By Steven Neff, Rock At Night Orlando Correspondent
Rock At Night recently sat down with Heart’s frontwoman Ann Wilson for an enlightening interview before she took the stage at The Plaza Live Orlando for her solo project The Ann Wilson Thing.
I had my questions on my tablet, ready to go. Or was I? What do you ask someone like an Ann Wilson; a musician whose band has sold millions of albums, played with rock music’s greatest, already given and answered probably thousands of interviews, many with the same questions? Yes, these questions flooded my mind, and I had just a few minutes to figure it out.
When Tour Manager Rusty Hooker came in and said “Steve, you can go in now”, I knew I would have to go in “as is”, ready or not.
Upon entering Ann Wilson’s dressing room, I immediately received a warm greeting. Ann’s gentle voice and genuine kindness was inviting, making it easy to forget the questions that had previously been racing through my mind. Her eyes were peacefully fixed on this interviewer as if to say “welcome”.
It’s not often that you meet what I would call an “old soul”. Yes, in that interview, I discovered someone who was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, without the music. Maybe it was her upbringing by wonderful parents, or years of experience through trial and error; or maybe still it was a life built upon many lives whose evolution as a soul culminated into what now is someone who’s always chosen to follow their heart. In any case, Wilson revealed to us through her words that she’s a student of life and as you’ll see in our interview, she also loves deeply and her love for her husband means as much to her as her own breath.
Rock At Night: Thank you very much for taking the time with us, we so appreciate it.
Ann: It’s my pleasure.
Rock At Night: You just got done touring with Nancy and Heart and you’ll still be playing much of October with them. Aren’t you a little tired?
Ann: Yeah, I’m tired, but it’s been a really amazing summer. We’re really good buddies with Cheap Trick; have been for many years and with Joan Jett for a couple of years now. So it was just like a bunch of friends up there. Big Live Nation experience though very machine like, so it’s really refreshing to get into my solo environment. That’s a lot more organic and it’s my thing.
Rock At Night: How do you avoid burnout?
Ann: In general I don’t know; it’s just a matter of belief I guess. Just going on every day and looking for that connection with people. The burnout generally occurs when you go home. I’ve talked to Wynona Judd about this thing; she’s a buddy of mine too and she says and I think it’s really right on she’s really fine on tour, but then she gets home and for the first week she’s totally burnt out, can’t get out of bed, and then she’s up in the driveway wearing her stage clothes waving at tour buses. You know, it’s almost like an addiction.
Rock At Night: Also, I do want to mention that HEART is on tour in support of their sixteenth album Beautiful Broken. Congratulations on that.
I have to admit when I first saw The Ann Wilson Thing; I was on the website for The Plaza Live and the first time I looked at it I honestly thought it was a tribute band. I went back on the site later and I just clicked on it to see what was going on and it turns out that it was the real Ann Wilson. Can you give everyone a little tour of The Ann Wilson Thing solo project, what it is, and how it came to be?
Ann: Yes, The Ann Wilson Thing is a pet project of mine. The only thing it has to do with Heart is that I’m in it. We don’t do any Heart music at all. It’s new songs that I’ve written with our guitar player Craig Bartock and it’s beloved covers. It’s just really a place where I can stretch out. I can do exactly what I want; there are no expectations. And come to find out [we’ve been doing it for about a year now], the audience is different, it’s slightly different. Some of it is crossover. Some of the people go see Heart and come see The Ann Wilson Thing. Other people that come see The Ann Wilson Thing are a little bit more mature, it’s a different intellect. They want to hear songs that have a message and they love lyrics. They are willing to come and not hear “Barracuda”, not hear “Crazy On You” or “Magic Man”. And see, that’s the real flag of victory for me because I get to come and be a singer who’s still a student of other songwriters and it’s really good for me to come in and keep my voice up and try new things and it’s just refreshing.
Rock At Night: In July, you announced the release of the second EP from “The Ann Wilson Thing” entitled Focus. How did you decide which songs went into the EP?
Ann: We had written two new songs and those were an automatic to go on and then we wanted to do two live cuts because the live band is amazing and it’s just great musicians, all of whom play in Heart except for the bass player, Andy Stoller from Seattle. Again, like me, it gives these musicians a chance to just relax and be musos and they’re all really good. We hadn’t played in a bunch of months. The night before last in Melbourne, it seems like we had taken where we left off and come up a couple of notches and I think it’s because we’ve been playing all summer; so everybody’s current with their playing. But then they get to take off on the Peter Gabriel song and all this cool stuff we get to do. They amazed me the other night. I was just like “whoa this is my band?” Yeah.
Rock At Night: Everybody’s having a lot of fun?
Ann: Yeah, everybody and the crew guys are all from Heart crew and they came off a whole summer of doing these big 20,000 seaters and stuff and just jamming every night to get the equipment up and down; no sleep and all that. So by the end of it they were all saying to me, “Let’s go do The Ann Wilson Thing”. It’s so relaxed and organic and fun for them.
Rock At Night: It’s got a different energy right?
Ann: Yeah, way different. So everybody’s having a great time.
Rock At Night: I think rock music is better because of women. It’s a shame really to say that you and Nancy were pioneers instead of deservingly being considered equals.
Ann: Yeah, but those were the times.
Rock At Night: Do you think it’s still the times, somewhat at least?
Ann: Less and less, but it still is. Women still have to do what they do backwards in high heels and young women starting out now have to be model beautiful, they have to be able to dance; they have to be able to be seen totally like a fashion statement, to make fashion statements. If you’re Taylor Swift, you also have to act. You have to be at least a triple threat. It’s pretty hard.
Rock At Night: Still a lot of testosterone in the industry?
Ann: Yeah, and now it’s just gone a little bit underground because it’s so un-PC to be misogynist. I think we’ve seen in this election year that there is still a certain amount of that floating around.
Rock At Night: If you had the ability to change or do anything in regards to women in this industry, what would it be? What would change if Ann said so?
Ann: If I ran the zoo, I would just say to young women “don’t expect to go in there and run the world because you’re a woman.” That doesn’t happen overnight. The only way that women are going to be truly equal with men in the music industry is by being good. I would say to all these young chicks, “go out and play clubs; play whenever you can, form your thing. Don’t expect to go on The Voice and have your career made overnight because those are not real careers. Go out and actually hone your craft; make yourself be something worth people’s interest in money.”
Rock At Night: Do you think that the voice that you have [because it was a voice that couldn’t be ignored]; do you think it made positive things happen not only for you, but for women that came afterwards?
Ann: Yeah, I think so. This is not a racist statement, but because I’m a white woman who sings loud and high and all that kind of stuff; that way of singing was taken out of a racial fray. It’s just a matter of being strong and being soulful. I think that might be one of my main contributions. Also, I think one of my contributions is to let people see me advance in my life and not be 25. Be 65, and still have the strength and the energy and the quality to do it. Who wants to be at the vortex of that? I am [laughs] and I hope that it influences some women to not be afraid of being in the public eye as they go on in life.
Rock At Night: Would it be safe to say that you and Nancy have survived all of the changes in the music industry as the result of the ability to adapt to those changes as opposed to many of the great bands that we just don’t hear much from anymore?
Ann: Yeah you know, Nancy and I have always been idealists about changes in the music industry. We’ve always wanted to keep our stuff authentic. We haven’t always succeeded in doing that. Like in the 80’s, we didn’t. We had huge success doing other peoples’ songs and playing dress up on MTV; which isn’t our natural way of being. And it made us really unhappy, but we had huge success. So, whether that’s called a success or failure, I don’t know.
Rock At Night: You’re still here though.
Ann: Yes, I’m still here and definitely adapting to changes as they affect me. Some of them aren’t relevant to me anymore. Like it doesn’t matter to me really what people are wearing or how they do their makeup or anything like that. All those things affect women in entertainment. Some of those things at this stage of my life I’m just going, “Well it’s a good thing I can let that go now, just be myself.”
Rock At Night: It’s 30 years in the future and you’re surrounded by family and friends in your last hours. Do you have any highlights in your life that you would say in parting, “Yeah, I’m glad I did it the way I did?”
Ann: Yes, I do, and one of them is just keeping on and just going after it; being so about something that you really believe in and being able to see through all the bullshit and just have your focus and your aim and keep doing it. Another thing is I’m glad that I waited around for incredible, crazy, passionate love in my life. I’m glad I didn’t just write myself off and go “love is not for me”. I’m glad that I was open at the moment to marry my husband who is such a wild man, idealist person; and not easy to be with. Every minute is just precious and I’m glad I was open to that. So I would say to people “Don’t be too safe, don’t play it too safe”; those types of things. I’m glad I had my children and was there for them when they needed it. Yeah, glad I was here in the year 2016 for sure.
Rock At Night: Now in that same gathering with friends that you’re about to leave; any regrets at that time that you wish you would have done differently?
Ann: I don’t think so. I think that one thing makes the next thing happen in life so, all the decisions I made and the things that happened to me if I went back; I’d make the same choice over and the next thing would happen as a result.
Rock At Night: With this amazing life that you’ve had; ever think what you’d want to do maybe in the next life?
Ann: In the next life, I’ll be coming back to take care of the things I didn’t do so well in this life. One of those things would be not being grasping, not wanting to possess things. I’ll come back and I’ll try to let the water flow through my fingers a little bit better.
Rock At Night: You’ve received countless awards over the years, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and even got your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame [Ann laughs, responds “Yeah”] but when you leave this existence, what do you most want to be remembered for?
Ann: The lyrics. The message of so many of our songs is all about following your heart. That’s why I think the band name Heart is really right on; because that’s what Nancy and I feel as songwriters and that’s the message we want to leave
Rock At Night: This may be one of the most important questions that you have ever been asked. Whose songs are you singing in the shower?
Ann: Hmm, in the shower, Peter Gabriel.
Rock At Night: That was sarcasm of course.
Ann: Right [laughs]. I think I sing folk songs in the shower. As a kid, as a teenager; my parents were semi-bohemian people. They were into Kingston Trio and the Limelighters, and Joan Baez; those types of people. I would probably sing that kind of stuff; “Hang Down Your head, Tom Dooley” [laughs].
Rock At Night: You have a lot of fun with those then?
Ann: Oh yeah.
Rock At Night: Are you going to do those with The Ann Wilson Thing at all in the future, folky?
Ann: The closest folky things that we do are not that old. We do Mandolin Wind by Rod Stewart from early 70’s. Those are all real folksy things, real Americana, sort of down to earth things. Yeah, I’m real comfortable with that kind of stuff.
Rock At Night: I wasn’t going to say anything, but you got on the subject of your husband; I can tell you’re very much in love. How did you know or when did you know that was the guy?
Ann: I knew that was the guy, not the first time we dated back in the 80’s because we just went out and got drunk, we were both blotto; that wasn’t what the decision was made on. It was when we got together again two years ago. First we were virtual over several weeks and then we had to get in the same room and it was the first night we were in each other’s company; we both knew, we recognized each other. We’re in love, so we say “from another life or many other lifetimes”, but there was just this recognition, it was un-ignorable. We still feel that way now. That’s why it’s so hard not to hang onto him.
Rock At Night: Like your soulmate?
Ann: Yep, yep
Special thanks go to media extraordinaire Sacha Guzy for making our Ann Wilson interview such a pleasure and success. You are truly one of those rock stars in the shadows.
Thanks also goes to Rusty Hooker, tour manager. Your help and kindness are much appreciated.
Lastly, our sincere thanks go to Ann Wilson for opening your heart and a part of your life up to us for an amazing time. I can honestly say that it’s not your voice that is the best part of you, but it is the soul within you that I will always be grateful to have connected with.
ANN WILSON & COMPANY BRING INTIMATE ROCK AND BLUES TO ORLANDO
Rock At Night’s review of The Ann Wilson Thing:
Ann Wilson’s passionate solo project, The Ann Wilson Thing, made its way to The Plaza Live Orlando this week in what was part of a Florida mini tour for fans to experience up close and intimately, the beauty and just stunning vocal talent that is Ann Wilson. A project that only begun in October of 2015, The Ann Wilson Thing was a power filled evening of rock and blues that made an ordinary Tuesday night feel like a Saturday evening in a 20,000 seat arena.
Why The Ann Wilson Thing? Because it’s not a Heart thing, lyrically speaking. The Ann Wilson Thing is an organically grown solo project of Wilson selected songs, without the restraints and confines of corporate influences, held in select cities; whose end product is an intimate concert gathering with one of rock’s most iconic voices. This is all Ann, which she made perfectly clear to fans, who responded with a resounding cheer of approval.
Wilson’s stage presence has never been pre-choreographed for entertainment, but driven by her passion of soul, which makes this solo project all the more special because the venues for The Ann Wilson Thing are smaller and the bridge from stage to fans is much shorter.
Wilson sang an impressive catalog of cover songs and honored the original musicians who performed them by adding her own signature vocals to the lyrics, while including TAWT original material as well. The band itself was amazing to say the least, providing its own masterful accompaniment that made an incredible night more incredible. Well done.
Does it have to be a Heart thing to be good? Hell no.
The Plaza Live Orlando Setlist:
For What It’s Worth
I Put A Spell On You
Fool No More
Every Grain Of Sand
We Gotta Get Outta This Place
Don’t Give Up
I Want Someone Badly
River Deep, Mountain High
Ain’t No Way
The Danger Zone
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