Dan and Matt Wilson: This is kind of a risky gig for us

Dan and Matt Wilson: This is kind of a risky gig for us
Photo by Steven Cohen

Three years ago, Dan Wilson asked his brother Matt if he'd be interested in playing an acoustic duo show. Without hesitation, Matt agreed to the evening that drew from songs ranging from both brothers' catalogs. With Dan moving out to Los Angeles and Matt working on the new Twilight Hours' album, things have been busier than ever for the two, thus the lengthy gap in a repeat of that evening in 2010.

Feeling nostalgic, Dan and Matt were able to find some time in their busy schedules to reprise their performance, first at the Bryant Lake Bowl and the following evening at the Pantages Theatre. Gimme Noise sat down and spoke with the brothers before their sold out shows, mainly about their love of the Twin Cities (Dan still affectionately calls Minneapolis home), Prince, and the compelling relationship between siblings.

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Gimme Noise: The show at the Pantages is sold out, so congrats on that, but you guys decided to add another show at the Bryant Lake Bowl?

Dan Wilson: We just posted it the other day, but we had been thinking about it.

GN: Why did you decided to add another, more intimate show?

DW: We chose the Pantages show, and the tickets sold out right away. We were thinking about doing another night at the Pantages, and somehow the thought occurred to us to do a smaller show in advance instead. We didn't want it to be, where if the same people came to both Pantages show, the same. We were hoping to do something where it was a different experience. It was also us not wanting to spread ourselves too thin, and to do two shows [at the Pantages], we'd probably want to learn an extra ten songs to make the second gig different than the first gig. We wouldn't want the same setlist.

Matt Wilson: So, laziness. It comes down to laziness.

DW: [laughs] Maybe, but also I think we felt the Bryant Lake Bowl would be a nice warmup for the Pantages show. We can try some things and see what worked better than others and treat it more as an intimate workshop -- like an icebreaker.

MW: Yeah, figure things out.

GN: Will it be more casual?

DW: Yes, we won't be wearing our tuxedos at the Bryant Lake Bowl. It's funny, because one of the other reasons we put the Bryant Lake Bowl show together was because the Pantages sold out so quickly, but the Bryant Lake Bowl sold out even more quickly. Maybe we'll gauge that a little bit better the next time. I don't want to raise expectations on how awesome the gig will be to a bunch of readers who tried and failed to get tickets.

GN: Well, you heard that Prince is did some small, intimate shows at the Dakota, also, right? How important is it to you guys to have experiences like that for fans?

DW: Didn't he audition his drummer last night? I don't think it's important to me at all to audition a drummer in front of an audience. [laughs] I think it's an awesome idea; I would never do it in a million years.

MW: Who did that? I missed it.

DW: Prince [did] a series of six shows at the Dakota, and the first was an audition for drummers where they jammed for several hours, and Prince didn't sing or speak, apparently. That was the first show, and the next one [was] a vocal rehearsal or something. I don't know, but they're gonna do it all in front of people, and they [had] the "real show" at the end of the three days.

GN: Prince is such a big star, and I feel there's such a disconnect between him and real world sometimes. Does it ever scare you that you will get to be at that stage?

MW: I'm not scared about that at all. Dan might be.

DW: [laughs] You know, it's funny because that disconnect is not that something that is in the control of the artist. I've worked with a lot of artists, some who are starting out and some with large audiences. That disconnect is because, to us, he's not a real person anymore, and he's an icon. I read about the studio system in the '40s -- the movie system -- and how the making of stars was very much a collaborative thing with audience. The audience loved it, and they would never have wanted to see pictures of Lana Turner with her hair up and no makeup, grabbing her newspaper off her front porch. The public would have been horrified; they didn't want to see that kind of thing. It's almost like a fad right now, that we need to see Prince as a real person. Why on earth do we need to see Prince as a real person? I don't understand that at all. I love Prince as an inscrutable, confusing icon. I don't need to watch him make coffee and read the New York Times on a laptop. I'm not interested.

GN: In keeping with that, so many artists use social networks to share that part of their personal lives with fans. How do you guys handle integrating that, and where do you draw the line on what you share?

MW: Personally, I just don't do it at all. It makes me too nervous for some reason. I just totally stay away from it.

DW: Matt does a lot of his social networking in the form of the Twilight Hours' blog, and it's a self-contained social network as opposed to plugging into the broader commercial networks.

MW: John Munson [of Twilight Hours] handles all of our social networking. He handles that naturally 'cause that's who he is.

DW: I find myself on Twitter, and I usually add stuff that I feel may be interesting to people. To me, that's really fun, but there are moments when I write something about my kids or I might write something about somebody I'm working with, and there are moments where I think, "You know, is it really fair to drag other people into my little fantasy world of tweeting? Because it seems kind of unfair." Then there's a kind of hesitation that most people don't even have. They just post their kids on whatever. I'm a little bit more hesitant about letting it be about my personal life and family.

GN: Dan, most of your posts are about music. How important is to you both to have some sort of life outside of music?

MW: I have way too much of a life outside of music. [laughs] For me, it's a huge challenge to remain a musician and maintain my self-identity as an artist first. So for me, my niche is a little bit reversed. I actually think I've had it the other way where  when I was younger, I was only doing music, and I actually felt you could too far with that. I think if I'd had kids at that time, that probably would have grounded me more. I think it's possible to lose touch, especially if you have something pulling you taught.

DW: Having children forces you me to do stuff outside of music. I'm really interested in visual arts, and I read a lot of books, but I'm pretty maniacal about music. It's pretty much 90% of what I think of when I'm not doing music.

MW: I'm 90/10, too, but it's the opposite of Dan's.


GN: You guys played a duo show back in 2010. How did these duo shows come about?

MW: It came about because Dan suggested it, and I was like, "Yes! That sounds awesome. Sign me up; you say when."

GN: It was that easy?

DW: Yeah, I think one thing is we don't get a chance to sing together a lot. We don't get a chance to perform together either, and one thing was when I thought of asking Matt to do the show in 2010, I thought doing it just as a duo would allow us to pick songs from any setup that we'd ever done. If you do it as a band that you used to be in, then you are only dealing with the repertoire of that band. I thought we could do it as a duo, and we could cherry-pick from our own list of songs. Try to figure out ways to rethink them and interpret them for the present, which was one of the challenges of that show in 2010, but it was really rewarding to push ourselves to rethink them and put them in a way nobody had heard before.

GN: Are there songs where you don't ever want to perform anymore because you don't connect with them?

DW: [laughs] Yeah, maybe. There's one Trip Shakespeare song that I can no longer play because it's just too elaborate, and I've become a worse and worse guitarist over time. In Trip Shakespeare, I was actually a pretty good guitarist, and we did some complicated stuff. Now, there's no way I could even play it anymore, so we're only doing the things that we still can actually play.

GN: What are you most looking forward to with this show?

DW: Well, I live in L.A., and I love to have a reason to come back home. I'm looking forward to being home, and above other things, seeing and hanging out with family. This is kind of a risky gig for us, because we're not doing something we've been hammering away at on tour or anything like that. For us it's every experimental, and it takes a lot of concentration. We have to make it sound the way we want it to.

MW: I agree along those lines, because we're making up a whole two set show, although a lot of it is old material. It's challenging in how right up to the show, it's going to be remembering the lyrics and figuring out arrangement. I'm looking forward to just being on the sweet, great-sounding stage and finally being able to let go and just play.

GN: Dan, you mentioned that you were excited to be back home; what do you both love about the Twin Cities?

DW: It's home. That counts for a lot. I'm really appreciative of going to the Cities where the environment for artists is incredibly supportive. All of the press take their local artists seriously, and whether it's dance, classical music, theater, or popular music, there's a welcoming -- albeit demanding -- vibe in the Twin Cities that you don't get in a lot of other places.

MW: It's palpable. When you go to different towns, for some reason, the way they're configured, they can't have a real music scene. It's the way they're set up. The terrarium doesn't have the right mix and can't live. The Minneapolis music and art scene really lives.

GN: What do you both have coming up after this show at the Pantages?

MW: We're both working on albums right now. Mine is the Twilight Hours, and Dan's is his solo project. His is going to be great. I've had the privilege of hearing it. It's organic, and the instruments are non-heroic. It's charming and great.

DW: Yeah, I'm in the midst of mixing tracks for my album. I'm on the fourth song today, so that's really fun. It's sort of sad when you get into mix mode, because you're admitting that you're done tinkering with it. I'm sad to be out of tinkering mode, but I'm excited to be moving forward.

GN: When you're done with an album, are you excited, or are you emotionally drained?

DW: I get the blues after it's done. Even if it's a long-trailing process of finishing, I definitely get a month-long feeling of being down and sad. Usually I don't know what it is, and then I realize what it is.

MW: I agree. You don't feel like doing an end-zone touchdown dance. It's much more like crawling across a finish line and going across with your one finger. [laughs] It's very depleting. By the time you're done, you've examined it so carefully, even in mixing that you can't defend it anymore. A lot of the emotion that you should feel when the chorus comes, it's not there. It's not quite as cathartic as you want it to be.

DW: Matt and I are going to perform some songs from both of these new records at the show, so we're trying to get a real spread of music from the things we've done from different parts of our lives.

MW: It will be one song we've played together in college from when I was 18 or 19 and then all the way up to now.

GN: Did you both come up with songs that you wanted on the setlist?

MW: We actually had one "rehearsal" that was just spent thinking of songs that we wanted to do and went through past songs and thought about favorite songs. I think we're gonna do one cover. Maybe, Dan? So we're gonna try and pick out a good cover that takes us back to when we were together all of the time.

GN: What are the dynamics of being in a band with a sibling and spending so much time together?

MW: When we were together all of the time, it was a lot more challenging because we were both operating on the same frequency, and we'd knock heads at the same point. Not that that was a mean aspect of what we did, but that could be a lot more challenging when you're so familiar and working together all of the time. Now we don't get a chance to work together that often, so it's not hard to remain cordial because it's rare. It's exciting.

DW: Anybody who's been in a band with a siblings knows that the siblings are willing to have more horrible fights than the other people. If you have a sibling-like fight in a band with someone who's not your sibling, you have to break up the band. You can't actually survive it. If there's two siblings, the other people in the band have to stand by and witness these fights. Then it's over, and the next day the siblings are pretending everything is fine. They don't see why everyone else is still shattered by it. We don't have those kind of interactions now, and we hopefully won't have any at the show.

MW: Hopefully not onstage.

DW: If we had a huge fight onstage, it might set the social networks alight.

MW: That'd be better than auditioning a drummer.

Dan and Matt Wilson will be performing:
Bryant Lake Bowl - Thursday, January 30, 2013 - $40, 7 pm
Pantages Theatre - Friday, January 31, 2013 - $38, 8 pm
Both shows are sold out.

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