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Ann Wilson: On New Solo LP ‘Fierce Bliss,’ Weather Preparedness PSAs & Heart’s 50th Anniversary (Interview)
A collection of 11 original songs by Wilson and her band mates, as well as renditions of classics by Eurythmics and Robin Trower, the new record from the singer/songwriter is sure to be one of the best new rock albums of 2022.
As she readies a tour in early May with her new band, the Amazing Dawgs, Wilson reveals some of her plans for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Heart in 2023. And we get Wilson’s take on the hilarious Heart parody video produced by the Southlake, Texas Department of Public Safety on weather safety and preparedness — all that and more in our new feature interview.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said that greed is that thing in our nature that makes us want more. What inspired you to write the song “Greed”?
Ann Wilson: It’s a combination of things. When you look out at the big picture and you look at the materialistic nature of our culture, it’s really at an all-time high. The disparity between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, it’s like everybody is on the make.
Rich and poor, everybody wants more. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve never seen before at this level. And I look at my own nature sometimes and I have to shake my head and go, “wow, do you really want to do more online shopping?”
Rock Cellar: You’ve said “A Moment in Heaven” is about the short-lived glamor of being successful in rock. What reality check did you receive that told you the spotlight has moved elsewhere?
Ann Wilson: There have been a few different times when I’ve had the hard slap of reality that maybe the moment had passed. In my career I’ve been lucky to have several of those moments in heaven — when everything’s going right, you’re having hit records and you’re making lots of money and you’re pleasing people, you’re pleasing yourself and it’s all good. I’ve had a few of those.
So I recognize the pattern. And I guess that’s why I wrote the song, because I see now what’s it’s like in the music industry, that’s just so completely commercialized. It’s really in spades right now.
Rock Cellar: What do you measure success by?
Ann Wilson: At this point in my life and career, I measure success by how good I feel about what I’m doing. And the people that I’m working with, the joy of doing this. I’ve had times when I was much younger where I measured it by having a hit record, by feeling glamorous and glorious, by chart positions.
But right now it’s really not about that for me. It hasn’t been for some time, probably since the 1980s. It’s been more about getting back to the creative experience. Why did I even start to do this, and work so hard to make it happen?
It’s all about the music. It’s all about having a voice. Having something to say and saying it.
Rock Cellar: You recorded the Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man.” Is there a camaraderie between singers like you, Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry, or is that just something fans cook up in their minds?
Ann Wilson: Me and Annie and Debbie and Chrissie all live in different geographic areas but when we do encounter each other, and Joan Jett, and Lucinda Williams, and when we encounter each other there’s an instant sisterhood-type thing.
I don’t feel that there’s any competition there or any kind of catty sort of behind-the-hands talk or anything like that. It’s pretty open at this point.
We’re all mature women now, so it’s not about any of that bullshit anymore.
Rock Cellar: Do you share similar stories?
Ann Wilson: Totally, yeah, totally. It’s amazing how much of the same things happened to each of those people that we’ve been able to just nod our heads and go, “oh yeah, been there, done that.”
Rock Cellar: What have you talked about?
Ann Wilson: The things you had to do to let people know that you’re real, that you’re credible. I think that the credibility issue is the one that all of us have had in common.
Rock Cellar: You recorded Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs” on the new record. He’s an underrated talent. How did you come to choose that?
Ann Wilson: I’ve always loved that song. When it came out back in the ’70s, before I was even really recording, I just loved that song and I thought it was one of the best blues songs of all time. On a deep, dark, existential level, you’re teetering on the edge of the abyss in that song. So it was really great and of course, [guitarist] Kenny Wayne Shepherd really nailed it.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said it’s harder to keep a band together than a marriage. Please elaborate on that.
Ann Wilson: I should have clarified that and said it’s harder to keep a band together than MY marriage. It’s just that when you have a band of four or five, seven people, you don’t only have them, you have their significant others, their satellites. And everybody talks to them.
It’s a whole bunch of people that have to be unified. And the minute somebody’s wife or husband starts going, “well, you know, you’re being treated like shit, you should just quit,” that’s the beginning of the end for that particular unit.
With a regular marriage there are two people so you can look at each other directly and say, let’s talk. Hopefully, you don’t have anyone on the outside influencing you.
Rock Cellar: What are the difficulties in putting together a bunch of musicians and having them gel?
Ann Wilson: Yeah, the gel part is the magic. Tom Bukovac, my guitar player, I had asked him to come be the musical director on these sessions I was doing in Muscle Shoals to develop my demos. And he put together this band of guys that he knows in Nashville. And I brought a drummer from Seattle.
We just threw them together and hoped it would work and boy, it really did. It was like, bingo. And that rarely happens. There is usually somebody who’s got a day job and they’ve got something else they have to do and they can’t commit. But these guys each have careers in their own right and they don’t need me, but they decided that they really want to do this.
Last year we did 20, 25 shows together and we’re just about to take off and do about 30 more. It’s definitely working.
Rock Cellar: I would imagine the hardest part is, my name is on the album cover and in the end I have to be made happy. Has that happened?
Ann Wilson: That’s where the rubber meets the road. I have to be able to sign my name to it and love it. And it doesn’t always work that way. This thing I’m doing right now with these guys, with the Amazing Dawgs, is all the ducks are in a row. I say that knocking on wood because it’s almost too good to be true right now.
Rock Cellar: You said recently that you want to make another album with Nancy for the 50th anniversary of Heart. Have you had any ideas about what would be on it?
Ann Wilson: When Heart makes another record it will be all new original songs that I’ve written, hopefully that’s she’s written. Next year is our 50th anniversary. I’m having an event, I’m going to invite everyone who’s ever been in the band and that will be recorded. And then we’ll see what happens beyond that.
I can’t say for sure when but it’s my mission to get that going.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said that back in 2008 you offered to audition as Led Zeppelin’s singer and received no answer. If you had auditioned, what songs would you have chosen to do?
Ann Wilson: I wouldn’t have gone in there with a preference list. I would have just gone in there and said to Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, “what do you want to do?” I’m there for it.
But if I was asked to come in with a list, I would come in with “No Quarter,” probably with something like “In My Time of Dying,” some of the latter-day stuff.
Rock Cellar: How much would you have changed Robert Plant’s versions?
Ann Wilson: I would have honored his versions, but I wouldn’t have tried to recreate it. I probably would be working closely with Jimmy and saying, “what are we going to do with this, are we gonna do the Zeppelin version? You have ideas on how to expand on it?” That’s what I would have done.
Rock Cellar: How did Southlake, Texas get your seal of approval for their weather preparedness video?
Ann Wilson: My friend Criss Cain, who does all our videos and is a YouTube aficionado, saw it, and he put it in front of me and I thought it was really funny and cool. So I just said “wow, yeah, we like this, this is great.”
Rock Cellar: I asked the last time we spoke about the upcoming Heart biopic. Anything new to report?
Ann Wilson: No, they’re still keeping it pretty close to the vest. I think that Carrie Brownstein is still putting the finishing tweaks on the script. Of course, everything shut down for the pandemic, so that sort of set them back but they’re back in the office now and they’re working on it again. So it’s still comin’.
Rock Cellar: Are they in touch with you on a regular basis?
Ann Wilson: Right before the pandemic hit, Carrie came to my house and stayed here for a bunch of days and we sat for hours and just talked and chatted. She asked me questions and I told her stories. So she has lots of in-depth, direct access. And I think she’s gonna get it right.
Rock Cellar: Let’s do a Lightning Round. In the early days, what singer inspired you that a female rock band could be successful?
Ann Wilson: None of my influences were female in those days. It was all Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Stevie Winwood and those great singers. I listened to Aretha Franklin a lot.
Rock Cellar: What’s your favorite Beatles era: The Hard Days Night Beatles, the Sgt. Pepper Beatles or the Let It Be Beatles?
Ann Wilson: It was the Revolver, Sgt. Pepper Beatles. It was that extremely Renaissance time when they went from being cute Beatles to being psychedelic Beatles.
Rock Cellar: What style of music gives you a headache to listen to?
Ann Wilson: Right now it’s the style where everyone is Auto-Tuned and everyone sounds exactly the same in that they all sound like they’re doing vocal acrobatics. Everyone’s gotten vocal fry. You can’t really tell who the person is.
I guess you call that pop music. Although I don’t really want to come down on an entire genre but I’d have to say it’s the Auto-Tune, when they disguise the human sound of the voice with robotics. That just won’t hold me. I just tune that right out.
Rock Cellar: I wonder what happens when they get out on stage.
Ann Wilson: I know that some technologies will pitch-correct live. That is terrifying, that’s just awful.
Rock Cellar: What’s the worst cover of a Heart song you’ve heard?
Ann Wilson: I don’t know. There are so many tributes out there. Some are OK and some are actually close.
Rock Cellar: Have you gone to see any of the tribute bands?
Ann Wilson: I did a few years ago down in LA. We were in the studio recording and we had the night off and we went over to Universal and there was one playing there.
It was really kind of weird, because the players were interchangeable. There were two or three different women that were the Ann and there were two or three that were the Nancy and they kind of switched off. It was very strange.
Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.
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