Heart's Ann Wilson: Still a Fanatic
L-R: Heart sisters Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson
Photo by Norman Seeff
For decades, Heart has been one of the premiere, best-selling and most influential bands in rock. Starting with 1976 debut Dreamboat Annie, the group structured around Wilson sisters Ann (singing) and Nancy (guitars, occasional singing) has paved the way for female rockers and country artists alike. Both Wynonna Judd and Gretchen Wilson (no relation) have covered Heart's songs in their live shows, on record, and even performed with the band.
In the 1970s, Heart released such classic songs including "Crazy On You," Magic Man," Love Alive" and "Straight On." Though personnel problems nearly broke the band apart, they marched on well into the '80s and early '90s with such hits as "Never," "What About Love," "These Dreams" and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells" with late Alice In Chains lead singer Layne Staley.
Heart went on hiatus in the mid-'90s, but returned in 2004 with the album Jupiter's Darling and again in 2010 with Red Velvet Car And after all these years, Heart is still playing to sold-out audiences everywhere, legends in their own right, and released the career-spanning, nearly 200-minute box set Strange Euphoria in June.
Rocks Off caught up with Ann Wilson and talked to her about she and Nancy's upcoming autobiography Kicking and Dreaming, scheduled to be published September 19, as well as the band's new studio album, their legacy, and what's in store for the future of Heart.
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Rocks Off: Your latest album is called Fanatic and I must say, it is pretty excellent. Tell us a little bit about the new album?
Ann Wilson: I'm glad you like it. It's our first album since 2010 [Red Velvet Car], and it's produced by Ben Mink. Ben, Nancy and I wrote all the songs. It's a much bigger rock album than our last album was. The last one was a little bit more gentle. This one is more explosive. It's rockin', opinionated and it's got some fun on it.
It also has some love stuff -- not schlock ballads, but big love. It's a flaming Heart album, I think.
RO: One of the standout tracks from the new album, to me, is "Dear Old America." Tell us a little bit about that track.
AW: This last year when we were writing our book that's about to come out, I found myself, in the writing of the book, dealing with my father's legacy a lot. He was a Marine Corps officer in WWII and Korea. When he came back, he had a lot of PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] problems that were really big in our family. I found that they are resonating with me in my own life.
I wrote the lyrics in his voice, but bringing up to the present as if it were a soldier in Afghanistan trying to deal with coming back home after having seen what you see in war. That's really what "Dear Old America" is all about. It's partially about doing something for your country and the pride of doing that and partially about the reality of war.
It's also about coming home from war and trying to re-enter the world you left behind.
RO: One of the songs from your new album, "Rock Deep (Vancouver)" is a bit reflective of your time in Vancouver shortly before Heart became famous. Tell us a little bit about those early days in Vancouver.
AW: Well, your interpretation is spot-on. It's really through the eyes of me as a 22-year old going up there, being in love with a man, having Vancouver as my love town, and what it's like when you're just so in love with somebody and every step you take on the sidewalk is different from the last.
It's just a sweet look back at that because we had gone up there to play a gig, had a day off and we were walking around. We went over Lions Gate Bridge and I was on top of the bridge looking down at English Bay and pretty much the whole song came to me.
RO: Yeah, I've heard Vancouver is really pretty.
AW: Oh yeah. It is something!
RO: With the new autobiography coming out, when you look back on your life, what do you consider to be the greatest or standout moment of your career?
AW: You know, it might be as we speak because this is the first year in our whole long career that we've had a box set, world tour, memoir and a new album all at once. There's also a live HDNet concert that's going to be on television at the same time. It's just that we've never had so much of us at the same place, all happening at once, ever. It's got to be now. It's kind of overwhelming (laughs).
RO: Do you have any regrets as far as your career goes?
AW: Oh yeah. I've got a million of them. I don't think that anyone who tells you they have no regrets is being honest. I would have probably not gone to the reach of partying that I went to in the '80s. I kind of regret getting that far out.
But, on the other hand, how can you resurface from that and find yourself again. That would be a regret -- too much wildness there sometimes.
RO: So you kind of learned from your mistakes?
AW: Oh yeah. You scratch that part and go, "Oh no no, I can't do that." (laughs)
RO: A few years ago, you guys did a taped performance of Dreamboat Annie in its entirety. Have you guys thought of doing something like that again with another one of your albums? If so, which one?
AW: Yes. We're always wanting to do that. How fun is that? Did you see it when Steely Dan did that? That would be amazing. I'd like to do Dog and Butterfly if it was one of the older ones, or one of the newer ones, Fanatic, because it's a really good record to do live.
It's funny because when you do one of your albums from beginning to end, and it's an old album, you find that some of the songs don't really make it anymore. Some of the songs stand the test of time and some don't (laughs). You can kind of go "Oh, what was I thinking?" on some of them.
But the amazing part is that some of them [album tracks] really do work in the later years. That's how it was with Dreamboat Annie. There were a couple of them, like "Sing Child Sing," that I didn't feel really were real songs -- they were just more like jams. But there were enough good songs. It made a show.
RO: Would you all tour possibly and do something like what Creed did with My Own Prison and Human Clay, if you guys decided to perform another one of your albums in its entirety?
AW: Yeah! Wouldn't that be cool?! I'd like to do a Christmas show tour where, you don't have to sing "Jingle Bells," but it would be around that time of year and it would be a tour where you equate such sounds that would fit a warm, winter time. A "let's get together and party"-type atmosphere and call it "Heart Christmas Party" and tour that around.
RO: I know a lot of women and even men in music have looked up to you guys and said you made them want to be musicians. How does that make you feel?
AW: It makes us feel great. I especially like hearing it from guys because our goal has never been to be in competition with men. Our goal has been to be 50-50 across the board with them. We just be ourselves, just like they are themselves.
RO: What do you see for the future for Heart?
AW: The crystal ball says I see a book, a new album, a tour, an HDNet special. Now it's getting a little bit foggy....oh, its Fiji for a vacation, maybe for Christmas. Just somewhere to get out of the glare for awhile.
Next year we're going to tour Canada rather extensively. We've generated so much stuff this year that it's going to take more than one year to ride it all out. Hopefully we will be doing some festivals in Europe next summer.
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