An Interview with Ann Wilson of Heart

Image credit: Criss Cain/courtesy of Wilful Publicity

Acclaimed vocalist, and rock ‘n’ roll survivor, Ann Wilson, has been gracing stages and captivating adoring audiences for generations. The talented songstress’ soaring lyric-soprano range, and penchant for rock ladden, pop hooks have found Wilson an integral thread in rock’s proverbial tapestry.

Wilson’s origins within the zeitgeist date back to 1971, when the young singer joined burgeoning outfit, Heart. Within a few years, Ann, along with her sister, Nancy, found themselves a formidable duo amongst a mostly male-driven scene, urging Heart on, with a full head of steam through an incomparable run of classic records, Dreamboat Annie (1975), Magazine (1977), Little Queen (1977), Dog and Butterfly (1978), and Bébé le Strange (1980), all of which contain multitudes of radio staples, often penned by Ann.

While the sisters formed a fearsome partnership, at the parallax of it all was Ann, and as the 80s dawned, it was her ever-ascendant voice and satin-meets-velvet songsmith, which ably guided Heart to a phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes-like return to indisputable glory in the wake of two more mega-hit records, Heart (1985), and Bad Animals (1987).

The passage of time has done absolutely nothing to quell Ann Wilson’s intimidatingly brilliant vocal range, nor has it dulled her insatiable need, and innate ability to craft unique, insightful, and infectious rock music, which is ever apparent with Wilson’s latest solo effort, Fierce Bliss (2022).

Wilson, now flanked by her solo band, the Amazin’ Dawgs, a group who along with Wilson, is led by guitarist, Tom Bukovac. As the spring and summer concert season dawns, Wilson and her bandmates are dutifully prepared to hit stages across the globe, treating audiences to her unique brand of classic meets modern.

In listening to Wilson’s latest effort, one cannot help but reminisce, if not overtly bask in the glory of the singer’s 70s and 80s heyday, all the while being simultaneously overjoyed by the fact that this new record, Fierce Bliss, is an undisguised call to attention, that Ann Wilson, at the young age of seventy-one, is quiet truly, just getting started.

I recently sat down with the legendary vocalist for a chat regarding her newest music, her songwriting process, which era of Heart she relates to most, the possibility of new music by Heart, which of her songs mean the most to her, and a whole lot more.

Andrew:
Ann, thank you for carving out a portion of your day. Let’s dig right in. The title of your new record is Fierce Bliss. What are the origins there?

Ann:
Well, the title describes the experience of making the record. I sort of averaged the songs together to see if there was some kind of an emotional throughline. In the end, I thought it was the opposition between fierceness and bliss. There are some aggressive rockers like “Greed,” and “A Moment In Heaven,” and then there are some blues things, and some super tender ballads like “Fighten For Life,” and so it visits all different kinds of levels of emotion. We just sort of jumbled them altogether in one place, which is exactly what Heart has always done, and that’s what I always do too.

Andrew:
You mentioned “Greed,” and “A Moment In Heaven,” which both provide vivid imagery. Drill down into the songwriting process in regards to those two tracks.

Ann:
“Greed” was written by myself and my guitarist, Tom Bukovac. Tom is a brilliant conceptualizer, he can play just about anything he wants to play, he’s just a great player. I came up with the lyrics based on what’s going on in the world, the high level of materialism, and that our culture is, and seems to be getting more and more materialistic all the time. And then, “A Moment In Heaven” is my description of what it’s like to go through the meat grinder of the Hollywood Star Maker machine, which has a lot of planned obsolescence in the formula. You can be up there, and everything’s going right, and you get this moment of euphoria, and then, you’re out on the street again, back to sleeping in your old bed.

Andrew:
You’ve included an excellent rendition of the Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man.” What went into the choice to cover that track, and ultimately, choose it as one of the lead singles?

Ann:
Well, it was a song that Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I wanted to do together. I really wanted to make it into a great big mega-church production to get a dialogue going about the division in our country – the right, and the left – and of course, the right is inundated with evangelist right-wing Christianity. On the other side of it, I also just wanted to have fun with the song. We got this forty-person, gospel choir in there, and it was a thrill for me to get to sing with them. And then, of course, Kenny Wayne tore it up, so it was a natural song to come out as the single because it’s got so much power and energy, and it’s relevant.

Image courtesy of Wilful Publicity

Andrew:
From the outside looking in, it feels as if these songs are very personal in nature. Expand on that for us, if you can.

Ann:
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always written from a personal standpoint. Now, what happened with these songs is that they were all written during the 2020 and 2021 time periods when we were in a quarantine-lockdown situation. I was in the house for a year, just looking out the window not going anywhere. So, it got really quiet, and that allowed me to actually have the time, relaxation, and focus to daydream for once. So, a lot of these songs are things that I think I’ve been repressing for a long time. Once the noise and haste from all the touring stopped, and everything calmed down, they bubbled to the surface.

Andrew:
The instrumentation and the production on this record are very crisp. Who’s supporting you on this record?

Ann:
For the most part, this record was recorded by Chuck Ainlay at Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals, AL, and Soundstage, Nashville, TN. Two of the tracks, “Gladiator,” and “Angel’s Blues,” were recorded by Joe Paterno at Power Station, Waterford, CT, and “Black Wing” was recorded by Sean Walker at Uberbeatz, Lynnwood, WA. The bulk of the album was recorded by Chuck though, and he’s just got a great pair of ears. He got some really cool sounds and just made it sound big and warm, and made it so all the songs could live together on the record.

As for my band, it’s Tom Bukovac on guitar, Tony Lucido on bass, Sean T. Lane plays drums, and Gordon Mote and Tim Lauer share keyboard duties.

Andrew:
The ability to translate your solo work, as well as the catalog of Heart is imperative for your band. How did you go about choosing the musicians that you recorded with, and subsequently, will tour with?

Ann:
Well, this time, it was pretty simple, because I wanted to take my demos into Muscle Shoals Fame Studios, which was always a bucket list thing I wanted to do. So, I got in there, and a friend of mine named Vince Gill had recommended Tom Bukovac as musical director for the sessions. So, I went in and met Tom, and Tom and I gathered this group of people together, and as it turned out, we just hit it off so well, and it was easy. I felt as if we could relate to each other and connect, so we kept on going, and we became a band. Pretty soon after that, we started writing together, and then we had an album. And last year, we did about thirty shows together, and we’re going to go out there in another month and do a bunch more.

Image courtesy of Wilful Publicity

Andrew:
In listening to the record, what’s also very apparent is despite the miles and years on your voice, you’ve still maintained your incredible vocal range. How do you go about keeping your voice in such fantastic shape?

Ann:
Well, it’s just mostly par for the course things like getting sleep, drinking a lot of water, don’t do things that will damage your throat, like smoking and screaming unnecessarily, things like that. Also, before each show, I warm up for at least thirty-five minutes before I go on. I just get somebody else’s CD that I like, and I sing along with the whole thing. To me, that’s way more fun than just doing vocal exercises, and singing scales.

Andrew:
With Fierce Bliss, you seem to have captured the legacy of your music. To that end, Heart has two very distinct periods, the 70s classic rock era, and the 80s period, which features soaring, AOR-style production. When you look back, which one of those periods do you most relate to, and how do you apply that to your music currently?

Ann:
Oh, I relate to the 70s period for sure. I think that shows, especially on this new record. You know, every time I write, it’s going to sound like Heart, because I’m the person where all the points of Heart meet. No matter what I do, my music is going to sound like Heart to a degree. I think that’s a good thing though, and it almost doesn’t even matter which moniker you put on the project, because, really, it’s all about the music.

Andrew:
On the Heart side of things, the band hasn’t toured since before the pandemic began. You’ve recently mentioned that you’re very open to making another Heart record. Is there anything in the cards?

Ann:
It all depends on the songs. If I come up with a bunch of songs, or if Nancy [Wilson] does, that we both like, of course. I think it would be fun to record together again. I really do. Next year is the anniversary of fifty years since Heart first featured both me and Nancy in the band officially, and so there’s going to be a big event around that. We’re probably going to do try and do something fun. Maybe we will record, but it will all depend on the songs that we come up with.

Image credit: Criss Cain/courtesy of Wilful Publicity

Andrew:
To that end, when you write a song, with the knowledge that it might ultimately sound like Heart regardless, how do you signify what is a song for Heart, and what is a song for your solo work?

Anne:
I think it just depends on what we’re doing at the time. If I’m working with a solo band, I’ll go for that side. If something else happens with Nancy, then I would go for that side. I’m very open to it. I’m not interested in just trying to observe these lines of demarcation. I just really want to be musical and make music. I mean, time is marching on, we have to take advantage of it while we can, with as few obstacles as possible.

Andrew:
You mentioned you’re preparing for an upcoming tour. How do you put together a setlist?

Ann:
Well, what I like to do is I do about forty to fifty percent Heart tracks, then my solo songs, and then some covers that I can’t live without doing. So, it’s a good show for people who want to hear me do Heart, and it’s a good show for people that want to hear the other stuff. There’s something for everybody. I just try and design the set so that it takes people somewhere. I don’t just do like twenty rockers in a row, I go down into some beautiful ballads and I wander around into the acoustic area, but the set has got plenty of rock in it to be sure.

Andrew:
You’ve written a tremendous amount of music over the years, but which songs are nearest and dearest to your heart to this day, and will always be in your setlist?

Ann:
I think “Crazy on You” would be one for sure. There are a lot of deep cuts that are very dear to my heart like one called “Down On Me, which I think would be a really good blues song to put in a set. That one comes off the Bébé le Strange record, and I just love it. Those are just a couple that just really stand the test of time for me.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for you in all lanes, Ann?

Ann:
Well, I’m back to writing songs now with the band, which is called The Amazin’ Dawgs. We’re going on a tour of the West Coast and Mexico, then Canada, and then back down to the deep south again to do a run of shows. I’m also opening a boutique in the town where I live. There are all kinds of little projects going on, and big ones too. Stay tuned.

Image courtesy of Wilful Publicity

Interested in learning more about Ann Wilson’s new album, Fierce Bliss? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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