Ex-Semisonic frontman steps into solo spotlight

Fri Jul 23, 2010 10:26pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article
[-] Text [+]

By Jason Lipshutz

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Nearly a decade has passed since alternative trio Semisonic's last full-length album was released. But in that time, frontman Dan Wilson has reinvented his career as a genre-crossing jack of all trades.

His Grammy Award-winning songwriting skills have led to recent high-profile collaborations with Josh Groban and the Bravery, including the latter group's track "Ours" from the "Twilight Saga: Eclipse" soundtrack. Meanwhile, Wilson's solo career as a folk-rock artist is showcased on "Live at the Pantages," a 27-track album released digitally July 20. Recorded at the Pantages Theater in the artist's hometown of Minneapolis in December 2008, the concert album "puts a cap on a very important time in my life," Wilson says.

He notes that after Semisonic released alt-rock hit "Closing Time" in 1998, his decision to start co-writing songs for other artists came easily.

"It's something I had envisioned for quite a while, even during Semisonic's peak touring time in 2000-2001," says Wilson, who grew up idolizing songwriting duos like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. "I realized that a song, and how a song is made, was something that was separate from a performance."

Wilson's songwriting career took off in 2006 when he co-wrote six songs for the Dixie Chicks' "Taking the Long Way." Those songs included the single "Not Ready to Make Nice," which earned him a Grammy for song of the year. Since then, Wilson has penned songs with Keith Urban and Rachael Yamagata. He also recently co-wrote three tracks for Adele's upcoming sophomore album.

Wilson's eclectic wish list of collaborators includes Joanna Newsom, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson and T Bone Burnett. For "Ours," mutual friends brought Wilson and Bravery frontman Sam Endicott together for an aimless writing session last spring.

"We got together and made a demo, but we didn't really know what it was for," Wilson says. "Then ("Twilight: Eclipse" soundtrack supervisor) Alex Patsavas listened to it and immediately heard a great new Bravery song that should be in (the movie)."

Now writing songs with Groban for the singer's upcoming album, Wilson is also finishing the follow-up to "Free Life," his 2007 solo disc produced by Rick Rubin. Wilson, who isn't affiliated with a label, has opted to make the album by himself, playing multiple instruments on the disc after tinkering with tracks for two months in his Minneapolis home earlier this year.

The solitude has been a stark change for the songwriter, but his past collaborations are informing his present solo work. "In a way," he says, "working with other artists has made me more clear on what sounds like me and has pushed my personal standards higher."