When Semisonic scored a hit with the 1998 last-call anthem “Closing Time,” the Grammy-nominated song became bigger than the trio.
The Minnesota band couldn’t quite find that sort of success again with “Closing Time’s” album, “Feeling Strangely Fine,” or its stellar follow-up album “All About Chemistry.”
“You can only be lucky in so many different ways,” says singer Dan Wilson, who is joined by bassist John Munson and drummer Jacob Slichter. “If you have a hit, you have to be lucky in a bunch of different ways with your hit. It’s inconvenient to have a hit that’s bigger than the artist.
“We had this song that turned into an evergreen song, that means more to people than the band did. It’s so ubiquitous, so widely known and enjoyed. That’s a huge stroke of luck, but it’s inconvenient for the band as an entity to be overshadowed by our own song.”
That’s not to say Semisonic didn’t have other hit-ready material. The song “Never You Mind” from “Feeling Strangely Fine” is a bouncy, relentlessly hooky song with the line, “Shaking my mind/like an Etch-a-Sketch erasin’.” “All About Chemistry’s” “One True Love” featured Wilson duetting with Carole King, making for a magical ballad.
Wilson says although Semisonic didn’t match “Closing Time’s” success, he has been very fortunate in the rest of his endeavors. He became the go-to songwriter for hitmakers like Adele and the then-known Dixie Chicks with “Someone Like You” and “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“I don’t feel like ‘Closing Time’ is the only good thing I’ve ever done,” he says.
The 2001 album “All About Chemistry” was Semisonic’s last album until the trio officially reunited in 2017. Wilson recently found the right songs for a Semisonic EP he called “You’re Not Alone,” which is due out September 18 on Pleasuresonic Recordings/Megaforce Records. The five-song collection includes the first single, the title track—the group’s first new song in nearly 20 years.
“In 2017, I found the key again,” he says. “I found the vibe to write a good Semisonic song again. We recorded it the next year and wrapped it up the end of last year. We had our plan to release the music and the world changed a lot.”
Wilson admits he was hesitant about releasing the EP when the world is plagued by COVID-19.
“There were elements of not wanting to create any mistaken connections between the world as it is and the songs themselves,” he says. “We just decided to throw that caution to the wind and put the record out and let people enjoy it as they would. I said we were going to put it out now and tour when we could and if we could, someday, and make a better batch of music the next time around.”
The video for “You’re Not Alone” was directed by Minneapolis-based filmmaker Phil Harder, whose resume includes videos for Prince, Foo Fighters, Liz Phair and Nada Surf.
“For the video, we began with memories of childhood in the woods,” Wilson says.
“Filmmaker Phil Harder creates a fable of the woods, the city, a distant beach, and a young boy who places a message in a bottle and sends it on a long journey. Inspired partly by Richard Powers’ devastatingly beautiful novel ‘The Overstory,’ partly by the paintings of Tomas Sanchez (one of which is featured on the sleeve of the single) and partly by the profound isolation we are experiencing during the pandemic, the video reflects the hopeful message of the song.”
For those wanting to be reacquainted with Semisonic, Wilson says “You’re Not Alone” is a good starting point and then the track “Basement Tapes.”
“‘Basement Tapes’ would be the overture that tells you the story before the story, traveling in vans, being in a van in the Midwest and driving to Kansas City for the next gig,” Wilson says. “It sets the scene for people in a way. That’s my loose response.”
Wilson says his standards are always high, odd for one of the top songwriters out there. However, it took a fan’s message on Instagram to make him feel a bit more relaxed.
“They love the Semisonic song ‘She’s Got My Number’ on ‘All About Chemistry,’” he recalls about the piano-driven ballad. “This fan was saying he always wondered if we felt that ‘Closing Time’ was a hard pair of shoes to fill, a hard thing to follow up on.
“We definitely felt that. Trying to write new Semisonic songs over the last many years was difficult. I wanted them to be as good as our best stuff. I felt those shoes I had to fill. It took a while to find my groove. We rose to the occasion and we’re proud of it. We put our artistic training to the test and did well.”
“You’re Not Alone”
Watch the single’s video at https://youtu.be/SPUj68fUsNc