All About Chemistry...
When Minneapolis trio Semisonic began to work on
their new album, All About Chemistry, the band found themselves
in an unfamiliar position: they were no longer upstarts, underdogs
or indie rockers. Instead they had a hit song and sales of two million
albums worldwide to follow up.
At home, their second album, Feeling Strangely Fine,
was certified platinum, and the runaway hit song "Closing Time"
was now a fixture everywhere from World Series games to high school
graduations. And in the UK, another song, "Secret Smile,"
had launched Feeling Strangely Fine to platinum sales as well as
a Brit Award nomination.
Rather than feeling pressured by all of this success,
however, guitarist/songwriter Dan Wilson says the band found it
liberating. "It was sometimes overwhelming to read all the
e-mails wed get about how deeply our music was affecting the
fans. They told us about the joy our music brought them, but what
struck me most was that they really felt like these songs were helping
them to make sense of their lives and times. Thats exactly
what we dream of doing when we make music. I figured we must be
on the right track."
So the three multi-instrumentalists rented a large
room in Minneapolis. There they mixed together a batch of brand
new songs, various digital recording devices, a large pile of antique
sound-processing gear, and a lot of strong opinions; and turned
up the heat. Its all about chemistry.
All About Chemistry is Semisonics realization
of a vision that Wilson presented to his bandmates, bassist John
Munson and drummer Jacob Slichter, in the early spring of 2000.
"I told the guys that I thought wed done a great introspective
album last time around, but that this time I wanted to make something
really different," says Wilson. "First of all I wanted
us to make something that would be really fun to play on big stages
like the ones wed moved up to. And I wanted it to be an album
that had the vibe of a big party, everyones invited. Finally,
I told John and Jake that I wanted us to produce it ourselves. I
figured this was a chance to get the new songs on a CD the way I
heard them in my head."
Fans whove been waiting to find out what Grammy-nominated
songwriter Wilson has up his sleeve will not be disappointed. Wilson
has managed to hang onto the vivid imagery and rhymes of the bands
previous work while embracing a more universal view of human flaws
and glories. The lyrics on All About Chemistry describe the sexual
and social adventures of a group of friends somewhere in America.
"On the last album, I wrote almost all the songs as secrets
being told to just one person - like me whispering in your ear.
This time around, I envisioned a big group of friends at a great
party, where everyone has done a few things theyll remember
forever and everyone has done a few things that theyd rather
Several of the new songs seem to be set at just
such a party. In"Get A Grip," the revelers confront the
inevitable fact that theres not necessarily someone for everyone
("when the lights come on and the partys through, there
are always a few with nobody to do"). In "One True Love,"
co-written with the legendary Carole King, who also contributed
vocals and electric piano, Wilson sings of wishing to leave the
party to be "in the dark with one true love." Wilson says
that co-writing with King was beyond a dream come true. "It
was something I could never have even dreamed of, actually,"
he says. "Shes somebody whose songs are just part of
my soul. I think her balance of emotional power and pop brilliance
is like an ideal Ive always been reaching for. So it was pretty
amazing to find myself sitting in a room with her, singing ideas
back and forth."
Some of the new songs on All About Chemistry sound
unlike anything on the bands previous discs. The sometimes
bizarre and yet classic-sounding "Shes Got My Number"
is powered by jungle drums, upright piano, dual fretless basses,
and a buzzing hive of synthesizers and samples -- and not one note
of Wilsons signature electric guitar. The epic "I Wish"
ends with a mighty jam more reminiscent of the bands live
performances than their past albums. Another departure is the heartbreaking
piano ballad "Act Naturally." Says Munson, "I think
Act Naturally is the best song on the record, but the
first time I heard it I thought it would be the best song on someone
elses record. I wondered how it would fit into what we do."
Adds Slichter, "Thats Dans approach: wait until
we learn how to do one thing really well and then take things in
a completely different direction."
Fans of Semisonics live shows have long been
amazed by the ability of Slichter and Munson to do double duty on
keyboard and their main instruments, sometimes each playing two
instruments at once. This time around the two musicians further
expanded their multi-instrumental range. Slichter took over the
string arrangement duties, flying to Los Angeles to conduct the
chamber orchestra that graces several of the songs. "I always
enjoy the look on the faces of the string players when they show
up at the studio and find out that the guy on the podium with the
baton is the drummer," he says. Munson took his trombone out
of deep storage, laying down horns on "Chemistry" and
"Surprise." He contributes guitars to several songs, plays
a soaring high-octave bass solo in "I Wish," appears on
Slichters elegiac ballad, "El Matador," playing
Hammond organ, and steps to the microphone to sing "Whos
And all three band members can be heard combining
the latest digital technology with vintage devices to create a new
generation of seductive Semisonic keyboard and sample textures.
Slichter says, "Weve always had lots of cool sounds and
loops on our records, but this time around theyre louder and
better. Since we produced the record ourselves, we didnt have
to explain these weird sounds to anyone."
The resulting music is the sound of three friends
having a tug-of-war in the studio - the push and pull of the groove,
the clash of ideas, the grace when the result is beautiful. With
their new album, Semisonic are poised to renew the spark of connection
with their current fans while winning over new ones. You guessed
Its all about chemistry.