Ann and Nancy Wilson
Anyone who has turned on the radio in the last several decades knows Heart intimately. California born Seattle bred sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson are behind some of rockâs most iconic hits from the wild call of âBarracudaâ to the epic lilt of âMagic Manâ to the deranged shriek of âCrazy On You.â Nancyâs guitar and Annâs wail are practically part of the national archive, indelible elements of American pop culture. In their nearly forty years as a band the Wilson sisters have been lauded as sex symbols, idealized as feminist icons, and worshiped by critics and fans alike, selling over 35 million albums worldwide and thrilling audiences with their raucous live show. But as the band gear up for the October 2nd release of a brand new studio album, Fanatic, as well as their first ever biography, Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll the question isnât where has Heart been but where are they going next?
âWhen youâre pushing sixty you know what you want and you go for it,â Nancy says. âYouâre not going to test it out for five or ten years, youâre going to get in the car and drive.â
After rising to rock power in the 70s Heart racked up massive hits from their debut (in 1976) all the way through the 90s including songs like âThese Dreams,â and âAlone.â Then, in the 2000s the Wilson sisters focused on other priorities. Nancy composed and performed award winning film scores to Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Ann developed her career as a solo artist. But you canât keep Heart quiet for too long. In 2010 the band returned to the Billboard Top 10 with the release of Red Velvet Car and a Top 5 DVD Night at Sky Church. The subsequent tour reinvigorated the sisterâs taste for live performance and life on the road but as they looked forward to recording another record, something seemed to be in the way: their past.
For years friends and colleagues had been asking the sisters to do a book about Heart and it just didnât feel right. âThey always came to us with a real lascivious tabloid-y type idea,â Ann says. âYou know - think of the ugliness and the dirtiness â but thatâs so one dimensional. Weâve had moments of failure and vulnerability and humiliation, sure, but ours is also the story of women who are being told there are rules to follow and just wonât do it.â In the wake of the success of Red Velvet Car it felt like it was finally time to tell the true story of Heartâs past as a means of embracing Heartâs future. So the sisters decided to collaborate with veteran music journalist and Seattle rock scene expert Charles R. Cross, who also wrote the definitive Nirvana biography, Heavier Than Heaven as well as Roomful of Mirrors, a biography of Jimi Hendrix. âWe figured if anyone can get the true rock and roll story of it all itâs going to be him,â Ann says.
Once they knew the book was happening, in typical Wilson sister fashion they didnât hold back. âThereâs really no point in going through all of this if youâre going to write a white wash â we really hung ourselves out there,â Ann says. Nancy agrees âI started talking about the book with Charley while I was going through a divorce, which was really hard, but later I was able to have the objectivity to come at the entire book from a healed sort of place. We donât leave much unsaid.â While they were mining the deep past with Cross, the Wilson sisters were also pulling shoeboxes out from under their beds, so to speak, in search of special rarities to include on the first ever Heart box set, Strange Euphoria, which came out in June. âPart of the Devilâs bargain weâve made with the industry is that thereâs a very tight idea of what the outside world perceives Heart to be and a lot of the time the songs weâve come up with don't fit that,â Ann explains. âWe really do have multiple faces and this box set shows that.â
Between the book and the box set, the Wilson sisters had fully exorcized the past and now it was time to think about the future; they started writing songs that would become Fanatic. âWe did it every possible way,â Nancy remembers. âWe had many nights together on the tour bus. Then, when I was in LA and Ann was in Seattle we were each emailing each other lyrics ideas and [producer] Ben Mink groove ideas.â The threesome eventually congregated in the sisterâs hometown outside of Seattle and had a series of what Nancy calls songwriting âpow wows.â When it came time to record, the bandâs approach was organic, very much in keeping with their roots as true performance oriented rock band. âThese days things are formulated digitally or layered or looped and assembled but this is live groove,â Nancy explains. âIt was our mission to go in there and capture the energy as it magically happens without too much over-thinking or repetition, just letting it escape.â When you put the Wilson sisters plus some trusted musicians in a room with instructions to feel their way around, great things happen. âYou do a take and you listen and you go thatâs so great, but thatâs not the one, and then you go and have a snack and keep going and suddenly itâs like everybodyâs hair goes up and itâs like: thatâs the one!â Nancy says with glee.
From the crackling guitar noise and vicious drumbeat that drives album opener and title track âFanaticâ through the scorched-earth power of tracks like the âMashallahâ Fanatic is definitely a full-bodied American rock and roll record. âI place it really highly among the albums weâve made, right along side Little Queen or Dog & Butterfly,â Nancy says. âThose are two really heavy hitting albums and this one has that same spark.â But the record's power is nuanced. âMillion Miles,â has delectably ominous prog rock undertones, the collaboration with Sarah McLachlan, âWalkinâ Good,â has a sweet folky delicacy, and âPennsylvaniaâ is a poetic painting of a ballad. Among the albumâs stand outs is also âDear Old America,â which blends Heartâs signature rollicking rock and roll guitars with poignant lyrics about soldiers coming home from war, a topic close to both sistersâ hearts since they were born and raised as Marine corps brats. As it should, the title track most succinctly encapsulates the spirit of Fanatic. âI thought of Nancy who is so devoted to the idea of love and especially to the idea of romantic love,â Ann recalls. âShe will not take no for an answer. There is no way you could ever convince her that itâs not real. She will not hear it. Sheâs a true fanatic about love, and I thought how cool and inspiring is that? The meaning then grows to become a worldview.â
Honoring your past while believing in the beauty and power of whatâs to come has always been central to Heartâs ethos - itâs reflected in the brashness and defiant emotion of their signature sound. No one should be surprised that at this point in their career the desire to make emotional, rebellious music has only intensified. âWe always joke around that we are warriors for love,â Nancy says. âWe are the peace core and guitars and dreams are our lethal weapons. We say yes to inspiration. Say yes to the impossible impractical thing. We say yes to love. We go out in the trenches and fields with our weapons and shoot.â