Monday, August 23, 2010

Soundspike Q&A: Nancy Wilson of Heart

With a new generation being introduced to Heart annually thanks to the inevitable performance of "Alone" by "American Idol" contestants, the Wilson sisters are enjoying their popularity.

While packing theaters and amphitheaters around the U.S., Heart is now introducing fans to new music courtesy of "Red Velvet Car," a collection of songs due out Aug. 31. It is the band's first new studio album in six years.

"We're real excited," guitarist/singer Nancy Wilson said during an interview with SoundSpike. "We've been setting it up since we finished it, really. It's getting close to the time -- as they say -- it'll 'drop.' [Laughs] It'll drop. It sounds like somebody comes out of the sky and crashed into the Earth."

Wilson, who is joined in the band by singer Ann Wilson, spoke to SoundSpike about "Red Velvet Car," working with producer Ben Mink and the unique sounds of acoustic instruments.

SoundSpike: The shows are getting great reviews. You must be very pleased.

Nancy Wilson: I've seen a couple of really good ones. I'm very happy about that. It's nice when you work this hard and [are] acknowledged for it.

On Aug. 31, you're releasing the album "Red Velvet Car." What can you tell me about it?

In many ways, we're so happy and proud of the album. In some ways, we don't want it to drop. It's almost like having a baby: "OK then the real scary stuff starts." The baby comes into the world and some people don't think it's adorable. Hopefully most people will.

Did you record this album any differently than you have your past records?

Yeah, we worked with Ben Mink, who's an amazing producer from Vancouver, BC, who we'd always hoped to get together for Heart. I think his direction was exactly where we wanted to go. He took us back in a way, back to an updated -- but yet more original -- Heart sound. It sort of comes from the acoustic guitar as a rock 'n' roll instrument. It's hard-rock acoustic. It's a little different.

Did you decide before you recorded the album that that was what you were going to do, or did it come out that way organically?

We had a powwow. We talked about the direction and the sound and the ethic that we wanted on the album. That's what Ben Mink does best, and his partner David Leonard, who's actually out of Nashville. They record acoustic instruments, kind of like that T-Bone Burnett thing where you really hear the wood and you really hear the humanity of acoustic instruments, which is unusual. You get all the passion of the acoustic instruments. That's where we started, the sound we wanted to start with, as well as the performance aspect where you're playing at the same time, in the same room with people looking at each other. That's part of the sound too. That's not stuff that's layered on in a computer. It's very, very real.

Why was now the time for this project?

Well, the last studio album Heart did was about five-and-a-half, six years ago. Ann did the solo album since then with Ben Mink called "Hope and Glory." You know, we've been out working on summer tours every summer to keep the rent paid. It's what we do. I think we need to be songwriters and we need to be current with our creative juices in order to feel vital. So we wrote the songs and we wrote another album because it's what we need to do. It's what we're put here to do. It's what we love to do. It makes no financial sense to do it because we do it all out of pocket. It's not set up anymore the way it used to be, where you have a record company that's there to develop you and support you. We had to do it on our own and hopefully gain the interest of somebody like Sony, who we're lucky to be with.

How many new songs are you playing live?

Depending on the situation, we're playing, like, three of the new songs live right now. The DVD, though, we have a couple more.

How's the reaction been to the new songs?

It's actually been amazing. The new songs, it's hard to get people to sit still for that because it's not familiar. But they have been really responsive to the new songs. I think particularly because they sound familiar in a way because they sound very much like Heart. The people who come to our shows are coming to see us. I think they recognize the character of the new songs and accept them really readily. I'm very excited about that. If I go to a rock show, somebody I love, and they play a new song, I'm kind of like, "Oh great. What's that going to be like?" You go to see your favorite rock performer do stuff you recognize, when you hear some new stuff and you like it, it's really a treat.

Your music has really stood the test of time. I think part of it is due to soundtracks, as well as "Guitar Hero."

And "American Idol" has something to do with that. "Alone," everybody does "Alone" on "American Idol." People probably don't remember as well that we originally did that song. A lot of other people have been doing it since. When the songs can withstand the test of time like that and keep re-emerging in the culture somehow, and they connect the dots between us and the new generation and the older generations, it's really exciting. That's the coolest thing of all. Being a mom now, I have two twin 10-year-old boys. They are the future. They come to my rock shows and see Auntie Ann and their mom up there rockin' on stage. They really like the new stuff too.

What song still thrills you to play?

I have a lot of thrills playing a lot of these songs. "Barracuda" is always really fun. It's a big rocker. Right now for the ballad we're having a big resurgence with a new version of "Dog and Butterfly" that we put together with a new sort of arrangement. "Alone" is one of those, too. We've reinterpreted it to a more acoustic arrangement. It's very fun to play.

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