NANCY WILSON On Debut Solo Album – “It’s Very Sincere And I Think It Rocks”
October 23, 2020, 3 months ago
It’s quite surprising, but Heart guitarist and co-vocalist Nancy Wilson has never given to the world’s millions and millions of Heart fans a solo album.
But that all changes in early 2021, as she issues, on Carry On Music, a record of mostly originals with an undetermined few covers as part of the mix as well. The advance single of the record is her version of Bruce Springsteen’s quite eerie 9/11-themed title track “The Rising,” available as you read this. It’s funny, but I’ve been in a number of conversations with people recently about these poor guitarists issuing solo albums, and what to do about lead singers—do I get one or eight? Guitarists, bass players, even drummers occasionally… any time there’s a solo album, it quite sensibly becomes as much about the vocals as the guy with his name on the tin. This is a happier case, because Nancy will be doing all the singing and that is familiar terrain enough for Heart fans. Plus, of course, she’s a multi-instrumentalist, and will be bringing all that, plus the light and shade of her main magical working—guitar—to this as yet untitled album.
“I’ve been on sort of a Bruce Springsteen binge the last year or so,” laughs Wilson, asked about the advance single. “We actually went and saw him do his Springsteen on Broadway show, and I was just so deeply affected emotionally by that, by his show, and the way he kind of reinterpreted a lot of those older songs, including ‘The Rising.’ There’s just so much depth in his writing. And being that we’re in such an extremely difficult era in the world right now, and we’re losing so many souls, I thought that song really kind of captured being not quite as bleak as it could’ve been, but more aspirational for our times that we’re in right now. So I think it’s kind of like a call, a ‘calling all angels’ kind of thing (laughs).”
As for other covers on the record, Wilson was sure at this point about at least one, explaining that, “We’re working on ‘The Boxer,’ the Simon and Garfunkel song, obviously, that I was covering last summer with the Heart tour. And it’s one of those beautifully written songs too—one of the best songwriters in the world is Paul Simon. I’ve always loved that song; I grew up with that song. There were a lot of nights around fireplaces and people all singing along, in many living rooms, chiming in on that song, growing up. There’s just such craft and beauty and depth to that writing. Again, I’m really drawn to lyrics like that, that kind of speak to the human condition, on a real personal but universal way at the same time.”
“The alter-ego,” laughs Nancy, asked what part of her personality is able to be expressed on this record versus on a Heart record—incidentally, the last full-on Heart studio album, Fanatic, from 2012, is somewhat of a masterpiece, action-packed, heavy, full of surprises, beautifully recorded… dare we presume that Nancy is at her creative peak 45 years since Dreamboat Annie?
“I don’t know, it’s really freeing for me,” continues Wilson, on why she is doing this now. “I’ve never done a studio solo album before. People have always asked me, ‘When are you finally going to do that?’ And of course now (laughs), being in shutdown is the perfect excuse to just go with my own instincts without feeling any kind of confinement as far as, ‘Will this work? Will this thing work for Heart? Will this work as a Heart song or not?’ Like, there’s a song called ‘The Dragon’ I’ll bring up, which I wrote actually back in the ‘90s, for Layne Staley back at the time, who was still living. He was a really sweet person, but he was really in danger, and ultimately went down the dark ladder. But I wrote a song called ‘The Dragon’ for him, and it just never was a fit for Heart. We tried it a couple times, and I guess there’s a trademark thing that Heart has, that Heart owns. And this was something that would just be better for me to do (laughs). So I guess I can sort of be my own self, do all the singing, which I love to do. You know, I’m not the prima ballerina singer of all singers, like my sister Ann kind of is (laughs). But you know, I really love singing, I enjoy it, and so it’s inspiring to do more singing. And, you know, it doesn’t suck (laughs).”
Asked what she’s learned from sister Ann, Nancy says that, “Ann told me a really great thing to think about when you’re singing, and that is, you know, if you’re worrying too much, if you’re worrying about the pitch, if you’re thinking about being perfect, don’t worry about that. Don’t worry about the pitch. Don’t worry about correctness. Just tell the story. And I really took that seriously. It’s more interesting if you feel like somebody’s talking to you, telling a story, than if they’re trying to impress you with all of their stylistic prowess or something. Range-wise, I don’t have the range, obviously, that Ann does, but it doesn’t even matter, as long as I’m telling the story in a good way (laughs). It’s funny, you never stop learning by doing, and as a singer, I’ve been learning a lot on this album, because I’m doing it so much more. And I’m really getting some major gratification from it.”
At the instrumental end, it sounds like there will be lots to perk the ears. “Yeah, well, I’m doing both electric and acoustic, and I just pulled out the classical today, for this one thing. And I’ve got like a really cool old amplifier—it’s a Deluxe (laughs). You can get the coolest amp distortion, so I’ve been playing around with that. Not too many pedals, necessarily, but just the natural amp distortion itself. I’ve got a little Wurlitzer keyboard too, that I’ve been threatening to use somewhere on the album. And I’ve got autoharp going. I’ve got a wah-wah pedal, I’ve got an Omnichord, which is kind of a weird novelty thing. And it’s just fun to think about, ‘Okay, maybe a kitchen sink right here would be good.’”
On the subject of whether she’s applied anything from her extensive late career experience in making music for film to the record, she figures, “Yeah, most definitely. One of the things, when I was doing my scoring stuff, that I learned to bring back into songwriting, was kind of what not to do. When to shut up, you know? (laughs). When to not play. When to not fill up the spaces. How to leave space and leave breaths in there. That’s a lesson I don’t think a lot of people learn until later. Let the band just play for a minute, instead of soloing all over everything and filling it all up.”
Couldn’t resist a quick Heart question, so I checked with Nancy what might be her favourite three Heart records and why... “I think Dog and Butterfly is one of those, and I really got into Bébé le Strange in a big way. Let’s see, what else? Oh, definitely Little Queen, because there were some really good moments, mandolin moments, and kind of folk rock-y stuff that we were doing there a bit. So if you could kind of cherry-pick from those three, you’d have the best.”
Glad to hear personal fave Bébé le Strange name-checked, so I asked for a little more on that one, with Nancy answerin’ “Well, I like the title song a lot. It’s tongue-in-cheek and it’s kind of rowdy (laughs). And it’s got a swagger. And there’s some other stuff on that album that really swaggers. Private Edition was kind of a turkey, but there were some nice songs on that one too, like ‘Angels.’”
Back to the solo project, Nancy offers a bit of a recap, in terms of the record’s overall personality. “Well, I think it’s very sincere—and I think it rocks. But it also has a lot of romance and spirituality in the other more ballad-y-type songs. I think it will feel familiar to a Heart audience. You know, I’m hoping that’s true. It’s just really honest and sincere and there’s no artifice, really, going on. We were recording very simply, onto a little six-track Spire unit. And I’m sending my tracks to my engineer guy, Matt, who is living in Colorado, and he’s got a bigger studio set-up. We’re just piecing it together, you know, from Seattle, where most of my players are, to Colorado, to my place in California. So it’s a Rubik’s cube in a lot of ways. ‘Has anybody found that bass part yet?’ But it’s fun, because the guys are really great players and I love playing with them. And even though we can’t be in the same room at the same time right now, it’s coming together and I’m really excited about it.”
Finally, on the subject of production philosophy, look for this record to be diametrically opposed to how far to the wall Heart took production in the ‘80s.
“No, I definitely don’t want it to sound dated. The ‘80s sounded a little bit dated overall, because of all those bells and whistles that were brand-new, the digital stuff at the time. Now it’s all about what the song is talking about; it’s not about the bells or the whistles. It’s just about the emotion and the story that you are telling, and just connecting to the human… I like to call it, the eternal personal part of human nature: things that we cry about, things that we care about and worry about and want to talk about, to share with the rest of your humankind, you know? That’s, I think, what’s got to come across more than any other effect or anything. So yeah, it’s real, it’s simple, and it’s unselfconscious.”
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(Photo credit Jeremy Danger)