‘Someone Like You’ Writer Dan Wilson Reclaims His Songs on ‘Re-Covered’

Singer-songwriter Dan Wilson is best known as the voice of Semisonic’s 1998 hit “Closing Time.” That’s one of 13 tracks the Minneapolis native revisits on “Re-Covered,” his third solo studio effort, out today (Aug. 4) on the indie Ballroom Music.

Yet the album seeks to do more than revive that past glory. Between his fame in the 90s and now, Wilson has been co-writing songs with a diverse group of artists, including Adele, Taylor Swift, the Dixie Chicks, John Legend, Josh Groban, and Chris Stapleton.

Covering hits with which he has a publishing interest might lead some to wonder if Wilson is merely trying to cash in on performance and songwriting royalties, a notion he initially laughs at, before defending his track record. “There’s a lot of people out there who have written a lot of songs and they can go ahead and choose their best stuff and make a record, too,” Wilson tells Variety. “We’ll see how many hits they have on their record.”

Indeed, Wilson has quite a few. The album includes his stripped down take of Adele’s international chart-topper “Someone Like You,” featuring the Kronos Quartet, as well as his reading of the Dixie Chicks’ three-time Grammy winner “Not Ready to Make Nice.”

And yet Wilson says “Re-Covered” isn’t necessarily all about the hits. “I took some enjoyment in picking some things are maybe less well-known, but I actually think they are as good as the best of the other songs.” He points to “Never Meant to Love You,” originally recorded by folk-rock singer Cory Chisel, and “Landing,” by Matt Wilson, his younger brother and former band mate in his pre-Semisonic combo Trip Shakespeare, as underrated gems that fit that bill.

It was actually a friend of Wilson’s who suggested seven years ago that he do an album of reinterpretations of songs he’d co-written with other artists. “At that time, I thought it was a great idea, but I thought about what I had to offer and I didn’t think it was awesome enough,” Wilson recalls. “I needed a couple of other better songs.”

Five years later, Wilson thought he had enough material to fit the bill with a mix of hits and “songs I wanted people to hear,” but the project didn’t begin to become a reality until a lunch meeting with his friend, producer, guitarist and fellow songwriter Mike Viola (now an A&R executive at Verve Records). “He said, ‘I’ll only do it with you if we go [analog] — live to two-inch tape at one of the great old studios in L.A. And we do it with a live band, you sing live and we all get it all happening in about a week. We could mix it on Saturday and be done,'” Wilson recalls.

Viola felt that way the songs written with various artists would have a cohesive feel. The sessions, featuring a band that included Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, ended up lasting about three weeks, but Wilson says they were successful in capturing the vibe they were seeking. (A deluxe version of the album, packaged with a hard-cover book containing 56 pages of drawings, essays and lyrics, is due on Aug. 25).

For Wilson, it’s essential that his creative DNA is as a songwriter and a performer. “I know a lot of songwriters who’ve never been performers and I just can’t understand that,” he says. “How could a songwriter write songs for people to enjoy without ever having the experience of the feedback and the kind of connection you have from an audience? It’s so instructive. When you play a song live in front of a crowd, you know if it’s right or not.”

Today, however, he’s comfortable in the role as a man of words and melodies who’s mostly behind the scenes.

As for his process, Wilson says it varies depending on the artist he’s collaborating with. With Adele, the experience was not unlike her segment on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.” “It’s like laughing, and yelling, and having a great time, and then being held to the highest f—ing artistic standard of anyone you’ve ever met,” he says.

Two other Wilson co-writes were featured on Adele’s 14-times platinum 2011 album “21,” but Wilson’s contributions didn’t make the final cut of her follow-up, 2015’s “25.” Wilson explains their initial writing sessions were canceled due to an illness in his family, but the two did get back together. “The period that Adele and I wrote a few songs for ’25’ was sort of during her well-documented phase of writer’s block/perfectionism,” he says. “Everything has to be exactly right or she won’t put it out.”

Wilson attributes his ability to work in multiple genres to his early listening habits that included everything from Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report to Boston, Joni Mitchell and the Clash. “It gave me this idea somehow that you are allowed to write music in every style,” he says. And Wilson is living out that vision, writing with Spoon, rapper Nas, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, rising female star Halsey, and producing Ethiopian jazz artist Meklit, as well as playing the occasional show with his old mates in Semisonic. “These are artists I admire,” Wilson explains. “It’s more driven by me thinking they’re awesome and less by which niche I’m supposed to be occupying.”

See the full track list below:

“All Will Be Well” – written with Gabe Dixon
“Home” – written with Dierks Bentley and Brett Beavers
“You and I” – written with John Legend
“Someone Like You” (feat. Kronos Quartet) – written with Adele
“Never Meant To Love You” – written with Cory Chisel
“Not Ready To Make Nice” – written with Dixie Chicks
“Landing” – written with Matt Wilson
“Treacherous” – written with Taylor Swift
“Borrowed” – written with LeAnn Rimes and Darrell Brown
“Your Misfortune” – written with Mike Doughty
“When The Stars Come Out” – written with Chris Stapleton
“If I Walk Away” – written with Josh Groban
“Closing Time” – written for Semisonic

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Azim Rashid

    Columbia Records Names Azim Rashid Head of Urban Promotion

    Azim Rashid has been named senior vice president and head of urban promotion at Columbia Records, SVP Promotion/Operations Jim Burruss announced today. The Sony Music label’s urban roster includes Lil Nas X, Taylor the Creator, Russ, Dej Loaf Dominic Fike, OBN Jay and Polo G, among others. Rashid arrives from Roc Nation where he also served [...]

  • Plume of black smoke rising from

    Universal Music Says ‘Many’ Suing Artists’ Masters Were Not Damaged in 2008 Fire

    UPDATED: Late Friday the attorneys representing Soundgarden, Steve Earle and the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac amended their lawsuit against Universal Music Group over damages to their music archives as a result of a 2008 fire. While most of the amended complaint updated details in the original document — adding information about UMG’s alleged [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Music fans listen to the band

    Woodstock Gets a Low-Key 50th Party With Ringo, Santana and That Album Cover Couple

    After efforts to stage a massive event celebrating Woodstock’s 50th anniversary failed to materialize, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York’s Catskills region became the only game in town. For months, organizers quietly promoted a weekend of concerts that would put the focus on the 1969 event and its musical and cultural [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

  • Ava Max iHeartRadio Wango Tango, Portraits,

    Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO, Ava Max to Perform at VMAs Pre-show

    CNCO, Megan Thee Stallion and “Sweet but Psycho” singer Ava Max (pictured) have been added to the performer lineup at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The three will take the stage during the VMAs’ red carpet pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and Nessa. Zara Larsson will join the two hosts as a special correspondent. [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen FYSEE Opening Night with

    Bruce Springsteen Drops Introspective Trailer for 'Western Stars' Film

    While initial reports about Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming documentary around his recent “Western Stars” album said that it would essentially be a concert film, the first trailer for it, which dropped today, suggests it’s going to be a more introspective outing, more in line with his autobiographical performances at “Springsteen on Broadway” in 2017 and 2018, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content