Semisonic Wrapping Up R&B-Influenced Third LP

Trio taking unconventional approach to recording yet-to-be titled disc.

MTV News Online

Semisonic are in the final stages of cutting their third album, the follow-up to 1998's Feeling Strangely Fine, and have laid down 18 tracks for the yet-to-be titled LP, due in the spring.

The Minneapolis trio of singer/guitarist Dan Wilson, bassist John Munson and drummer Jacob Slichter have been working on the new record on and off for the past few months at various studios and locales around the city.

Semisonic will take a break from the studio later this month to play the V2000 Festival in the UK, where the band's "Secret Smile" (RealAudio excerpt) single helped refuel European sales of Feeling Strangely Fine.

During a break from recording and practicing, Wilson said the new LP has been recorded in a rather unorthodox but hassle-free fashion.

"We're really putting technology to work for us in a big way," he said, "and we've even recorded some vocal tracks in a hotel room in Miami. There's a warehouse in Minneapolis we have access to that has a really great-sounding hallway, and we put some drum mics in the hallway and got some amazing canyonlike drum sounds out of that. I've been sort of doing vocals wherever I am, actually, with just some portable digital recording stuff. It's all so incredibly liberating.

"Last year I had this experience," he continued. "I co-wrote a song with Evan Lowenstein of Evan and Jaron, and I recorded a demo of the song in the tour bus while the bus was moving on the highway. Did the whole thing overnight when I had insomnia between, I think it was L.A. and Phoenix, or something like that — an incredibly long drive.

"I sent the recording to Evan and Jaron, and they ended up using two of the guitars that I recorded on the bus. Once I had that experience — that was about a year ago — it was like, 'OK, all bets are off.' There's no limitation to where you can record. You don't have to rent a huge studio; you can do it in a closet if you want to. We've been taking that to a crazy extreme lately and just making music wherever we are."

Among the new songs that might end up on the album are "Tomorrow for Now," which Semisonic unveiled in June during their set at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK, and "Who's Stopping You," a track sung by Munson.

'Wankery' Still Needed

Wilson said the sound of the record was still taking shape, but that he finally feels the band has gotten a handle on how to approach and play the new songs.

"Some of [the songs] are really detailed and have a lot of samples and loops and stuff like we've always used," he said, "and others are very, very bare-boned band performances that may remain that way. I think we have another six weeks of experimentation and wankery to get out of our systems, and I think at that point it'll be done. It really does feel different, though.

"About four months ago, there were lots of tracks floating around, there were lots of songs. We'd been in the studio, in and out, for a while, but it just didn't seem like we had found the right way to play this new batch of songs, which in some ways is real different from the last one. Now, though, it really feels like we've completely got a handle on it, and it's been pretty smooth sailing for the past month or so."

Groove Time

In comparison with Feeling Strangely Fine or even Semisonic's 1996 debut, Great Divide, Wilson said the new material is more akin to the funk textures of such songs as "Secret Smile" and "Delicious" (RealAudio excerpt).

"The last album ... there was a lot of real delicate, folkish things on the album," Wilson said, "and almost none of the sort of American R&B side of things, the groove-oriented stuff, dance-oriented stuff. There was hardly anything like that.

" 'Secret Smile' sort of hinted toward that," he said. " 'Completely Pleased' hinted toward that. Maybe there was a bit of that in 'Closing Time' (RealAudio excerpt). I think that this time around, we're sort of feeling a lot more like making that sort of R&B-influenced type music.

"I hesitate to say too much about that because it's not going to be a techno album, it's not a dance [record]. It's not two-step. It's not four-on-the-floor bass drum stuff. We're not turning into an English dance collective at all, but we are using more of that funk influence that Minneapolis is, I guess, pretty well-known for."

— David Basham