The Acoustic Storm Interviews
Storm Sessions: Heart
Heart formed in Seattle in the early 70's. In the late 90's, the Wilson sisters recorded some acoustic tunes and toured as the Lovemongers. In 2004, they returned as Heart with a well-received album "Jupiter's Darling."
The Acoustic Storm spoke with Ann Wilson by phone from her Seattle home on July 16, 2004.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Heart's latest album, "Jupiter's Darling," was the group's first studio release in 11 years. Had you been working on that for awhile?
ANN WILSON: It took us a couple of years to write the songs, because we wanted to challenge ourselves to raise the bar with our songwriting. So once we had the songs, it only took us about two months to make the record.
ACOUSTIC STORM: It's gotten some nice reviews. One of the acoustic-based songs is "I Need the Rain."
WILSON: Oh yeah, I like that one. I guess you'd have to be a real Northwesterner to write a song like that, but it's just got a really nice acoustic, picking feel to it, real nice melody and I think Nancy's voice sounds great on it. I like that song a lot.
ACOUSTIC STORM: You've been in rehearsals for a tour, I suppose?
WILSON: We're actually starting today, right after I finish here, we're going to start rehearsals and our first show is Thursday here in Seattle.
ACOUSTIC STORM: That's appropriate, since Seattle is where the band is from. What is it about your hometown that helps to define Heart?
WILSON: Seattle's always been a real music town, way before the so called "grunge" era, and before Heart even. Hendrix is from here and Ray Charles lived here for a long time. It's a seaport town and it has a lot of music going on all the time. It's just a really good environment for people to be creative. We have the long, wet winters and there's a lot of music that comes out of that (laughs). So it is an important place to us.
ACOUSTIC STORM: A lot of Heart songs were co-written by you and Nancy. What's the songwriting process like for Heart when Ann and Nancy Wilson are collaborating on a song?
WILSON: Well, she'll maybe have a musical idea for a groove. She works with a lot of unusual tunings. So maybe she'll have a tuning that she really wants to get into or maybe I will have words or a title. We'll just get together and just throw it all in a pot and start working with it like clay until we have a song. Once we have a song then we treat it like a song and start tuning it up.
ACOUSTIC STORM: How about the lyrics? Does someone come in with an idea?
WILSON: Yeah, someone will come in with the idea, in some cases all the way there, or we'll take the idea off of the way the groove feels. Sometimes somebody reaches out into their life and writes about that autobiographically or sometimes as in the song, you know, the oldest story in the world, you write what it's like to watch the news these days.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Inspiration can certainly come from what's going on in the world now, I'm sure.
WILSON: Absolutely. Take a show like Saturday Night Live. I think the writing on that
show is at it's best when the worse stuff is going on in the world, or it's an election year, or there's something going on in the world; that's where those writers go and get their stuff. We're no different. I mean, if things are all good and smooth and wonderful, we're not as apt to get a good song out of that, you know?
ACOUSTIC STORM: Not only what's going on in the world, but in your own personal life. Fortunately or sadly, depending how you look at it, when an artist is introspective and not especially happy, their creative muse seems to be sparked more.
WILSON: That's true.
ACOUSTIC STORM: So let's talk about the songs themselves, going back into the 30-year history of Heart. I'd like to ask about the creative inspiration behind some of those songs; for instance, "Barracuda."
WILSON: Oh, "Barracuda" was just a real angry song about Nancy and I realizing firsthand how sleazy the record business really was when we first got into it. We weren't treated with any credibility at all. We were out there working really hard and being treated like cheesecake items and that made us really angry. So that's where "Barracuda" came from.
ACOUSTIC STORM: On a more positive note, how about "Love Alive"? I noticed the re-released, expanded version of "Little Queen" includes a variation of that song called "Too Long A Time."
WILSON: Yes, that was the original musical idea. Then I thought we could get better words than that, so we just re-wrote the words to be about something that really happened. You're in a relationship and you feel it's becoming stagnant, but then you have a revelation about staying and making it work and that's what you do. That's what that that song is about.
ACOUSTIC STORM: The revelation that it might work.
WILSON: Yeah, and "Love Alive" works on lots of levels. It works on the relationship level and it works on the depression level, where you're just in dark night of the soul and you think 'that's it, I just can't stay around' and the revelation is 'yeah, I will stay around and I'll keep struggling.'
ACOUSTIC STORM: I'll keep struggling until something brighter on the horizon emerges.
ACOUSTIC STORM: How about "Dog and Butterfly"?
WILSON: Yeah, that one I was just looking out my window and saw my old sheepdog and she was trying to catch a butterfly and you know dogs can't catch them that easily, especially big old dogs like that. But it struck me as being like I was in my quest for writing the perfect song or having success in the rock business, or what anyone's thing is that they're trying to achieve and it keeps evading them. So once again, I took a simple thing and put it on a higher level.
ACOUSTIC STORM: That's a nice description. OK, since we're an acoustic show, we definitely have to talk about Lovemongers, the on-again/off-again project of the Wilson sisters. How did it come about? What made you decide 'let's try something under a different name' and do something more acoustic?
WILSON: Well you know, the 80's was a really successful time for Heart, but also very stressful. That was an artificial period for pop culture. I don't know of another time when such a low value was placed on naturalness. We were really stressed out because you know, that's really not us, and so we thought let's take a breather. Let's put Heart aside for a little while; not break it up, just let it breathe for a while. We put the Lovemongers together as a way of reconvening our original selves when we were kids. Just sing harmonies, it was all unplugged. I used to play bass, but other than that it was all unplugged. We just went out and played benefits and didn't make any money, didn't make any bucks at all. We just went out and played our favorite causes, went on tour, broke even or lost money (laughs). It wasn't a career thing at all…it was a thing for fun and rejuvenation. And from that came the idea of bringing Heart back, because we really missed the rock. Meanwhile, Nancy scored some movies with her husband Cameron (Crowe), I did some solo stuff, did some theatre stuff, we had kids and we thought, yeah let's rock again let's bring Heart back, it's time. That was 2001 and then we toured last summer and we're touring this summer with Heart with a new record.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Staying on the acoustic theme, can you tell me what is it about the acoustic texture that draws you to weaving acoustic guitar into Heart songs? What is it you love about acoustic?
WILSON: Oh that you can sit around the living room and do it. It's very low tech, you don't have to haul around a bunch of gear necessarily, although they make these acoustic amps, they're so small and cool. And it's really a chance to sing, to sing in harmony and it's much more human. Get together, sort of a hootenanny-type feeling. That's what I love about it.
ACOUSTIC STORM: And how about the acoustic guitar. Obviously you love electric, but there's something about acoustic guitar.
WILSON: Well, of course that's what Nancy and I learned on. That's our main core instrument, even when Heart's rocking, there's always an acoustic at the center of it and I think acoustic guitars are almost holy myself. They're just the coolest instrument in the world. You can do so much with them, they have so much character, the way they're made. They're beautiful to look at, to hold in your hand and they have great voices.
-Transcribed by Nancy Ianuzzi