Great new Nancy interview :)
With a sparkling new album coming soon and a major North American tour underway, one might think it’s the late 1970s all over again for Heart.
The highly-influential group, still powered by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, is in the midst of its latest renaissance. But it’s a long way from the ground-breaking, house-quaking days of “Crazy on You,” “Magic Man,” and “Barracuda.”
Those early mega-hits put Heart on the map to stay, and they’ve sold more than 30 million albums in the years since.
During a brief break from touring, strawberry-blonde sister Nancy Wilson spoke from Topanga, Calif. on a wide range of topics, including the band’s career, the culture shift they survived in the 1980s, her life as the mother of twin 10-year-old sons with husband and film director Cameron Crowe, and the new album, “Red Velvet Car,” which is slated for release Aug. 31.
With a father in the Marine Corps, the Wilson sisters traveled a lot as children, eventually settling in the Seattle area. But the band got its big break in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where they were signed by the small label Mushroom Records in 1975. Heart’s first album, “Dreamboat Annie” turned into a massive hit, and on the surface, the group appeared to be overnight sensations.
“It did happen fast,” Wilson recalled. “But we worked for years before that album was released. You work and you write songs and you play clubs, you live on no sleep and bad food, you freeze and you put the work in - the blood, sweat and tears. You play a million uncomfortable shows in uncomfortable places and you deal with all modes of travel. Then when the album came out it was like – ‘Wow!’”
“We broke it regionally,” she said in reference to “Dreamboat Annie.”
“We got in the car almost like on ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,’ with our agent from little Mushroom Records in Vancouver. We drove across the country, took a few planes, went to Chicago, Detroit, we went to the actual radio stations and we’d put makeup on in the car before we’d meet the DJ or the program director (laughs). And then they’d think we were cute and we’d go back in the car and wait for our guy to do the payola. (laughs) There was a lot of that style of making it then.”
But she laments the loss of certain aspects of attaining stardom in this age of “American Idol.”
“I think people study their craft in front of mirrors and cameras and don’t do the shoe leather and the actual performing as much. I think that’s part of the reason there’s a resurgence for bands with history like Heart because we know how to play and we know how to sing.”
Indeed they do. Ann’s powerhouse voice and Nancy’s softer side and intricate work on a variety of stringed instruments has always been at the center of Heart’s sound, and it still is on “Red Velvet Car,” with its potential hits such as “WTF,” “Hey You,” and “Wheels.”
“WTF includes the lyric ‘The hardest thing you’ll ever learn is what bridge to cross and what bridge to burn,’ which was directly inspired by journal writings from the Wilsons’ late mother who passed away about four years ago.
“That was a really beautiful thing that I discovered in her writings,” Nancy Wilson recalled… “It’s kind of when you’re screaming at yourself, one of those human moments. I think my Mom captured it pretty well.”
“Red Velvet Car” is Heart’s first album that’s being released on a Sony-related label since 1983’s “Passionworks.”
“We’re a working band,” Wilson said. “We been touring every summer. When (Sony) heard some of the songs they got extra excited…the size of the company felt like a fit because they’re a big machine. In a lot of ways people are doing gorilla music from their basement these days, but for us it felt like the right time to reunite with Sony and do something big.”
The only time Heart took a major break was in the 1990s, when the sisters formed the acoustic side project the Lovemongers.
“We needed a change,” Wilson said in reference to the period. “Because the entire culture shifted: from the inflated, cocaine-addled, image-driven ’80s, into something grunge-based from Seattle. And when we came back to Seattle then, with our tails between our legs, we were really scared that we’d be rejected entirely by the cool music community. But the opposite was true and they took us under their wing and loved us like brothers – we jammed, had these hootenannies at Ann’s house, hung out and ended up on stages together. They’re still really close buddies, we’re still close to the guys in Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden too, it’s very cool.”
Wilson and Crowe are the parents of 10-year-old twin boys. She says one of the boys has a very strong voice and a knack for recalling melodies he’s heard only once, while the other has a sharp poetic grasp for songs. The kids get a kick out of seeing mom on stage.
“They’re proud,” Wilson said. “They’re at a good age right now to see what’s happening. They actually like to sit through shows now and they play their air guitars and know the songs better. They really like the new songs, they like the new album, they picked ‘Hey You,’ - of course, I sing it - and ‘There You Go’ as their favorites.”
A few years ago the Wilson sisters tangled at a distance with none other than former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin after the music to the band’s song “Barracuda,” was used at the Republican National Convention in conjunction with Palin’s appearance the vice presidential nominee of the party.
Today Wilson appears to have mixed feelings about the whole dust up.
“I was the one who was quoted with the F word on that one and I’ll take full credit,” Wilson said with a laugh. “We were just offended and felt such a sense of unfairness to be represented artistically. It’s intellectual property, there should be better laws about it…You love being in America where you want to be in a system that supports the freedoms we do have. So even if it’s the side you’re not on, it’s still fun to be noticed.
Asked if she could have ever imagined herself doing something other than rock ‘n’ roll for a living, Wilson paused.
“Well, I would have to do something creative,” she said. “I’d go insane without a creative outlet. But I’m good at a lot of other things. I could probably do hair, makeup, work with animals. I could probably be a teacher.”
During college she studied German literature, and she laughed when reminded of that.
“My German is not what it used to be,” she said. “I studied it in university for a couple of years after high school. I mainly started learning German because the Beatles sang ‘Sie Liebt Dich’ (the German language recording of “She Loves You”).
When not working with sister Ann in Heart, she has composed several film scores for Crowe’s films including “Almost Famous” and “Vanilla Sky.” So she’s succeeded doing something that a lot of people struggle with – working alongside their family members.
Is there a secret to that?
“You have to be kind of different from most people in that you need to be able to really collaborate well and compromise but not be overpowered all the time either,” Wilson said. “You have to know what you want and work on that team and bring good things forward that benefit everyone. I think it’s a real skill. I think a lot of people have old family business and emotional things that they can’t surmount in order to just get past it and to something else. I think a lot of people are entangled in family dynamics and the dramas and have difficulty rising above all that stuff and getting work done together. In the case of me and Ann, probably because we were in a military family, a Marine Corps family, we did lots of traveling when we were young and we were very tight knit. There were so many new towns to arrive in, new schools to go to, we were already kind of on tour (laughs).
“We had a great family though, really funny and musical people all the way back to our grandparent, aunts and uncles. We spent a lot of time playing old Irish pub songs and Hawaiian songs on ukulele and telling stories at the campfire on the beach with the grandparents around. That’s something I want to try to give as much as I can to my kids.”