Dan Wilson shared a Grammy with Adele this year as a producer of her acclaimed pop album, 21. He claimed another Grammy in 2007 for co-writing the Dixie Chicks’ defiant anthem, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” And now “Home,” his writing collaboration with Dierks Bentley and Brett Beavers, is homing in on the top of the country charts. This week in Billboard, it sits at No. 2 with a bullet.
Rather than rest on his laurels, though, the former Semisonic singer is playing a few select shows and seeking out some new musical partners. For example, he’s already written three songs with The Band Perry. Prior to a gig in San Francisco, Wilson called in to CMT.com to chat about his famous friends, his diverse résumé and what he’d like to do on his next trip to Nashville.
CMT: What were you hoping to capture in “Home”?
Wilson: When we got together, we were shooting the breeze at the beginning of the session. After a little while, Dierks had to leave for about two minutes to deal with a domestic issue. While Dierks was out of the room, I said to Brett, “Do you have any melodic or musical ideas?” And he said, “Not really,” then started playing something on guitar. So I started playing along on the piano. Dierks walked back in, and literally just a few minutes had passed, and he said, “So what have we got?”
We then played this little moment, which was brief, and Dierks said, “Wow, did you do that yesterday? When did you do that?” And Brett said, “No, it fell from the sky a few minutes ago.”
So we played it for a little while and thought about it. And I said, “I hate to say this, guys, but I think this has to be a patriotic song and I think has to have the word ’America’ in it.” We all laughed and they both kind of groaned because that’s potentially a very risky thing in a song. But I just felt strongly that the song had to be patriotic and have the word “America” in it.
Dierks said he had always wanted to write an inclusive patriotic anthem, like how he feels about Arizona and also about the country. I think the two of them revised out the word “America,” which might have been for the best because otherwise it would have been cheesy. I think we all agreed on the mission. We thought it would be cool to write something that captured our feelings of affection and pride and hope for our country. And I really think we did.
And it never says “America” once in that song.
I know! I might have liked it better if it did, but if I had kept insisting, they would’ve kicked me out of the room. (laughs)
What do you remember most about writing with the Dixie Chicks for their Taking the Long Way album?
I remember laughing a lot. We really had a ridiculously fun time together. They’re witty and musically brilliant and insightful, and they’re all willing to make the wicked comment that people might think but never say out loud. That makes them interesting to hang out with. We just had a really natural, collaborative flow.
I guess I went into it with a feeling of compassion and interest. I was really interested in their fall from grace with country radio and the country establishment. I was interested in how quickly and easily that happened for them, and I was interested in how painful that might have been and how angry it would have made me if I had been them.
It was wonderful to get to know them and to hear their take on it, because their perspective on it wasn’t always what I thought it would be. We really dealt with a lot of those issues in the songs and I respect them as much as anybody I’ve ever worked with. They are amazing people.
Could you get Natalie Maines to come back to make another album? Do you have that much power now?
I really don’t know! It feels to me like now would be the perfect time to make an album. They wouldn’t even have to say, “Forgive us.” They could just be their own fascinating, funny, ultra-musical selves and do a record they are proud of and love. I think it would be an interesting way to turn a fresh page. I know a lot of people who miss them and wish they were back on the scene. It will be nice when they come back, but I don’t know when it will be.
My older daughter is 14 and is a big Dixie Chicks fan, so I hear Fly and Home and she listens to “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces.” Every couple of weeks, I hear those songs around the house, coming out of a computer. That’s an amazing body of work. It’s pretty astonishing that they were able to be that consistently good.
Congratulations on the Grammy this year and for co-writing “Someone Like You” with Adele. What was going through your mind the first time you heard that song on the radio?
“Oh, I hope my piano part doesn’t have any weird, awkward stuff in it that I regret.” (laughs) That’s what I was thinking! I was listening to myself play the piano, and I could barely even hear Adele singing because I was so concerned about the piano being played well.
When I was listening to it, I was amazed because that recording is just her and me. We did it in a small studio in West Hollywood. I heard it for the first time on the radio in San Francisco. I was driving, and suddenly I heard the introductory piano part, and I could barely believe my ears. I was so happy. And then it became something that you hear all the time.
Do you have plans to pursue anything further in Nashville?
I don’t know what my next foray into Nashville will be. I definitely hope I get a chance to write another song with Dierks. And that may take a minute because he’ll be on tour a lot, but that would be really cool. There are a lot of artists, both on the recording and the writing side, that I could imagine working with. I don’t have a specific plan to go down there, but I was talking to my manager today about visiting in May. We’ll see what happens.
The industry throws a No. 1 party every time a song hits the top, so keep your fingers crossed.
Fingers crossed! I definitely hope there’s a reason for a party.