This weekend, Ann Wilson – the delicately nuanced, deeply powerful and powerhouse loud lead Heart band vocalist – is debuting her new solo album of cover tunes, “Immortal,” at Camden’s BB&T Pavilion on Aug. 4. Next weekend, Nancy Wilson – Heart’s brazen guitarist and brashly rocking composer – will show off her solo chops, and bring her R&B-tinged new band Roadhouse Royale, with its new material to Parx Casino on Aug. 12.
Since 2016, the sisters (forever) and Heart band co-founders (since 1973) have supposedly battled over behind-the-scenes family squabbles, with each of them taking a solo break that’s publically threatened the firmament of their now-45-year-old legacy. Words such as “break-up” got tossed out like used guitar picks after 2017’s Rolling Stone feature made the end of the Heart band an inevitability.
But, we’ve come to a new conclusion, a happy one you’re hearing here first, in separate interviews with each Wilson sister. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “the reports of Heart’s death are greatly exaggerated.”
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Ann, Nancy Wilson talk possible Heart band reunion
“I’ve been reaching out as there are enticing plans on the table for a big tour in 2019,” says Nancy of the hopeful possibilities of a live reunion. “I’d like to figure out what would be exciting and different for both of us going forward.”
“There’s an over-inflated urban myth that Nancy and I are in some sort of big feud,” says Ann. “We worked out our cranky issues a couple of years ago, and have just been enjoying the freedom of time off and doing our solo things.”
For Nancy, her current solo road is driven by Roadcase Royale and its funk-rocking co-stars Liv Warfield (of Prince’s New Power Generation fame) her guitarist Ryan Waters and three members of Heart: bassist Dan Rothchild, drummer Ben Smith and keyboardist Chris Joyner.
“I was watching television, Jimmy Fallon’s show, around the same time Heart was looking for an opener for its Hollywood Bowl show in 2016, and I saw Liv fronting her band, Blackbird,” says Nancy. “She had big soul energy, and intention.”
When Blackbird opened for Heart in Hollywood, Warfield told Nancy of her desires. “She wanted to rock harder. I’d written songs with R&B influence. We had pow wows, and with Ann doing her thing, and off on her own trajectory, I figured me and my three Heart guys and Liv and her Blackbird guy should get together.”
Like her new band, the music – new songs such as “The Dragon,” “Get Loud,” “Not Giving Up” – of Roadcase Royale came together quickly. “We’re like the six Muskateers,” says Nancy. “The only thing that took any deliberation was our name.”
Looking for a foil or a collaborator as symbiotic as her sister, Ann, was a high bar to achieve for Nancy. “That’s a good way of putting it,” she says. “When you create with anybody, you must respect each other’s positions and not be afraid to tell someone the truth – tell someone you want something more sideways, make it more unusual. You can’t have too much ego wrapped up in your own idea, or try to be right. It’s like a good marriage: there’s balance.”
Ann couldn’t agree more. On her new solo album, “Immortal,” not only does Heart’s guitarist Craig Bartock play, longtime Heart producer Mike Flicker created an understated, elegant palette for Ann to soar. “Yes, that’s a high bar,” Ann says of Nancy. “You look for easy musical collusion where the two of you understand and get to where you’re going. The song between the two of you tells you what to do.”
In the case of “Immortal,” its songs are “an oral tradition to be passed along from those who are no longer here,” she says of tracks from Leonard Cohen, Amy Winehouse and such. In the case of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” Jack Bruce and Cream’s “Politician” and David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans,” Ann was looking for connection with the currency of socio-political thought.
“I’m always looking for a chance to mouth off, “ she says with a laugh, considering that Gore’s song speaks “not only to the #MeToo movement, but to anyone demanding respect, being the LGBTQ community or the black community.” As for Bowie, his lyrics are a look “at an extremely materialistic, youth-obsessed media-driven population and his writing was spare, never flowery and concise.” That’s what Ann wants to sing. “I don’t really give a damn whether I write the song or someone else did. If it is a cool blend of poetry and groove and melody – I love making that work.”
When it comes to the future of the Heart band and making that work, each Wilson sounded quietly optimistic.
“We’re not at each other’s throats - won’t wind up doing a Mick and Keith,” says Ann.“No matter what you do or say right, musically, for 40+ years, it’s one negative thing that people latch onto and embroider… She’s my sister. We have a band together, but, we’re both growing, and it will be exciting to see – when we do get back together –what we both learned, expanded and can bring into Heart.”
Nancy has been the busiest field offers related to Heart, a Broadway musical involving producer Rita Wilosn (not related, Tom Hanks’ wife) about women's empowerment and incorporating Heart songs.
“We’re singing Heart songs in the Roadcase Royale set, Liv does them so that you’re hair stand up – so different from Ann whose powerful voice we based Heart on,” says Nancy. “I’m looking to catch Ann’s ear soon – sit down in a room with just her, just us. We should figure out what songs we would do and not, what new and different show we would create. I’m anxious to see how this happens. The fans want this, which is the most important thing.”