By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The band's debut, 1996's "Great Divide," slipped under the
radar of most music fans despite its shimmering beauty and
sparkling guitars. But when Semisonic tweaked their
recording approach and turned in a song that resonated with
a wide audience of nightclubbers, the follow-up record,
"Feeling Strangely Fine," inched toward platinum sales.
The clincher, "Closing Time," was catchy enough to
ensnare even the modern rock fans who didn't immediately
empathize with singer-guitarist Dan Wilson's tale of
precarious decision-making in a bar at 2 a.m., just before
everyone is turned out to the sidewalk sale. Some bars now
play the song at closing time as a cool nod to their
With that hit and the latest, the plucky "Singing in My
Sleep," on the resume, Wilson and his bandmates — John Munson
and Jacob Slichter — are now open for business, and this
month they venture out on another arm of a lengthy tour,
bringing them through Tulsa and points south. We caught up
with Wilson in a Santa Monica, Calif., studio — tore him
away, actually — to talk about Semisonic's success, the
makings of a good "bedroom album" and the latest generation
of crack rock bands coming out of Minneapolis.
Thomas Conner: You sound exasperated. Is this a bad
Dan Wilson: Oh, I'm just in the studio working on a
song, and it's very hard to drag myself out right now.
We've been on tour so long; it's so hard to find time to do
Conner: What's the song like that you're working on?
Wilson: It's upbeat, hard to describe. It's kind of got
a Lindsey Buckingham thing to it. I've been hearing a lot
of music lately, watching him play the guitar with his
fingers blazing. I'm trying to cop that.
Conner: Is this a break in the tour for you?
Wilson: It's kind of a multi-purpose trip to L.A.
before we go to Las Vegas to be on "The Penn and Teller
Show." The last thing I saw on that show was a man putting
this lighted wire down his nose and throat. It was all very
grotesque. Hopefully they won't ask us to do that.
Conner: This next leg of the tour brings you down south,
which I think you've missed thus far, right?
Wilson: Yeah, we're trying to hit some of the places we
didn't get to last year. We kept missing Texas, and we've
never been to Louisiana. We sort of saw the spring shaping
up where we could play some of these places. I value that
in a band — getting out there and playing the long shows and
giving the fans as much as we can. I have a wife and
daughter who I miss very much when we're on the road, but
there's something about that contact with the fans that's
really important. It lets you know if you're dealing out
the real stuff.
Conner: You once said that you wanted "Feeling Strangely
Fine" to be a "bedroom record." What's that?
Wilson: Well, not in the sense of turning it on and
having sex with someone. It's one that you put on with
headphones in a dark room when the rest of the family is
asleep and listen to the whole CD. I dreamed that that's
how people would use this record. I wanted it to be
something really intimate and inside your head.
Conner: So how do you go about crafting a bedroom
Wilson: I wanted to make sure the lyrics were really
apparent. On our last album, "Great Divide," we buried the
vocals in this swirl of guitar tones and intricate samples.
I was disappointed when the reviews came back — and I take
what they say pretty seriously — saying that the melodies
were great but the lyrics were meaningless fluff. Fact is,
I think I try to be as honest as I can in my lyrics, and
those (on "Great Divide") are some of my best. So I wanted
this record to have a really intimate vocal sound up
Conner: I would venture to guess that approach helped
streamline the arrangements, yes?
Wilson: Yeah. It put us in the situation of saying, "If
there's no room for the vocals, then take out 11 of the
guitar samples." It's looser sounding. It feels more like
three guys having an interesting, passionate, intense time
in the studio.
Conner: What are some of your favorite bedroom albums?
Wilson: "OK Computer" by Radiohead is a great one. "Hejira"
by Joni Mitchell. Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville." Tricky's
first album ("Maxinquaye"), though I don't like the whole
thing. John Coltrane's ballads album. I was the family
member who never came up for air. I was always in front of
the stereo listening through the headphones, and none of my
family members could get my attention.
Conner: I once heard "Feeling Strangely Fine" compared to R.E.M.'s "Murmur."
It started to make some sense when I thought about it,
mainly because of that intimate feel. Make sense?
Wilson: That mysteriousness is probably — hopefully --
there in our record. "Automatic for the People" is my
favorite R.E.M. record, and I was probably trying more to
emulate that kind of directness, space and emptiness for
the bedroom vibe. It just can't be a constant onslaught of
fun, you know?
Conner: "Murmur" hit the atmosphere about the same time
some of modern rock's seminal bands were coming out of your
hometown, Minneapolis. Were you caught up in the legendary
Wilson: My idols were the Replacements and Husker Du, plus Prince, Soul Asylum, Jimmy
Jam and Terry Lewis as producers. It was great — Minneapolis
was one of the few towns in America where, for about 10
years, all of your teen idols were from your hometown. A
lot of people in Minneapolis grew accustomed to having
their entertainment needs fulfilled by local musicians.
Conner: An enviable position, for sure. What's it like
up there now?
Wilson: Honestly, I think this will be a great year for
Minneapolis music. There's a new album by the Hangups I
think is incredible — a lot of early R.E.M. and Badfinger
and Small Faces in this really weird but personal
retro-sounding album. There's a provocative band called the
12 Rods that make some really weird sounds. My brother Matt
came out with an album last year that I think was
criminally underpublicized (Matt Wilson's "Burnt White and
Blue"). And, of course, I think we've added a lot to the
Conner: How so? What's the legacy there in Minneapolis?
Wilson: Anything we aspire to ends in this butt-shaking
WITH REMY ZERO
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
Tickets: $13 at
The Ticket Office at Expo Square, Mohawk Music,
Starship Records and Tapes and the Mark-It Shirt Shop in
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These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.