Daniel Dodd "Dan" Wilson (born May 20, 1961) is a Grammy Award–winning singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and visual artist. He is known as the leader of the band Semisonic, for which he wrote the Grammy-nominated "Closing Time" and the international hit "Secret Smile." Wilson has also released several solo recordings, including the 2014 release Love Without Fear. He was also a member of the Minneapolis psychedelic rock band Trip Shakespeare.
Wilson is also an acclaimed co-writer and producer that have earned him two Grammy Awards. His first was the 2007 Song of the Year Grammy for "Not Ready to Make Nice," one of the six songs he co-wrote with the Dixie Chicks for their Album of the Yearwinning Taking the Long Way. Wilson also shared in the 2012 Grammy for Album of the year for his work as a producer of the hit "Someone Like You," one of the three songs he co-wrote with Adele for her album 21.
Wilson attended Harvard University, where he studied visual arts with a focus on printmaking and from which he graduated B.A. summa cum laude in Visual and Environmental Studies in 1983, while he resided in Dunster House. Wilson is an accomplished artist, and has won the Louis Sudler Prize for Outstanding Artistic Talent and Achievement in 1983. While at university, he began collaborating with his brother, singer-songwriter Matt Wilson, who also attended Harvard College. The Wilson brothers played in two bands, Animal Dance and the Love Monster. After college, Wilson pursued his interest in drawing and painting, first in San Francisco and then in Minneapolis.
In 1987, Wilson joined the Minneapolis psychedelic band, Trip Shakespeare, which Matt Wilson had founded with bassist John Munson and drummer Elaine Harris. The original three members had already released one record, and now as a quartet, with Wilson on guitar, piano, sharing lead vocal duties with Matt Wilson—with whom Wilson also co-wrote many of the songs—and Munson, the band released three more albums (Are You Shakespearienced?, 1988, Gark Records; Across the Universe, 1990, A&M Records; Lulu, 1991, A&M Records) and one EP (Volt, 1992, Twin Tone).
Since Trip Shakespeare's breakup in 1992, Wilson has continued to collaborate with his brother, including the release of two live albums (Minneapolis 2010 and Minneapolis 2013).
Wilson with Semisonic
After Trip Shakespeare's breakup in 1992, Wilson and Munson joined with drummer Jacob Slichter to form Pleasure, a trio that was later renamed Semisonic. Semisonic released one EP, three full-length albums, and one live album.
The band's first album, Great Divide, received critical acclaim. David Fricke wrote in a year-end Rolling Stone article on the notable albums of 1996, "Great Divide is that rare '96 beast, a record of simple but sparkling modern pop, rattling with power-trio vitality." It was their 1998 release, Feeling Strangely Fine, however, that brought the band to widespread national and then international attention and success. Powered by Wilson's songs "Closing Time," which was a number-one hit on the Modern Rock charts for thirteen weeks in the spring and summer of 1998, the follow-up single "Singing in My Sleep," and "Secret Smile," a breakthrough hit for the band internationally, Feeling Strangely Fine attained platinum sales status in the U.S. and U.K. "Closing Time" received a 1999 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song and has become an enduring pop-culture reference point for the late 1990s. It was a focal point of the plot and soundtrack of the 2011 film Friends with Benefits.
Semisonic's third album, All About Chemistry, was released in 2001, and featured Wilson's song "Chemistry," the album's first single, and also included "One True Love," a song Wilson co-wrote with Carole King.
Semisonic stopped touring in August 2001 but continue to perform on occasion. Slichter's memoir, So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, provides a detailed account of the band's adventures and misadventures in the music business.
As a solo artist
Wilson's solo debut, Free Life, was released in 2007 by American Recordings. Produced with Rick Rubin, Free Life was recorded in Minneapolis and Los Angeles and includes performances by Tracy Bonham, Sheryl Crow, Jason Lader, Gary Louris, Natalie Maines, Benmont Tench, and a number of Minneapolis-based musicians including multi-instrumentalist and frequent Semisonic sideman Ken Chastain, Eric Fawcett, John Hermanson, Joanna James, Mason Jennings, Steve Rhoem, Joe Savage, as well as Wilson's Semisonic band mates Munson and Slichter.
Free Life helped establish Wilson's reputation as a songwriter, with The A.V. Club writing, "the star of the show here is Wilson's remarkable instinct for creating gorgeous songs, and his unabashed, obvious joy in doing so. For anyone worried that songcraft is an endangered species, Free Life should ease those fears."
Love Without Fear
Wilson's second solo album, Love Without Fear, was released on April 15, 2014 and includes performances by Sara Bareilles, Missy Higgins, Lissie, Natalie Maines, Blake Mills,Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins. The first recording from Love Without Fear, "Disappearing" (with a cover of Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend" included as a b-side) was released on November 7, 2013 and was the debut release of the new singles label, Canvasclub.
In describing the album, Wilson said, "The songs are about being left alone, not wanting to lose someone, about desperately wishing for connection and togetherness. The sound of the record lives at the intersection of Americana and Beatles– influenced rock and roll. A little bit of twang and a lot of cinematic emotion." The album received largely favourable reviews emphasizing Wilson's reputation as a songwriter. “Dan Wilson’s career is proof positive that smart, elegant songwriting has a place in music… [Love Without Fear] is a lovely amalgamation of chamber rock, gentle country, gooey '70s pop and snappy soul."
Words and Music by Dan Wilson
Wilson’s discoveries as a solo artist and collaborator with other artists are the subject of “Words and Music by Dan Wilson,” solo concerts in which he performs some of his songs and describes the songs’ various inspirations or the insights that occasioned their composition. “Words and Music by Dan Wilson” has come to Hotel Cafe, Room 5 and Largo in Los Angeles, Joe's Pub in New York, World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Jammin' Java in DC, Rams Head in Annapolis, The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, Schubas Tavern in Chicago, and the Red Barn concert series in Northfield, MN. Wilson has also presented Words & Music workshops at the 2012 ASCAP expo, UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music, and USC's Thornton School of Music.
Wilson’s thoughts about songwriting and advice to young songwriters are also captured in his Vines series, Words & Music in Six Seconds. They were described as "In his short videos, Wilson provides insightful quips about common songwriting insecurities, methodology, personal writing quirks, and various other tips for writing your best."
As a songwriter and producer
As a songwriter and producer, Wilson has collaborated with a number of artists. Two of these collaborations have earned him Grammy Awards.
A number of artists have described Wilson's ability to help put their feelings and ideas into song. Speaking of her experience of working with him, Pink said, in an online interview, "He is brilliant, and he's a thoughtful songwriter. And he's a song crafter . . . like old-school. He crafts songs and he thinks about them. And I learned a lot from working with him.”
Taking the Long Way – The Dixie Chicks
Wilson co-wrote six of the songs on the Dixie Chicks multiple-Grammy-winning album Taking the Long Way, including the title song and "Not Ready to Make Nice," which earned Wilson and the Dixie Chicks the 2007 Grammy for Song of the Year. In the 2006 film Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, Wilson speaks on camera about his experience as a co-writer on this album, especially in regard to helping the Dixie Chicks make an artistic response to their rejection by radio and a large swath of their fans in the wake of the band's statements about President Bush and the Iraq War.
21 – Adele
Wilson co-wrote three of the songs on Adele's multiple-Grammy-winning 21, "Don't You Remember," “One and Only," and, most notably, "Someone Like You," which became a number one hit in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand was a top ten hit around the globe. As a producer of this track, on which he also played piano, Wilson shared in the 2012 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
In an interview with American Songwriter, Wilson recounted the writing and recording of "Someone Like You":
- The recording on the album was intended as a demo. I was thinking, "Oh, they're going to make a big version of this, strings and angelic choirs, like a big Chrissie Hynde power-ballad." But by the end of the first day, the demo was sounding lovely, and very affecting, but it was only half-written, there were no words on the second verse or the bridge as I remember. Adele came to the studio the next day and said, "I played it for my manager and me Mum." I was a little nervous about this because I don't like people to hear works-in-progress. I asked her what they thought of the song. "My manager loves it and me Mum cried.”
“Someone Like You" won the 2012 Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance, and as she accepted the award, Adele said, "I want to thank Dan Wilson, who wrote this song with me. My life changed when I wrote this song and I felt it before anyone even heard it.”
As a visual artist
Wilson's career as a painter, illustrator, and calligrapher is less widely known, but his artwork has often intersected with his music career. He was represented by Thomas Barry Fine Arts in Minneapolis, and his works are included in numerous private and corporate collections.
Wilson created all of the artwork for his 2014 album Love Without Fear. Most notably, a hand illustrated 24-page hardcover Deluxe Album Book/CD. The package includes Wilson's own calligraphy, sketches, and handwritten lyrics for each song on the album. The official lyric videos for his singles from the album, “Disappearing” and "A Song Can Be About Anything" are also made entirely from his own illustrations.
At his "Words and Music by Dan Wilson" shows, audience members receive illuminated set lists that are hand illustrated by Wilson. One of these set lists was featured on NPR's blog All Songs Considered.
Wilson is married to Diane Espaldon, the daughter of the late Dr. Ernesto Espaldon and anesthetist Dr. Leticia Espaldon and sister to James Espaldon, a Filipino–Guamanianpolitician, lawyer and member of the Republican Party of Guam. Wilson and his wife were contemporaries at Harvard College, where he studied visual arts and she studied government. Wilson's wife subsequently earned a M.A. from School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. Together, they have one biological daughter, Corazon ("Coco") (b. 1997), who was born prematurely and has cognitive disabilities and for whom "Closing Time" was written, and Lily (b. 2007), who was adopted at age 2 from the Philippines.
- 2009 Dan Wilson Live at the Pantages – A 2-CD document of Dan Wilson's concert at Minneapolis' Pantages Theater on December 13, 2008.
- 2008 Live at the Electric Fetus
- 2001 DW Live @ the CCC
- 1998 Dan Wilson Live @ Bryant Lake Bowl
- 2003 One Night at First Avenue (live)
- 2001 All About Chemistry
- 1998 Feeling Strangely Fine
- 1996 Great Divide
- 1995 Pleasure EP (EP)
- 1993 Pleasure
Dan and Matt Wilson
The Love Monsters
- 1983 Kiss Away The Tears (7")
Soundtracks and Compilations
- 2013 Absolutely Cuckoo: Minnesota covers the 69 Love Songs – "The Things We Did and Didn't Do"
- 2011 Minnesota Remembers Vic Chesnutt – "Soft Picasso"
- 2009 All About Steve Soundtrack – "Sugar"
- 2006 For New Orleans – "I Can't Hold You"
- 2002 For the Kids – "Willie The King"
- 2002 Maybe This Christmas – "What A Year for a New Year"
- 2001 Summer Catch Soundtrack – Semisonic's "Over My Head"
- 1999 Together in Concert: Live, Bic Runga Featuring Dan Wilson
- 1999 Friends Again Soundtrack – Semisonic's "Delicious"
- 1999 10 Things I Hate About You Soundtrack – Semisonic's "FNT"
- 1999 Never Been Kissed Soundtrack – Semisonic's "Never You Mind"
- 1999 For The Love of the Game Soundtrack – Semisonic's "For The Love of the Game"
- 1996 The Long Kiss Goodnight Soundtrack – Semisonic's "FNT"
As A Writer
|2016||Dierks Bentley||Black (Capitol)||"Why Do I Feel"|
|Weezer||Weezer (2016 album): The White Album (Crush Music / Atlantic)||"California Kids"|
|Andrew Bird||Are You Serious (Loma Vista)||"Are You Serious"|
|Rita Wilson||Rita Wilson (Sing It Loud Records)||"Crying, Crying"|
|Brian Fallon||Painkillers (Island)||"Steve McQueen"|
|Nada Surf||You Know Who You Are (Barsuk)||"Victory's Yours"|
|Foxes||All I Need (Sign Of The Times)||"Devil Side"|
|Panic! At The Disco||Death of a Bachelor (Warner Music)||"Emperor's New Clothes"|
|2015||Florence + The Machine||How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful Target Exclusive Edition (Island)||"Conductor"|
|Harry Connick, Jr.||That Would Be Me (Columbia)||"You Have No Idea"|
|D.A. Wallach||Time Machine (Harvest/Capitol Records)||"Feel"|
|Phases||For Life (Warner Music)||"Spark"|
|Chris Stapleton||Traveller (Mercury Nashville)||"When The Stars Come Out"|
|My Morning Jacket||The Waterfall (ATO/Capitol Records)||"Big Decisions"|
|Rae Morris||Unguarded (Atlantic)||"Unguarded"|
|2014||Brooke Fraser||Brutal Romantic (Vagrant)||"Magical Machine"|
|Spoon||They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)||"New York Kiss"|
|Alex Clare||Three Hearts (Island)||"Three Hearts"|
|Birdy||The Fault in Our Stars Soundtrack (Atlantic)||"Tee Shirt"|
|Birdy||Fire Within US Version (Atlantic)||"All You Never Say"|
|"All About You"|
|The Secret Sisters||Put Your Needle Down (Republic)||"Iuka"|
|2013||Birdy||Fire Within (Atlantic)||"All You Never Say"|
|"All About You"|
|John Legend||Love in the Future (Columbia)||"You & I (Nobody in the World)"|
|Preservation Hall Jazz Band||That's It! (Legacy)||"I Think I Love You"|
|LeAnn Rimes||Spitfire (Curb)||"Borrowed"|
|Natalie Maines||Mother (Columbia)||"Free Life"|
|2012||The Webb Sisters||Always on My Mind EP||"Missing Person"|
|Taylor Swift||Red (Big Machine)||"Treacherous"|
|"Come Back…Be Here"|
|Pink||The Truth About Love (RCA)||"The Great Escape"|
|Nas||Life Is Good (Island)||"Roses"|
|Sara Watkins||Sun Midnight Sun (Nonesuch)||"When It Pleases You"|
|Elizaveta||Beatrix Runs (Universal Republic)||"Goodbye Song"|
|Audra Mae||Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound (Side One Dummy)||"My Friend the Devil"|
|Missy Higgins||The Ol' Razzle Dazzle (Vagrant)||"Everyone's Waiting"|
|"Set Me on Fire"|
|Paloma Faith||Fall to Grace (Epic)||"When You're Gone"|
|Dierks Bentley||Home (Capitol)||"Home"|
|Gin Wigmore||Gravel & Wine (Polydor)||"Poison"|
|"Roll It All"|
|2011||Mike Viola||Electro De Perfecto(Monkey/Hornblow/Megaforce/RED)||"Get You Back"|
|Adele||21 (XL/Sony)||"Someone Like You"|
|"One and Only"|
|"Don't You Remember"|
|James Morrison||The Awakening (Island)||"The Awakening"|
|"In My Dreams"|
|Mike Doughty||Yes and Also Yes (Megaforce/RED)||"Na Na Nothing"|
|"Holiday (What Do You Want)"|
|The Downtown Fiction||Let's Be Animals Deluxe Version (Photo Finish)||"Hurt Me So Good"|
|Nicole Atkins||Mondo Amore (Razor & Tie)||"Heavy Boots"|
|Gabe Dixon||One Spark (Concord)||"My Favorite"|
|2010||Josh Groban||Illuminations (Reprise)||"Hidden Away"|
|"Bells of NYC"|
|"War at Home"|
|"If I Walk Away"|
|"Love Only Knows"|
|Keith Urban||Get Closer Deluxe Version (Capitol)||"Big Promises"|
|Weezer||Hurley (Epitaph)||Ruling Me"|
|Griffin House||The Learner (Evening)||"If You Want|
|"Coming Down the Road"|
|The Bravery||The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Soundtrack (Chop Shop/Atlantic)||"Ours"|
|KT Tunstall||The Kid Soundtrack||"Boy"|
|Rachael Yamagata||Dear John Soundtrack (Relativity)||"You Take My Troubles Away"|
|2009||James Morrison||Songs For You, Truths For Me (Interscope)||"Once When I Was Little"|
|Bic Runga||7 Worlds Collide||"Change of Heart"|
|Parachute||Losing Sleep (Island)||"Blame It on Me"|
|Ballas Hough Band||BHB (Hollywood)||"Turnin' Me On"|
|"She Was The One"|
|2008||Jason Mraz||We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things (Atlantic)||"Details in the Fabric"|
|Absentstar||Sea Trials (Canvasback/Columbia)||"For the Moment"|
|"If You Like It"|
|Anberlin||New Surrender (Universal)||"Retrace"|
|Carrie Rodriguez||She Ain't Me (Blue Note)||"She Ain't Me"|
|The Gabe Dixon Band||The Gabe Dixon Band (Concord)||"All Will Be Well"|
|"Find My Way"|
|"Five More Hours"|
|2007||Dixie Chicks||Taking the Long Way (Columbia)||"Not Ready to Make Nice"|
|"Taking the Long Way"|
|"Voice Inside My Head"|
|Storyhill||Storyhill (Red House)||"For A Song"|
|"Love Will Find You"|
|Aly & Aj||Insomniatic (Hollywood)||"If I Could Have You Back"|
|Brooke Fraser||Albertine (Wood & Bone)||"Thief"|
|2006||Sean Watkins||Blinders On (Vanguard)||"I'm Sorry"|
|2005||Jason Mraz||Mr. A-Z (Atlantic)||"Did You Get My Message"|
|"Song for a Friend"|
|Mike Doughty||Haughty Melodic (ATO)||"Busting Up A Starbucks"|
|"I Hear the Bells"|
|Glen Phillips||Winter Pays for Summer (Lost Highway)||"True"|
|Hope Partlow||Who We Are (Virgin)||"Let Me Try"|
|2004||Rachael Yamagata||Happenstance (RCA)||"I Want You"|
|Graham Colton||Drive (Universal)||"Don't Give Up on Me"|
|2003||Bleu||Redhead (Aware)||"Somethin's Gotta Give"|
|2000||Evan and Jaron||Evan and Jaron (Columbia)||"Ready or Not"|
|1999||Bic Runga||American Pie Soundtrack (Universal)||"Good Morning Baby"|
As A Producer
|2016||Rita Wilson||Rita Wilson|
|2016||Foxes||All I Need|
|2015||Florence + The Machine||How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful Target Exclusive Edition|
|2014||Alex Clare||Three Hearts|
|Birdy||Fire Within (US Version)|
|Birdy||The Fault in Our Stars Soundtrack|
|2013||Missy Higgins||Spark: A Burning Man Story Soundtrack|
|Colbie Caillat & Gavin Degraw||Safe Haven Soundtrack|
|Pink||The Truth About Love|
|Nas||Life Is Good|
|2010||The Bravery||Twilight:Eclipse Soundtrack|
|Griffin House||The Learner|
|Storyhill||Shade of the Trees|
|Rachael Yamagata||Dear John Soundtrack|
|KT Tunstall||The Kid Soundtrack|
|2009||Dan Wilson||Live at the Pantages|
|2008||Mike Doughty||Golden Delicious|
|Jeremy Messersmith||The Silver City|
|The New Standards||Rock and Roll|
|2007||Dan Wilson||Free Life|
|Absent Star||Sea Trials|
|2005||Mike Doughty||Haughty Melodic|
|The New Standards||The New Standards|
|2003||Epic Hero||New Life|
|2001||Semisonic||All About Chemistry|
|1999||Bic Runga||American Pie Soundtrack|
Awards and nominations
- Grammy Awards of 2014 – Album of the Year
- Grammy Awards of 2012 – Album of the Year
- ASCAP Pop Awards 2012
- Academy of Country Music Awards 2012
- Grammy Awards of 2007 – Song of the Year
- Grammy Awards of 1999 – Best Rock Song