Dan and Matt Wilson: The extended interview

Dan and Matt Wilson: The extended interview
Photo by Darin Back

In the print edition of this week's City Pages, we ran an article by freelancer Michael L. Walsh that previews this weekend's sold out Dan and Matt Wilson duo show. Michael's interview with the musical brothers and former Trip Shakespeare bandmates was longer than what we could fit into print, so read on for a special online-only extended interview including the questions and answers that didn't appear in the paper this week.

City Pages: Will this performance be a one time event, or will there be more shows and possibly a recording in the offing?

Dan: No idea!

Matt: Obviously, my opportunities in music are much more limited than Dan's. More like most people's. I'd happily do it every year without a second thought.

CP: Will this show be more of a trip down memory lane, or will the audience experience something new and unexpected?

Dan: Personally I have no interest in "taking a trip down memory lane." It sounds like a metaphor for death, like "seeing the white light." Matt and I have had the fun of playing through some of our songs from long ago, and it's been pretty silly a couple of times. It's much better for us to have that kind of nostalgic experience in private, rather than subjecting an audience to it. I think both of us figure that since we've never done this before, we won't have to try very hard to make it new.

Matt: I think that the stripped down format will be revelatory. When Dan and I began talking about playing our music as a duo, I felt a rush of excitement--and I could tell Dan felt it, too--because we sensed that this would be a chance to hear the songs we've made in a truly new and possibly really great way. From my point of view, the sparse arrangements and the super unified voices and mannerisms that Dan and I share will amount to something different and powerful.

CP: Dan, you won a Grammy a few years ago for your work with the Dixie Chicks, and you've collaborated recently with the likes of James Morrison, Jason Mraz, Mike Doughty, Jewel, among others. That begs the question: Has your focus switched from writing and performing your own music to more of a producer/songwriter for hire?

Dan: It was after that Dixie Chicks Grammy that I put out my solo album, Free Life, and I'm deep into recording my next one. My biggest joy is writing my own songs and performing them for people. But I really enjoy collaborating with amazing singers, especially people with a unique artistic vision. It's just really inspiring, and I guess I can't really imagine anyone saying "No" to writing with Jason Mraz, for example. Now I've gotten good at writing songs with others, and the people I'm writing songs with are brilliant, and the world is kinda steering me in that direction. I'm just trying to find the balance.

CP: How about you, Matt? How are things going with the Twilight Hours? And what do you see on your musical horizon?

Matt: Things are going beautifully for the Twilight Hours. We've had a heady year, not in the sense of any measurable success, but just in being born, becoming a band. The band has balance and chemistry that makes me happy. I hope the same is true for the other guys. The group feels organic and real. For me, it's been beautiful. In a few weeks we're going to start demoing songs for the next record.

CP: What do you most admire about each other as musicians?

Dan: I'm admiring Matt's songwriting more than ever these days: I think "Alone," "Never Mine to Lose," "Yes,"--several of the songs on the Twilight Hours' album--are the best Matt has ever written. It's hard to write any songs at all, even bad ones, with a bunch of little kids running around the house. But these are great ones.

I've said this before, but between the two of us, Matt was the one who cracked the songwriting code first. He figured out how to make new and original songs out of his own point of view and experience, rather than just recycle and copy our heroes, and he figured out how to revise and rewrite the songs until they were great. And I watched that and totally learned from it. I think I wrote my first real song about seven or eight years after Matt did, when I was in my late twenties.

Matt: There are a lot of things to admire about Dan's songs and his musicianship, things that are obvious to most people: the glorious chord progressions, melodies that seem classic right away, never a wrong turn. Plus he can really play. But one aspect that I've really admired about Dan's music is the way his songs reflect his thinking as a person; his philosophy. Dan is a man with a code who struggles with ideas. And his thoughts are reflected in the music. That's been damn near impossible for me. I feel like the impetus for my songs always stems from the lizard brain, and it's always the same two or three base impulses. Dan's music reflects a considered world view, and, if you think about it, all the great songwriters have that.

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. As far as me and the local scene, I think these days I'm as involved as I've ever been. I produced Jeremy Messersmith's Silver City, I have musical projects going with Devon Gray, Andy Thompson, Storyhill, and several other talented people here in the Twin Cities. Semisonic has fans around the world, but we're a local band, too. 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. But at the time it didn't feel good. One thing I really like about the scene now is that there isn't just one kind of cool music. People listen to lots of different stuff, and at least for the moment, the question of a dominant style is out the window. I've always been more eclectic, so of course I like it this way.

Matt: I have never been very involved in the community aspect of music. I like to scheme and dream alone, or just with close friends. I like to actively create songs and work on arrangements, and I love to sing and play. But the hanging out, social part is kind of lost on me.

CP: Forgive me for calling this out, but you are both approaching 50. What inspires you to make music now? And are your goals different than when you were 20?

Dan: There's no need to apologize. I remember being amazed when I first realized that most musicians, the guys at least, were into music to meet women. I always just assumed my fellow musos were into it for the joy of creating new songs like I was. So the musicians I know who got into it for dating lost their purpose when they got married and had families. But for me, the dream of becoming like my musical heroes feels just as vivid and noble and cool as it ever did. Plus I just love making music. It gives me a completely reliable thrill. So in many ways I think I'm into music for the same reason as always.

Matt: I've been asked about this a lot lately because the Twilight Hours played the best new bands night at First Avenue, and everyone seemed to find that very ironic. But my experience is kind of similar to Dan's. You're looking out at the world from this haggard shell, but the things you see and hear are just as vivid and new as they ever were.

One way that I know that I've changed is in my relationship to the shifting aesthetics of the culture. When you're 18, you've only experienced one cycle, the one generation of musical aesthetic in which you've been immersed. So when you're young, a huge part of your mission is to redefine your way out of this aesthetic prison that your parents have created. Building a new manifesto of sound is paramount. After you've observed the cycles passing, you start to see that some of the production and style fetishes are trite and unimportant. They wash away like sand castles in the tide. So, you stop battling that phantom and maybe you get a little closer to the soul.

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