Dan Wilson talks about new single from Semisonic, 'You're Not Alone'

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Singer-songwriter Dan Wilson talks about a new single from Semisonic, 'You're Not Alone,' releasing Friday, June 26. (MPR Video)
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Dan Wilson: interview with Jill Riley
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Connecting from his home in Los Angeles, singer-songwriter Dan Wilson joins Jill Riley on The Current's Morning Show to talk about a new single from Semisonic, "You're Not Alone," releasing Friday, June 26, and an EP to follow on September 18.

Watch video of the conversation above, and read a transcript below. Scroll down further to watch video of Semisonic performing "You're Not Alone" in our studio.

Interview Transcript

JILL RILEY: You are listening to The Current's Morning Show; I'm Jill Riley, and I'm very excited to see a familiar face on camera, to talk to a familiar voice on the radio, and I am talking about singer-songwriter Dan Wilson. Dan, how are you doing?

DAN WILSON: I'm well. Thank you, Jill. How about you? How are you doing?

Not bad. You know, I hate to think that this is the new normal; so much has happened in the past few months, you know: a global pandemic, everything that has happened in Minneapolis in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. You know, there's a lot of discussion even in the Minnesota music scene about what's going to happen, what it's going to look like when venues reopen, and really rebuilding a scene, but also rebuilding a city at the same time, and so there's just so much coming together.

Wow. It's amazing. It's amazing.

Mm-hm.

And it's interesting because for me, being in L.A., which is, I've adopted as my home away from home for 10 years, but I pine for my hometown. And I absorb the news, and I've been watching with a lot of love and concern and wishing I could be there during all this.

Yeah, I bet. I imagine that it was difficult to watch from afar.

Yeah, because also, luckily, I still am in contact with family and friends there, but even in a situation like that, it's hard to get a complete picture, and I guess maybe that's an illusion that we need to shake anyway, that it's available, the complete picture.

But at least it consoles me that I still have close contact with my family and friends, so I know what's going on back home.

Well, Dan, I don't want to bury the lede too much as to why we're getting together this morning because there is a new Semisonic EP on the way, and a new song that is debuting on Friday, but we don't have to wait till Friday, so just a little preview that we're going to hear a new Semisonic song. When did work start on new Semisonic material?

Well, I had sort of a songwriting — I don't know — a breakthrough in late 2017. Meaning I didn't necessarily write these songs in 2017, but I wrote a bunch of songs that sounded like the band.

We — [Semisonic bandmates] John [Munson] and Jake [Slichter] and I — had always been hoping, planning, saying that we were going to do more music, and then for a long time, I just couldn't write anything that sounded like us. It was really strange. Or I would write something for Semisonic, and it would sound more like a "me" — a solo record or a folk song or whatever. I didn't know how to do it for quite a while. And then in late '17, it kind of clicked, and I wrote a batch of songs, and I sent them to John and Jake and I said, "I think we got something here, and we can do some recording."

So we did it over the past two years. You know, we had to get us all together in one place a couple times, you know, because most of it is cut just with the band playing live, so we couldn't do it by mail. But yeah, just the last couple years. It was all done, it was all mixed probably November or December.

Semisonic in The Current studio
Semisonic in The Current studio on July 9, 2019. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

OK, so definitely well before the coronavirus pandemic, before it was really, you know, affecting the United States, but certainly it is affecting the music industry, where, I'm guessing, that right now is not the best time to try to release an EP, which is, I'm guessing, why it's coming out in September.

Well, I think, it's funny because it's hard to guess about any of this because we don't know what's going to be happening with touring; the band had planned to do a bunch of shows, and we were all pretty excited about that. We'd had several chances to play gigs in the past couple years, and it was, you know, it felt really, really good!

So I'm not sure how strategic this is. I think we have this music; it's done, it's ready to go. I kind of feel, happily, I would just try to be confident that we'll make more music, and so if this were the wrong time to make some new music, then a year later, we'll make some more new music and maybe that will be the right time. Who knows?

But it more has to do with we want to share it, and it's a super weird time, but hey, a lot of people are going through way weirder times than me.

Well, I think there couldn't be a better time to spend with a new record or new music, and people still need that, you know? As a coping mechanism. To be able to share art and to consume art and music.

Dan, I checked in with your bandmate, John Munson, he's a friend of The Current Morning Show; he's done a number of on-air segments with me. And I said, "Hey, I'm about to listen to this new song, 'You're Not Alone,' and I'm going to be checking in with Dan Wilson, your buddy, Dan Wilson, and bandmate, so do you have any tidbits that I should ask Dan about?"

And John said, "You know, these songs aren't brand new, but it's uncanny how timely they sound." Can you comment on that?

I don't know because I feel like, OK, I don't want to underplay or overplay anything; I feel rather cautious about making grand statements right now, but when I wrote "You're Not Alone," a lot of people that I love were — this is probably early '18 — and a lot of people that I love were, like, feeling besieged by the national politics, local politics, the sense of everything moving towards the right, towards a more authoritarian point of view; a sense of isolation.

The internet didn't bring us together like we just sort of maybe thought it might; who knows if anybody was thinking anything? But you know, I think that sense of isolation and being kind of desperately surrounded and wondering how to fight back or wondering how to, like, make the world a place that we would dream of it being, that was very much foremost in my mind and everyone I know.

And that hasn't changed. That's how maybe an incredible, painfully earned, disastrously earned clarity and focus have come. But that sense of emergency was there before, and it remains.

And I think the isolation, you know, coronavirus is a new thing, but they've had it, they've had similarly terrifying things elsewhere in the world, you know; we've been lucky. But that sense of isolation, that sense of, like, how do we have a connection in an ever more mediated kind of life, that was also there.

So I think this is like, definitely everything's at a boil. But it was certainly more than simmering when I wrote this song two years ago.

Yeah, for sure. And I think it's natural for any song to take on new meaning or for new meaning to be found or for a song, even in its completion, for a song to evolve with what's happening.

And you can't control it. It's almost like — it's sort of a great lesson to learn over and over again about being an artist, because you might even have some intention about how everyone's going to interpret what you do, and then you put it out there, and everybody has some surprising angle on it that you never would have expected! It's like, "Whoa! OK! I guess I'm not in charge of what you guys think about this."

Yeah, if there's anything that I've learned over the years, Dan, is when I ask somebody about a song, like, "Tell me about this song! What was the inspiration?"

There are sometimes where, you know, people will come up with a very straightforward answer, and talk about how it's a personal song or it's based on this life event, but then there are some who say, "It doesn't matter what I say, it's really the interpretation is what is going to happen with that song. That's the meaning of it."

Like when I wrote "You're Not Alone," my main memory of writing the song was two things: one, I was into kind of a Bob Dylan listening jag, and so I think that kind of very wordy, rhythmic verses idea came from me going back to very old music that still had a lot of rhythm and a lot of … it kind of flew by quickly, I guess you could say.

And then another memory I have of writing this song is just when I wrote that line, when I just said the words, "The water's warm." It just felt so — it was hilarious. I just laughed. I just thought, "OK, I don't know if I've ever heard that in a song, but I really like it in the song." It felt like it was about engaging with life and getting going and trying to make a difference and make connections.

And that thing about "the water's warm" almost reminds me of childhood; you know, such a simple concern: The first person jumps in and everyone says, "How is it?"

(laughter)

"It's just fine! Come on in! The water's warm."

(laughter)

I'm talking with Dan Wilson, a new Semisonic EP due out this September; in fact, September 18. The new single, "You're Not Alone," is coming out on Friday, but we don't have to wait until Friday because members of Semisonic and Dan have been kind enough to let us debut the song for you here on The Current. And Dan, I really appreciate you taking the time to check in with us.

Oh, a pleasure, Jill. Really happy, always, to connect with you guys, and I'm proud that you're playing the song first.

Oh, it's going to be great. So let's take a listen to it. You can find video from today's conversation, it will be posted on social media, The Current's social media channels, and you can find it by way of thecurrent.org, and I want to point out the video, because Dan, I don't think I've ever seen you with a beard, and I'm telling you that you need to keep this look going. I think it looks great.

Like I said, it's the talk of my house. The beard has taken my family by storm.

It's how we're all evolving, all of our looks are evolving.

All right, Dan, I appreciate you, and hope to see you in person when we all see each other in person down the line someday. OK?

I love that thought. Thank you, Jill.

You are listening to The Current.

External Links

Semisonic - official site

Dan Wilson - official site

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4 Photos

  • Semisonic in The Current studio.
    Semisonic in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Semisonic in The Current studio.
    John Munson performs with Semisonic in The Current's studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Semisonic in The Current studio.
    Dan Wilson performs with Semisonic in The Current's studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
  • Semisonic in The Current studio.
    Ken Chastain performs with Semisonic in The Current's studio. (Nate Ryan/MPR)