Heart’s Ann Wilson on Her New Song “Tender Heart” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Heart’s Ann Wilson on Her New Song “Tender Heart”

New Direction

Feb 09, 2021 Bookmark and Share

Ann Wilson, co-founder, along with her sister, Nancy, of the anthemic, Hall of Fame rock ‘n’ roll band, Heart, is one-of-a-kind. Her singular, sky-scraping voice has been mimicked by singers since she first began to sing. From Robert Plant to the garage band down the street, Wilson is a beacon of sonic booms for many. The artist, who recently released a new song, “Tender Heart,” is venturing down something of a new musical path these days. The track is stripped-down to its essentials. On it, Wilson is a minimalist. It’s the roots of the composition and nothing more. It’s also beautiful.

Wilson and her sister are also in the news lately. Sleater-Kinney front person Carrie Brownstein, also of Portlandia fame, is in the works with Amazon on a new biopic of Heart. Long overdue, the movie should reintroduce millions to the band’s chest-thumping songs, like “Baracuda” and “Magic Man.”

We caught up with Wilson to talk to her about the film, what it was like growing up in her musical household, how she enjoyed fame and much more.

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): How did music enter your world in a significant way as a young person?

Ann Wilson: Well, I come from a family where, for generations, people are just kind of hambones, you know? Whenever the family would get together, our parents would bring out the piano and ukuleles and stuff. I grew up as a child just hearing the family sing openly. So, it wasn’t much of a stretch to just carry that on in my life. My parents were always playing records in the house, so their musical tastes really influenced me.

What were their tastes?

Early on, it was like Judy Garland and Yma Sumac and Belafonte and then, as time went along, they got more into the folk scene with The Kingston Trio and the Limeliters and Peter, Paul and Mary and those types of folk acts. Still later, they got into Simon & Garfunkel and the Bridge Over Troubled Water era. They were all over that. They basically liked singer/songwriters.

What was it like growing up in this musical house, with your sister Nancy? I’ve spoken with her before and she mentioned you had a close relationship to your dad. I know he was in the Marine Corps and you lived in San Diego before moving to Seattle. But what comes to mind when you think of your home life early on?

Because our father was in the military, we moved, like, probably every 18 months or two years for most of my childhood. So, we were always the new kids in school. We were always packing up and moving on. So, as a result, the family became a real tight-knit unit. It was just like nobody had the luxury to hang around and bitch and moan and complain about stuff and whine—or make close friends. So, we kind of became our own closed universe. Then you throw in the music and it got to be a real strong culture dynamic.

When and why did the family move to Seattle?

Yeah, in 1961, our father was stationed in Seattle as the Marine Corps recruiter for the Northwest area. So, he had Washington, Idaho, and parts of Northern Oregon, I think. So, they had like an 18-month stay there—they were getting close to being really tired of moving around. So, they bought a house over in Bellevue. It was the era when all the young families were moving out to suburbia and buying starter houses and putting down roots. So, they bought a house over in Lake Hills. Then when that station was up, he was sent back down to Camp Pendleton for another 18 months. But my parents kept a hold of the house. The Vietnam War was going on and he realized he didn’t want to have any part of it. He retired in 1965-66 and they came back to Seattle permanently. So, as a kid Seattle was a perfect place to grow up because it was a small city but it still had lots of culture and lots of vibe to it, even on the eastside where I grew up. It was a great place to be in high school. But what it didn’t have for me was that it was pretty conservative, right? Especially over on the eastside. It was preppy and cheerleaders and jocks and everything back then. So, as soon as I could, I graduated from high school over there and I went to Cornish out of high school and I arrived on Capitol Hill to go to the art school. I knew that’s where I belonged because it was Bohemian and there were lots of artistic, creative types and wild people and I really fug that. So, as soon as I could, I moved over to Capitol Hill.

Capitol Hill in Seattle is a rather historic neighborhood in the city and it’s seen a great deal of change over the years. Did you spend a lot of time in that area—did you have a favorite restaurant or record shop?

Well, I lived on Capitol Hill for 37 years.

Oh, wow! Okay.

So, there probably wasn’t a restaurant that I didn’t go to! [Laughs]

Sure, sure!

Or record store or—it’s just like that was my ‘hood, you know? So, I watched all the changes. When I first moved there, it was pretty downtrodden and pretty dark and poverty-stricken on Capitol Hill. And over the years I watched it change and get real gentrified to what it is now.

After living in Seattle for a time, you decided to move to Canada. Was that to play with Heart, or what was the impetus to make that move next?

It was not to play in the band. It was anti- to play in the band. [Laughs] I had fallen in love with a man who had gone to Canada to evade the draft. He wasn’t able to get out of the draft any other way. Like, he wasn’t going to go in and lie, or anything. And he didn’t want to go over and kill people in a war that had nothing to with anything that he believed in. So, we fell in love and I quit the band I was in and I followed him up to Canada, where he was living up in Vancouver. That lasted for about six months until the band I was in started to follow me up and then we all ended up there and we formed Heart.

As the band progressed, you began to earn real fame. Was that odd, welcomed, both—how did you acclimate to the attention?

I loved the attention. I loved it. I strove for it. I loved to be in the spotlight. As a singer, that’s my axe, you know? So, you take the bad with the good. It’s just that the pros far outweigh the cons, in terms of getting to express yourself. You can actually support yourself. If you hit it right, you can make a living and you can do what it is that you love the most. You can design a really inspiring way of doing it, both for yourself and for other people. So, I did pretty well with it. You know, there are always critics and there are people who want to take you down, they want to shoot you down any way they can. So, you just kind of learn not to read the reviews after a while because they’re so subjective and they influence people intentionally, they get people talking even if they are subjective. So, just pass over that part of it and just do what you’re doing and keep your eyes on the ball.

Do you have a favorite memory form the height of Heart?

No, that’s impossible to say. I mean, Heart has had many different heights. Some of them creative, some of them successful in terms of commerciality, some of them not so much but super high in other ways. So, it’s impossible to pick out any one moment. I guess the early best moments would be when we realized that it was going big, you know? When you get your first platinum record, or something like that or when you are inducted into the rock Hall of Fame or when you get to play at the Kennedy Center, those kinds of things are super memorable.

There’s a new movie in the works about Heart. Are you looking forward to it, are you involved in it?

Well, yeah, I’m looking forward to it big time. It’s under development at Amazon, so I’m not really in on the ground floor of what’s going on with it at this moment. But it’s being written by Carrie Brownstein and I’m involved to the extent that I’ve sat with Carrie for many hours and she just interviewed me. We just talked and had discussions where she got a fix on who I am and who Nancy is. I’ve seen the original first draft of the script—there will be a few more drafts. But I saw the first one and I really liked it. But I don’t know who they’re casting or any of that stuff and I’ve been asked not to talk about it, too! So, that’s all I know, really, honestly.

You have a new song out called, “Tender Heart.” It’s really great but it also seems a different avenue than maybe what I associate with you. When I think of Ann Wilson, I think big and anthemic. But this song is really bluesy, low and gravely. Is this accurate, was this the intent?

Well, I agree with you. I think that’s a good description of what I was feeling when we were recording it. Basically, I thought, “How much can I take away? How bare can this be?” Because with this song, I didn’t want it to get lost in a big bunch of production. And I was thinking way back to vintage soul because it does have some of those real soul-gospel changes in it. So, I wanted to strip it down as much as possible.

Is that a new direction for you?

I guess so, yeah. Because there is a conception that always connects me to big bombastic singing because some of the biggest commercial successes have been that. Like the song “Alone” and “Barracuda” and all that kind of stuff, where “she just belts” and “she wails,” you know? But “Tender Heart” is pretty intimate.

What is your plan for the future when it comes to new music? Is there a new album formally in the works?

Well, right now, I don’t have plans for an actual album, per sé. But I’ve got all these songs that I’ve been writing during the quarantine. I just feel like dropping them one-by-one and then maybe after the year’s over and all of the songs have been dropped as singles, then maybe I’ll just, you know, stick them on a compellation and put them out. I don’t know yet!

What do you love most about music?

I think that it’s a language—you can have direct contact with the feeling of the language of music. There is nothing except you and it and you can just dive into it like a warm bath, you know? And just be alone with it. Or you can be with a bunch of other people and dig it and just feel the whole tribal nature of it. But I like the trans-like nature of it and how personal it is. You know, anything that makes me have goose bumps and makes my hair stand on end, I’m all for that!



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