Arena rock legends, Ann and Nancy Wilson, were among the first female musicians taken seriously in a man’s world for their songwriting and instrument playing abilities when Heart debuted Dreamboat Annie in 1976. They were pioneers, creating a musical space where gender was not a part of the equation in performing heavy rock.
With most women in music performing folk, disco or singer/songwriter styles in the 70s and 80s, there were few women musicians to look up to as role models in the rock world. Since “no one told them they weren’t supposed to,” they looked to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and The Beatles for inspiration and found success as professional musicians. They were considered serious rockers with Ann having one of the most distinctive and masterful voices with a remarkable three octave range, and Nancy having real chops and becoming one of the first women to grace Guitar Player Magazine in December, 1979.
Die-hard Beatles fans, “We didn’t want to be the girlfriends of The Beatles, we wanted to BE the Beatles,” shared Nancy at a recent Grammy Museum Live event speaking about their influences and the revolution they believe is still underway for women in the rock world to be seen as equals to their male counterparts.
Throughout their career, Heart maintained creative control over the music they released, with the exception of the 80’s. Pressured by label management to perform more commercially accessible songs and blend in with the sounds and styles of the time, Heart succumbed to the pressure of MTV’s halcyon days. While the band experienced a commercial breakthrough in 1985 with the album Heart selling 5 million copies, for a band used to having their own voice, the success was somewhat hollow given they were performing songs written by other people.
“We were definitely making a devil’s bargain in the Eighties, and looking back I’m glad we did because it did allow us to transit over a period when we could have fallen into a black hole,” Ann Wilson explains on the band’s website. “But we wouldn’t want to go back there and make any more music we don’t feel totally connected to. And now with this album, we feel like we have something very solid to stand on.”
The songs on Heart’s 13th studio album came about organically, “starting with a groove and easy to write,” inspired by the world around them and personal experiences. The acoustic arrangements highlight a wide variety of strings that include guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, fiddle, viola, cello and autoharp; all played by Nancy Wilson and the album’s producer, multiple Grammy nominee and long-time k.d. lang collaborator, Ben Mink.
WTF: “It started like a jam, like that song by Cream “SWLABR.” Later when I wrote the words, they were really angry and they just blasted out of me, like I might have just as well said, “What the fuck?” (ANN) Craig had that amazing guitar part, and then Ann came in with this scream of lyrics. I thought maybe the song was about someone else, but then the other day Ann mentioned it’s kind of the way you talk to yourself. Basically, it’s intense, and to me it’s about making mistakes and how hard it is to stay human.” – (NANCY) Ann refers to WTF as “Son of Barracuda.”
RED VELVET CAR: “When I first said those words, I knew it right away that it was a phrase worth using in a song. Sue Ennis – our friend and our co-writer from way back – was in town and really needed a rescue from the Hollywood hotel where she was attending a seminar. I said, “Are you kidding me? I’d come get you in a red velvet car. I wrote it down immediately. Ann took that title and ran it. – (NANCY) Nancy is like Ringo in that sense. She’s always been great at coming up with cool turns of phrase that don’t really need to be explained because they communicate something powerfully. Musically, I’ve got to give it to Ben Mink, because I wanted the song to have that R&B sensuality to it, but also something fresh, and I think together, we got it.” – (ANN)
The album’s closer, “Sand,” is a newly recorded version of a song originally written and recorded by the Lovemongers, Ann and Nancy’s 1990′s acoustic side project.
Other side projects for the sisters have included solo efforts, a recording studio in the 90’s called Bad Animals and movie scores. Nancy has played a role composing music for most of husband Cameron Crowe’s films including Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown. In addition, both have made the time to make family a priority and raise children.