(Formerly) Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Ann Wilson of Heart

The rock and roll legend preps for a homecoming solo show at the Moore.

By Seth Sommerfeld March 7, 2017

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The ever colorful Ann Wilson.

It may sound like an absurd thing to say about a platinum-selling band that's been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we still don't collectively appreciate Heart enough. The Seattle group led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson managed to break big in the machismo world of hard rock and heavy metal in the 1970s. Heck, women in rock music still often struggle to not be viewed as a fringe novelty in 2017. The degree of difficulty to be taken seriously back in Heart's heyday was almost incalculable—camel going through the eye of a needle stuff. But with albums like Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen with singles like "Barracuda" and "Crazy On You," Heart simply rocked too hard to be ignored or marginalized.

While Heart continues to tour and put out new music (the group released its sixteenth studio album Beautiful Broken in 2016), Ann Wilson is taking some time for herself to start 2017 by embarking on a more intimate solo tour. The tour kicks off with a homecoming date at the Moore Theatre on Wednesday, March 8.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Wilson about the differences when touring solo, getting into new genres of music, and a deep-seated distaste for White River Amphitheater.

How does a solo tour like this one differ from a big Heart tour like the one you did with Cheap Trick and Joan Jett last year? Is there a different connection when you know it’s all your own audience?

Yeah, it’s a different connection. This is a theater tour, so the audiences will be between 1,000 and 2,500 people—venues like the Paramount. So that automatically means you have a much more intimate connection with people. It’s not going to be as gamey as it is outside in those big sheds.

Like, I love Seattle—I come from there—but White River [Amphitheatre] has never been my favorite place to play, because it’s so out there. It doesn’t really have any vibe to it. And there are so many cool places to play in Seattle.

I totally agree about White River. Just getting out there is such a nightmare.

Oh yeah, it’s a drag. Every time I see it on a hard itinerary, I just go, “Ahhhh shit.”

So do you prepare differently for a tour like this one than a Heart tour?

It’s a much more fierce animal in terms of the production than Heart is. Heart has got a whole lot of people attached to it, so this is much more paired down and wicked.

It’s really pretty ma and pa. It’s going to be really clean and modern—nothing extra. The only thing on stage other than the band is going to be a video wall. I’m working really hard on the content for the video wall because that’s gonna be a huge part of the show. There will be different things for different songs. Sometimes it’s more mood, sometimes it’s an actual statement piece. I don’t want to give it all away.

Do you still get the same rush from performing live?

Well, it’s different now because we’ve been on stage in pretty much every situation you can think of. You still get a rush, but it’s more when we do a song really well and I feel that we’re really connecting with people.

How did growing up in Seattle influence your musical approach?

Seattle influenced me to not think of music as a ticket to some kind of commercial success. I think Seattle musicians have always had a lot of integrity, and it doesn’t matter what kind of music they play. I think they’ve always been pretty honest and uncommercial.

It’s hard because so many people in interviews who aren’t from Seattle, they ask me about the grunge era in Seattle. It’s as if they’ve taken it and repackaged it into something with a name that can be hocked.

Seattle has really got a lot of vibe. You know Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi walking around in Volunteer Park and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know… Seattle’s just a different place. It’s an honest place for sure.

Does your artistic approach change at all when you know you’ve already secured a lauded musical legacy? Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees needn’t scrap for respectability or anything.

Nothing against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t mean that you can hang up your laurels and quit. I mean if you are or are not in the Rock Hall, you still have to answer to your artistic calling. And I think the experience of being inducted into the Rock Hall is so surreal: you’re queen for a day, and then the next night you go back to work. [Laughs]

Since you never seem to hold back when belting out tunes, what do you do to keep your voice healthy?

It seems to change every year. Getting older, I really have to be more careful about it just like any other bone or muscle or joint. But I think the best thing to remember is it’s just a part of your body so you treat it with respect: you love it, you don’t do things to it that are gonna be obviously counterproductive like smoke, drink, do drugs, scream at the top of your lungs at a sports game, or something. [Laughs] Those things are all bad for singers.

What music excites you these days?

I’ve been really into Muse. I think those guys are completely on it. They’re not necessarily a new band, but they’re definitely at the top of their form.

I have started to like other types of music outside of rock. I’ve been going back and listening to other people like Billy Holiday, Etta James, and Ella Fitzgerald. I never really got into Janis [Joplin] when I was younger, but now maybe I’m mature enough to understand what she was doing. Things like jazz and Robert Fripp and Brian Eno are now starting to really make sense to me. Even some groups like Tool, which I would really have bounced away from when I was younger, I guess I don’t feel threatened by now.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m excited to play at the Moore, one of the coolest rock palaces there is in that city. A nice intimate place. I’m a little nervous because I’m not used to going into a place like that in my hometown anymore.

I’m just really thrilled that the first show of our whole tour is in Seattle, and it’s not at fucking White River. [Laughs]

Ann Wilson of Heart
Mar 8, Moore Theatre, $47–$67

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