Single Again is a column on Radio.com where Dan Weiss investigates chart hits of the past and present, their stories and what they meant and how good they really are.
For this edition of Single Again, Radio.com spoke to ex-Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson about co-writing Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which won the 2007 GRAMMY awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which was the best-selling song of 2011.
See our previous interview with Wilson about Semisonic’s No. 1 Modern Rock hit “Closing Time” here.
What was the moment you knew songwriting for others was what you wanted to pursue?
That was something that was in my mind from like, middle Semisonic days. I had this notion that I wanted to write for people because when we finished Feeling Strangely Fine, for that Semisonic album I wrote 60 songs. And we used 12 or 13 but you’ve got 40 songs that no one’s ever gonna hear. And I thought there must be other ways and other venues for my music to be heard. I thought of Jackson Browne writing “Take It Easy” with the Eagles and Carole King writing “You’ve Got a Friend” and having James Taylor sing it. I had childhood models of favorite artists and I just decided it was a thing that I could do. I had no idea it would become a big part of my life in retrospect, but it’s pretty awesome.
When would you say you became equally as known for that as Semisonic?
I would say the turning point was when I wrote a bunch of songs with the Dixie Chicks for their Taking the Long Way album. “Not Ready to Make Nice” won a Grammy and I think people—at least in the music community—started thinking I had some superpowers in the area of writing songs for other people.
How did you get hooked up with the Dixie Chicks?
At the time I was working on my album Free Life with Rick Rubin, working pretty intimately with him, and he was a new fan of mine, so pretty enthused. When he and the Chicks started working together, he played them some of the songs on the album we were working on, and they loved those tracks, and then decided they had to write the songs for the album they were working on. So he kind of set us up on a blind date, he said, “I just believe this is gonna be really great, you gotta meet Dan. I know it doesn’t seem like on paper it’s gonna be a perfect match, but it was a perfect match. I wrote seven songs with them and I think six ended up on their album. We got along great and artistically it was a perfect match.
Were you already aware of the backlash against them on country radio?
Oh yeah. I’d seen them at festivals in prior years and they were probably my favorite country artists. Then when that thing happened, they got blacklisted for their political comments, I was very aware of it because I’m a heavy lefty-liberal-type dude, and that was definitely on the radar of everybody I talked politics with. It was a very interesting phenomenon because I don’t think people had bothered to blacklist any artists for anything for years. Musicians had become so neutralized that I don’t think it was even necessary to quash them. Musicians had gotten milder and milder, more professional in their…someone might be a wild man but no one ever said anything that was politically disturbing, just theatrically. So that was the first time in a long time that the powers that be decided that a musician’s opinions were dangerous and needed to be destroyed. That was very interesting to me.