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An interview with Nancy Wilson of Heart
by Gregg Shapiro
Almost 35 years after the release of their classic debut album Dreamboat Annie, the Wilson sisters (Ann and Nancy) of Heart show no signs of slowing down. Their new album, Red Velvet Car (Legacy), follows not only their previous studio recording, 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling, but also Ann’s first-ever solo release, 2007’s Hope & Glory (on which she performed duets with Rufus Wainwright and Sir Elton John, among others). The good news is that the timeless Red Velvet Car has everything Heart fans have come to expect from the band, including razor-sharp rockers and mellow acoustic tracks. I spoke with Nancy shortly before the release of the disc.
Gregg Shapiro: Red Velvet Car is the first new Heart album since Jupiter’s Darling. How would you say that your songwriting with sister Ann has evolved in the years between discs?
Nancy Wilson: This time out, we’d done a whole lot of touring in between, which has galvanized our singing and playing live together on live stages. That always sharpens your focus as a writer when you have the [thrill of hearing your] songs on a live stage. You want to pull that into the aspect of writing new songs. There’s stuff about playing live that’s melded into the writing, as well as the fact that we romanced our producer Ben Mink for a couple of years before we could get into a studio with him. We also co-wrote some stuff with him for Red Velvet Car, as well as Craig Bartok, with whom we wrote everything for Jupiter’s Darling. Instead of self-producing this album, having [Ben Mink’s production style, as well as his songwriting and playing style] involved with our songwriting style, as well as Ben’s songwriting and playing style, was exactly what we were trying to get to. And it really worked. [Laughs] Our instincts were spot-on, and we achieved what we wanted to get.
It’s great when that happens.
It doesn’t always happen, but in this case, I’m just really excited about this one. It’s always fun to have new material out there. In the case of Red Velvet Car, it’s sort of a topper—one of those things that comes along that you feel represents the arc of your career in the way that you want it to.
The Red Velvet Car disc has a nice balance of acoustic and electric tunes. Do you have a preference for one over the other?
No. That’s the thing about Heart. We’ve always been a dualistic dichotomy of a band. [Laughs] We rock really hard, and half [of our fans] would say, “Why can’t you just rock and get rid of all of those sappy ballads?” And the other half would say, “Why do you have to do those rock songs?
Why can’t you stick with your strengths—that beautiful, romantic side?” [Laughs] We just wouldn’t be Heart without both.
I love the pumping beat of “Wheels.” Are there any plans for a club mix for you
r gay fans?
“Wheels” would be ridiculously fun to remix. [Laughs] I think it just goes witho
ut saying that that is going to happen because it’s one of those songs. That bass-line is something that I had sitting around in my back pocket, and it finally found a perfect home. It’s so dance!
It reminds me a little bit of the Heart tune “Straight On.”
Yeah! Sort of barrelhouse. A little bit of Elton John in there, too.
Speaking of gay fans, I was thinking about the song “Little Queen,” and the song “Queen City” had me wondering if you were aware of your following in the gay community?
We’ve always had a gay following that we’re really close with, [primarily] because Ann’s a diva. [Laughs] Just starting out with that fact, it’s automatic that we have gay boy and gay girl fans. There’s the diva thing that a lot of hetero males have a hard time getting behind, it’s so powerful. I think our gay audience is one of our biggest audiences.
It’s been said that being impersonated by a drag queen is one of the highest forms of flattery. Have you come across any drag queens doing Heart during your career?
I haven’t seen it myself, but I know they’re there. I would imagine that of all of the many singers to imitate, [Ann] would be one of the hardest. Even though there’s a lot of range represented in singers like Streisand and other high-range singers, [with Ann] there’s more of a rock thing that’s harder to achieve, I think. [Laughs] I’d love to see somebody nail the Ann Wilson thing.
Heart is performing on the newly revived Lilith Fair tour this summer. What does that mean to you?
I think it’s going to be amazing. We’ve never done Lilith Fair. I’m really curious to see how the human democracy is going to balance out with so many women doing most of the work. I don’t know how many guys are going to be in the bands that are playing. It’s going to be totally cool to check it out. And I’m just so proud that we could be an influence for so many women just to get out there and be ready to rock.
Heart is performing on August 22 in Beaumont at Ford Arena.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.