Alt-Nation: Ann Wilson of Heart interview

Heart was one of those bands in the early- to mid-70s that shined through the mudpack of mainstream mediocrity and had pioneering elements with two sisters leading the charge and tunes that aced the test of time. They were really the only band that was both female-fronted and had a woman playing guitar when I was growing up getting played on classic rock radio. Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie, came out over 40 years ago and still sounds fresh like a hotshot new indie record. In recent years after becoming sober, singer Ann Wilson kept busy touring and making solo records.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): When Heart started you were one of the few bands with female members doing straight up rock ‘n’ roll. What did people make of the band when you started out?AnnWilsonHWOFSehero

Ann Wilson: At first because there wasn’t any other precedent for women in rock yet, they didn’t take us seriously…. We used to get, and especially my sister Nancy used to get, a lot of backhanded compliments like “Wow, you are really a good looking woman” and [then] “Is that guitar really plugged in?” …. It took a lot of fortitude and self-confidence to just keep doing it and not listen to that kind of shit.

MC: Forty years later, how do you think things have changed in regards to sexism in the music industry?

AW: I think now things have changed in that sexism has a lot harder fight. There are so many more women now inhabiting the roles of artists, attorneys, managers, producers, and publicists. I mean, there are just women all over the place in the industry now. So if somebody is going to be sexist it is just not acceptable anymore. I’ve got to say sexism is rampant toward men too. It goes down to the industry just wanting sexy looking people. If you are considered a piece of meat it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. It has come a long way as far as women are concerned.

MC: A couple of years ago you got inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. How does upholding the legacy affect what you are going to do next or does it affect your plans as far as what is next?

AW: It is about focusing on what we are going to do next. The Rock Hall is an honor and it is especially great to be considered to have made a contribution to the artistic musical culture. But really it is a night where you get to be queen for a day and then you go back to work the next day. I’ve never really been one to believe in laurels, nevermind rest on them.

MC: Do you have any new material that you’ll be featuring on this tour?

Heart (132 of 429)bAW: Yeah, definitely. I’m going out on tour and it is called “Ann Wilson of Heart.” I am playing several of my new songs that are on the last two EPs we’ve made. The set list is going to contain a few Heart songs re-envisioned, a few of my new songs that I’ve written over the last year or so, and some really exciting covers that I love that have helped me learn how to sing. I’m real excited about it.

MC: When you are choosing covers, do you tend to go to songs that you loved growing up?

AW: Yeah, that and also whenever I hear a song from whatever genre, it doesn’t have to be rock, as long as it is a really good song that really grabs me at my core – I’m just going to want to do it. Some of the songs – there is a Ray Charles song that my mother used to listen all the time that I’m doing, and just stuff that I’ve heard that has that effect where it just stops you in your tracks. It is those kinds of songs that I’m re-creating into covers.

MC: I’ve always wondered where you have this massive back catalogue of songs but you know there are people coming to hear the hits. Do you ever get tired of playing “Crazy on You?” Or wish you could include more of your newer songs?

AW: That is a trick when you are planning out a set after 40 years… If they go to see a veteran band like The Eagles, people would be kind of pissed off if they don’t hear “Hotel California.” So you have to include enough of those [songs] to really satisfy those people…. I’m doing a few Heart songs but they’re the ones that I designated as being deeper cuts and ones that I feel stand the test of time that I love to sing. The same expectations that are on Heart don’t really stand on Ann Wilson of Heart.

MC: Do you get to do songs that Heart has never done?

AW: Yes, there is one Heart song we are doing off the Fanatic album that has never been done live. So it is going to be pretty groundbreaking for me in that regard.

MC: What are your thoughts on the demise of the music industry? Is it a mixed bag where, on one hand you are losing royalties where people don’t buy music like they did, but is there more freedom outside the major label structure?

AW: It just makes it harder for songwriters. It makes it damn near impossible for people that just write songs to have a career unless they can go out and reproduce them live… You can’t do 20 shows a year and then go home and sit around on your butt all year living off royalties.… So you really have to get your skin in the game now. That I think is good. It is much harder to be fake, out there really doing it. So people who go to shows are really going to see the real thing. I like that there is more possibility for authenticity. So that is the silver lining.

Ann Wilson of Heart comes to rock the Park Theatre in Cranston on April 7

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