Legendary HEART Singer ANN WILSON Talks New Album “Fierce Bliss” and Stories From Her Glorious Career: “I Have to Be in My Best Musical Behavior to Keep Up with the Guys in My Band, They Just Kick Ass”

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Ann Wilson’s voice has been reverberating in the rock world for nearly 50 years, topping the charts for multiple decades with the legendary band Heart. With 8 platinum recordings and over 35 million albums sold, the Wilson sisters brought Heart into homes around the globe and became pioneers for front-woman-led rock bands. After finishing their last Heart tour before the pandemic, Ann Wilson is ready to emerge once again with a new band, a new album and renewed passion. “I feel like I just got out of retirement from that whole quarantine lockdown thing and am coming back into the world.”

The new album is called “Fierce Bliss” and features a potent mixture of inspired new original material and choice covers brought to life by Wilson’s voice. In this new Sonic Perspectives interview, correspondent Scott Medina delves into the new album and the musicians who have helped make it a reality. First and foremost, we discuss Ann Wilson’s inspirations, her stories and her voice. Read all about it below!

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INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome everyone, this is Scott Medina with Sonic Perspectives. We’re thrilled to be speaking with Ann Wilson today. Of course, you know her from Heart but she is also releasing a new excellent solo album called “Fierce Bliss”. Today happens to be International Women’s Day as we are talking with her. Ann, welcome, it’s such a pleasure to talk with you today.

Well, thank you! I’m glad that we women get a day [laughing].

[laughs]Yeah, well you certainly have had more than a day! You’ve had quite an illustrious career of decades upon decades…

[chuckling]Yeah…

…And I was excited to get your new solo album “”Fierce Bliss”, which I really want to focus on talking about with you because it’s an amazing album. I’m really enjoying this one.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m real happy with it.

You sound in amazing form. I guess the first thing I have to do is ask what your secret is for your voice because to our ear it sounds like the decades haven’t had any effect. So, I’m wondering if that’s your experience as well?

Yeah, mostly. I think I have to warm up now more than I used to. But basically it’s in good shape and I can still do what I wanna do. I just have to be health cautious. I think we all do these days, but when I’m out there on tour, I have to be super health conscious and not shake anybody’s hand or catch any kind of anything, as a singer.

Let’s look at this new solo album. For many artists who have released a whole career of original material, sometimes they’ll take a pause and do an album of covers, like Annie Lennox did with Medusa, or various people, but on “Fierce Bliss”, you feature both. You’ve got these great originals and some really choice covers. Why did you take that sort of a mixed approach for this one?

Well, I wanted to get all my new songs out there that I wrote during the quarantine time. And there were a couple of more slots to fill for the record. So I chose songs that I just loved that I wanted to get inside of and develop on my own. Like “Forget Her” by Jeff Buckley and “Missionary Man” and “Bridge of Sighs”, great songs.

What do you look for when you’re determining if a song is worthy of being covered by you, either for a live performance or especially for a studio recording?

Oh, I just look for a song that just makes me feel great. It’s not even a cognitive thing, it’s just a feel thing. And some songs…they speak to me so loudly that I don’t know what to do except sing them, you know?

The Jeff Buckley song you just mentioned, “Forget Her “, that’s a fairly obscure song from him. How did you choose to pick that one?

Well, just listening to the “Grace” album around here at home, that song just jumped off to me, jumped off the record as being something that tells a great story and has great characters in it. And it really goes somewhere, I really like that song.

I hadn’t heard it until the extended version of “Grace” came out, what a brilliant album that is.

Oh, no kidding!

And then you’ve got “Bridge of Sighs”, which is just such a classic blues song. You brought in Kenny Wayne Shepherd to play on that one, too.

Kenny was so pumped to play that. And you can tell when you listen to what he did on both “Bridge of Sighs” and “Missionary Man”, that he was just way into it. He’s such a great player and a great person, you know,. He really inhabits those songs.

In addition to the amazing guitar work on a song like “Bridge of Sighs”, it really gives you a lot of room to make it your own vocally.

Totally. There’s so much great space in that song. And that’s a blues song for the ages. I mean, that’s about standing on the edge of existential abyss. That’s not just about being drunk or being addicted or losing your boyfriend, you know, it’s definitely a super black blues song. I love it!

Photo courtesy of Ann Wilson

The originals on “Fierce Bliss” are especially strong, too. “Black Wing” is one of my favorites. And I’m really glad that you got “Fighten For Life” on that one, too. That’s a great track.

Yeah, finally I got to develop it. Years ago I put out a demo of that but I always wanted to go ahead and develop it and make it big, you know, and I think it came out great.

Sounds like you’re really inspired by this new band you’ve got. Tell us a little bit about them.

Yeah. Well, I met them down when I went down to Muscle Shoals, which was a bucket-list thing I always wanted to do. I think a lot of musicians have that bucket list idea! [laughs]So I went down to Muscle Shoals to record some of these songs, and the musicians that I met there really inspired me and took me someplace completely new and different. It was so fresh. And these players like Tom Bukovac and Tony Lucido are just on a whole nother level. I mean, they are so masterful about what they can do. So it a real leveling up for me.

It seems like they make the most of the originals that you’ve got and the covers on it. In addition to them, you still bring in a lot of other musicians on the album. Like, on “Gladiator,” did you co-write that with Warren Haynes?

Yes. And also “Angels Blues”

Yeah, tell us a little bit about the song “Gladiator.”

Well, Warren had it in his mind that he wanted to write a song that was a big epic that went lots of places. Like for instance, like “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin or “Stairway to Heaven” or something that was long and had all these changes in it. He sent me this demo of him just playing guitar and that became “Gladiator.” So yes, it’s quite a big epic and it tells a story…you’re out in the woods and there’s all kinds of stuff in that song. It’s great.

And you’ve turned the Queen classic “Love of My Life” into a true duet with Vince Gill. How did that collaboration come about?

Well, I wanted to do it as a duet and take it down to a more organic style. I wanted to do it with a man but I wanted to do it with a man angel, like someone who had this beautiful, pure voice. And so there was only one choice for me and it was Vince. Vince came down to Muscle Shoals, just drove down by himself in his car, no security, nothing, just really unassuming. He came on down there and hung out with us and sang the vocal and then just got in his car and went on back, you know. It was so down to earth and cool. And I think that he just sounds great on it.

Do you have any stories about Queen, from when you’ve played with them, that you can can share?

When we played with them, we opened up for them for a whole tour back about 1980, 81, something like that. It was the era of conspicuous excess. [laughs]And so they took us to a number of big dinners, with a long table, super high-end restaurant, somewhere in Europe where they serve you 10 courses with a different wine for every course and champagne and cognac and all this stuff. And I just remember being really full and really drunk a few times in their in their company. [laughs]But it was great. They were great people. Brian May is such a gentleman, so intelligent. And Freddie and I got along well. I guess because he’s a diva and I was a budding diva! [laughs]Yeah, we had some good laughs.

When you speak of the conspicuous consumption and the excesses of that life, how do you balance a sense of inner strength and even spirituality in the modern music business world?

Well, it’s a personal thing. For me, just the act of singing and opening up my soul and therefore my throat, is a spiritual thing. It’s almost like being that hollow reed that the divine wind blows through to make a sound. And it’s a direct communication with the force, or whatever you wanna call it. Yeah. So it’s a spiritual thing for me. Like, I can be anywhere…I can be in some private party or some casino or something and I can still open myself up to that experience. It’s about the music to me. It’s just about being part of it, being IT.

Yes. I would think that when you’re on stage and you’re surrounded by excellent musicians who you can trust and know are gonna carry the piece, that must allow you the space to totally let yourself go into the music. Is that right?

Oh, yes, that is right. Yeah. And, you know that you can let yourself go, but also you know that you’re challenged by them. Because they’re great musicians. So you better present your greatest self in that company. So that’s good because that keeps me awake and present. Always.

Is that ever a challenge for you? Like, I think of one of the most iconic moments is when you’re at the Kennedy Center, singing that amazing performance of “Stairway to Heaven” in front of all of Led Zeppelin, with that huge choir and symphony behind you, and the President’s there, everybody’s there. Are you still able to…even in a moment like that to… Well, what is your experience in a moment like that?

Well, there haven’t been many moments like that! [laughing]But in that particular moment, I really had to call on my entry level meditational techniques to try and just chill and relax and just do it and be there! And not worry about it, or worry about image or how it was coming off or who was doing what. Just be in the song and just bring it. So that’s what I did in that moment. And then we freaked out later when it was over! [laughs]

Is there anything more you can share about your relationship with Led Zeppelin over the decades?

Well, there’s not much of a relationship with them, but I think the closest relationship I ever had to that band was John Paul Jones. He actually came to Seattle for a month and produced our “The Road Home” album. He played in the band, wrote the charts and conducted the strings. That was a really great experience because he is such a fine musician. I think in Led Zeppelin he’s kind of an unsung hero. But he’s just way up there in terms of his musicianship and his ability to write and come up with ideas. He’s just an even tempered fine gentleman. You know, he didn’t regale us with Led Zeppelin stories or anything. We had to just squeeze them out of him. So he was, he was pretty respectful of his past.

I did catch you all playing later when you toured with Jason Bonham with that amazing encore. And as you mentioned before, “The Rain Song,” that’s really such a song…

Yeah. That’s one of those songs that if you get to sing that in your career with the right band, it’s unforgettable. You know, that, that’s almost my favorite Zeppelin song.

Yeah, mine too. You mentioned John Paul Jones as a producer, and then you’ve also worked a lot with Ben Mink as well. You’ve worked with him quite a deal, right?

Yeah, Ben Mink is just a fine musician and creative person. And just what an angel he is. Like I can remember going into songwriting sessions with him feeling kind of blah, you know, like whatever…we gotta do this… But by the time the session is over you’re just feeling…I feel high and happy and fulfilled, you know. He just had that effect on me. He was such a funny, great guy.

And so when you still had on your bucket list to get down to Muscle Shoals and do those sessions, what was it like for you finally getting there?

Oh, well, it was pretty much everything that everybody says! It’s small and funky and unassuming, but there’s a feeling in there like anything goes, and that there’s no politics or anything like that there. People go there to be creative. The musicians that I met there turned out to be kind of super inspiring to me. And these guys that are now in my band, they just kicked my ass, you know, they’re so good. I have to really be on my best musical behavior to keep up with these guys! It’s so great.

And you’ve already been touring with them. I saw some of the video from the Seattle shows last fall. Is that who you’re gonna be touring with later this spring?

Yes, indeed. We’re leaving in about a month to go out on tour.

And I saw you even still play some flute, like on “Love Alive,” huh?

Yeah. I’ve been bringing the flute back! I play it on “Black Wing” and just like wherever it makes sense to put it in now. I’m gonna play it.

That’s great. It seems, especially in the last decade or two, you’ve had different phases – sometimes you’re with Nancy and you’re going out as Heart. And then sometimes both of you are working more on your solo careers. So right now, it seems that where your heart, so to speak, is inspired is with these new musicians and staying on the solo front for a while. Is that right?

Yeah, that’s what we’re both doing. The last time Heart went on tour was 2019 and then the pandemic hit. So that kind of put the lid on all touring. So coming back out of the pandemic, we both had all these songs we wrote in quarantine. So it made sense for us each to go out and do ’em solo. Next year is the 50th anniversary of Heart. I know that we’re gonna be doing something next year because we’re planning it.

Wonderful. So for now, on your solo album cover, you went with Roger Dean who of course has done the wonderful Yes album covers. Is that what drew you to use him, from that era’s impact?

Well, yeah. After I graduated from high school, I went to art college. And that was the era in which he first started doing those fantasy covers for Yes. They were just these other worldly places that he would take you to in his art. And so, when it came down to “Fierce Bliss” I thought, okay, we gotta do something different here. The last thing in the world I went wanna do is to put a picture of me on the cover. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna do something bigger and better and more creative and artistic. So I thought of Roger Dean and sure enough, I told him the album title and he loved it and he come up with the parrot on ice, which is the album cover. Have you seen it?

I have, yeah. I think I saw it before I even heard the music. Yeah, it really pulls you in.

Yeah, well he really delivered.

And of course, I’ve heard you sing Yes’ song “Your Move” before. Have you ever actually sung or done anything with Jon Anderson before?

Not with Jon Anderson, but I’ve sung quite a few Yes songs in my day.

And you released a cover of Annie Lennox’s/The Eurythmic’s “Missionary Man,” which is on your new album too. That’s that’s quite a kicker on the album.

Yeah! I think that is super relevant in this age of the evangelistic religious right in this country. The whole organized religion thing as a political force, I thought it would be super relevant to do that song and make it a huge, big production. Like a big mega-church production, you know, with gospel singers and Kenny Wayne playing the guitar. That was fun.

And today, on the day we’re talking, being International Women’s Day, how have you seen the change in attitude around women, especially fronting rock bands over these past many decades?

Well, I think that the biggest change is that there are women everywhere now. I mean, you can’t listen to the radio without hearing the majority of the songs being by women. I think that that’s a good start. The next thing for women to work on will be to becoming original, and not just trying to sing like Adele or sing like Whitney or something, but making their own original thing that is their own parallel rock universe.

Along the lines of creating new music, could you tell us what the song “A Moment in Heaven” is about, on the new album?

Yeah, that song is about a one-hit wonder in the star maker machinery of Hollywood and the sort of cruelty of transient stardom. It’s kind of a funny song in a way, it was meant to be sort of like a jab in the ribs at Hollywood.

And then we close with “As The World Turns…”

Yeah, that’s a scene from a relationship. Like in a relationship, you know that you have little squabbles, you have squalls, and then you go on. And the world keeps turning.

Well, it’s a beautiful way to close the album. Again, this is just a fantastic recording. And I know you’re gonna have a blast on your spring tour with these great musicians.

Oh yeah. I think we will. You never know what to expect with these guys because they’re always improving and they’re always pushing out their envelopes. So that means that I do, too. And it’s so new that we don’t have any expectations on us yet. I love that state of being.

Yeah. At this point, I’m certainly not getting any sense that retirement is a word that you use in your future too much.

Yeah. I feel like I just got out of retirement from that whole quarantine lockdown thing and am coming back into the world, you know?

Anne, thanks so much for talking with us, I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy “Fierce Bliss” when it’s released at the end of April.

Well, thank you very much. Thanks for having me. Nice talking to you

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