For the first time since she was 19 years old, Nancy Wilson finds herself a full fledged member of a hungry new band. On an open ended hiatus from working with Heart and her sister Ann, she lends her voice and guitar to a Rock and R & B collective creatively named, ‘Roadcase Royale’. Their debut album, ‘First Things First’ is set for release, and their singles ‘Get Loud’ and ‘Not Giving Up’ have received high marks for both their sound and their social relevance. Hoping that they have the wind at their back, Wilson and the band will set out on their first major
tour later this month, with rock legend Bob Seger.
In our conversation, Nancy discusses how Roadcase Royale got its name, her relationship with her sister, what emotions spur good lyrics, her desire to Rockercise, and why her musically, racially, and gender diverse band are going to look like a bunch of hillbillies on tour.
Robert Ferraro: Nancy, the Bob Seger people are billing you as Nancy Wilson of Heart on this tour, but that’s merely a business consideration. What is Roadcase Royale?
Nancy Wilson: Roadcase Royale is my new band, born from a friendship that quickly developed between myself and (vocalist) Liv Warfield when her band was opening up for Heart at the Hollywood Bowl. They played with us two nights and we just fell into a fast friendship because in addition to being really talented and having a fantastic voice, she’s hysterical and fun and sweet. And of course, she comes out of that musical aristocracy of the Prince family, along with our guitar player Ryan Waters (both Warfield and Waters were members of Prince’s band, The New Power Generation).
Robert: Were you both interested in how the other half lives?
Nancy: Very much so. We would talk backstage and Liv would say, “I love your band. I want to rock!” and I’d say, “I haven’t played enough funk for my taste, so why don’t we do something? Let’s do something!” We thought if we could find some time in between other things, that we can make this happen. The feeling was, ‘Let’s not just say we’re going to do it. Let’s do it!’
Robert: And you did it.
Nancy: It’s funny because Liz and Ryan came to New York when Heart was playing there, and we were all sitting around having drinks with Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen (of Cheap Trick) and talking about the possibilities. We were telling Robin and Rick some of our ideas about starting a new band, and they were like, “You have to do this! This is going to be amazing!”
Robert: They’re a fun source of affirmation.
Nancy: Yeah! They were like the thumbs up committee [laughs]. So we decided to meet in L.A. to rehearse, and possibly do some writing. Within the space of about 2 weeks, we wrote the entire album. It just came together so beautifully. All of these people were as loving as can be, not only as people, but also as players. Nobody had an ego. Nobody approached anyone else like, “I know better. I’m the leader, you’re the sideman.” We all brought different experiences to the table, and the puzzle pieces fit instantly.
Robert: And now, for the real chemistry test, you’ll go live on the road together [laughs].
Nancy: [sarcastically] Yes, poor us, we need to go on a rock tour. Oh well, we have to open for Bob Seger [laughs]. It’s neat because we’re going to have the band, 2 crew members, and our road manager, all on one bus. There’ll be no empty bunks. It’ll be like a submarine! And we’ll be pulling our gear behind the bus in a trailer. We’re going to look like the Clampetts. The trailer park band!
Robert: We’re both having a laugh about it, but the situation you described can be challenging. You mentioned everyone putting their egos aside, but let’s be honest, only one person squeezing into that submarine is a famous and presumably affluent Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer. Your name is on the tour, yet you’re living on the same bus as the crew. You have put your ego aside, for sure.
Nancy: [offers a humble, eloquent and self effacing description of her being nothing more than an equal member of the band] Being billed as “Nancy Wilson of Heart” is a contingency clause with Bob Segers’ people in order to be part of the tour. I am fortunate to have a little bit of notoriety and have been lucky enough to be a part of Heart all these years, so I don’t mind trading in on that if it’ll help this band get off the ground, and help us get a foothold.
Robert: Even if it isn’t receiving prominent billing on this tour, Roadcase Royale is an interesting name. How did that come about?
Nancy: I initially thought of the word ‘roadcase’, because roadcases are beat-up and scuffed and have a lot of character, just like the musicians who use them [laughs]. I think Dan (Rothchild, bassist), Chris (Joyner, keyboardist), Ben (Smith, drummer) and I could all identify with that part of it. With Liv and Ryan’s background, I thought ‘royale’ would be a really interesting juxtaposition to roadcase. When you put the two together, there is a really cool contrast there.
Robert: Speaking of road cases, are you going to have any room on that bus for as much as a guitar case? Will you be able to write?
Nancy: I don’t know [laughs]. I have lots of lyrics though! They’re in my notes on my phone, and in my notebook as well, in case my phone dies. I feel really inspired right now, because there had been a lot of turmoil, and now there seems to be an amazing, inspiring sort of rebirth happening. All of those things are causes for good lyrics. There’s nothing like heartbreak to give you a spark.
Robert: The last time I spoke with Ann, I mentioned the turmoil that you both were experiencing, and asked her if it made its way into her songwriting. She said that it has. You as well?
Nancy: Sure, I think most of my lyrics are personal. I wrote ‘Cover Each Other’ on this new record for my husband, when he was going through a particularly tough time. I’ve noticed over the years that is one of my motifs as a songwriter: friendship songs, and support songs about people I love and care about, and my wanting to let them know I’m there.
Robert: Even though emotional struggles are ingredients that help an artist cook a better meal, so to speak, in regard to the problems you’re having with Ann, I’m sure you wish there was an easier way.
Nancy: I know that my sister and I are going to love each other, unconditionally, forever. I think it’s just a matter of, stylistically, coming back to each other later when there isn’t so much water under the bridge.
Robert: That’s a wonderful way of putting it, and you’ve always had an interesting way of expressing things. I call it ‘Nancyspeak’.
Nancy: [laughs] Well, thank you!
Robert: I should have trademark it. Your way with words had me wondering how much you have contributed, lyrically, to Heart’s material?
Nancy: I’ve written quite a bit of lyrics for Heart, especially on the songs that I sang. I wrote with Ann and (Seattle songwriter and Heart collaborator) Sue Ennis on some of the big stuff, songs like ‘Even It Up”. I contributed a lot of lyrics to the early albums as well, like ‘Dreamboat Annie’, ‘Little Queen’, and ‘Dog & Butterfly’. I didn’t write ‘These Dreams’ of course. Those lyrics were written by (Elton John lyricist) Bernie Taupin.
Robert: Yes, but the lyric is total ‘Nancyspeak’. The song as a whole sounds like something you would have written.
Nancy: It does actually. It’s a little more ethereal. I love Ann’s lyrics as well. She writes amazing lyrics. She had a resurgence before we did ‘Red Velvet Car’ (2010 album). She had just gone clean and sober, and was really expressive as a lyricist on the album.
Robert: You can rarely get two good lyricists in a band, nevermind a family.
Nancy: And she plays really good guitar too. And piano.
Robert: What can a fan expect at these upcoming shows? What will unsuspecting Bob Seger fans be confronted with?
Nancy: There’s gonna be a lot of energy coming off the stage, for sure. We’re not going to have much in the way of slow songs. I don’t think people drive a good distance from their home and pay all that money for parking, just to be put to sleep. We plan on bringing it. I want to Rockercise [both laugh].
Robert: It sounds like we might get a few of those patented Nancy Wilson leg kicks on stage.
Nancy: Oh yeah, I’ll be doing the kick. That’s part of the Rockercise plan!
Roadcase Royales’ website is: roadcaseroyale.com
Pre-order the new album on itunes: ‘First Things First’ by Roadcase Royale
Follow Nancy on Twitter: @nancywilson
Follow Nancy on Instagram: @nancywilson
Follow Nancy on Facebook: facebook.com/officialnancywilson
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.