Ann Wilson | Legendary voice of Heart goes it ‘Alone’

It is widely recognized, by both fans and peers alike, that Ann Wilson owns one of the most formidable voices in rock history. That voice has propelled Heart, a collaborative with her sister Nancy, to twenty Top 40 hits, and over 35 million albums sold worldwide. Ann also possesses one of music’s more distinctive voices, and she’s been marking a distinction as of late. After appearing alongside Nancy for the better part of 45 years, she’s on the road as a solo act, backed by a veteran band, and winning rave reviews.

In this conversation, Ann discusses the emotional high she gets from touring, her immediate future, and the misconceptions a high profile sisterhood can bring.

Robert Ferraro: In the last 5 years, you fell in love and got married, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and while performing in front of the President of the United States, made Robert Plant cry with your rendition of his greatest hit. How do you plan to step up your game over the next 5 years Ann?

Ann Wilson: [laughs] I really don’t know! Maybe I’ll get in a rocking chair and sit by the pool or something.

Robert Ferraro: That’s rather unlikely, knowing what we know about you.

Ann: I’m actually on my bus in Kansas right now, on tour with my band. When we’re off the road again, my husband and I will spend some time in Mexico, and in India as well. He also built me a studio in our home, so I’ll be doing some work there…some voice over stuff and readings, in addition to music. I have a full creative calendar.

Robert: The notices from this tour have been great, but you are of a certain age, and you’ve been wearing out the road in recent years. Why are you in the middle of Kansas right now, talking to me? Why don’t you just click your heels together and go home to sunny Florida?

Ann: [laughs] Well, I want to bring the music to the people. If I could bring everyone down to Florida, I would. I can’t of course, so I have to bring the music to them.

Robert: Sure, but you say that as if not performing at all isn’t an option, and I think that outlook summarizes this tour. You’re certainly not chasing the comparatively small amount of money – when compared to Heart – that these intimate gigs provide. Yet, you’re in a bus zipping all over America, just so you could find the right places to do this thing, in front of the right audiences. For that reason alone, this tour enjoys a certain legitimacy.

Ann: Wow, well thank you. That is very true. It would be a lot easier to be at home, sitting around, drinking fresh juice or something [laughs], but I’m someone who was born with the need to perform, and for me it’s a method of direct communication with people. It really is a high for me. To share a room with people and know that I helped them really get off is one of the highest compliments I can receive in my life.

RF: Most of my musical heroes are in their 60’s and 70’s at this point, and I feel that quite a few of them are mailing it in. I think fans recognize authenticity when they see it onstage.

Ann: Yeah, you nailed that. That’s first and foremost for me – I just can’t phone it in. I won’t subject myself to the pressures of touring, unless it’s really important to me, creatively.

Robert: Your setlists on this tour are pulled from a who’s who of classic artists. You’re performing songs from Yes, Hendrix, Neil Young, Lennon, Dylan and others. Your choice of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ really jumped out at me however. Gabriel’s and (Kate) Bush’s voices are so distinctive, and the lyric was written as a conversation. It’s an unlikely pick.

Ann: I’ve always loved the song, and I do both characters in it. I try to perform it so that the audience can differentiate, and understand that it is a conversation. When we do that one, there usually isn’t a dry eye in the house by the time we’re done.

Robert: The subject matter is heavy (Kate Bush’s character attempts to talk Gabriel’s character out of despair, and possibly suicide). I was wondering if the lyrics resonate with you personally, possibly in regard to someone you know?

Ann: It registers with me globally, as a member of this society. I look out and see what’s going on and how hopeless so many people are. For me, that type of message applies to this song. I know a lot of people who are depressed, and this is a really good song for them.

Robert: You have Heart songs in the set as well, most of which were written and recorded in collaboration with your sister. You’re also performing ‘She Talks To Angels’, which was written and recorded by a pair of brothers. Chris and Rich (Robinson) can’t seem to stand each other, but they do agree on at least one thing, which is that there is a wonderful, intangible ingredient present when siblings harmonize. Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?

Ann: Oh yes, very much so. Siblings came from the same womb, and they share, at least partially, the same DNA. Many times they are brought up in the same home environment with the idioms of the family and all of that. So, not unlike the Bee Gees, when it comes to singing, it becomes very apparent that we’re of the same mind.

Robert: Working with a sibling for a lifetime can also have its challenges. From online discussions I’ve read over the years, I can honestly tell you that there is a portion of society who thinks you and Nancy live together, sleep in bunk beds, and jam in the family garage before dinner. [Wilson laughs]. Throughout the course of your lives, have either of you found it a struggle to be recognized as individuals?

Ann: Oh yes, constantly. I mean, starting with that great thing you just said about the notion of us living together and sleeping in bunk beds. That may have been how it was when we were little kids, but now we’re both grown up and married women, with our own families. So, that is kind of an illusion. It is an illusion. We love each other, but we definitely give each other space.

Robert: You wrote songs with Heart guitarist Craig Bartok for these last two solo EP’s, and a few of those songs are in the show. I’d imagine you consider him a friend, but technically, he’s an employee. Meanwhile, Nancy is, first and foremost, your sister. Do you work differently with her, than you do with other people?

Ann: Not really. I think good ideas are good ideas in any songwriting partnership, whether it’s sibling or not. When Craig and I get together to write, it isn’t like he’s an employee. He’s a collaborator. I think, in my life, the best songs have been written with collaborators. Songwriting by committee for hire has never really worked for us…

Robert: Well…

Ann: …creatively.

Robert: That’s an important distinction [both laugh].

[Heart sold over 25 million albums between 1985 – 1990, largely behind songs written by outside songwriters]

Robert: You’ve released an EP each of the last two years. Do you think these shorter releases and iTunes singles might allow you to extend your recording career, well after your touring career ends?

Ann: Hmm, that’s interesting. Maybe. We’ll have to see if my voice holds up, or how it changes, or evolves. In the end, it will all be up to my ability to sing.

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She is currently on tour as Ann Wilson of Heart


Robert Ferraro has produced radio talk shows and Major League Baseball broadcasts, and interviews pop culture figures. He has quit over 50 menial jobs when he couldn’t find anyone interesting to talk to

You can follow him on Twitter at: @PopCultRob

You can follow him on Facebook at: Of Personal Interest