Ann Wilson, Heart
It’s hard not to be in awe of Heart. To date, the band has sold thirty-million records. Few bands have achieved that level of commercial appeal, and even fewer are led by women. With albums charting in the seventies, eighties, nineties, and again in 2010 with Red Velvet Car, Heart has the longest span of top-ten albums by any female-fronted band in history.
Nightlife caught up with Ann Wilson to discuss the secret to authentic success, reliving the past, rocking out, and standing out in a man’s music world.
Heart formed in 1963 when bassist Steve Fossen and brothers and guitarists Roger and Mike Fisher formed the Army in Seattle. The name never quite fit, and the bandmates kept changing the moniker before finally settling on Heart in the early 1970s. It was also during the early part of that decade that the band acquired Ann Wilson as its flautist and vocalist and later her sister Nancy on acoustic guitar. Not long after, Heart recorded their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, and their popularity exploded. The album sold more than a million copies, and singles “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You” charted on the Billboard Hot One-hundred. Heart’s second album, Little Queen, became the group’s second to sell a million copies, thanks in large part to the anthem “Barracuda.”
The band remained a powerhouse during the eighties, especially after 1985’s self-titled album brought four top-ten hits. The followup, 1987’s Bad Animals, gave Heart their first number-one single, “Alone.”
Ann Wilson said the group has always maintained their integrity.
Rock is a rebellious form,” Wilson said. “You can’t ever put a collar on it. It’s almost no different [when we write]. You just go in and keep it real.... We write about things that are true to ourselves. It’s always been important to us to not write for the radio. The minute you do that, you are not authentic anymore.”
The band’s fourteenth studio album, Fanatic, is due in October. Wilson described a recording process that bowed to every whim and influence that came to her and her sister.“We did it in every which way,” Wilson said. “We just put down ideas anywhere they came to us-- the studio, the hotel room, anywhere we could find the inspiration.”
Earlier this year, Heart released a boxed set, Strange Euphoria. Curating the material for the event, Wilson said, was an experience that she enjoyed because it served as a musical walk down Memory Lane.“We had a really, really great time,” she said. “It’s pretty easy to tell what to put on, and it was a fun process to select which ones to choose.”
After thirty-five years, Wilson is still amazed when she learns how much of an impact she and her band have had on fans’ lives.
“People just really gravitate toward us,” Wilson said. “They tell us about how a particular Heart song has really touched them and helped them through a difficult time. It’s really great to hear that.”
Later this month, the Wilson sisters will release an autobiography, Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll. Wilson described the writing process as a “really heavy experience” that she is both glad she went through and happy to share with her fans. And later this year, Heart will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
According to More Women in the Hall, an online campaign to nominate more women artists into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, only ten percent of the Hall’s 296 inductees are women. Unsurprisingly, the idea for the campaign came while two friends were having a drink and a Heart song came on the jukebox.
While Wilson did not know about the online campaign, she said she fully endorses the goal to induct more female musicians in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.“It’s always been [a] wonderment about how long it’s taken for some women to get into the [Hall of Fame],” she said. “Like how long it took Joni Mitchell to be inducted. I’m not really aware of the political process or about the induction process.... But I’m all for more women getting in.”
As for the upcoming local concert, Wilson said Heart is ready and willing to rock.
“We want people to come out and have a good time,” Wilson said. “We really want them to put their heart into it,” she said, then paused before adding: “No pun intended.”