New name suits Semisonic’s sad songs on Great Divide debut



There are all kinds of stories about bands being threatened by lawsuits over their names, but you can add another one to the list with the case of Minneapolis power-pop trio Semisonic. They were touring Midwest clubs as Pleasure last year when, out of the blue, a representative of an old funk band called Pleasure contacted them. According to singer-guitarist Dan Wilson, this guy “offered to sue” the band if there was too much Pleasure going around. Wilson and his mates declined the invitation, and a new and better band name was born.

“[Semisonic] sort of defines the band a little more clearly,” says Wilson between bites of a burrito at a Milwaukee café. “And at the same time it’s a little vaguer,” he adds, “which I’m glad about. With Pleasure you can’t get away with writing things really sad or really sort of down. It just seems weird.”

It’s a good thing that the band was legally tempted to pass on Pleasure, because that name wouldn’t have jibed so well with a tragic tune such as “Down in Flames”, arguably the finest track on Semisonic’s CD debut, Great Divide. (That standout song should make an appearance when Semisonic joins Michigan’s Verve Pipe in a free show at the Town Pump this Sunday, May 5.)

“I was talking with a friend of mine who’s in a band,” says Wilson, “and he was saying that he figured that his band would never really make it—that in fact they would probably go down in flames. But you don’t really get to choose that yourself, and the way things end is usually not so romantic and glorious. And then it led to me thinkin’ about some other things that happened in my life, and some people that I love, and it just kinda led to the song from there.”

Before becoming Semisonic, Wilson and bassist John Munson constituted half of Trip Shakespeare (“sort of folk music meets Jimi Hendrix”), which was led by Wilson’s brother Matt. When that group dissolved, Wilson, Munson, and drummer-keyboardist Jacob Slichter formed the ill-fated Pleasure, which paid the bills covering tunes such as John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” before evolving into a full-blown original act.

“Jake and I sat down one day—we were just playing guitar together—and we wrote the first verse of what later became ‘If I Run’. I took it home and finished it, and John came over and laid down the bass part, and suddenly it was like this really slammin’ song. That was like a real turning point.”

Semisonic joins such new Minneapolis-St. Paul bands as the Hangups, Tropicals, Polara, Balloon Guy, and Golden Smog in a music scene that, according to Wilson, has been “totally rocking” ever since the glory days of the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. It’s good to hear that his Twin Cities hometown is happening on the musical front, but before signing off I can’t help getting a dig in at a city—or two!—that can’t even support a hockey team.

“Oh, don’t rub it in,” begs Wilson, still pining for the old Minnesota North Stars days. “Now they’re like the Texas Stars or something like that. Pathetic.”

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