The Soft Boy of Semisonic
I began to like Semisonic's rollicking sigh-pop only after a female fan forced me to listen to them on a long road trip, and I imagine a lot of male Semisonic fans went through something similar. In a way, the Semis are part of a tradition of Minneapolis male bands (The Gear Daddies come to mind here) that connects strongly with a female audience before roping in men. The chorus of Semisonic's chart-topping new single, "Closing Time," goes, "I know who I want to take me home," and makes explicit a submissive sentiment you don't hear very often in guitar rock. We caught up with singer-guitarist Dan Wilson to ask him about the song's success.
CITY PAGES: The chorus on "Closing Time" isn't your typical rock come-on.
DAN WILSON: It's not the aggressive 'I take whatever I want' song.... There's definitely something dreamier about the message, and something a little more sharing about it. Like both people in the song have a say in the matter.
CP: What does that line, "Time for you to go out to the places you will be from," mean?
DW: I was thinking about being born, actually. I was thinking about being in the womb, and how you get "bounced" from the womb. No, seriously [laughs]. And you have to go out in the wide world, blinking your eyes. I've actually had some e-mails from fans who figured that line out, which is gratifying.
CP: Another track on your new album Feeling Strangely Fine, "All Worked Out," is a hilarious song about your partner planning your life for you. Was that inspired by your marriage?
DW: You know, that song is like a funny take on the same thing you said about the chorus of "Closing Time." When a guy says, "I know who I want to take me home," that's sort of handing it over to her--if you're straight, anyway. It's handing it over to the other person and letting them make the next move. "All Worked Out" is inspired by the way guys resist giving up our autonomy. I know I've totally had that experience of, "I can't believe she's planning the next five years of my life." And I've definitely had conversations with guy friends who say, "Oh, she's putting all this pressure on me to get married." And I feel obliged to say, well, you have been dating for five years.
CP: It's against the rock 'n' roll tradition to sing about giving yourself over to feelings like that.
DW: It is, you know. I've been thinking about that a lot, because when [the band's 1996 debut] Great Divide was finished...I feel slightly awkward talking about this, because it's a touchy subject for me. But I was really, really mad about Kurt Cobain killing himself. You know his line, "What else can I say/Everyone is gay"? To me that was about him saying that he had an anti-macho perspective and tried to put it out in his songs. And everyone perceived it as just this same old clichéd rock 'n' roll tradition of male dominance. And he looked out into the mosh pits and saw people thinking they were agreeing with him when he knew that they weren't. That line made me think a lot about the dead end involved in that kind of macho posturing in rock. A certain amount of the new album is me just feeling free to totally go the other way and leave that bad-ass rock posture behind.
CP: Do you feel that you were guilty of that kind of posturing on your debut album, The Great Divide?
DW: Yeah, I did. I think it just wasn't as clear to me as it is now, looking back. I think with the new album, I felt strongly that I was gonna be more romantic, that it was gonna have its ups and downs, but that it was gonna have hope and tenderness and a give-and-take between the people in the songs, and not just taking.
Semisonic play First Avenue Friday through Sunday; call 338-8388.
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