The singer-songwriter Dan Wilson is behind some of most memorable and catchy songs in the past few decades: He co-wrote "Someone Like You" with Adele, "Not Ready To Make Nice" with The Dixie Chicks (which earned them a Grammy) and "Treacherous" with Taylor Swift. And, last but not least, for his band Semisonic, Wilson wrote the 1990s anthem "Closing Time." Yes, you secretly know all the words to "Closing Time" (So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits/ I hope you have found a friend/ Closing time/ Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end/ I know who I want to take me home.)

Now, Wilson just started a tour—he's at Joe's Pub tonight and tomorrow night—to support his new acclaimed solo album, Love Without Fear. We spoke to Wilson last Friday, after the second of three nights performing in his hometown, Minneapolis, and asked him about his new work, working with Adele, Nas and others, and if he's seen Andy Bernard singing "Closing Time."

I know you're at the start of your tour so you're probably very busy.

Yeah I just finished a meeting with a friend of mine, about music, and now I'm running to do laundry, so I must be on tour.

How have the first few shows been?

They were really, really good. It's Minneapolis, the first, I'm doing three nights at the Cedar Cultural Center. The first night was a "Words and Music by Dan Wilson" show, so it was like me mostly talking, well not mostly, but telling a lot of stories and playing some stuff I don't always include in my shows. And it was just mostly me and Brad Gordon who accompanies me a lot of piano, trumpet, clarinet, guitar, bass, saxophone, flute etc. Although he didn't have all those things there on Wednesday. Actually one last thing about that show is that Jacob Slichter, the drummer from SemiSonic joined us at the end for some encores. [Below, Wilson drew an illuminated setlist of his show—and Instagrammed it.]

Oh cool.
And then last night, he opened the show, last night I did a show that I billed as "Dan Wilson and Friends" and we played lots of songs. My brother Matt [whose band Trip Shakespeare featured Dan before Semisonic] came on and sang three songs with me from different points in our history. John Munson and Jacob Slichter were there and we did Semiconic songs [like "DND"] — that's the entirety of that band. Caroline Smith, who's a wonderful singer-songwriter from the Twin Cities came up, and we sang "Don't Forget To Cry" by the Everly Brothers, an amazing song, and that was really fun. And opening for us was Jacob Slichter reading from his book, which was also cool.

So it's more like a friends and family reunion.
Exactly, it was a big friends and family reunion and it was very positive. And then tonight it's the third night and I've billed it as Chef Stories (online it says Chef Surprise). Which really just means it's like whatever I want to do.

Are you still living in Minnesota or are you in Los Angeles?
I'm in LA.

How are you liking that? Or how is it different?
Well, the music culture is very different. Similarities are, I have in each city, a community of brilliant collaborators, musicians, artists. In LA, it really is kind of a by-way or a rest stop for all of the geniuses of the musical world. And so if I really want to collaborate with somebody brilliant it's very likely that they're passing through LA or that they live there. And I'll be able to see them in a very short time. And if they're from London or somewhere else, they're likely to be passing through also.

It's a lot more accelerated process of meeting people and getting to spend serious time with them. One big difference is kind of a funny thing. In Minneapolis, when I was doing collaborations with people for their albums in Minneapolis, if anybody came to Minneapolis for four days to work with me, they were really serious about it. They weren't testing the waters, they had gotten a plane flight and a hotel and they don't have time to do anything but write with me. Sometimes in LA I feel like people are like, well what's the harm, I can go over to Dan's studio for a few hours and if it doesn't go well, I can say, "not feeling well," or something.

The commitment feels different.
Yeah, it feels different between LA and Minneapolis. And it's because Minneapolis is out of everyone's way for the most part. So they were really really into it, if they came all the way there.

Yea, but if you're serious about rock history, you go to Minneapolis.
Yea, exactly. I agree.

What do you want to do with this new album? I think now, there might be a generation of listeners who are more familiar with your work as a songwriter and producer, and they might not even know your name.
Yeah, I agree... I take a long time between records, so I feel like there is a factor of… To a lot of people who hear Love Without Fear, it will be like relatively new commodity for them. And I like that because I really believe in this record and it represents kind of an ideal of one of the several sounds that I'm able to make.

I really think that it's a big introduction for people. My goals are usually pretty similar from song to song. From one body of work to another. I want to satisfy my own idea of order and music most, what sort of suits me or obsesses me at the time. I want to leave people feeling inspired and moved and like they're not alone. And I hope that this album does that, like my others sometimes seem to do.

How do you deal with moving from front man to songwriter/producer, and then to solo artist. Those are very different modes to be in. I can only imagine how collaborating with someone is a very different position than it being your show, when you get to plan everything in it and you can conceive it the way you want.
Yea that's true. I think the interesting thing that I've been exploring lately, maybe over the past five years, is what are the commonalities of those three phases that I might wear musically. And I'm trying to find the thing that's in common with being a front man in a rock band, and playing alone and in a duo and a more acoustic way, and third being a collaborator and helper and writer for other people.

I think I figured out that as a collaborator, once I figured out that I only wanted to write songs that I would sing myself, that I could sing at my own shows, I feel like my life got simplified. I didn't have to create a set of standards, or a new set of ideals for each session. I could do stuff that I thought was awesome. Then, the by-product of that, is if I do it right, I have more material to put in my own shows.

So far that's how I've been working.

What's fascinating is that you have such a diverse group of people that you've worked with. From the Dixie Chicks to Adele to Nas, it's really amazing that you get to work with so many different people.
I know. It's funny because, there was a time when the first Semisonic album got mixed, and we listened to it. I was sort of dismayed at how eclectic it was. I was really wishing that every single song had the same sound and the same drum tone and the same simple orchestration or instrumentation. But instead, every song was a little different. Every song had a slightly different vibe. Every song was kind of like part of a different thread of pop music and rock music history. You know? I listened to it and was kind of bummed because I really had been trying to make something very unified.

And when Semisonic made its second album, Feeling Strangely Fine, I tried really hard. And our producer, Nick Launay also tried really hard to keep it somehow artful but more unified. And I think it worked a little better, but in the end, I think it was an eclectic record. It had different flavors. One of the songs was "Going to the Movies" which I play now, which features me with an acoustic guitar and a string quartet. And another song was, "Got It All Worked Out"— which is just noisy, knocking over the piano, super raucous, old-fashioned rock and roll. And everything in between. I kind of realized at that point, that being eclectic was kind of my bag. I wasn't going to fight it anymore. And instead what's happened is I've just become more eclectic.

Even as I've simplified my approach more and more, it's like it's set out into more and more strangely diverse streams of music. For example, "Home," which I wrote with Dierks Bentley— which was a number one country hit.

Let's talk about Dierks, Adele, "Someone Like You," and Nas. All three of those were done at a session with just me, a piano and the other artist. That's the starting point for each one. And in a strange way, if you could hear the kind of work tape for each one, it probably would sound very similar.

The Nas track has a real '60s pop [feel]...there's almost a Burt Bacharach vibe to that. And I think there's a little Bacharach in "Someone Like You."

Maybe there's no Bacharach in the Dierks Bentley song, but there's definitely a little James Taylor. It's just this idealistic, simple, folk-based kind of tradition. May have to do with that I sound really right with a piano, a guitar and a window for collaborating. I don't have a computer, there's no drum beat, there's no stylistic indicator during the first couple of days of writing.

So does it usually take a few days to write a song, or does it take shorter or longer. Do you know you've got it in that moment?
I guess if I have three days with somebody, very often I end up with two songs. The first day is shooting the breeze, listening, sharing, Youtube sessions. There's a lot of things usually that my collaborator listens to that I've never heard of. So, I spend a lot of time just having fun and hearing what they're listening to at the moment. And then, probably by the end of the day we'll have talk about our lives, what's going on right now. Probably they'll have said a couple of things, to me, in the back of my mind that sound like a good title for a song.

By the second day, we're writing that song. Or we're working on something that they started, and they don't know where it's going to go. And on the 3rd day, we've got our flow going and we write one or two songs in that day. Hopefully it's two instead of one. And that's how it kind of generally goes. It picks up speed and things get easier. There's always a period of time in a song where you're like, "Where are we going to go? How are we going to finish this thing? We've got a great start, but what's next?" And then somehow, magically, one of about 25 things happens, and it's done.

Do you think you could have ever been a songwriter at the Brill Building?
In my dreams, I totally am a songwriter at the Brill Building. You know, what's his name, Don Kirshner would come through and yell at everybody who was writing there. We need a song like the Twist! There'd be some hit on the radio at the time, like Chubby Checker or whatever. We need one of those! So everybody would try to knock off some hit in a moment. It sounds kind of silly, but it sounds really great to me. If you're going to have a job, sounds like a really good job.

Who is an artist, someone you've never heard of, that one of your collaborators turned you on to? And now you're a huge fan of?
I really had a wonderful listening with Adele to Wanda Jackson. That was really, really great. That was very enjoyable and then that led to me kind of listening to a bunch of her old music. And that new record of hers that came out three years ago. I wouldn't have noticed it if it hand't been for Adele.

I had a session with The Secret Sisters. They're a duo that I wrote several really great songs with [like "Iuka"], and I adore them. And they got me turned on to the Everly Brothers. That's their ideal. They're pretty young, but, for some reason, they think that the Everly Brothers is the best thing that's happened to music. So we listened to maybe 15 Everly Brothers songs together. And last night, I covered, "Don't Forget to Cry," by them at my show. I wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for influence of the Secret Sisters.

You have children. What kind of music do you play for them, besides your own?
They have to hear my music a lot. It's a total pleasure principal in our house. I don't try to hip them to things. I only play things I think they're going to think is great. And fun. And generally, it's about them choosing music and me hearing it. One thing we listen to a lot in the car is "Happy," by Pharrell Williams. That seems to get a lot of sing a long car time.

Do they like any of the teen bands of the moment, or the teen singers that Disney packages for consumption?
They don't listen to Selena Gomez, or teen Disney people. They do love Justin Bieber quite a bit. And so those records get a lot of play.

What about One Direction?
They really love One Direction a lot. Also my teenage daughter, her taste is like… and this is the playlist that we listen to… it's eclectic but it's real specific. It's "One More Time" by Daft Punk. "Hey Ya" by Outkast. "Blue Monday" by New Order. "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. "Kiss" by Prince. "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire. And it's all basically, all she wants to hear is like, funky, dance-oriented, top 40 hits from every era. All we listen to around the house is the best dance, pop, smash of every year for past 30 years. And that's not a bad influence.

A lot of songwriters are writing more for Broadway. Is that something that would interest you?
I think it seems really interesting. I have those two Sondheim books, Look I Made a Hat and Finishing the Hat which are about writing for Broadway. They're super fascinating. I'm a huge fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein… but I just don't know. So far, the whole idea of creating songs that speak out in that way hasn't hit me yet?

The HBO documentary about Sondheim, Six By Sondheim, is really great.
I loved it, I thought it was amazing. Sondheim's approach to putting on a show, and writing a musical is very pragmatic. It's about… you have to write a piece with the appropriate number of players. You have to have a lot of factors in your mind. You have to find some guest parts in your play, you have to give them a show-stopper or some great number to have it really make sense that this famous actor is in the play at all.

There are a lot of things Like wow, we really need a really good up-tempo number for this moment in the play. That's not a purely artistic, 'my soul needs to speak now,' kind of approach. It's very functional and not what people think of when they think of how song writing is done. I like reading about Sondheim because of that. It's very reassuring that sometimes you just try and do something useful. So-and-so needs a single. Or the middle of my set has a lull and I need a faster song. And that said, I don't think that concept of writing a play has struck me as my thing, just yet.

One thing, if I may be a bit crass, is that I would say that the opportunities to make big money in pop music are still there, but they're diminishing. And talented people are gonna try to make a living and get paid for what they do. Writing a hit Broadway song is a lifetime thing. So I think that a lot of talented musicians are trying to write Broadway songs because that's where they're going to be paid.

I have to ask about Closing Time. Do you have a favorite rendition of seeing it in a film or TV show?
I think Friends with Benefits, with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, was one of the high points of my musical life. They used "Closing Time" almost as a character.

And the whole Third Eye Blind thing.
That was funny. When he's mistaking Semisonic for Third Eye Blind. Mean, but really funny.

Did you see it when Ed Helms sang it in The Office?

[Laughing] Yes, I thought that was wonderful. It's funny I… you know how you take things personally in a positive and a negative way. I was always so grateful for Ed Helm for doing that.

I'd always forgotten that the show has writers, it wasn't his idea, he's acting on a show. I was tickled by him singing "Closing Time" in the Office, and all the other actors are rolling their eyes and annoyed at him. I thought it was so funny. I had a chance a few months ago to jam with him at Largo in LA for a gig. And we sang a couple songs together. And before the show we were talking about music. And I said, "Oh man I'm so happy and grateful that you sang 'Closing Time' on The Office. It was so fun, it made me laugh so hard." And he said, "I'm not sure what you're talking about, I don't remember doing that." And I reminded him a few times, and he finally said "Oh yeah... That was funny." Like it was very significant to me, and he didn't even remember.

Because of "Closing Time," can you not go to bars? In Minneapolis, do they start playing that for you?
Yeah, or they'll play some song I was involved with. It's funny. Nobody realizes that if I go somewhere and somebody produces one of the songs I produced or sang on, all I can hear is all the mistakes I made, or the dumb decisions I wish I could have changed. It's not as celebratory for me as it is for them. But I'm so honored and tickled when they do that.

Wilson is performing at Joe's Pub tonight and tomorrow night (some tickets are still available), and then he's headed to Philadelphia; Vienna, VA; Annapolis, MD; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.