Sometimes a break from your daily routine is exactly what you need—even if it’s a good routine, like performing with Heart. Lead singer Ann Wilson, along with sister and guitar player Nancy Wilson, have been touring the world for over four decades performing their hits which include “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You,” “Magic Man,” “Heartless” and many more. With six Top 10 albums and 20 Top 40 singles, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers still draw crowds and show no signs of slowing down. That’s where Ann saw an opportunity to mix things up a bit.
Ann kicked off a 20-date solo tour that gives her a chance to perform a uniquely personal set of covers, solo work and Heart songs in more intimate settings. I talked to Ann about her role as a rock pioneer, her inspiration, and the chance to connect with people on her Ann Wilson of Heart tour.
You and your sister Nancy are considered trailblazers—the first women to front a hard rock band. What does it mean to you for your band, Heart, to have inspired generations of musicians?
Nancy and I just got together and had a vision of playing music and we didn’t really take into account the fact that we were women. At the beginning, we just wanted to do it. I think that’s the thing that I would say to people now if they really want to do something is they can do it. But they will have to sacrifice a lot and they will have to be super focused and understand that they may get some slack. But if they work hard and if they’re good, they can do it. No reason why not.
What inspired your solo tour?
By the end of last year and by the end of a string of a whole bunch of years of just going out with Heart and just touring, touring, touring, touring, repeating, repeating, repeating, I just felt like I wanted to shatter that habit and just go out and do something different and see where it took me for a while.
How did you select the songs you’ll play?
I just chose songs that I have always really loved, that have great messages, are well written and have powerful lyrics that I just really get off on singing. And then strangely enough when you put them all together in a set, they seem to have a unified message. The message is a lot about speaking out. About not just being a lemming or sticking your head in the sand. It’s a lot about mindfulness really and sticking up for yourself.
Can you name a few songs you’ll perform and what they mean to you?
“Love, Reign O’er Me.” I always thought that was a beautiful song by The Who.
It’s really primal. Another one would be “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, which I think could’ve been written yesterday and is very much about, “Come on everybody, wake up and look around,” ya know? “See what’s going on here.”
Which Heart songs made the cut?
We are doing “Crazy On You.” I think that fits right in with songs like “For What It’s Worth.” And we’re doing “What About Love,” which I just think is a beautiful human song talking about how can you go through your life ignoring yourself and ignoring others.
What do you discover about yourself or others when you go out solo as opposed to when you’re traveling with Heart?
When I travel with Heart it’s a big machine and you live inside a bubble where you don’t ever really get to be in contact with people. You never even really see the place where you are. We play great big places and they’re all the same. Doing it this way, we’re playing big clubs and theaters and performing arts centers and we have a stripped down crew. We travel very basically. It’s just a whole different thing. It’s more like real life. You feel much more awake. You’re in touch with where you are. It’s awesome and people at the shows are very excited. They love the songs with messages. I think in the country right now people are really upset, one way or the other. They love songs that just speak out real loud and they join in and they get all worked up. It’s very cool.
That sounds really cool. In fact, I was going to go back to your thought about speaking out and mindfulness. Why is that important to you?
Well that’s part of my own path that I’m on. My own spiritual path is just to know where I am, not to exist in illusion and to not be afraid to say what I feel. I’ve lived my life being extremely shy and strategic about what I would say and not say because I’ve always been on the path of a career. Sometimes if you say the wrong thing in the press, it can explode. I just learned how to be careful. I think it’s important to not have to be careful about what you say. If there’s something that you feel is the truth, you should be able to have the bravery to say it.
You talked about having more time to enjoy the places between tour stops. What do you like to do on the road?
Well, my husband [Dean Wetter] and I bought a bus and really tricked it out so we actually live on it here on the road. So between shows we go park somewhere beautiful, like somewhere at a campground or in the woods or something, and we hang out with each other and we talk and we write and we read and—just be together mostly. We’ve been married for two years so it’s still really young and it’s exciting just to be together.
That sounds like so much fun! I love it. Tell us about your bandmates.
It’s really an amazing, tight, powerful little band. It’s Denny Fongheiser on drums. He’s a really fantastic producer/percussionist/drummer who played with Heart way back in the ‘90s for a while. Craig Bartok on guitar, who played with Heart for a bunch of years. Andy Stoller from Seattle on bass. And Daniel Walker from Seattle is on keyboards. It’s not the Heart band. It’s a great, great group. They’re all fired up and it’s very good to see them bond.
Tell us about one of the original songs you’ll perform.
There’s a song called “Anguish” that I think works particularly well. It’s just a real big sloppy, bluesy thing that was written about when Dean and I first fell in love…The whole thing was just blooming and blossoming so fast and then I had to go off with Heart for couple of weeks. I missed him so profoundly while I was away on that tour so I wrote this song and it’s pretty cool.
How do you keep your voice in such amazing shape?
It’s just a part of your body like any other one. You have to be careful about it and exercise it right and warm it up and not do things that are harmful, like smoking, drinking and doing drugs. Things like that are really bad for singers.
This was years ago, but we talked about cover songs earlier and it reminded me that a friend and I recently watched Heart’s performance of “Stairway To Heaven” for Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center Honors (2012). You’ve had so many amazing performances but to me that still stands out as such a satisfying tribute.
Oh, thank you. That was really a fine night. Everything just went right that night. (laughs)
Ann Wilson of Heart performs at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ on April 4 and the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA on April 6. For more information, go to annwilsonofheart.com.