Nancy Wilson Interview: Rock Hall of Fame Guitarist Talks Roadcase Royale and Heart Hiatus
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Musicians
Image attributed to Jeremy Danger
Nancy Wilson, one of the founding members of the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Heart, has teamed up with former Prince’s New Power Generation band member and R&B singer Liv Warfield to form the soulful, rock supergroup, Roadcase Royale. The band plan to release their debut album, First Things First, September 22, 2017. In addition to Wilson and Warfield, Roadcase Royale features Ryan Waters (lead guitarist) along with Heart members Chris Joyner (keys), Dan Rothchild (bass) and Ben Smith (drums).
Over Heart’s four-decade history, it has had three primary lineups, with the constant center of the group since 1973 being sisters Nancy and Ann. To date, Heart has sold over 35 million records worldwide, had top 10 albums on the Billboard Album Chart in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s, and the group was ranked number 57 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.” Following the end of a tour in October 2016, the sisters opted to tour with their own side project bands.
"Frankly, I was a little bit angry about some shit that went down with my family, so I just got that off of my chest."
Roadcase Royale will play several headline dates beginning September 10, 2017, at the Gramercy Theatre in New York and will embark on a major US tour this fall.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Nancy, I love the new music!
Nancy Wilson: Thank you! I’m glad you like it. I like it a lot (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did Roadcase Royale come about?
Nancy Wilson: It was really an interesting way how we all came together. We were doing the Hollywood Bowl, and Liv Warfield and her band Blackbird were opening for us. Ann was already going out and doing her own kind of solo thing, so I figured I could do something musical and fun, and Liv and I really became fast friends. She was really impressed with the rock and roll that we had, and I was really impressed with her funky band. She was like, “But I want to rock like you!” (laughs) I was like, “I’d like to do more funk music. We should do something together!”
We decided we were going to do it, at least try to do something. I mean, actually do something instead of being people that say they are going to do something. So we brought her and Ryan Waters (her guitar player) up to New York City during the Heart shows, played around and brainstormed about what our sound would be and what kind of things we could do. We were sharing song ideas and having drinks with Rick and Robin from Cheap Trick who were on the road with us at the time. Those guys were looking at us planning and stuff and saying, “You guys gotta do this! You really should do this! You guys would be amazing together.” So we had some cheerleaders (laughs).
We got together in LA after the Heart tour and started working on songs. It was amazing because my three Heart guys (Dan Rothchild, Ben Smith and Chris Joyner) and Ryan and me were all essentially saying, “Epic musically and experience musically.” But with all of our ways of working, nobody was sitting around trying to get their egos stroked. Everybody was just in it for all the right reasons, the love of it and the love of music, so it was a natural. We got a lot of songs written in a very short time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You write songs about social and political issues. Did you have that sort of theme in mind when you started brainstorming?
Nancy Wilson: Well, for the lyrics of “Get Loud,” I collaborated with one of our longtime collaborators for Heart, and I really liked the words that she had started. I took those to Liv and she really liked them. At that moment in time, women were starting to gather up for the women’s marches for human rights and various women’s rights and all the women’s issues and human issues were sort of at that moment when we were working on that song. It all became very clear that this could be the perfect song for the moment, so it was just encouraging women to be counted as equals, to be entitled to feel like they should be equals in the culture and also to encourage young women to expect equality. When it came together, Chris Joyner had the groove already, and we figured it our pretty quick and were able to release that first from our website.
It became sort of adopted as an anthem for a couple of the bigger women’s marches. So we’re happy that we’re not just super critical about things in general because I think that can actually detract from cool music in the long run, but at the moment when it was happening, it felt right. We’re not going to aim ourselves too politically. It’s just momentarily here and there when it’s really kind of needed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A favorite of mine off the album is “Insaniac.” Tell me about the writing and that fantastic guitar riff in the song.
Nancy Wilson: On, my God, you’re talking about Ryan Waters. He had the riffs for “Not Giving Up,” and he also had the riff, along with Ben Smith, for “Insaniac.” It’s such an inspired democracy in the way we work together. Everybody brings music to the table. For me, that song just had such a kind of an aggression and an angry feel. Frankly, I was a little bit angry about some shit that went down with my family, so I just got that off of my chest, and those are mainly my words. Liv is a really good melody writer, too, and we were tinkering with the words and put the words and melodies together. I just like the way that one turned out, too. It’s not your average “fun for the whole family” little ditty either, but it’s got some edge to it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was playing the guitar and being in a band something you were destined to do?
Nancy Wilson: Yeah. The family in general was musical with pianos and ukuleles and things like that and singing in harmonies. It was aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, and we’d get together as often as we could, having beach fires and singing and strumming. It was really a great way to grow up. So when the Beatles hit the scene, I was like, “Oh, my God! I’m putting down the ukulele, and I’m getting a guitar!”
Ann and I both had to become guitar players, songwriters and be a band, not just be girlfriends of the Beatles, but just be the Beatles (laughs). We were into being just like or being the Beatles themselves kind of thing. It was a very inspired time, and the Beatles didn’t do so poorly for themselves. They managed to shapeshift the entire culture of the world with their music in not that long a time. It was five or six years until they broke up. Pretty amazing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I'm sure it was very tough for female rockers to break through in the early days. But what was the hardest part, and what inspired you to persevere?
Nancy Wilson: It was hard, but we became very proficient. We were really doggedly determined to be in a rock band and be rock writers and rock people. There were obviously some roadblocks for women like there always are. But the hardest part, I think, was just to be taken seriously. That was the kicker. They’d say, “You don’t play bad for a girl.” I’d say, “Well, I play pretty good for a human. I’m a good player for any human.”
Just to be passed off like that made us both feel like we had to get better and prove it a little bit harder and work harder to be acknowledged as competent musicians. So we did. We come from a military family, so we certainly did work harder. We just kept pulling up our socks and marching on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you and Ann made any future plans to reunite Heart?
Nancy Wilson: Right now, I don’t see that at all, unfortunately. There’s been some issues that we, as sisters, need to resolve between us way more than anything in the business that we could resolve still. So I’m looking forward to that. But for right now, I’m really excited and super inspired to start over with this new band, and we’re just about to embark on this first tour.
I’m really ready just to go out there and kick some ass. This is what I know that I need to be doing now and for about a year maybe, then reassess the original relationship and see where we get to with that.
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