Frequently Asked Questions
How did Semisonic get started?
Jake, John and Dan played a party in Minneapolis
in late winter 1992 as "Pleasure". This was while John
and Dan were still in the band Trip Shakespeare. The three friends
learned a batch of covers ("Drift Away" by Dobie Gray,
"Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest -- which Dave
Pirner sang with them though he didn't know the words -- "In
Dreams" by Roy Orbison, "Can't Help Falling" by Elvis
the King, "Yes It Is" by the Beatles, Hmm... a few more)
The show was at the 400 Bar with Dan on the piano, John on bass
and Jake on drums. The joy of the evening lead to songwriting by
the trio and eventually to 8-track recordings made with Slichter's
gear. In the early months of 1993, the three musicians began meeting
in Jake's basement recording studio to make tapes of a few new songs
they had started writing together. The group was signed by Elektra
Records in '94 on the strength of those first tracks.
What is the Story of the Pleasure e.p.?
Wasn't Semisonic Once Called Pleasure?
Read the History
of the Pleasure EP »
You may also want to read:
the History of Great Divide »
the History of Feeling Strangely Fine »
Read the History
of All About Chemistry »
How Did You Guys Get Your Name?
Dan: One day in a club in Kansas City, KS, I
was sitting with Aaron Seymour of the Delilahs (a band from Mpls
and our pals), and on the p.a. was Sloan, Canadian noise-popsters
and anti-poseurs. Aaron said, "Why does everything have to
be this Semisonic bullshit?" I didn't have the answer to his
question but I loved the Sloan record and I loved the new word even
more, so when we needed a name there it was.
Maybe part of the meaning is that everything gets
hyped to the skies as either the greatest thing ever to rock the
earth or as the most pathetic disastrous self-destructive dysfunctional
suicide pact ever, but we're taking another path and keeping it
lowkey. Also we keep floating in a space of our own creation between
being noisy sonic rock and sexy groovy soul.
Plus it sounds cool.
What guitars, amps and effects do you use?
Gibson SG through rat pedal somewhat distorted
through rat pedal more distorted
through prescription electronics "Yardbox"
through MXR Phase 100
then the whole signal with the above processing
(or none) goes to a stereo tremolo splitter which I only occasionally
use as tremolo -- usually it's for splitting the signal to go to
"left side" "right side" Z.Vex Fuzz Factory
1 prescription electronics "Vibe Unit" This is the blue
box; it's a knockoff of the Univibe
Z.Vex Fuzz Factory 2 through fender superreverb
The Fuzz Factory is an amazing crackly distortion
-- you can hear it on the 2nd and 3rd choruses of "California",
the lead guitar sections of "Closing Time" and "All
Worked Out" and the wah-wah guitar on "Completely Pleased".
It's by a Minneapolis inventor named Zachary Vex.
I mostly use an early 70's Fender P-Bass
through an Ampeg SVT. I've distorted the signal in a variety of
ways in the studio, but live I like to use The Wooly Mammoth by
Z. Vex. The great thing about using this particular box for bass
is that it gives you a nice full spectrum distortion, that is, it
doesn't hack off the top or worse yet, the bottom of the signal.
It also has a gate built in which can be pretty cool.
From time to time I use an old (never figured out
the year) Hofner Beatle Bass, but I've stopped using it on the road
because it feels as if it's made of bird bones and I, or worse yet
someone else, might break it. Still great in the studio, though.
Effects-wise I'm using the Digitech Whammy Wah for
various harmonizing effects and envelope filtering. I run through
a Boss flanger when it's time for swooping.
What covers have you played at shows?
Here's a partial list of covers Semisonic has
- Air That I Breathe -- The Hollies
- Because -- The Beatles
- Can't Help Falling -- Elvis Presley
- Couldn't I Just Tell You -- Todd Rundgren
- Dirty Work -- Steely Dan
- Drift Away -- Dobie Gray
- Erotic City -- Prince
- Everybody is a Star -- Sly and the Family Stone
- I Can See Clearly Now -- Johnny Nash
- I Got You -- Split Enz
- In Dreams -- Roy Orbison
- Jealous Guy -- John Lennon
- King of Yellow Butterflies -- Tropicals
- Little Willie -- Sweet
- Love Hurts -- Nazareth
- Love Is Alive -- Gary Wright
- Show and Tell -- Al Wilson
- Take Me With You -- Prince
- Tell Me Something Good -- Rufus and Chaka Khan
- The Wind -- Cat Stevens
- Tonight's the Night -- Rod Stewart
- What is Life? -- George Harrison
- When Will I See You Again? -- Three Degrees
- Yes It Is -- Beatles
- You Haven't Done Nothing -- Stevie Wonder
- We did Little Willie by Sweet and Tonight's the
Night by Rod Stewart with Zuzu's Petals at First Avenue in fall
Why do you play covers?
The band started out playing covers (see Band
History). At the time it was just because it's fun to play great
songs and the band hadn't written many songs of their own. They
also see playing covers as a great way to give respect to artists
that have influenced them, and to share great songs with the fans.
Dan has said in interviews that playing covers is a good way to
learn how to write songs.
What album is that song "Whoo-ooo, whoo-ooo, yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah,
That song is called "Delicious", it's
track three on "Great Divide".
What album is "Sculpture Garden" on?
"Sculpture Garden" is on the Pleasure
Can I Have a Copy of the Lyrics to Feeling Strangely Fine (or
Great Divide or Pleasure e.p.)?
Yes, they're right here on the website...
About Chemistry Lyrics »
Strangely Fine Lyrics »
Divide Lyrics »
EP Lyrics »
How do you write songs/lyrics?
Dan: I usually write the
first couple of lines of music and lyrics at the same time. Sometimes
a whole chorus with music and words at the same time. Then I sort
of continue writing words over a period of an hour or once in awhile
it takes me a few weeks to finish.
The lyrics I've written that I like the most are
those about somebody I know and me -- like what's gone on between
me and a friend or girlfriend or wife, or a problem somebody's having.
Always about something real.
And then when I'm working on a song, if it's a choice
between something that sounds good, versus something that expresses
clearly how I feel, I try to choose the thing that sounds good,
that's easier to sing, or that sounds better. Rather than the "true"
option. It's just my way of doing it, but I find that if it sounds
good, people always find the truth in it anyway. This way also seems
to lead to words that reveal my deeper feelings. I don't know why
A good dose of nonsense once in awhile really helps
"No One Else" is a good example, it's
about a friend of mine whose girlfriend at the time was about to
move from KC to Mpls, and the song was my way of hoping she did
it. "Laughing lost her way she caught a train to far points
north and left the phone bill on the table in the sun" -- that's
pretty obvious. But a lot of the lines just sound good, they don't
mean anything -- "bring your quiet place", "Sleepy
valium Low red light in the wine". What does that mean? I don't
really know but it sounds right. And more importantly it feels right.
Usually I have to write about 4 pages of lyrics
to get one song. Sometimes more. Occasionally it all pops out at
once -- "All Worked Out" came all at once, "DND"
came all at once.
I write songs mainly from the title first or some
phrase with melody that comes to me all at once. And the progressions
come from hearing them in my head or else my fingers stumble around
on the guitar or piano until it sounds cool. Really pretty much
trial and error most of the time.
How did you formulate your instrumental style? And how do you
start writing a song?
Dan: I think I formulated
my style by learning folk songs like Bob Dylan stuff from the 60s,
also Wild Thing by the Troggs and then listening to Tom Verlaine
play on the first Television record (Marquee Moon.) That and listening
to a lot of Joni Mitchell and wondering how she plays those weird
chords. I learned to play electric guitar while in the band Trip
Shakespeare, before that I'd never played guitar in a band. My brother
Matt had played two guitar parts on all the songs on their first
cd, "Applehead Man", and he asked me to join (maybe so
they could have two guitars live!) When I agreed, he taught me all
the second guitar parts note for note. A lot of my guitar style
comes from what Matt taught me during that period.
What is Closing Time About?
How Did You Write It?
Dan: I thought of the first
verse of Closing Time pretty much all at once while playing the
guitar. The chorus too (it's only one line). I was trying to write
a song for the end of our sets, to say, "Goodnight, get out,
we love you but we're done," to the fans. But it turned into
something else, the first verse about times I've been in a bar at
the end of the night trying to get up the courage to talk to a woman.
The next verse I tried a bunch of ideas and then a week or so later
I thought of the idea of being "bounced" from the womb
and being born.
What was the inspiration for Singing in My Sleep?
Dan: I was inspired by
an especially seductive compilation tape that a woman I know made.
It made me realize that mix tapes are the new serenades -- nobody
stands under balconies singing anymore, but we do make mixes for
What IS it w/ that Spock & McCoy thing in 'never you mind'?
And do the lyrics actually refer to the bands Blur and Oasis?
Dan: The Spock and McCoy
lines refer to a particular episode of the original Star Trek. (No,
I'm not a Trekker/Trekkie). I was writing the song about losing
track of the reasons for a feud or a fight, and during the sessions
I happened to see that old episode of Star Trek where Mr. Spock's
brain is stolen. McCoy and Kirk take Spock (minus brain) across
space and find the brain hooked up to an alien computer on some
distant planet. The aliens are using Spock's intelligence to run
their computers somehow. McCoy needs to re-install Spock's brain.
He puts on a hair-dryer-like device which gives him the knowledge
of how to perform the surgery. In a very sweaty dramatic close-up
McCoy reacts to this revelation: "Of course! I should have
known! It's child's play!" So he sets out to reattach the brain,
using his newfound expertise. But halfway through the operation
the knowledge starts to fade, and he starts to give up. You'll have
to watch the episode if you want the whole conclusion. But I liked
the idea of something being really clear and obvious at first, but
then turning vague and ambiguous. Like a fight that outlasts its
As for Blur and Oasis, since I was writing about
a feud or a fight that gets out of hand it seemed like a funny thought
to include the feud between the two cute English rock bands. I like
them both -- love Parklife and Definitely Maybe, also love several
songs on What's the Story.
What was the inspiration for the song "Made to Last"?
Dan: There were a lot of
things going through my mind about life, mere survival vs. thriving
and loving. And at the same time the band had the question "Which
superpower would you have if you could have one?" And so many
of the answers took a similar form, which got me thinking about
how we all have dreams in common.
So here's an e-mail to us and then my answer:
Flying. I know that perhaps this is a typical
answer but there is a fairly good reason for it. . . think of
the feeling of swooping over the landscape, zooming in close to
examine an old ruin you find interesting or shooting straight
towards the Western horizon (. . .I hope that's where the sun
sets or I'm going to be embarrased) right at the moment the last
lip of red shows on a senset.
It's funny... so many answers
had flying, I never would have guessed. but I had such a good time
reading all the fantasy flights I put a line into one of the new
songs, "Made to Last", which goes, "made to dream
of flying, so high"... when you hear the song, think of me
reading all of that e-mail with beautiful dreams of flying.
What is the song "The Prize" about?
Here is a note I sent to some fans about the
prize. A lot of people ask about the words. I was once very disappointed
when i found out that "Martha My Dear" and "Jet",
two of my favorite Paul McCartney songs, were about his dogs. I
thought it would have been better if he hadn't explained.
But here goes:
The night Kurt Cobain died I was totally bummed
out about it but not surprised, and I started to write a song about
it. Then I thought, "there are probably another 1,000 other
writers ('strivers') up late tonight trying to write this song,
maybe I should write about them instead of just writing the 1,001st
song about KC."
What does the song DND mean?
Do Not Disturb. DND is the motel workers' way
of abbreviating the sign you put on the motel door. It's a good
way of finding some peace and privacy on the road.
What are the notes of Closing time piano?
B G B G D G B G B G
B G C B G
Can I Have a Signed Photograph of the Band?
If you send a stamped ($0.75) self-addressed
manila envelope 8-1/2" x 11" size you'll get a signed
photo back from our management. Address:
P.O. Box 3931
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Are Tabs Available For Guitar Parts to Your Songs?
Yes, they're right here on the website.
About Chemistry Tabs »
Strangely Fine Tabs »
Divide Tabs »
EP Tabs »
Are the String Arrangements From FSF Available?
What Happened to John's Mustache?
John: A friend of mine
in LA got me onto the idea of growing a 'stache. I thought his looked
amazing and then the next day I saw him, no moustache. "Why,
oh why," I cried. He said people treated him like a moustache
guy, acting way differently towards him. I had to find out for myself
what being "treated like a moustache guy" was like.
What I found: if you grow a moustache people have
very strong opinions about it and they don't hesitate to let you
know what they are. I don't mean the usual "nice haircut"
kind of thing, but more like "outrageously groovy facial hair,
dude," or the slightly deflating "what is that on your
face?!! Get it off!"
Second, these sorts of extreme reactions seem to
be coming from everyone, even complete strangers. And I'm not paranoid.
Not long after the 'stache had reached full bloom we were playing
a show out in DC with Soul Coughing. They went on after us and in
the middle of their show M. Doughty started going off about me.
"Did everyone see the bass player from Semisonic's
moustache? I'm feeling that moustache like I've never felt a moustache
before. (cheering) And let me tell you that it feels like the first
What he meant, who could tell? Encountering him
in the hallway later that day I rubbed my moustachioed face on his
shaved head. That seemed to please him and that's when I knew it
was time for a change.
Finally, I determined that for every moustache shaved
off, another one grows. This is the "Universal Moustache Constant"
also known as, "Munson's Constant."
Are There Individual Bios for John, Jake and Dan?
What are the guys' astrological signs?
Will Trip Shakespeare Ever Get Back Together?
Anything is possible.
Why Don't You Guys Ever Play Trip Songs?
We have in Minneapolis. Matt joined us for an
encore and we played Turtledove which was fun, but really that's
skirting the question. We don't play Trip songs because we aren't
Trip Shakespeare. Although never is a long time, we will never play
Toolmaster. Loved the band though.
What Music Do You Listen To?
John: Randomly and partially
I listen to:
- Marvin Gaye in particular and most of the early
Motown stuff for the soulful singing and the amazing rhythm section,
esp. James Jamerson
- Bill Evans Trio from the early sixties for the
great ensemble playing, esp. Scott LaFaro the man who would've
changed the way people think about bass before anyone else did
(think Jaco Pastorius) if he hadn't died.
- The Beatles
- Led Zeppelin for the outrageous feel and for
the texture of the guitar parts.
- Exile on Main Street
- Joni Mitchell
- The Band
- Elliot Smith
- Beastie Boys
- The Zombies
- The Replacements
- Lucinda Williams
- I try to tune in to whatever the other guys are
listening to so that we always have common reference points when
we talk about music.
Here's a partial and very randomly ordered list of artists who
I consider influences and who I listen to a lot.
- smoky robinson
- elvis costello
- my brother Matt Wilson
- joni mitchell
- oasis first two cd's
- liz Phair
- charles mingus
- john coltrane
What videos has Semisonic made?
Semisonic has made videos for these songs:
- The Prize. Directed by Douglas Gayeton. Filmed
in Minneapolis behind the Salvation Army with the help of the
people of Minneapolis.
- Down in Flames. Directed by Douglas Gayeton.
Filmed in a soundstage in LA and in the hills and rocks and highways
- If I Run. Directed by Julie Hermelin. Filmed
in an abandoned sausage factory in Wicker Park, Chicago. The sausage
factory was tricked out to look like a "24 Hour Ice Cream"
store, where our hero "Chuck", suffers through the summer
job from hell. Semisonic comes in to buy ice cream.
- F.N.T. Directed by Julie Hermelin. Filmed in
a gigantic model camera in a soundstage in LA. The video also
featured footage from the nearly straight-to-video Geena Davis/Samuel
L. Jackson movie "The Long Kiss Goodnight." No, the
band never got to meet Geena Davis, but she did call the producer
to let the guys know she wasn't able to come.
Feeling Strangely Fine
- Closing Time. Directed by Chris Applebaum. A
story of missed connections and attempted nightclubbing told with
an amazing split-screen technique. There are no edits.
- Singing in My Sleep. Directed by Chris Applebaum.
Our hero, "The Frenchman", creates a compilation tape
and sends it to our heroine, Natalia Jovovich. Our heroine responds
with a large gesture of her own.
Questions about the Closing Time video (some of these were sent
to us by the people at VH-1's "Pop Up Video" show.)
Who is the Woman in the Closing Time Video?
The girlfriend in closing time is an actress
named Denise Franco -- an actress from LA. She was happy to play
the heroine in this video after having been one of the "bitches"
(as they were called onset) who terrorize Claire Danes in Soul Asylum's
"Just Like Anyone" video.
We would have liked to have a friend of ours or
even Dan's actual wife, but the video had such intense planned out
staging that we needed a stone cold pro who could run around the
set behind the camera and land in the right place at the right time.
Why did you shoot in LA?
The concept called for much outdoor shooting.
We would have liked to shoot in our hometown of Minneapolis, but
in March, there is still a good chance of snowstorms and generally
freezing, stormy weather. So LA was chosen for its consistently
warm, unstormy climate. Ironically, the weather in Minneapolis was
beautiful during the week of the shoot. But in LA a violent rainstorm
kept us trapped indoors most of one night, forcing us to try the
whole thing again on the next.
It was really hard to find a location with a diner,
a nightclub, and a rehearsal space within fifty yards of each other.
Eventually, the nightclub was created from an alley, the rehearsal
space was set up in an auto repair shop, and a sushi bar was used
for the restaurant.
What can you tell us about that neighborhood?
In the shadow of the LA county jail. Lots of
artists live there, though it's not zoned for living. Our loud all
night shoot kept the residents hanging out the windows until dawn.
They generally seemed like the late night types, though some were
irritated by the disturbance. They're probably reminded of it every
time they hear the song.
The bar in the video was actually an alleyway between
two buildings. The alley is usually filled with parked cars; one
neighbor has a collection of '50s Ramblers there. They all had to
move their cars around the corner.
Right around the corner of the "Bar" set
is the real-life and legendary Al's Bar.
How did you hook up with director Chris Applebaum; was there
a vid of his that you particularly liked?
We liked the fact that Chris used the words "cheeky",
"tasty", and "sexy" to describe ideas that he
was excited about. Also we loved these videos of his:
"I Can't Put My Finger On It" -- Ween
"The Impression That I Get" -- Mighty
"Sucked Out" -- Superdrag
Shot on Dan's Daughter's Birthday -- True?
Yes, the video was shot on Dan's daughter's first
birthday. She also makes a few appearances in the lyrics of Closing
Time, which were written around the time she was born. Dan has said
the second verse starts with a baby being "bounced" from
How did you manage to hit your marks? Was it frustrating or
stressful trying to get everything right each time?
It was pretty hard to hit the marks. Since it
was all one long take, lots of things had to go right all at once.
After Dan knocked on the window of the deserted
restaurant, he had to run at full speed in heavy boots to the other
end of the block to make it to his next entrance. The take we used
was take 11, so Dan's legs were pretty worn out by that time.
One hard thing was since there would be no editing,
no one could laugh during the shooting. It's pretty natural to crack
up if you make a mistake, then of course it can be removed later.
At the end, when Jake and John were leaning on the car, they were
making funny remarks to each other and desperately trying not to
Also, each time Dan got to the entrance of the bar,
the bouncer would say something bland like "come on in."
But in the take we used, Dan said to the bouncer, "Have you
seen Denise?" and the bouncer replied, "Yes, she just
went in with some really big dude." Thus Dan's reaction.
Which section of the Closing Time video has the hardest choreography?
A few spots were especially difficult -- the
point where the camera turns around and around in the "empty"
practice space looks simple, but in reality there are eight people
dashing around the room behind the camera, trying to stay out of
frame: three band members, Denise, a steadicam operator, assistant
camera operator, the art director (who had to grab the turntable
out of the shot), and a production assistant who handed Dan his
guitar. Several takes ended up with one or more of these people
sprawled on the floor after a collision.
The scene where the waitress passes between Dan
and Denise in the bar was the very hardest to get right. They all
had marks to hit on certain beats in the song, but as that moment
went wrong in take after take, everyone got a little psyched out.
Around take 9 it started working.
Were There Any Technical Problems On the Closing Time Shoot?
- The bicycle had no brakes.
- Rain. Whenever it started again, the lights had
to be taken down and covered.
- When the shoot was delayed one day by rain, the
crew and extras all canceled their plans for the next day to give
it another try.
- Cadillac kept breaking down, battery died...
- Cramping legs of steadicam operator.
- The extras in the bar became frozen and irritable,
found it hard to maintain the proper good cheer.
- Exhaustion; the first complete take wasn't accomplished
until around 2am.