Ann Wilson says ‘retirement is nowhere in my understanding’
Lockdown finally gave Ann Wilson something she often doesn’t have much of: time to write.
She brainstormed ideas back home in Florida, demonstrating them in her iPhone. Once Wilson had collected a handful, she began to wonder where she would like to take her freshly written material. The answer seemed obvious: Wilson had always wanted to work in the revered halls of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama.
The result was 11 tracks that would appear on Wilson’s third solo album, fierce happiness. Guests in this mix of originals and covers include Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes and Eagles touring member Vince Gill. Wilson offers his version of Queen’s “Love of My Life”, Jeff Buckley’s “Forget Her” and Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs”, as well as his own newly written songs like “Greed” and “Black Wing”. The colorful album cover, a piece titled “Parrot on Ice”, was provided by legendary Yes collaborator Roger Dean.
Several members of Wilson’s current band, the Amazing Dawgs, perform on fierce happiness – including guitarist Tom Bukovac, bassist Tony Lucido and drummer Sean T Lane. She’s been touring with them for a while, and they have a lot to do with Wilson’s motivation in the studio. “They challenge me,” she says.
Wilson recently joined UCR from her home in Florida to discuss the new album, how the role of women in rock has changed over her career, and her favorite song Heart to play live.
Has your approach to songwriting changed over the years? Not just in how you handle it physically, but also emotionally?
Yes, I think the main difference is that in the past there have been times when Heart was under contract – and there were a number of songs that had to be produced within a certain timeframe to meet the contractual agreements. And so some of the songs that we just have, “Oh, we gotta hurry up and do this. We need four more.” You know? But this time, I just started writing down the ideas that were buzzing in my soul, so there was no expectation of them. I was just writing as a freelance artist.
Was there a particular song on this album that you preferred to record?
I think “The Bridge of Sighs” would have been my favorite. And it’s not one of the ones that I wrote, but as a singer, it was really just – it was so much fun. It was so satisfying.
Listen to Ann Wilson’s “Greed”
Your voice is in absolutely remarkable shape. Is there a secret to this?
For me, singing is not so much about vocal mechanism as it is about opening up the soul. And so if I can keep my throat in good enough shape and open my soul, then I can do my job. I can go in there and let him out. But I do do a few things, like I take a lot of arnica lozenges after a show. It helps with bruising and swelling. And I drink a lot of water and try to sleep.
How would you describe the band you are currently working with?
I would describe the Amazing Dawgs as fire and energy – and also delicacy. They are very sophisticated. They can play big, open rock like “Greed” and they can turn around and just be soft and subtle, like on “Love of My Life.” They can do anything. They are very smart guys and they operate at a very high musical level.
If someone had asked you all those years ago that you would continue to record music, release albums and tour, would you have believed them?
No. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t have believed them. In the very beginning, when I was 24 or 23 or something like that, I never thought I would live to be 30 – just because that’s what young people do. You know, you see people in their 50s, 60s, and 60s and you’re like, “Oh, well, you know, I hope I die before I get old.” [Laughs.] But it turned out that all the different eras, one being dragged into the next, were really educational and fulfilling. So I’m glad I hung around for it. I am really happy.
So it looks like you don’t have any plans for your retirement anytime soon? You are always fully invested.
Yeah, I mean, the idea of retirement is nowhere in my understanding. I don’t know what I would do, because I’ve been making music since I was, like, 14. So it’s a calling with me more than a job that you retire from and then move to Margaritaville. I’m not made like that. [Laughs.]
There are many women in the rock world who have looked up to you over the years, and still look up to you today. Do you have any advice for these women?
The first thing I would say is this: don’t get smothered by someone else’s ideas of who you should be, what you should look like, what you should look like. Above all, I am wary of the hyper-sexualization that many young women tend to turn to when starting out in their careers. I’m just wary of that because it’s so transient, and if you don’t have anything else planned after that, then you’re just going to be toast. [Laughs.] You must be good. You must have something really real to offer. The misogyny in the culture is so systemic that it can be really hard to notice when it’s happening, but a lot of this image of women goes a long way – you know, way beyond the entertainment industry. It’s just in the culture.
You have a unique perspective on this as you have witnessed the evolution of the industry over the years.
I can see it changing in the number of women who do [music] now. I mean, when I started, there were very, very few. And for example, back when it was radio, there was kind of an unspoken rule that they would only play one female artist per hour – and you had to be either a folksinger or a disco diva. If you were anything else, they just didn’t know where to put you, you know? So, yes, it has changed a lot since then. Now, you could go to a hair salon or something where they play something like Pandora and you can just hear, like, all the women for two hours.
Watch Ann Wilson Perform Jeff Buckley’s “Forget Her”
I’m curious what you’re listening to these days. Are there new artists or maybe older artists that you revisit?
I tend to take new music by song because it’s hard for me to stay interested in pop music. I love Lzzy Hale. I think she does a great job. And Billie Eilish, I think, does a really cool job. His message is so right. But on the other hand, having said that, I love Lucinda Williams, because she’s so raw and real. She was not tied to any pretext. I mean, she is who she is, and she’s a great poet – and I like that about her.
Looking ahead, the 50th anniversary of Heart’s formation will take place next year. What can you tell us about your plans for this?
I have lots of ideas. Nothing is locked yet. Nancy [Wilson] and I need to have a serious conversation about Heart being a central part of that. I know it will happen. I just feel like it’s going to be very cool.
Can you believe it? 50 years?
No, I can’t believe it. [Laughs.] I can’t, but it feels like a whole other life. That first line-up and making the first record and it all almost sounds like someone else, because I was so young and so inexperienced, so naive.
I have a few quick questions here, if you’re up for it. The first is: what is the album you couldn’t live without?
I think it would be the Beatles white album.
If you could work with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Mmm, I think it might be [French composer Claude] Debussy. I think he was a revolutionary in his time, and he opened the doors to music in the 20th century and beyond.
What’s your favorite Heart song to play live?
I think it would be “Crazy on You”. I think it’s a song that stands the test of time and is still relevant. It’s just a good song. [Laughs.]
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