The legendary Heart frontwoman talks with Rock & Roll Globe about her pair of new EPs
As frontwoman for Heart, Ann Wilson has been one of rock’s most celebrated singers since the 1970s.
Her status secure, she could’ve taken the last year and a half off during the COVID-19 pandemic – but that’s simply not her style. “It would be easy to sort of melt into the couch, I guess,” she says, “but I know it wouldn’t be long before I’d start to feel pretty weird about that. Like my life was getting away from me.”
Wilson’s work ethic resulted in a flurry of recent activity: in May, she put out The Daybreaks, an EP of songs she recorded with her pre-Heart band. She followed that up in June with a solo EP, Sawheat 8, which includes material she recorded last year. And now that the pandemic restrictions are easing, she’s hitting the road again, playing material from across her entire career at a string of U.S. shows.
Calling from her Florida home, Wilson says that the Daybreaks release came about because “We were mining for material to keep a steady I.V. drip going during the pandemic and during the time before we can go out and play again. I thought about The Daybreaks stuff, just to put out a rarity that was real interesting from before Heart.
“When I listen to that early stuff, I hear the influences that my mother had on me, musically,” Wilson continues. “She was always playing Patsy Cline and Judy Garland and Edie Gormé – the singers of her generation. So I had all that through osmosis.”
With The Daybreaks, Wilson began finding her own singing and songwriting niche, and learned how to perform as they played gigs at clubs and school dances around Seattle, her hometown. But it wasn’t long before she moved on to Heart, who were already well-established in the local scene. That move, she says, “was just all part of my evolution, musically. I was always pushing.”
It was the right move: with Heart, Wilson went on to stunning worldwide success with multi-platinum albums and hits such as “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “What About Love,” and “Alone,” among many more. In 2013, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wilson isn’t content to coast on that success, though. As she proves with Sawheat 8, she’s still working on growing as an artist. “I’m a songwriter, and so I’m always wanting to write. I’m always trying to push out the envelope a little bit and have new stuff coming,” she says.
Tracks for the EP were recorded in Seattle last fall, though Wilson admits that the pandemic made it tricker than usual to figure out logistics. In the end, she says, “We leased a tour bus and we put in place a real stringent COVID protocol on the bus. We drove out there, and we had a week of sessions all masked up.”
This time, Wilson decided to self-produce. “Usually, I work with a producer, so I’m more in collaboration, but this time it was all up to me, so that was really fun,” she says. “It’s always a leap of faith when you produce yourself because the buck stops with you. Like, if you screw it up, there’s no one to blame except yourself!” she adds with a laugh.
Wilson has embarked on a string of U.S. tour dates, where she’ll play songs from this new EP as well as drawing from her years with Heart. She says she doesn’t mind playing the hits because she works at letting them evolve. “A song like ‘Magic Man’ that I wrote when I was 22 [years old], to try and have that be interesting at my age and experience level now, it’s tricky because I wrote it back then with a schoolgirl sort of hyperbole,” she says, “so I just try and work it out just a little bit differently so it never becomes mechanical. I think for things to become mechanical is the worst.”
There are limits to how much Wilson will tinker with songs, though: “It’s a challenge to do the [older] songs in the same keys – but I’m really set on, as long as I can, doing everything in the same key, because when we arranged the keys for those early songs like “Crazy on You,” we did it for a reason. That’s the key that the song sounded good in. When you start making exceptions, you just allow yourself to get softer and softer and softer. I don’t want to do that.”
VIDEO: Heart “Magic Man” (Live 1976)
Audience enthusiasm – especially after such a long pandemic-induced break between shows – also helps keep Wilson motivated. “The first show after not having been onstage for like a year and a half, I felt pretty wobbly, but they were all good – I think that I pulled it off,” she says. “It was pretty surreal after all that time, but the audiences loved it. They were all positive. The audiences were really energized.”
As she balances honoring her past while continuing to evolve as an artist, Wilson feels content as she looks back on her career. “I would make the same decisions over again, given the same conditions,” she says. “I think it’s good, the way things have turned out.”