“I was definitely aware of the greatness of existing versions of these songs,” the former Semisonic frontman tells Billboard. “I was trying to find some way, artistically, to lay claim to them in some way that was believable…and forget about the possibility that I was trying to go toe-to-toe with Adele, which obviously you just don’t do, or anybody else.”
Wilson — whose video for Adele‘s “Someone Like You” from his upcoming Re-Covered album is premiering below — credits Re-Covered producer Mike Viola with creating both the template and the attitude for making “Someone Like You” and the album’s other tracks achieve that goal on the album, which comes out Aug. 4.
“He had some real specific ideas about how to interpret the songs,” Wilson recalls, “and by that I mean he wanted us to focus on the recording. We did everything on two-inch tape, cut the vocals live with the band, everything very old school in a way. He wanted to make it a document of a moment in time, and I think that took some of the pressure off because we only had to capture that and not some eternal alternate version of the songs. We just had to capture the deepest, truest version of right where it was on that day.”
Wilson recorded his spare arrangement of “Someone Like You” with the Kronos Quartet, in a session that’s captured in the video. It certainly stands apart from Adele’s version — a No. 1, five-times platinum smash in 2011 — but it also brought back good memories for Wilson of of writing the song with her.
“It was definitely like an old school, Carole King/Gerry Goffin thing in a small studio in Hollywood,” Wilson recalls. “It was just me and her and a piano; We started on guitar but she didn’t dig it, so she asked if we could switch to piano. We recorded the song at the end of the second day, when we had the whole thing done. It was very sort of spontaneous, and she is extremely spontaneous. Even if she has a plan for what she wants to accomplish she’s really, really open for interpretation about how we’re going to get there.”
Re-Covered‘s 13 tracks also feature his takes on songs he wrote for the Dixie Chicks (“Not Ready To Make Nice”), Taylor Swift (“Treacherous”), Dierks Bentley (“Home”), John Legend (“You And I”), Chris Stapleton (“When The Stars Come Out”), his brother Matt Wilson (“Landing”) and others, as well as an album-closing rendition of Semisonic’s classic “Closing Time.” The idea was suggested several years ago by a friend, but it took a minute for Wilson to feel like the time was right. “I didn’t think I had the songs yet,” he explains. “I know I could’ve done this before now, but I felt like I needed a couple more things to hang my hat on. ‘Someone Like You’ actually helped a lot.”
Wilson will be touring to promote Re-Covered; He currently has dates set for September and October in Chicago, Boston, New York, Nashville, Los Angeles and San Francisco and plans to flesh out the schedule from there. Meanwhile, it’s not surprising to learn that Wilson’s phone is ringing off its proverbial hook with request for songs and writing sessions, and his most recent collaborations have been with Halsey and Jason Mraz.
“A lot of people want to write a song with me — and I’m good at it,” Wilson says. “I have a good track record of bringing out the soulful kind of powerful essence of a story that someone wants to tell, or making up a story with them that’s based on the reality of both of our lives.” Wilson also holds out the possibility that he may troll the “big batch of songs” he has ready for another album of his own at some point.
“Sometimes those get folded into my co-songwriting process, but some of them seem like things I’d love to record,” he says. “I feel like I would love to do that again, somehow, so we’ll see.”
Watch the video for “Someone Like You” (featuring Kronos Quartet) below.