I wrote ‘The Real Question’ two weeks ago when the strangeness and the dread of our self-quarantine was sinking in. Even as we were all sharing the same scary short-term fears about the epidemic, I also was thinking, ‘What happens if we make it through this? How will our lives be changed? How will my life be changed? Will a lot of us feel the impulse to renew or revise our agreements with lovers, family, community, country?’ In some ways I hope so. So I wrote this song about those questions. Watch the lyric video on my YouTube channel.
My ‘Words & Music’ series of online songwriter advice clips began on the Vine app. I called it ‘Words & Music in 6 Seconds.’ I wanted to give songwriters very brief and helpful statements that they could apply to their own work as they wished. By the time Vine went away I had migrated to the other social sites, and relaxed the time constraint a bit. But the idea remained the same. For ‘Words & Music in 6 Seconds Live,’ I’ll take a handful of those quotations and expand on them with real-life song examples, and I’ll answer questions from viewers as well. Watch here on Friday, 4/24 (3pm PT, 5pm CT, 6pm ET).
My new single is ‘Red Light,’ which I wrote with Jenny Owen Youngs and Ethan Gruska, and produced with Ethan,’ explains Dan Wilson. “We wrote it when I had just learned that all of the master recordings of my two bands Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare had burned in the secret Universal fire. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was angry and sad, haunted by the image of police helicopters floating above the archives as they burned in the night. A red light, shining up from the city. Ethan’s treatment of the piano and the ambient space he created around it makes it sound like it’s crackling and curling in the red light of a fire at night. And of course the ‘recording’ light on a tape machine is red. On top of all of this, I was thinking about people in my family who have lost their memory. I think ‘Red Light’ is also about them – are we all just archives of our own lives? What do we bring to the people we encounter? Would I be me if I forgot everything I had experienced? If my master tapes are gone, am I still here?
My newest single is called “Eventually.” It’s an epic myth about two modern road warrior lovers, racking up the sky miles; quelling volcanoes and floods far from home or waiting by the door. I’ve played both roles. Lately I’ve been trying to make recordings that situate a homely upright piano within a weather system of ambient synthesizer. I think that suits the message of “Eventually” pretty well.
I went on the Song Exploder podcast to talk about “Closing Time” – how I wrote the song, what Semisonic was doing at the time, what was happening in my life then. It was a surprisingly deep dive, and now I know why Hrishi Hirway’s interviews are so informative and listenable and moving. Listen here: songexploder.net/semisonic
I wrote this year’s holiday song, “Last December,” with my friend and collaborator Jeremy Messersmith. That’s him on background vocals, guitalele, and all over the vibe of the song. We wrote it to a MOOD-enhanced loop that felt pretty seasonal at the time. Thanks to John Mark Nelson for bass, guitar, mixing, and to Ethan Gruska and Sara Mulford for orchestral holiday atmosphere.