Ann Wilson, Lead Singer & Songwriter Of Legendary Rock Band Heart, Talks About Writing Their Classic Hit Songs, And Her New Album
With a music career that began in 1975, lead singer & songwriter Ann Wilson has been at the forefront of rock and pop music for over four decades. She co-founded the legendary rock group Heart with her sister Nancy Wilson, and she has one of the most powerful, recognizable voices in music. In addition, she co-wrote many of Heart’s classic hit songs, including “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” “Never,” “Straight On” and “Heartless.” Impressively, in 2013 she and the original members of Heart were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In recent years, Wilson has focused on her solo projects in addition to her work with Heart. This month, she released an excellent solo single called “The Revolution Starts Now,” which is her new recording of Steve Earle’s 2004 song. Wilson’s single reflects her concern with how the country has become divided, and that a revolution starts in each person’s hometown.
“The Revolution Starts Now” is the first of several solo singles that Wilson will be releasing in the coming months. Although the Covid-19 shutdown has prevented Wilson from touring, she is excited about the new songs that she’s written and recorded during quarantine.
As a solo artist, Wilson’s latest album release is called Immortal, which came out in 2018. This album contains Wilson’s strong interpretations of songs by other artists. She pays tribute to iconic artists who have passed away in recent years (such as David Bowie, Tom Petty, Amy Winehouse and Chris Cornell) by recording new versions of their songs.
Along with her solo work, Wilson remains an active member of Heart. She continues to perform live with Heart, and the band will be playing shows again when the concert environment opens up,
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Wilson. But before we get started, here’s a brief rundown of Heart’s history and discography. Beginning with their album Dreamboat Annie in 1975, the band has had a long string of hit singles and albums, particularly in the period from 1975 to the mid-’90s.
Here’s the video of Ann Wilson’s new single, “The Revolution
Heart was originally formed in Seattle, and Ann & Nancy Wilson wrote the band’s songs (in their early years), which established their unique sound and personality. They broke through with their Top 10 single “Magic Man,” and followed up with many chart hits in the mid-to-late ‘70s including “Crazy on You,” “Dreamboat Annie,” their iconic song “Barracuda,” “Heartless,” “Straight On,” “Dog & Butterfly” and “Even It Up.”
Then in the early ‘80s, Heart had many more hits, starting with “Tell It Like It Is” in 1980. For the most part, the band had hits in this decade with their definitive versions of songs written by other songwriters. Their ‘80s hits included “What About Love,” “Never” (co-written by Ann & Nancy Wilson), “These Dreams” (a #1 hit), “Nothin’ At All,” “Alone” (a #1 hit), “Who Will You Run To,” “There’s the Girl” and “All I Want To Do Is Make Love To You.”
In addition to their singles success, Heart has released many albums that have been certified gold or platinum. Here’s a list of their best-selling albums: Dreamboat Annie (1975), Little Queen (1977), Magazine (1977), Dog and Butterfly (1978), Bebe le Strange (1980), Heart (1985), Bad Animals (1987), Brigade (1990), Desire Walks On (1993). The band has also released two live albums that were certified gold or platinum: Greatest Hits Live (1980) and The Road Home (1995).
Here is our interview with Ann Wilson:
DK: You’ve released a new single called “The Revolution Starts Now,” which is a song written by Steve Earle. What inspired you to record this song?
Ann Wilson: I think the message of the song is really uplifting…it’s energized and positive. It’s a message of trying to reunite, which I think is a good message for right now in our country. So the revolution that I’m talking about here, is of abandoning our old ideas of being polarized on different sides. This is about being more uplifted, thinking higher, and entertaining the possibility that we could actually unify.
DK: Steve Earle said that when he talks about a revolution, he meant starting a revolution in each person’s hometown. So is part of the inspiration for you, that the revolution starts in our hometowns, and you go from there?
Here’s a video of Heart performing their hit “Barracuda” at the
2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Wilson: Yes, that’s right. And it’s not something that we have to take cues from Washington DC or anyplace else. It’s how you feel with your own neighbors.
In my neighborhood (before the election), there were many houses that had Trump signs. So I know we don’t all think one way or the other. There are different kinds of people who have different opinions, and you learn how to live together.
DK: Two years ago, you released your solo album Immortal, which featured your versions of songs that were written by other artists. Can you talk about the making of this album?
Wilson: The theme of that album, was that it contained my favorite, iconic songs by artists who have recently passed away. It’s a tribute to them. I chose songs that I loved and just wanted to tackle, and pay tribute to these artists.
DK: A couple songs on the album have a political theme, such as David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of America” and the Cream song, “Politician.” So is that important to you, to look at things from a social or political point of view?
Wilson: Yes it always has been, especially a social point of view. I’m not that well-versed in politics…it’s hard for me to be around them, because of their politics, right? (laughs). And you don’t really know how much of it is sincere, and how much of it is transactional. So I’m not a very political person, but I sure do have a feel for people, and what they’re going through.
DK: I’d like to ask you about your songwriting, and how you and Nancy (Wilson) wrote some of your classic Heart songs. What was your writing process with Nancy? Did one of you focus on writing the lyrics, and the other writing the music?
Wilson: In the early days, Nancy would write most of the music and I’d write the melodies and lyrics. Then in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, it was more of an industry-type thing, where we ended up recording songs written by other people…professional songwriters. Then we came through that.
Here’s a video of Heart performing their hit “Crazy on You” at the
2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
And now, I’m excited about writing new songs. I’ve just recorded six or seven new songs that I’ve written during quarantine. We’ve recorded them, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a few of them.
DK: Back to the early years of Heart, the first two hits that you and Nancy wrote were “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You.” So what was that like, recording your first album and writing these songs?
Wilson: I guess it was sort of magical, because we didn’t have anything to compare it to. We were writing songs and we had a record contract with an indie label (Mushroom Records) in Vancouver. We started recording things and going out and playing, and I guess a few of the songs we wrote were right with the times, because they hit. At the beginning, we didn’t have muscle from a record company. We were just on a little indie label. So it relied on us going out and playing everywhere we possibly could, to get the word out.
DK: For your second album (Little Queen), you wrote “Barracuda,” which became one of your biggest hits. How did you and Nancy write “Barracuda”?
Wilson: At the time we were just a young band, and we put out our first record, Dreamboat Annie. We were out on tour supporting it, and [the idea for “Barracuda’} was something that happened in the dressing room. Somebody made me mad, and I went back to the hotel and wrote out all these words…barracuda words, and we ended up putting them to music.
DK: So the title “Barracuda” came from your ideas at that moment? It’s a very unusual song title.
Wilson: Yeah…you’ve gotta remember that back in 1977 when it was written, times were very different. There was a whole different level of sexism that used to exist, that doesn’t exist anymore, or at least openly. Some of the things that were said to us back in those days would just curl your hair. I mean, it was so sexist and sleazy and trashy. And I guess at that time, I just got really angry and wrote those “Barracuda” words.
DK: You’ve written a lot of great songs, and you’ve recorded great songs that were written by other songwriters. So when you were playing live with Heart, what were your favorite songs that you liked to sing onstage?
Here’s the video of Heart’s hit “Never,” which was co-written
by Ann Wilson.
Wilson: Well, it depends on which era. Back in the late ‘70s, my favorite songs would have been Heart songs [that we wrote]. Then in the ‘80s it would’ve been anything but Heart songs (laughs). Then in the ‘90s, I started to really like [singing songs] by some of the grunge bands, like “Rooster” (by Alice in Chains).
DK; In 2013, Heart was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How did it feel for you and the band, to be recognized for this great honor?
Wilson: Oh, it was a very good night. It was quite surreal, to be queen for a day like that…all of us. It was a great night…it was hard to believe it even happened (laughs)
DK: For the Hall of Fame ceremony, you reunited with some of your old Heart band members that night.
Wilson: Yeah, the Rock Hall required that the original lineup of the band be there that night. So we hadn’t played together for like 35 years, but that night we all get together and played “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda.” And it struck me that [the old] lineup sounded so much different than the lineup that we have now.
DK: Currently, all of us have been hit with the pandemic and shutdown. When things finally open up again, will you be touring, either solo or with Heart?
Wilson: Oh yes, by all means. I don’t know which one will be first—it depends on what venues open up. If they open up the smaller venues first, then I will probably go out with my solo thing first. I was supposed to be out on tour this year. I was scheduled and contracted to go out in April, and be on the road until the end of October. But obviously, that didn’t happen. So we have contracts to fulfill.
DK: Thank you Ann for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet, that you’d like to mention for this article?
Wilson: Yeah, that I’ve had a great time writing new songs while in quarantine. I think it’s the first time since the early ‘70s that I’ve had a chance to slow down and be in one place, and have the calmness and peace inside myself to write new stuff. And so I really enjoy that.
I’m excited about the new songs I’ve written, and I’ll be releasing them one at a time. I think the next one coming out is called “Tender Heart,” and there are new songs called “Black Wing” and “As The World Turns.” There’s a bunch of them and they sound great, so I’m really pleased.