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 currently on the road as a solo act, backed by a veteran band, and winning rave reviews.
I caught up with Ann recently, and we discussed her immediate future, the high she gets from touring, 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 made Robert Plant cry with your rendition of his greatest hit, in front of the President of The United States. How do you plan to step up your game in the next 5 years Ann?
Ann Wilson: [laughs] I really don't know!...maybe get in a rocking chair and sit by the pool or something?
Robert Ferraro: Well, it would be well deserved.
Ann Wilson: It sounds good, doesn't it? I'm in Kansas right now, on tour with my solo band, and that's going to take up all of this year. Then my husband and I are going to 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 in there...some voice over stuff, and some readings, in addition to music. I have a full creative calendar.
RF: The notices from this tour have been fantastic, which is really no surprise. But you are of a certain age, you have a home in sunny Florida, and you've been wearing out the road for years. Why are you in the middle of Kansas right now, talking to me? Why don’t you just click your heels and go home?
Ann Wilson: [laughs] Well, I want to bring the music to the people. I can't get everyone down to Florida, so I have to bring the music to them.
RF: Sure, but you say it as if not performing at all, isn't even an option. I think that attitude summarizes this tour. Let’s face it, you enjoy a very lucrative career, and have for a very long time. You're certainly not chasing the comparatively small amount of money 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 that makes you happy. For that reason alone, this tour enjoys a legitimacy that so many others don't.
Ann Wilson: 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 is really 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 have in my life.
RF: And that's happening night in and night out for you. All of my musical heroes are in their 60's and 70's at this point, and quite a few of them are mailing it in. That’s why, as both a critic and a fan, I appreciate the authenticity of what you’re doing out there.
Ann Wilson: Yeah, you nailed that. That's first and foremost for me. I just can't see any reason to phone it in, and I won't subject myself to the pressures of touring, unless it’s really important to me, creatively.
RF: Your setlists on this tour are pulled from a real 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 'Dont 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, so it’s an unlikely pick. How did this one find its way onstage with you?
Ann Wilson: 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.
RF: 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, or in regard to someone you know?
Ann Wilson: 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.
RF: You have Heart songs in the set as well, which were obviously written and recorded in collaboration with your sister Nancy. 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 Wilson: Oh yeah, 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.
RF: Working with a sibling for a lifetime can also have its challenges. From discussions I've read online 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 garage. [Wilson laughs]. Throughout the course of your lives, have either of you found it a struggle to be recognized as individuals?
Ann Wilson: Oh yes, constantly. I mean, starting with that great thing you just said about the notion of us sleeping in the same room, in bunk beds and jamming in the garage. 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 definitely give each other space, but love each other, and call each other on stuff.
RF: 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 guys work together any differently?
Ann Wilson: Not really. I just think good ideas are good ideas, and they live 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 by collaborators. Songwriting by committee for hire has never really worked for us...
Ann Wilson: ...creatively.
RF: That's an important distinction [both laugh].
[Heart sold over 25 million albums between 1985 - 1990, largely behind songs written by outside songwriters]
RF: You've released an EP each of the last 2 years. When your touring career ends - hopefully at age 90, after we pull you off the stage with one of those vaudeville hooks - do you think these shorter releases could extend your recording career?
Ann Wilson: Hmm, that's interesting. 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.
Ann Wilson's latest release is The Ann Wilson Thing - # 2 Focus! She is currently on tour as Ann Wilson of Heart
Robert Ferraro is a freelance writer and broadcasting school graduate, who has produced radio talk shows, and Major League Baseball broadcasts. In between, he has held over 50 menial jobs, all of which he departed when he couldn't find anyone interesting to talk to.
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