Interview: Ann Wilson of Heart Talks Solo Tour and the Importance of Music

Ann Wilson - Photo credit: Jess Griffin
Ann Wilson – Photo credit: Jess Griffin

It’s hard to imagine any conversation about northwest rock royalty that doesn’t include the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy of the Seattle rock band Heart. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, they are a band that has reinvented themselves many times throughout the years and have pretty much always done things their own way and dominated in doing so, even in a male-dominated industry. A force to be reckoned with.

But throughout all of the typical trials and tribulations that oftentimes are part of the rock ‘n’ roll story, they have built a huge adoring fanbase worldwide that loves them, not just for the incredible music but also for the unique individuals that they are. And while Heart is still very much a big deal and is how Ann Wilson puts it, “a living breathing organism,” the two sisters both have current solo projects, Ann’s being the Ann Wilson of Heart tour that will be kicking off in Seattle at the Moore Theatre on March 8.

We recently were privileged to chat with Ann for a bit about the tour and many others things, including why music is so important to us:

NWMS:  I’ve seen Heart so many times over the years, I’ve pretty much lost count. In fact, I think it was my first concert when I was like 12 – 14 ish.   I can’t really remember but anyways, you have this unique ability to connect with the audience and I’m guessing this has kind of always been reciprocal for you?

Ann Wilson: Yeah, in a sense, for sure if you’re doing it right and you really are authentically there, present feeling what you say you’re feeling and not just phoning it in, I think there’s a good chance you’re going to connect with people on a pretty deep level. That’s what’s really central to me, that’s really important. I can’t do that if the band gets too numb or the songs get too old or something like that, then I’m going to move on, so it’s just a real strong urge I have to fight for life, for artistic life. I think that Heart has done pretty well over the years, for 40 plus years, you know? Being together, and you know longer than that, that we were in clubs and everything, but we’ve done pretty well keeping it real.

NWMS: Oh you have, there’s no doubt about that like I said I’ve been to a lot of Heart concerts in my life and it’s just always this really awesome feeling when you’re there, in fact the last time that I saw you was at the EMP, the Orca benefit.

Ann Wilson: Oh yeah!

NWMS: How cool was it to sing Crosby, Still & Nash songs with Graham Nash?

Ann Wilson: Oh that was so killer, yeah! Did we do “Helplessly Hoping?” I think we did.

NWMS: I think you did. I was like in a trance (laughs) so I can’t remember all the songs…it was just so cool.

Ann Wilson: Yeah that was a good night, it was real good.

NWMS: It really was. So as much as I love Heart and always will, I want to talk about the solo stuff. I loved the way you guys just ripped through “Manic Depression.” How fun was it to do that?

Ann Wilson: It’s just completely cool and those are songs that I grew up with. That song is just as if it were written yesterday, it just talks about a mental state that’s all chaotic and stressful and frustrating which is very cool, I mean so many people identify with that song with the world the way it is now.

NWMS: Yeah.

Ann Wilson: So it definitely deserves a very punchy treatment.

NWMS: You killed it, it was so good.

Ann Wilson: Thank you.

NWMS: Do you do that one on this tour?

Ann Wilson: Yeah!

NWMS:  Sweet, that’s going to be awesome. Another song I really loved was “Anguish.” Can we expect some more filthy blues like that from you?

Ann Wilson: Yeah, and we have a new drummer now who is just a monster so “Anguish” is going to be even further evolved than when it was on the EP, when we do it live.

NWMS: That’s cool.

Ann Wilson: That’s where I started was on the blues, so whenever I can find a really cool blues song to sing that’s got real interest to it I’ll do it.

NWMS: Yeah, that’s one of my other questions was how big of a blues fan are you? I mean aside from Zeppelin of course.

Ann Wilson: Well when I was growing up there were bands like Cream and John Mayall and stuff like that around and I just love that stuff, I just fall into it naturally like I must have known it in a different life or something, it just feels real natural to me.

NWMS: A friend of mine just wrote a book about the blues and how it really just grabs us, I’m a huge blues fan too, I love all kinds of music but I really love the blues. What do you think it is about the blues that just grabs some of us like that?

Ann Wilson: The blues makes you feel good because you’re talking about your pain just the way it is when you’re all hung-up, sad and depressed and you find someone you can unload to, that makes you feel better or at least it moves it along you know? That’s what singing the blues does too, it’s a way to wail about the human condition and get rid of some of the pressure.

NWMS: I like that explanation. Aside from Heart do you have a favorite northwest band that has busted out of here and made it big?

Ann Wilson: Well, The Head and the Heart I always loved. Going back to the 90’s I always loved Bikini Kill and I loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice and Soundgarden – all those guys. I live in Florida now so I haven’t been around the town there for about two years, so I don’t know who the new kids on the street are now. Who do you like?

NWMS: Oh my goodness, I mean we reviewed 179 albums last year, so it’s really hard to choose. I really like a band called The Little Ships; they had a song called “Shiver” that is just incredible. Danny Newcomb and the Sugarmakers are on Mike McCready’s label, they are amazing, you should listen to their last album called Masterwish, it is so good. There’s so many, the northwest is just bursting at the seams with talent right now again.

Ann Wilson: It always has been ever since back in the days of Jimi Hendrix, The Sonics and so many other bands out of that area. There’s just something about that city and the weather and just the intellect of the city that is perfect for music.

NWMS: I think we’re really lucky in that way. What advice do you have for young females that are trying to make it in a male-dominated industry?

Ann Wilson: I would say to try and get outside the whole physical part of it, like the “how cute are you, how big are your breasts, how long and blonde is your hair,” all that kind of stuff is so useless and it’s so L.A., so Hollywood, I mean it’s got nothing to do with music. My advice would be just get good. Practice your music, practice singing, go out and just sing everywhere, play everywhere you can and form your thing. Don’t rely on how cute you are because that is fleeting and that’s not what it’s about, and I’d say don’t take no for an answer.

NWMS: There you go, I knew you were going to say that. That popped in my head when I came up with this question. So our country is facing some pretty tough times right now. It seems to me that music could play a big role in empowering people. What do you think it is about music that makes it such a powerful force for social causes?

Ann Wilson: Music is a great unifier, melody. Let’s take John Lennon’s “Imagine” for instance. The melody of it is something that makes it easier to talk, to speak. If there’s a melody and you’re singing it you can say really scary words but people will accept them because of the beauty of the melody. Basically music is a great unifier. You can stand out on the street, you can all sing together, if it’s something you all believe in it’s going to almost be transcendent because of the music.

NWMS: Yeah, I like that. So the presser for the upcoming tour says there are Heart songs too, how different is it playing them without Nancy?

Ann Wilson: The ones that I chose are mostly about the band, they’re mostly the rockers, they don’t really rely on the acoustic guitar that much. She’s doing the solo thing and she’s found a good singer, Liv Warfield. They’re doing a different kind of music just like I’m doing a slightly different kind of music too this year. It’ll be cool. It’ll allow me to stretch, it’ll allow her to stretch and breathe. It’s going to be awesome.

NWMS: Yeah, I’ve been following her thing too. Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?

Ann Wilson: It was in Seattle, I think I was ten. It was downtown at a movie theater and it was Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp and somebody else. They were all the radio hit makers of the day who had dance crazes. “The Mashed Potato,” “The Twist,” and “The Watusi,” that type of stuff and the theater was just jammed! It was amazing.

NWMS: A big part of our music history was those types of shows.

Ann Wilson: Yeah that’s right. Give people a chance to play and give people a chance to just go dance in the aisles and dig it, you know?

NWMS: Totally. Hey, tell us one thing that nobody knows about Ann Wilson.

Ann Wilson: Let’s see, well I guess people know about my marriage now. I don’t know if a lot of people know that I live in Florida now.

NWMS: I didn’t.

Ann Wilson: We bought a house here last year and when the Heart tour was over we just came here and settled. That was in the middle of the election right? We came to live right smack dab in the middle of the heart of Trump country. We didn’t really come here to live in order to make friends with all the folks around here; the hillbilly-redneck factor is extremely high. But we just kind of move here to be alone; we’re out in the country. So I guess you could say what they don’t know about Ann Wilson is that she’s just living happily and hiding in plain sight in the middle of a confederate flag right now. Living blue in a red state.

NWMS: That’s awesome. Your music, a lot of music I think has the ability to really help people through these times. I mean, there are those of us, either music fans or in the industry who music is so important to our lives, don’t you think we’re pretty lucky that we have music in that way?

Ann Wilson: Oh yeah it’s really good. It’s a type of communication that is higher and more exquisite than press even, it’s something that’s in the air it isn’t what we say it is, it just is you know? Floating all around us.

NWMS: Yes. Exactly. We’ll see you March 8th at the Moore, really looking forward to it.

Ann Wilson: Oh good! Great! Fantastic. The Moore show is going to be our first show, that’ll be the very first night we ever unveil it, it will be interesting that’s for sure.

NWMS: Sweet. Any special guests?

Ann Wilson: No, just us the first night.

NWMS: Okay cool.

Ann Wilson: I mean, you never know what’s going to happen because we have a rehearsal there at the Moore the day before. If somebody shows up on rehearsal day and offers their services, I don’t know what will happen; I might just take them up on it.

Ann Wilson of Heart will be at the Moore Theatre in Seattle on March 8, 2017. Click HERE for show details.

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