By Jeb Wright
Photo by Norman Seeff
Ann Wilson has earned the right to be known as one of the best vocalists in rock and roll. It’s too easy to say ‘one of the best female voices of rock’ which she is, but, let’s face it, Ann is one the best vocalists, period. Her music is only one of the things that make her special, though. Ann Wilson is a fighter, a survivor, a solider of truth and, in her heart, a Child of the ‘60s who, along with her sister, Nancy, has spread the word of peace and love around the globe for nearly forty years.
The dynamic duo is still hard at work releasing a new Heart album titled Heart & Friends – Home for the Holidays. This is no Bing Crosby style TV special, however. No, this is Heart along with some famous friends—think Shawn Colvin, Sammy Hagar and more—reminding us that the reason of the season is to celebrate all the good things in the world, including each other… and the birth of Christ.
Read on as Ann discusses what Heart’s goal was when making this holiday album as well as if she thinks she would have to actually audition for Led Zeppelin if Robert Plant declines to do a reunion gig.
Jeb: The new album is a Christmas album titled Heart & Friends – Home for the Holidays. It would be easy to do “Jingle Bells” and all the standards, but you didn’t do that. You went deeper.
Ann: That was the whole point, not to make another collection of standards like “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and all of that stuff. We wanted to have something that had a tad more outreach in terms of, “What does this mean? Why do we celebrate this time of year?” I think the best example is the Bob Dylan song, “Ring Them Bells.”
We tried to make a project that will reach out and send some hope out to the world at this time of the year. It should be every day of the year if you’re going to be Dickensian about it, you know? We always seem to come together at this time of the year and go, “Oh, we love the world.” Hopefully this album will be a little more than just “Jingle Bells.” That is just a little boring. How many versions of “White Christmas” can you hear? It tends to lean towards being a commercial festival at this time so we wanted to something a little more thoughtful.
Jeb: I have to compliment you- and you hear this all the time- but your performance, vocally, is just mind blowing. Do you get the same goose bumps that your listeners do?
Ann: Thank you. I don’t know if ‘goose bumps’ is the word, but there are moments when it is really clicking, where it’s like the analogy of the singer and the voice being like a reed, a piece of bamboo with the wind blowing through it, and it is divine. When that happens, when I feel that I can really, really let my soul sing, then that is pure light and, for me, it doesn’t get any better than that. It doesn’t happen all the time. I am not saying I am some kind of divine singer/person, but at the times, when it does, it is just complete nirvana for me.
Jeb: How important was it to find the proper flow for this performance, because this is not the same thing as a rock concert…
Ann: That’s right. We don’t want to numb anyone out. We don’t go out there and go, “Come on! I want to see some fucking hands in the air.” We just don’t do that because it is so forced. If people feel that we’re turning them on, then they are going to respond; that’s what we are going for. You have to be gentle, as people need tender loving care.
Jeb: At the same time, you do an emotional song and then you bring out Sammy Hagar. You get to run the gamut of emotion.
Ann: That was the swing in emotion. He’s kind of goofy. He is awesome. The show has some dimension to it.
Jeb: How did Sam come to be a guest?
Ann: He is a good friend of Nancy and her husband. In fact, they were married in his restaurant. He was nice enough to lend them his space for that event. They are really tight, and so when we decided to invite people, that was one of Nancy’s first choices.
Jeb: It had to be fun.
Ann: He is definitely all about fun.
Jeb: You also have Pat Monahan from Train make an appearance. That is a solid band. Even though Train had a lot of popularity, I don’t think anyone really gets how good Pat is as a vocalist.
Ann: I know. Sometimes it takes a singer going outside their comfort zone and into another realm for people to understand that. He just opened up and let it out, and it was amazing.
What a nice guy…of course we were just about to go to the Super Bowl when this concert was recorded in Seattle, so he had to shout out “Seahawks.” Seattle was completely infected, sick with Seahawk Fever. If you are from there, and you were not into that, then you’re from another planet. That was funny.
Jeb: The show was filmed for the DVD and the venue is just gorgeous.
Ann: It really is. They usually have symphonies and all kinds of events there. It is super acoustically perfect. It is completely made of wood inside from the same tree. They found this gigantic old oak tree and chopped it down—oh hey, wait a minute, aww. They used it to create the inside of this hall.
I’ve played there a few times doing different things over the years. It is a little trickier to put a rock band in there because the place has a different resonance. It is so small and it is pretty elegant. It was perfect for the set we had going.
Jeb: You like Christmas music. You did a Lovemongers’ Christmas several years ago.
Ann: Yeah we did. A Lovemongers’ Christmas has all different songs on it and different people on it. That album was done in the ‘90s. There were a few covers but there were a lot of original songs on that. They were new Christmas songs. It was way different than this.
Jeb: For this album did you know of all of these songs, or did you go seek out these songs?
Ann: When we made our wish list for the friends’ part, we asked them to come armed with a few of their favorites. Shawn Colvin came with “Rockin’”and “Love Comes Down at Christmas,” and everyone came with different things. There are some really beautiful songs that are not often played. They don’t get on the XFM Christmas station like the Harry Nilsson song “Remember Christmas.”
Jeb: I have always appreciated that you are a fan of music as well as an artist. I get the vibe that you love music as much as a guy like me does.
Ann: Well definitely, yeah, I am a total music fan. Whenever I find somebody new, I get into them totally. I also will find someone that I have not listened to in a long time and then just get totally into them. Right now I am doing that with Chris Whitley. I am all strung-out on that stuff. I go and get all 17 albums or whatever and I get totally into it.
Just last night I was listening to Chris Whitley’s version of “Chrystal Ship” that came out on an album called Perfect Day in 2000 or something. It is an old album, but this version is so insane and completely crazy and cool. So then I had to start listening to “Poison Girl” and all of the different records. I really do love music a lot. Someone just turned me onto Muse, which I don’t know how I wasn’t already turned on to them, as they are so huge. I was just blown away. I was like, “What? This exists in the world? This is completely awesome.”
Jeb: Are you comfortable that there is a generation that did that with you? There is a 15-year-old kid somewhere, right now, discovering this band called Heart.
Ann: That is kind of a mind-blower. You know, that would be like serious looking for root-age.
Jeb: I did that when I was kid.
Ann: Yeah, me too.
Jeb: The rock songs on here are great. You throw some Heart songs in, but you also took on the ultimate Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway to Heaven.” I remember when you performed that tune at the Kennedy Center.
Ann: That was one of the most unforgettable nights of my life–doing “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors. Man, it was amazing. Zeppelin was there as was the President and Michelle Obama. Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, David Letterman…it just doesn’t stop who was there that night. It was really an amazing experience; a life changer.
Jeb: That had to be a moment that when you were done singing, it was so surreal…
Ann: When we were done, we walked backstage and there was a feeling of ‘awe’. We were like, “What just happened?” We weren’t nervous when we were doing it, but afterwards our nervous system came back to life and it all kicked-in.
Jeb: Hypothetically, if Plant said, “no” to a reunion and the band went on without him, would you audition for the gig?
Ann: Well, would I have to audition?
Jeb: I don’t think you would.
Ann: I don’t know. Hypothetically, if they ever needed a lead singer and Heart was not active at the moment then, sure, I would. I would go and play with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones any day of the week.
Jeb: Heart could open!
Ann: [laughter] Yes!
Jeb: They say you can never go home but you did, and you did this Christmas show. Growing up as kids, was Christmas special to you all?
Ann: We really did this more, as I said before, as an outreach thing with a message…a bigger message. We wanted to do something that was bigger than “Let’s open presents by the fire like our family used to do.” We are looking a little bit farther than that. We are looking to send a message to the world. “Okay, let’s look at some things and let’s take stock. We are in some pretty heavy shit right now. The only way we are going to survive is to love each other---that’s the only way. We need to find a way to give each other the most primal and precious gift that a human can give another one, and that is love. That is what we try to do, and that is what we really wanted to do with this.
Jeb: Do you feel you succeeded?
Ann: Yeah, I think so, especially with a song like “Ring Them Bells.” I keep using that song as an example because that is the song that is most direct with that prayer. Yeah, I think we did.
Jeb: Heart is rock band, and you were tough girls, and the sound was tough and loud. But I think you’ve always been closet hippies…
Ann: Oh, definitely, yeah. I am a total hippie. There were a couple of things that the hippies had right, and that love and peace thing was one of them. They may not have known how to make it happen, but the dream was completely on-point, you know. It was the right one. Probably the ‘60s were already too late.
Jeb: Last one: What is next? Are you going to take some time off?
Ann: [laugher] surely you jest? Down time? No, we have the Christmas season off, and then in the New Year we are going to New Zealand and we have a year of touring ahead of us. Nancy and I have begun work on a new EP of all new songs that we’re writing. There is also a documentary in the works. There is a lot of stuff coming up.
Jeb: I do wish you a Merry Christmas and you have a wonder holiday season!
Ann: Okay then, and the same to you. I hope your holidays are fabulous.
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