Arts·Q with Tom Power

Semisonic's Dan Wilson looks back on his 'quintessentially '90s' hit Closing Time

After writing songs for the likes of Adele and The Chicks, Wilson has returned to Semisonic to make the band’s first album in more than 20 years. In an interview with Q’s Tom Power, he reflects on Semisonic’s breakout hit, Closing Time.

Wilson has returned to Semisonic to make the band’s first album in more than 20 years, Little Bit of Sun

Head shot of Dan Wilson.
Dan Wilson has been called the songwriter's songwriter, having collaborated with dozens of artists, from Taylor Swift to Chris Stapleton. (Shervin Lainez)

What makes a great pop song? Maybe it's that when you hear it, you don't think about how it was written because it almost feels like the song has always existed.

Semisonic's 1998 hit Closing Time is exactly that kind of song. Just a few years after releasing it, the band took a hiatus and lead singer Dan Wilson found massive acclaim collaborating with other artists (some of his career highlights include winning a Grammy with The Chicks for Not Ready to Make Nice, and co-writing three songs on Adele's sophomore album 21, including the one that became the record's centrepiece, Someone Like You).

But today, even Wilson is surprised by the legacy and impact of Closing Time.

"Closing Time is just such an outlier," he tells Q's Tom Power in an interview. "The band started out with the intention of having fun, not working as hard, and making songs that might be pop singles…. It never would have occurred to me that I would write a song that people would be listening to and quoting 25 years later. Like, that's outlandish. Not only that, it just doesn't happen to that many songs….

"[There's] some weird thing about Closing Time where it has all the sort of signifiers of the '90s — but that isn't a bummer, it's kind of nice. People enjoy that: 'Oh yeah, that song that's quintessentially '90s.'"

After its release, Wilson says he became incredibly busy and his life was stretched to its near breaking point as he simultaneously considered how to replicate his success.

WATCH | Official video for Semisonic's Closing Time:

"For a couple of years afterwards, I kept trying to figure out how to do that again," he recalls. 

"People now who are on TikTok have a similar experience. They go viral and they have one clip on TikTok that has a zillion views and the rest have, like, a thousand. And now they're spending all their time scratching their heads and wondering how to make it happen again. And to some degree, I was trying to figure out how to write a song as good as Closing Time again and maybe failing, maybe succeeding, I'm not sure."

According to Wilson, the multiplier effect of success that can be seen on TikTok is nothing new. You might write a song that's 100 times bigger than the one you wrote before, but that doesn't mean it's 100 times better.

"I was always — bless me for thinking this — I was always of the mind that if I wrote something really, really great, then everyone is going to like it, but I don't think that's necessarily true," he tells Power.

"If you think about it, many artists that we love, they have a hit that we all know…. Like Radiohead has Creep and we all know that's a big hit. But I don't go back to Creep and listen to that, I listen to OK Computer and Kid A, and all their other records, and I don't really care about Creep at all — but that's the song that launched their career. I probably was thinking, 'I just need to write something as good as Closing Time.' But I don't even know if that's really what I was supposed to be doing. Luckily, I kind of gave up on that and started doing other things."

The full interview with Dan Wilson is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. He talks about Semisonic's new album, getting the band back together, and his experience writing songs for Adele and The Chicks. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. 


Interview with Dan Wilson produced by Matt Murphy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vivian Rashotte is a digital producer, writer and photographer for Q with Tom Power. She's also a visual artist. You can reach her at vivian.rashotte@cbc.ca.

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