Nancy Wilson on Her New Album, and the Moment She Knew Heart Had Made It

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“We were like the little engine that could,” says Nancy Wilson of Heart’s early success

Nancy Wilson of Heart has been doing interviews to promote the release of her first solo album, You and Me, on May 7, 2021. Speaking from her home in the Northern California wine country, she talked about recording an album during lockdown, as well as “the coolest moment I had ever felt” as a rising rock star with Heart. She also opened up about her nervousness when she reunited with her sister, Ann Wilson, in 2019 after the “unfortunate event,” as she calls it, that led to their brief estrangement.

Heart fans will be thrilled to know that another tour is likely for 2022. Until then, they’ll get to enjoy You and Me, via her new label, Carry On Music, that, along with many originals, also features many great covers, including the Cranberries’ “Dreams” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” featuring Sammy Hagar. [She told us about both choices here.]

In the case of “The Rising,” which Bruce Springsteen had written following 9/11, Wilson thought, “This is a 9/11 every day, you know? I wanted to do a version that might uplift people who are suffering so much, who have been in this situation for over a year. Some aspirational feeling of hope, some kind of spiritual gravity.”

When the solo album was announced, it was revealed that it would include a tribute to Eddie Van Halen. Though fans might have expected a rocker, “4 Edward” is really delicate.

“The management company requested an instrumental for the album. I like assignments… challenges. I knew it couldn’t be long-winded and that we might need to cover a few musical territories, mood-wise. I was wracking my brain, thinking, why don’t I just do something for Edward, because he had passed recently. He was a good friend, a sweet soul. He had complimented my acoustic playing and I asked him, ‘Why don’t you play more acoustic?’

“I wound up giving him an acoustic guitar and he composed something overnight that [he played for me] the next morning.

“For the album, I thought about a minute and a half would fill the bill without [pushing the listeners’] patience. So I put it out there that I was going to do that, and then I was like, ‘Oh, why did I tell people? Now I really have to do it.’

“It made me a little bit nervous about even trying to do it but then in the end I found some scraps and melody here and there and figured out how to rock out in the middle section and how to structure that so that it would take you on a nice little journey that reminded me of the impression I got of the beautiful piece that he played me on the phone that time.”

The subject turns to the early days of Heart. Wilson, born March 16, 1954, was just 21 years old when she started with them. “I had a standing invitation to join the band after high school,” she says. Instead, she decided to postpone that and go to college for a year and a half to work on her writing skills, and study music theory.

“I went there to absorb things that I could take back when I did join the band. I was 21 but I had an old soul. I took a longer look across the horizon. I had that long-term plan to be a poetic musician and to be a writer and to learn stagecraft and the immersion of all things music.

“Ann and I were both very idealistic, coming from a real solid musical family and feeling like we were always encouraged to pursue our love for music. I was following my 21-year-old bliss without a thought that it might not work.”

This ad for Dreamboat Annie appeared in the May 8, 1976 issue of Record World

Heart recorded their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, for a small Vancouver, BC-based label, Mushroom Records. The album was initially released in Canada in 1975. America followed in early 1976, where first “Crazy on You” and then “Magic Man” began to take off at rock radio. By the fall, the group had a Top 10 album and single.

“It was exciting because we were like the little engine that could. Coming from Seattle — we didn’t even say we were American for a while; we thought it was cool to be Canadian during the Vietnam War. ‘All the way from Canada!’ (mimics an announcer’s voice) A lot of people still think we’re from there.”

Within a few years, the band had moved to industry leader CBS Records. Wilson is asked if she can still picture the blur of radio station interviews, the visits with the label’s sales team, and getting their weekly chart numbers.

Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, in an undated photo, via Heart’s Facebook page

“It snowballed,” the rock icon recalls. “It was really exciting to watch the numbers in the Billboard charts and to hear ourselves on the radio. I remember when we were in Boston doing a big show and were walking around as a band on a day off feeling as groovy as possible and looking for some hippie clothes to buy in boutiques. (laughs)

“It was a nice day and this big muscle car comes by on the street with all the windows down just blasting ‘Barricuda’ and it was, ‘Oh my God, now I really feel cool.’ It was the coolest I had ever felt.

“It was on the radio, sunny day, you have money to buy threads and I thought, ‘Did we just make it?’ Hearing yourself in a car going by in a cool, big town, shopping for cool threads. (laughs) I’ll never forget the feeling of that. “Things are good! Things are happening!”

Heart became a radio staple with a string of Top 10 singles, including “What About Love,” “Never” and “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You,” and a pair of #1 hits, “These Dreams” and “Alone.” Their multi-platinum album sales have totaled some 35 million copies.

In 2016, the sisters had a falling out over a family dispute. Before Nancy and Ann reunited as Heart for a big tour in 2019, they performed together in New York City for a benefit concert. Nancy is asked if she was nervous.

“I was a little bit nervous, yeah,” she says. “We sort of fell out of touch because of the ‘unfortunate event’ a couple of years before that. We had been out of touch for a while and I was licking my wounds and just kind of putting it on hold.

“The first thing was the big soundcheck for the [Love Rocks NYC] show. There were a lot of people and a lot of big energy all around. [We knew we were] thrust into an intensive situation where we have to figure out how to say hello again. It was easier with a lot of people around. I just showed up and she was on stage already and I kind of took her by surprise and gave her a great big hug and we were like, ‘Oh, yeah. It’s you. I know you.’

“We’re sisters, first and foremost, and that’s the most important story to tell about Heart. It’s not really a business between me and Ann. It shouldn’t really be a business. That [doesn’t] help the sisterhood. That’s where the blood is thicker than water. That’s the biggest joy to celebrate.”

Ann Wilson singing “Alone” at the Hollywood Bowl, Sept. 9, 2019

The “Love Alive” tour began a few months later. Was it like getting back on a bicycle?

“(laughs) It’s a metal horse, to match your analogy. It was a very large tour. For me, it was really kind of a victory lap, kind of what I was hoping for a couple of years beforehand. We had a huge production that I worked on with the production designer, Jim Rozner.

“There was a moment where these cool lights shine down like a cone shape, and that would be perfect for ‘Alone,’ where you just see Ann, all by herself in a cone of light. And then I come up and sing the harmony and there’s another cone of light.

“It was really a well-crafted show. We had never been so flashy as a band before; it had always been more simple. No bells, no whistles. But in this case, this was like a return, a celebration of a band that has not been on the road for three years, so might as well make it big and flashy. And it worked.”

She’s asked if she’s ready to travel again, now that she’s had both doses of the vaccine.

“It’s very Orwellian,” she says. “My husband, Geoff, and I [recently] made our first plane trip. Coming from Northern California, in the bucolic, beautiful rolling hills and then landing in LAX… it kind of flipped me out. I wasn’t quite ready emotionally. Having lived there for a long time in the past, it was still such a culture shock, the contrast. And then walking through the airport. Wow! It kind of freaked me out. It’s been so scary and so horrific to see so much loss on such a grand scale.”

Still, there are plans to perform with the band that made the new album, You and Me. One such event will be with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall on July 9, where they’ll perform Heart classics and songs from Wilson’s new album. It’s part of a cross-genre collaboration series between the orchestra and local artists that celebrates the breadth of the Seattle music scene. “We can do a socially distanced show,” she says.

Tickets for the streamed concert go on sale May 10 here. A limited number of VIP tickets for an in-person concert experience are available for the show, with proceeds benefitting the Seattle Symphony. Those go on sale May 19 here.

And then? “Live Nation has put a big offer on the table for Heart for 2022. That will be a really fun thing to look forward to! Ann and I are both up for it.”

So what advice would you have for that 21-year-old back in ’75?

“(laughs) I would say whatever you do, don’t fall in love with somebody in the band. Figure out something else. We should have taken a cue from Fleetwood Mac. They’ve had a lot of troubles in that department. And I would say stay away from the late-night partying. Stay as healthy as possible and get your sleep. Because if you want to do this as your life’s work, you’re going to have to have some longevity with it.”

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Greg Brodsky
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