Arguably the hardest working Wilson sisters in music today, Heart’s Ann and Nancy are following a gangbusters 2012 with a 2013 every bit as remarkable. Touring with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, Heart are taking their classic sound and energy nationwide between June and November. In a collaboration that revisits their unforgettable “Stairway To Heaven” tribute at December’s Kennedy Center Honors event—delivered to a misty-eyed Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and the elder Bonham in spirit—the bands will reunite for special performances of select Zeppelin tunes in addition to a set of Heart’s finest. (If you’re not one of the millions that have already seen it, I’ll hold while you watch the Kennedy Center performance.)
From publishing a co-written memoir with Charles Cross to a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction nod, Heart’s 2012 was a year of reflection on their history and recognition of their accomplishments, talents, and dedication. For more on the Wilsons and all things Heart past, present and future, pick up a copy of Kicking & Dreaming: A Story Of Heart, Soul, And Rock & Roll (It Books, 2012)and visit heart-music.com.
Before the tour began, I talked with singer, songwriter and flautist Ann Wilson about the past year’s successes, sisterhood, and rocking out to the ever-infectious “Barracuda.”
Looking back on your career, what has been the highlight for you as a woman fronting a rock band?
As a woman, well I think maybe the high point has been the revelation that it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or not (laughs). You can go ahead and you can do it as long as you have the will. You just kind of decide you’re going to do it, figure out what your path is to it, and you’re free of gender and the constraints of gender. That was a big moment when I realized that.
Did that happen at a certain time in your career or has it developed on its own, over time, without you realizing a shift was happening?
Oh, it’s definitely something that’s an ongoing thing. We just have to keep on realizing that over and over again, every time we accomplish something or we sit back and think, “Hey, we just did that! We’re not supposed to be able to do that!” (Laughs) Maybe that’s a complex answer to your question because I suspect maybe it would have been easier for me to say, “Oh! Well when we got inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, that was the biggest moment!” That was a huge moment, but symbolic of something bigger.
You’ve always had your sister by your side when things got challenging. Even though people caution against getting into business with family, how has being in Heart with Nancy been a blessing rather than a problem?
It’s been a blessing because we know each other so well without even having to stand and explain ourselves to each other. We are pretty well known to each other, deeply known to each other, and loved. I think that helps at those moments when you just feel, instinctively, that it’s time to step back and let the other person breathe for a minute, or when you feel, instinctively, that they really need you step up and get in the way and tell people to leave her alone.
We’ve supported and protected each other as well as let each other breathe. How would you not know that unless you were at least a very, very good friend? But it’s been our case that we also get to be family.
And perhaps, creatively, you’re in tune enough to know when the other needs to be pushed and encouraged to take something in a different direction.
Oh absolutely, yeah. We each have pretty different connections to what we love about music and we do help each other to get new ideas all the time. And, of course, she lives in L.A., so she’s right down in the thick of that world and I live in Seattle, so I’m in a whole different world. Sometimes the combination of the two is very…interesting (laughs), creatively.
I agree. I think your environment always has powerful influences on creativity, even if you’re not aware of them.
Yeah, we’re in two different music communities and all of their different natures. But then when we get together inside of Heart we have our own little…we have our own village (laughs). We have our own language.
You previously mentioned the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction. And nobody can forget the band’s moving performance of “Stairway To Heaven” with Jason Bonham at the Kennedy Center Honors event. How do you feel this year is a continuation of 2012’s momentum?
Well we are going to get to actually play with our friend Jason Bonham in a much deeper way than just on one song. Although, the “Stairway To Heaven” thing at the Kennedy Center Honors was just awesome. It was just such a sublime moment for us.
Oh, for people watching too.
You know, and isn’t that a blessing? It could have been an overreach because that song, for Led Zeppelin, is so core and so primal to their spirituality as a band. But, it worked, I think. Because I’ve seen it and you can see it in the expressions on their faces when you watch that again.
So we get to play again with Jason. He’s going to open up the Heart show this summer with his band, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. His reason is to protect his father’s legacy and to bring—as John Bonham’s son—it along and to play his father’s kit and his father’s stuff. Nobody does it like him. It’s going to be amazing. He’s going to open the show and then we’re going to do what we do and get together and jam at the end.
What a treat for the audience!
Oh, it’s going to be so much fun for the musicians, too! So we’re thinking we’re going to have 30, 35, or 40 minutes—we don’t know—to play Led Zeppelin stuff with Jason with the two bands kind of combined. Let’s see, what songs are they going to be? (Laughs) Boy, those are going to be some fun rehearsals!
I have no idea how you’d even begin to develop that setlist.
I think we’re going to aim high. We’re not going to just go for the obvious songs. I think we’re going to go for some really deep stuff.
And Jason is such an amazing drummer in his own right. I can’t wait to catch one of the shows. I saw Heart also toured in 2012, so an ambitious tour schedule is nothing new for the band.
Heart’s always been a live band. You know, we have all of those records and everything, but we thrive on stage and we’ve always felt it was really important to keep it vital by going out there and putting our bodies out there. So, yeah, we’re not a construct.
Before I let you go, I want to ask about “Barracuda.” I just have to know: Are you compelled to play air guitar whenever you hear it, like the rest of humanity?
“Barracuda,” yeah! Every night! Like every time we’re playing “Barracuda” on stage, when I’m not singing, I’m definitely playing some kind of air guitar or air drums or something. I’m lucky because my hands are free up there. My arms are free! (Laughs hard) It just has to be done!