Ann Wilson Interview: Heart Frontwoman Finds Her "Fierce Bliss"
Image attributed to Ann Wilson
Widely recognized as one of the greatest voices in the history of rock and roll, Ann Wilson is known far and wide as lead singer and songwriter of the groundbreaking rock band Heart. Ann, and her sister, Nancy Wilson, guitarist and vocalist, and Heart have sold over 35 million records worldwide. The band's US Top 40 singles include “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “What About Love,” “Never” and “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You,” along with number one hits “These Dreams” and “Alone.” They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
The legendary vocalist’s third solo studio album, Fierce Bliss, will drop on April 29, 2022, on Silver Lining Music. This is her first solo album that contains original material, rather than strictly cover songs. She and her band, the Amazing Dawgs, are scheduled to tour over the summer months of 2022.
"When I wrote the words for 'Greed,' I was in that state just because I was looking around me, and I was seeing how messed up our culture is and how this war over in Europe is based on greed."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Ann, I’m just a couple of hours away from Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Ann Wilson: Oh, yeah. We recorded half of Fierce Bliss there. Well, more than half. Probably 70% of it was done there. It was just totally a great experience. Like so many musicians, it was a bucket list item for me to go work there. That’s where I met all of the musicians that are now in my band.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What did you want the new solo album to be?
Ann Wilson: I wanted it to be a place for my new original songs to go, to let people know what I’m doing now and just for me to get into the studio, sing, have fun with other musicians and come out with something that sounds great.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, you definitely accomplished that! Where does the title Fierce Bliss come from?
Ann Wilson: It describes how it felt making the record basically. Yeah. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s really what it is. It was a great experience. Nothing bad happened. It was just one of those things that happened by surprise, you walk into it, and it’s all good. (laughs) And those things don’t happen that often in life. So I figure, be present for it and enjoy it. Loud and proud!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What can the fans expect from the new record?
Ann Wilson: There are 11 songs on the album, and seven of them are originals written by me, and the other four songs are covers. There’s a cover of a Jeff Buckley song called “Forget Her.” There’s a duet of a Queen song called “Love of My Life” that features Vince Gill singing with me. There’s a Robin Trower song called “Bridge of Sighs” and an Eurythmic song called “Missionary Man.” Both of them have Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar. Then I wrote a couple of songs with Warren Haynes, “Gladiator” and “Angel’s Blues” where Gov’t Mule is the backup band, and Warren’s on guitar.
There’s a lot of really cool special guests, and it was great just to have them come in. I didn’t tell them what to play. I just basically said, “Come on in and bring your ideas, and we’ll build these songs together." So that’s what they did. The album cover art is by Roger Dean, a fantasy artist who used to do album covers for Yes, so it’s a real colorful fantasy painting on the cover. We plan on releasing the album in vinyl as well, so if you want to, you can listen to the vinyl and hold the album cover in your hands to check it out like people used to do way back when.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why did you decide to do a cover of “Missionary Man?”
Ann Wilson: I was thinking that the way things are in America right now. They’re pretty polarized between red and blue, and a lot of the time, there’s a religious aspect on the Right. So I thought that it’s really relevant, and I’d make a big megachurch production out of it with a gospel choir and everything and get Kenny Wayne Shepherd and just make it big! You know, let’s talk about this (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, we can certainly relate to it! My husband and I are two blue dots in a red state.
Ann Wilson: Yeah. I’m living in North Florida now, so me and my husband are also two blue dots.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You spoke about another single you wrote called “Greed” and said, “I think I write best when I’m angry.”
Ann Wilson: First of all, if people are angry about something, they don’t have their filters in place, right? (laughs) They just start to go off, and they go all the way off. When I wrote “Barracuda,” that’s the state I was in. When I wrote the words for “Greed,” I was in that state just because I was looking around me, and I was seeing how messed up our culture is and how this war over in Europe is based on greed. It’s like one of the worst seven deadly sins, maybe the worst. That’s basically where I was coming from.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your parents were musically inclined, but you and Nancy developed your own desires to become musicians?
Ann Wilson: Neither of my parents were professional musicians. They were people who loved music, and my dad would sing at cocktail parties. He would recite poetry. Our mother was a really fine concert pianist, and I just remember growing up lying on the floor under the piano listening to her practice. They always played great music in the house. They had Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Nina Simone and great, great music playing always.
So it was not much of a stretch for Nancy and me to just join in with that, and pretty soon, it wasn’t enough just to be around the house. Pretty soon, we were looking for a place to take our little guitars out and get in front of people. Then one thing led to another, you know. It just evolved with us making it a family business.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Nancy told me in an interview a couple of years ago that you and she wanted to be the Beatles.
Ann Wilson: Yeah, and most of our girlfriends just wanted to be the Beatles’ girlfriends, right? And that was cool. I guess that’s a cool aspiration that will never happen (laughs). But that wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to actually play and get out there, play and sing and work, wear cool clothes and live it. So we did.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What was the biggest hurdle in the early days?
Ann Wilson: We didn’t get much credibility. Back when we started out in the mid 70s, it was like you were only listening to music on the radio. There was a thing back then where they wouldn’t play more than one female artist per hour. I don’t know why except I guess there weren’t that many women doing it. But you had to be either a folk singer or a disco diva.
There weren’t any women doing rock except there was Suzi Quatro or maybe Lydia Pense in Cold Blood. But that was different because it was a band of men playing, and those were the lead singers. Suzi, I guess, played bass. But we were the first to be two women fronting a rock and roll band. So that put attention on us. Our record company was an indie company up in Canada, and bless them, they saw the potential and believed in us. They said, “Okay. We’re going to give you a try. We’re going to make a record with you and see what happens.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So that was your first big break?
Ann Wilson: There was a series of them. We were just two kids up in Vancouver who were penniless, who were hitchhiking around with no money wanting to be in a band. So we just started rehearsing, then pretty soon we got to do some little small gigs which turned into bigger ones, which turned into taking this tape we’d made in our basement to all the different record companies just fantastically hoping for a record deal. They all turned us down at least once except for this little indie label, Mushroom, up in Vancouver.
We actually went in and made a demo with them with Howard Leese producing, and they liked it. So they agreed to make a record with us. Mike Flicker, who produced that record, was the big believer in Heart really. That was our big break, I think, was meeting Mike Flicker.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In 2020, an article said that women make up less than 8% of the inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you think that will ever change? I’m trying not to be too pessimistic.
Ann Wilson: Right (laughs). I think that may be one of the reasons why they made the move to nominate Dolly Parton. That’s a big splash move on their part because that’s like a superwoman. Then it’s so beautiful that Dolly backed away from it because she knows she’s not rock. She doesn’t want to be rock. She’s the queen of country, you know. I mean, she’s country through and though.
Yeah. I think they’ve always been a little bit hesitant to nominate women. It took them forever to nominate Joni Mitchell. It took them forever to induct us. I don’t know what that’s all about. I’m not aware of all the politics that go into that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Dolly didn’t even get her wish, as the organizers of the Hall of Fame declined her request to pull her nomination.
Ann Wilson: Oh, yeah. They will induct her whether she wants it or not, but she doesn’t have to go pick up the award.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are your kids musicians, Ann?
Ann Wilson: Oh, they’re not. No. My daughter is working for Microsoft now. My son is a police officer. They just bounced about as far away from music as you could think of (laughs). Their mom was just too omnipresent with it, I guess.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Who are your current picks for best vocalists?
Ann Wilson: I love Lucinda Williams. I think she’s a great vocalist and songwriter. She’s just so raw and so real, and she’s a great poet. I’ve always loved Joni Mitchell, Oh, I like Lzzy Hale. She’s cool. My influences in singing were always males like Rod Stewart, Elton John, Mick Jagger and Robert Plant. I still think Robert Plant is just the best. It doesn’t matter what age he is or what band he’s in. I’ll go to it and listen (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you made Robert Plant cry at the Kennedy Center when you performed “Stairway to Heaven” in 2012.
Ann Wilson: That must’ve been a really beautiful experience for him to see that big production unfold and get bigger and bigger and see Jason Bonham down there on drums, the son of his best friend who died. Jason was just a little baby kid when Zeppelin was at their peak, just running around at band rehearsals and stuff. So he must’ve looked down and seen that. It must’ve all filled his heart.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Not only that, Ann. But I don’t believe I’ve seen many rock performances as magnificent as that one. It was epic.
Ann Wilson: Oh, well. Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your voice during that performance was simply amazing.
Ann Wilson: Well, thank you. That song is a real honor to get to sing, especially in that company.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So you made Robert Plant and me cry (laughs).
Ann Wilson: (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You and Nancy spent some time with Wynonna Judd on her farm in Nashville in 2004. What are some of your recollections?
Ann Wilson: Oh, Wynonna’s a sweet soul. She’s complicated, and she’s been through so much in her life, you know, being such a big star at a real early age and traveling around with her mother. I think she’s weathered it all really well. She’s a real honest, down-to-earth person with a lot of complexity, and she’s a good woman. I think she’s sober, pretty much, but she’d be a gal you could sit down and have a beer with and have a really good time. Of course, we had all kinds of things to share like makeup and hair things and all those girly things. We got in her little Cadillac, and she drove me out into the forest to her massage person who also had crystals and all that woo-woo stuff going on. So here we are, me and Wynonna in her little Cadillac pounding through the forest on these unpaved roads, and I thought, “This is so fucking unusual and cool.” (laughs)
Then she and her mother had this lunch for us out on the property. There’s this beautiful manmade lake out there, and they brought in Greek food. We had a picnic outside, and Mamaw showed up. She’s all done up, and she’s so little. She looks like a little doll. But she’s a piece of work at that size (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Sometimes the loudest noises come from the smallest people.
Ann Wilson: That’s right!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In 2008, I believe you and Nancy asked the Republicans to stop using “Barracuda” at political rallies?
Ann Wilson: Yeah. It was Sarah Palin, and they were using the song as her big campaign theme where they’d go, “Okay. Here comes Sarah Barracuda!” Then they’d play “Barracuda,” and she’d come out. I saw that once on television, and I just went, “What?” That was about as far away as we wanted the song to be used as you can get. So we asked them to cease and desist, and they did as far as we knew. There’s not really a way to police that unless you’ve got somebody out at every campaign stop. You can threaten them with legal action, but it’s all so negative, and it makes artists who have been through that like Neil Young and Springsteen and all these artists that have had that happen to them, seem like these old, shriveled up musical prudes who don’t want to let their songs out there.
But it’s not about that. It’s just about what’s being put forward with their song playing in the background (laughs). Like in our case, it was guns and all these different things that we really, really were against.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, and it makes it look like if your music is playing, then you support a certain political agenda that you do not support.
Ann Wilson: That’s right. So we just said to them, “Well, Ted Nugent and Kid Rock have plenty of songs you can choose from.” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Exactly. You’ve said, “It’s harder to keep a band together than a marriage.” Is that because you often spend more time with the band than family?
Ann Wilson: Yeah, spend more time with them and also, it’s not the actual band members. It’s their significant others who are speaking in their ears. If you’ve got five people, and each one of them has their own desires, wishes, emotions and everything, it’s five times as difficult than dealing with just one other person. You don’t necessarily love the band members either (laughs). I mean, hopefully you do, but that’s not always the case. As you know, love just kind of greases a lot of things in that you wouldn’t let go otherwise.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Very true. You’ll be singing the songs from Fierce Bliss on tour this summer?
Ann Wilson: Yeah. We’ll be doing a few songs from it. Not all of them really translate to live as well, but we’ll definitely be doing a few covers and some Heart songs.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have plans to work on new music for Heart after the tour, Ann?
Ann Wilson: Well, I’m writing new songs now. I’m not sure where they’re going to go, whether they’re going to go to Heart or where they’re going. But yeah, and next year is Heart’s 50th anniversary, and we do have some things planned for that. So hopefully, yeah, Heart will be. I just have to get on the same page as my sister about it.
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