
Dan Wilson: Re-Covered was a six-day week United Studios in Hollywood. A few more days there to fix some mix problems we had. Then three more days to get “All Will Be Well,” “Your Misfortune,” and “When The Stars Come Out,” and the Kronos Quartet version of “Someone Like You.”
The book took me more than a month of long days to write. It was intense. I thought I would never figure out how to make it readable.
Rumor has it that Re-Covered was made over two years ago. Do you already have material written for your next solo album?
Dan Wilson: I have a bunch of songs ready, maybe 10 or 12 really good ones. There are so many, but those are the ones I know are good… Half of those are already recorded. I’m trying to be in a mode where I just record songs without thinking about albums or releases or promotional cycles. We’ll see how that works out.
Are you still actively pursuing co-writes and production gigs at this point? Any recent projects you can talk about?
Dan Wilson: Tons of co-writes and productions! I have a co-write on the new Halsey album, and a brand new Noah Cyrus song I produced and co-wrote with Noah and Ilsey Juber that just came out called “Almost Famous.” I’m working on several songs with Bishop Briggs that I think are great. I’ve been writing a ton of stuff with Brett Dennen…
The album I made over the past year with Ethio-Jazz star Meklit Hadero finally came out, and it’s been getting a lot of love. That’s one of my favorite projects in a long time. We had the Preservation Hall play horns on it and Andrew Bird played fiddle. Really dreamy.
— Dan Wilson (@DanWilsonMusic) September 8, 2017
Is there anything you’re still hoping to accomplish as a musician? A goal you’re working towards?
Dan Wilson: I feel like I’m getting closer to being able to capture my vision in a recording. That’s an on-going goal. Same goes for writing a song — I feel like I haven’t yet written “the one.” I know that might sound weird, but that’s how I feel.
When not busy within music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Dan Wilson: I like to do visual art, calligraphy. I try to do yoga every other day — I’ve been doing that for a long time and it’s an important part of my life. Along with meditation, it’s really helped me smooth the sharp edges of my personality.
I really love reading books. I’ve gone on a slightly strange binge this year of reading about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are some great books about his visual art and how it influenced his writing and storytelling; also there are some really good biographies that describe his process as an author. Mostly what I glean is that his process involved revising and revising for years on end until his publishers and family and friends all despaired of him ever finishing the book. Then eventually he was done.
I take heart from that.
Finally, Dan, any last words for the kids?
Dan Wilson: The kids are alright.
[Featured Image by Noah Lamberth]