Thursday, August 5, 2010

Heart Still Beating Strong After Four Decades

GREAT interview with Nancy!

Turn on classic rock radio right now and it's likely that within the hour you will hear either "Barracuda," "Magic Man" or "Crazy on You," songs that date back to the mid-'70s heyday of Heart.

Now let's say the jock went rogue and swapped one of those out for "Queen City" or "Safronia's Mark" -- songs from the forthcoming Heart record, "Red Velvet Car." Chances are the universe wouldn't crumble. Fans actually might think they were old Heart hits that got past them the first time.

The first album in six years from the Wilson sisters, who bring Heart to the Trib Amphitheatre Friday, stays that true to the original sound.

"We don't really intentionally try to sound like ourselves," says guitarist-singer Nancy Wilson. "I think that would be overthinking. What happened with this one was, instinctively, the sound and the concept and the ethic that [producer] Ben Mink had in mind was the sound that caught people's ears originally. The band has a specific sound, like 'Dreamboat Annie,' that is pretty individual. There [aren't] a lot of bands that sound like this or have two female front people working in democracy with men."

Part of the magic at work on songs like "WTF" and "Hey You" was just making the record as honestly as possible.

"We tried to do something that was vital and authentic, analog versus digital. We went back into a room with people singing and playing at the same time, together, with eye contact, capturing performances, so you have this effect that is very human sounding. It's a musical conversation that is happening with people at a moment in time."

For the Wilsons, that conversation began in 1974 when Nancy joined Ann and the boys in Heart, and they invaded the male-dominated rock world with hard-edged hits from such classic albums as "Dreamboat Annie" and "Little Queen."

The band's current bio states that they were "the first women in rock" to lead a band, write the songs and play the instruments.

"There were not very many girls in rock 'n' roll together with men that had a heavy rock sound as well as a more acoustic sound like Heart," Nancy says. "If you look at things now, there still isn't anyone that has that sort of sound. We sort of occupy our own category in that way. We're not an all-girl band, at all. It's a whole different type of sound, and we're not Fleetwood Mac, kind of a pop-rock sound. In many ways, we might compare to The Pretenders more than others, but still we created our own category."

The closest female contemporaries may have been The Runaways, but as Nancy points out, "We were sort of just before that, and not an all-girl band that came up through a tough city situation. They really survived a tough beginning. We were different. We struck out on our own in suburbia with parents who actually helped us get where we needed to go. Ann's voice was the thing that our parents recognized as a real gift, and they knew if we set our minds to it and worked on our craft and became proficient in the music, we could probably survive. We were blessed a little bit with the opportunity to hone our craft before we were thrown out on the street."

Heart's run of success extended into the early '90s, at which point Nancy married writer/filmmaker Cameron Crowe and chose to take a break and raise a family, which consists of twin 10-year-old boys, William and Curtis.

"It took me longer to get my family going than I was expecting. I stayed home for five or six years. It was a good time for me to have a break from the same pattern we had been in. It gave me a chance to look from an outside perspective at the pattern of touring, touring, touring and writing albums and touring. I really did get to go home for a while and have kids and remember what it's like to have a life outside of a touring rock band. When I got back into it, it was a sweeter feeling, a beautiful reunion in many ways to remember how special this job is. You get to play music on a stage or in a studio and sing with your sister."

Nancy, 56, says the closeness with 60-year-old Ann, who has two adopted children of her own, has always made it easier to maintain her passion for the band.

"In the case of me and Ann, it makes it easier because A) we're from a tight family, we're military brats, Marine Corps family, so we don't really stop and take time for drama -- we move as a unit. And B) we have each other as confidants. I think because we're close friends, we can survive this business, because, after all, it is a business. We have each other to talk to and lean on, stay sane. I don't think I could do it without another girl or woman to do it with."

Among the challenges for Heart was surviving the abrupt changes in music that actually sprung up in their home base of Seattle with bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

"After the '80s, everything sort of caved in," she says. "The whole musical culture did a huge sea change. What was cool one minute was completely uncool the next day. With Nirvana and the Seattle sound, all the hair bands went to hell in a handbasket basically. We were afraid that we were one of those hair bands, even though we had started out before the '80s. We thought the Seattle bands would lump us into that category, but they didn't and when we got back to Seattle we crawled home with our tails between our legs, 'Oh, we're not worthy, we're not cool anymore.' They were like, 'Oooh, yes you are' and we started hanging out with those guys and they really hailed us for what we had done before the '80s. It was just an interesting pivotal time for us. They took us in."

Ann did some vocals with Alice in Chains, and at one point, Alice bassist Mike Inez even became a member of Heart.

While those connections were nice, they didn't do nearly as much for Heart as the band's placement in the "Guitar Hero" game series, which has dipped the average age at the shows over the past decade.

"That's the coolest thing ever," Nancy says. "They come to our shows, these little kids now. With 'Guitar Hero,' they started coming out three to five years ago, all these little kids up in the front row at the shows going 'Barracuda!' It's fantastic. It brings the awareness of our songs like 'Crazy on You' and 'Barracuda,' or 'Alone' with 'American Idol,' it's connecting our past with our present and into the future. You can't beat a good song to traverse the generations, I guess."