Starting in 2013, we’ll be spotlighting a prominent Minnesota musician each month with our new Artist of the Month feature. You’ll be able to hear a variety of songs from throughout the artists’ career on both the Local Current stream and the Local Show, and you can read more about each person’s history and their role in the community right here on the Local Current Blog. Our inaugural Artist of the Month is Dan Wilson.
Bio: Dan Wilson has been a prominent member of the Minneapolis music community since the early 1980s, when he got his start playing in college bands like the Love Monsters and Animal Dance. He rose to prominence on the indie scene playing in Trip Shakespeare with his brother Matt Wilson, who he still collaborates with to this day, and bassist John Munson, who has also continued to work with both brothers throughout the years.
Dan and John Munson went on to form Semisonic with drummer Jake Slichter in the late ‘90s, and it was at that time that his songwriting reached a mainstream audience for the first time. Even casual fans will remember this part of the story, as the lead single off their second album, Feeling Strangely Fine, was inescapable throughout 1998 and 1999. “Closing Time” peaked at #8 on the Billboard Top 40 charts and propelled Semisonic into the spotlight, if only briefly; by the time their follow-up album, All About Chemistry, debuted in 2001, the promotional push from MCA Records seemed to wane and they disbanded a few years later. The band continues to perform reunion shows from time to time, including just this past summer at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand.
Following Semisonic’s international success, and spurred on by his experience co-writing the Semisonic song “One True Love” with Carole King, Dan Wilson began collaborating with prominent artists, quickly establishing himself as a reliable co-songwriter. His list of collaborators grows by the day, and he even picked up a Grammy for his work on the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Wilson was back on the Grammy Awards stage last year for his work on Adele’s wildly successful album, 21, and got a personal shout-out from the British phenom for his role in helping her write “Someone Like You.” As she accepted the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance for that hit, she told the world that “My life changed when I wrote this song.”
All the while, Dan has continued to pursue his own solo songwriting career at a very gradual, intentional pace. His debut solo album, Free Life, was produced by studio legend Rick Rubin and released in 2007. He currently blogged that he has started mixing the follow-up to that release; if all goes well we may get to hear new solo tracks later this year.
Other co-songwriting highlights: Taylor Swift (“Treacherous”), Pink (“The Great Escape”), Dierks Benley (“Home”), Nicole Atkins (“Heavy Boots”), Keith Urban (“Big Promises”), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer’s “Ruling Me”), Josh Groban (several tracks on his Illuminations).
You might not know: Much like another prominent figure in the Minnesota music community, Replacements drummer Chris Mars, Dan Wilson is also a talented painter. Whereas Mars left music behind in the mid-’90s to pursue his art, Dan did the opposite, leaving his painting career to dry in the late-’90s so he could focus on his burgeoning success in Semisonic. Here is a painting of his from 1989, which was part of his “Reconstruction of the Universe Game: Obstacles” series.
Here’s a promo video from 1990 for Trip Shakespeare, which must have been recorded by A&M Records to support their first major label release, Across the Universe. Note the bands’ long, flowing locks.
Flashback to the late ’90s with the video for “Closing Time”:
In this 2008 video, Dan give us a tour of his hometown of Minneapolis and his home studio, and explains his lengthy musical history and how it led to him eventually pursue a solo career.
And here’s a sweet video of Dan performing his and Adele’s “Someone Like You” recently at a barn in Southern Minnesota.