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Who are Dan and Matt Wilson? Hmm. The names seem familiar enough. Aren't they those Vikings players embroiled in some unending legal battle? No, wait, didn't one of them write that "Closing Time" song back in the '90s? Semisonic, right?
Right. But if that is the limit of the legacy of one of the most influential pop-rock duos in Twin Cities history, then shame on us all. In various incarnations, Dan and Matt Wilson have played in such notable bands as the Flops, Pleasure, Semisonic, and the Twilight Hours. Starting it all was Trip Shakespeare; for those who hadn't yet achieved zygote status back in the late '80s and early '90s, Trip Shakespeare was a truly seminal and hugely influential band on the Twin Cities rock scene. While Semisonic's "Closing Time" may have come out 11 years ago (that's right, 11 years ago!), the musical evolution of the brothers Wilson continues. Dan earned a Grammy award for his songwriting collaboration with the Dixie Chicks, released a solo album, and has been working with such notable musicians as James Morrison, Jason Mraz, Mike Doughty, KT Tunstall, and Rivers Cuomo. And younger brother Matt has thrown himself into his new project, the Twilight Hours, with former Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic bassist John Munson (yes, yes, it's all very incestuous).
But who are Dan and Matt Wilson? Their musical pedigree is certainly established, but what keeps their rock 'n' roll hearts ticking, and why, after all these years, are they once again performing side-by-side? With the first ever show featuring just the two of them happening at the Pantages Theatre this Friday, City Pages caught up with Dan and Matt to probe their thoughts on the state of local music and that strange and powerful bond known as brotherhood.
City Pages: It's been nearly 20 years since you've been in a band together [Trip Shakespeare], and you've never performed a show with just the two of you. So what's the inspiration for this show? And why now?
Dan: I can't say what the inspiration was for the show, but I now think of it as an obvious idea that we just never had. For me, I think it might have been harder to think about before Free Life [his 2007 solo album] came out. I think I needed to make that statement before I did anything that felt retrospective. Maybe I feel like I've cleared out enough space for myself as a solo artist, so I feel more comfortable getting back into the music of the various bands I've been in.
Matt: Honestly, I probably would have been open to doing a show like this at any time over the last seven or eight years. For me, a show like this really does feel like a privilege and a little bit of a fantasy come true. In general the theater setting is kind of the ultimate for me. Works well with my voice, and I like the direct attention. Everyone's there for the music.
CP: You're brothers. And brothers, as we all know, can have a rather unique and bombastic bond. Describe your relationship now, and how does it compare to when you were kids or just starting out in the music business?
Dan: When Matt and I were little boys, we spent many years being each other's best friend. And we loved to make things together. As Matt puts it, we were always "on project." We would draw pictures of cat-and-mouse warfare together, build little cardboard Star Trek control panels together, and search for insects and toads in the north woods together. Then through our parents' Beatles albums we discovered making music together, and in our twenties it turned from a children's game into a series of bands, and finally Trip Shakespeare.
When that band ended and we started other musical projects, we hardly saw each other for a while, partly because we didn't have any project to do together. Then we both started families, and that gave us a reason to be together independent of making music. Our extended family is one of my favorite things in life.
Matt: What Dan said really makes me smile. We're both strong-willed and ambitious, and a lot of our dreams are very much the same. So we're like two strong magnets, where the attraction is instant, but the repulsion can be strong, too. One of my top goals in life is to gently tend to all my family relationships as much as I can. To maintain the harmony that we have now.
CP: How involved are you with the local music scene now? And what do you think of the bands and music coming out of the Twin Cities today?
Dan: I think it's a great time for music around the world, and here in the Twin Cities in particular. There's tons of energy and great bands, and local music gets played on the radio. That in itself seems like a miracle, although it's almost to the point where people take it for granted. In fact, the scene feels way friendlier to me than it ever has. When I think of the Trip Shakespeare days, I can't help but remember how much pushback the hipsters gave the band. We were treated as if we were an embarrassment to the flannel-shirt Replacements crowd—which we were, and I'm kind of proud of it now.
DAN AND MATT WILSON play a sold-out duo show on FRIDAY, MARCH 26, at the PANTAGES THEATRE; 612.339.7007. For an extended version of this interview, visit GIMMENOISEBLOG.COM.