Interview: Ann Wilson

Ann Wilson is the lead singer for the band Heart, which was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Ann and sister/guitarist Nancy Wilson have formed the core of Heart since the 1970’s, when they recorded hits including “Magic Man”, “Crazy on You”, and “Barracuda”. They struck gold again in the 1980’s with help from MTV and songs like “What About Love”, “Never”, “These Dreams”, and “Alone”.

This interview was done by phone on 8/7/13, and was for a preview article for Heart’s concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl on 8/27/13, with opening act Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. (Norman Seeff photo)

Jeff Moehlis: First of all, let me congratulate you on being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How does that feel to you?

Ann Wilson: It’s great! It’s really an honor. Lots of people seem to think it took too long for us to get there, but to me the timing was perfect. We’ve made a lot more albums since Dreamboat Annie. I think the whole body of work is what made us inductable.

JM: What was it like performing with the original line-up at the ceremony?

AW: It was fun. It was great to see those guys again. Haven’t really seen them for many, many years, so it was kind of almost like getting to know each other again. The band had a certain sound, the way it used to sound. It was interesting to hear that again.

JM: What can we look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?

AW: Jason Bonham opens the show with his Led Zeppelin tribute band. Then the Heart show, which I think right now we’re doing about an hour and a half. And then we come back for a finale of about four to six Led Zeppelin songs with him playing. Then that’s it. It’s really fun. People are really enjoying it. People are getting really high on the Zeppelin stuff on the end. It’s pretty great.

JM: Many of us have seen the YouTube video of you performing “Stairway To Heaven” with Jason at the Kennedy Center Honors show. Were you more nervous about performing for the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, or for President Obama? Or maybe you were just excited?

AW: Yeah, I was really excited. But I think I was more nervous, if you had to ask that question, about the Zeppelin guys. I just wanted to please them. They were the people that I was listening to when I was a kid. They were my musical teachers in some ways. I just wanted to make them happy [laughs]. It looked like the President was happy, so good!

JM: It looked like Yo-Yo Ma was jamming out as well.

AW: Oh yeah. Well, he’s a music guy, you know?

JM: Are there any stories that you’re willing to share about Jason’s dad from back in the day?

AW: Well, you know, when Jason’s dad was still alive we were still only a club band, and I didn’t know them. I had not yet had the privilege even of meeting them, so I don’t really have any personal stories about John Bonham.

I just know what everybody else in the world knew, that he was kind a kind of a crazy guy, was wild and liked to party. But a genius drummer.

JM: How is it different touring now versus back in the late ’70’s or early ’80’s? Was it a lot crazier back then?

AW: In terms of wild times and all that? Well, yeah, I think that’s true. People on the road now are a lot more professional about it, I think. They want to go out and they want to make money, dammit. And they’re not going to blow it [laughs]. In the ’70’s I think there was a lot more of a crazy attitude. People just went out and blew it up and played. Sometimes it’s true, they didn’t show up. Other times they did. But, you know, people who were really serious about having a career and going on tour are professional, so that hasn’t changed.

JM: I grew up watching you on MTV. What are your reflections on that time?

AW: It was a time when all of a sudden music took on another dimension, took on the whole visual dimension. So when you were in the studio making your music now you had to be thinking about the videos, too, not just how does this music sound but how is the whole thing going to be. It became a lot more corporate in the ’80’s. It was a lot more about image and imaging, and a lot less about art.

Some great stuff came out of the ’80’s, don’t get me wrong. Some cool songs, really cool songs. But it became less artistic, more corporate.

JM: What’s the good and the bad about being in a band with your sister? Or maybe it’s all good?

AW: Ah, well nothing in life is all good. I would say that the worst part about it is that we know what each other is going to say before we say it. We know what each other thinks without having to even say it out loud. So sometimes you just want to go, “Hey, c’mon, [laughs] give me a break”.

But it’s mostly good. It literally is mostly good. I mean, I love her. I love her deeply and dearly. She’s a great friend as well as being my sister. She’s a natural artist, and an original. Nobody does what she does on the guitar or singing. Sometimes when she’s out there singing this one song she does – she does an Elton John song called “I Need You To Turn To”, just her and the guitar – sometimes I look at her and I just think, my God, she’s an angel. Her spirit comes out in this way that is so beautiful. So I deeply appreciate being able to be her musical collaborator.

JM: That’s good to hear, because it seems that siblings don’t always get along in bands.

AW: That’s brothers.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

AW: Aspiring to what?

JM: Say someone who’s trying to figure out if they want to make music their life’s pursuit, or do I want to play it safe and do something different.

AW: If they’re aspiring to be an artist and be a musician, and make a living, that’s one thing. But it they’re aspiring to superstardom, that something completely different. And I would say if you’re aspiring to superstardom you should turn around and run the other way as fast as you can [laughs]. Because only the top one percent of the whole pile ever gets there.

The best thing, I would say, is to be true to your music and to yourself, and just enjoy it. Because the enjoyment is what’s cool about it. You’re never going to catch that uncatchable big stardom thing. You’re just not going to catch it. So enjoy the ride.

JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about your career? Are there any stories floating around that annoy you?

AW: Well, see, I probably wouldn’t have heard those stories floating around [laughs]. No, I think our career’s pretty much an open book. If somebody is curious, from the horse’s mouth, they can read our book [Kicking & Dreaming].

JM: That’s true. Obviously you’re touring now. Do you have other plans, musical or otherwise?

AW: This weekend I’ll be recording my part of a duet I’m doing with Aaron Neville for Christmas. My God, I heard his part today, and it just knocked me on my butt it’s so beautiful. He just sounds amazing. He sounds as good as ever. So we’re doing this little duet thing. That’s really fun. Just for the fun of it, you know, for the holidays.

We’ve still got a lot of touring to do. I’m writing songs. I’m just going along doing what I do. Writing, recording, singing. I have a children’s book coming out, Dog & Butterfly.

JM: Have you written children’s books before? Is that new for you?

AW: Yeah, it is new. I’m still working on the text of it now. It’s pretty much there. But you know with a children’s book, it has to be real simple and it has to be really fun, because you can picture being a parent sitting there reading the same book over and over and over and over and over. And what makes the kid really love it, and what makes it a beloved family story. So that’s what I’m working on trying to capture.

JM: Where are you speaking to me from?

AW: I’m at home in Seattle right now.


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