It's not many bands that are still standing nearly 40 years after forming. Even fewer are the number that are still vital and healthy, still resonating soundly with their fans and producing some of their most relevant work of the past two decades. But not every band has the longevity and ability to recreate itself like Heart.
Although Heart originally formed in 1963 under the moniker The Army with bassist Steve Fossen and brothers Mike and Roger Fisher on guitar, the group finally settled into the Heart title in 1970 and singer/flautist Ann Wilson joined shortly thereafter. Wilson's younger sister Nancy joined on acoustic guitar in 1974, making the group something closer to what audience in America and abroad would come to know as one of the most resilient bands of the past four decades.
After releasing its debut album, Dreamboat Annie in 1975 and scoring a pair of hit singles, "Crazy On You" and "Magic Man" in 1976, Heart was off and running. Although the group saw a lull in popularity in the early '80s, it hit a new peak between '85 and '90 with the release of Heart, Bad Animals and Brigade, cementing the band as one of the cornerstone acts of the late '80s rock scene.
Although Heart effectively went on hiatus in 1995 and Nancy Wilson focused on raising a family, the two continued to play together, sometimes sporadically, with their side-project, The Lovemongers, until reforming in 2002. Since then, Heart has been touring consistently and has released a pair of albums, Jupiter's Darling in 2004 and Red Velvet Car in 2010, and has found a new life and energy.
The release of Red Velvet Car, which saw the band reach back and touch on the classic rock tones it is best known for, and subsequent tour really seemed to add a new spark to the band, which has been incredibly busy in 2012. This past June, Heart released Strange Euphoria, a four disc retrospective boxed set that includes three CDs and a DVD. In addition, the band's first official memoir and biography, Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll, is set for release on September 18. And just in case you think the Wilson sisters are living in the past, think again: the band's latest studio album, Fanatic, is due to be released on October 2 and proves to arguably be the band's most vital and resonant album since Brigade in 1990.
As the band's current tour for Fanatic hits The Joint this weekend in advance of the album's release, I got the opportunity to chat with lead singer Ann Wilson about all that's going on with the band.
With so much currently at hand, I started by asking Wilson if looking back on the band's career while compiling the boxed set and working on the memoir has changed the sisters' perspective or outlook on the band in any way.
"For us, putting it all out together is kind of changing or shaking up how people thought they knew us, I think," Wilson responded. "Now they get to read all about it and what it was like and get our detailed account. Looking back, though, for Nancy and I -- it was just us writing songs. So as far as perspective goes, we look back at it and it only makes us shake our heads and kind of be amazed at how far we've come and what all we've done."
Conversely, when looking forward, Heart's new studio album, Fanatic, is the most energetic and rocking album the band has recorded in twenty years. When I mentioned that Heart sounds more muscular and energetic on this album than it has in recent years, Wilson agreed.
"I think this album is more muscular," she shared. "That's because these songs were written to be played live and recorded with this band -- that's their function. I think conversely, the way we write songs has changed a little bit with this band line up because it's been together for a while now, so we write them the way they need to be played."
"I think Heart is a band that's really awake right now," she continued. "... Not that it hasn't been before, but right now I think it's really alive and awake, maybe more than it has been."
When listening to Fanatic, it's obvious that the Wilson sisters are in a comfort zone. Nancy is writing some of her best and most rocking riffs in years and Ann's lyrics are fitting perfectly. After nearly 40 years in the music industry, the Wilson sisters know what Heart is and what it's about. In an age when the music industry is changing, I asked how much the label really effects how the band writes and records, or if it has reached a point where it just does what it wants. With experience on her side, Wilson provided a very balanced perspective on the issue.
"If we're going to work with a label, it is important what they think, so everyone is behind it and supporting it," she shared. "But we're beyond sitting in an office and asking 'What do we do?'"
"We're not at that place anymore," Wilson continued. "We finished the record and took it to New York and played it for them and they liked it. That's how it has worked out for us. Over our career, we've worked with Capitol, EMI, Sony and other labels, though, and it's important that they like what you bring to the table, otherwise it hard to get anything done."
Besides being busy in the studio, both recording the new material and compiling tracks for the retrospective boxed set, Ann and Nancy Wilson have also been working on a memoir and biography, which comes out next week. Written by Charles R. Cross, I asked Wilson how they chose that particular writer to pen the book.
"Charles had his start at The Rocket, and alt-rock magazine in Seattle at the end of the '80s, which was central to grunge in the '90s, and he began writing books. It was his book about Kurt Cobain that was so right on," Wilson explained. "He told a rock story as more than just a tabloid tale. He was able to write a book with a suicide at the end and not be cheap about it. So we thought if anyone could help tell our story without being sleazy about it, it would be Charles."
Of course, it was a long and drawn out process, as Wilson shared that it took nearly a year and a half to compile all of the information for the book. "We talked to him across the table, via email, over phone calls -- any way we could," she said. "At the same time, we were on tour and making Fanatic and working on the boxed set, so it's been a really busy time for us."
When the band was in Tulsa last August for a show with Def Leppard, I found it almost humorous that Heart came right out of the gate with Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll," a long time staple of its set, to open the show. At the time, it came off as a warning shot that this wasn't just a pop band, but Heart was here to rock.
When I asked Wilson about it, she said "It's not like we did that intentionally: That's how we do it regardless of who we play to or who we play with. The people who we play to relate with us on that level and get it -- we're there to have a rock show."
Of course, playing headline shows to Heart fans is a little different than playing a co-headline bill like last summer's tour, but the band doesn't approach it much differently. According to Wilson "We figure if people will spend their hard earned money to see Heart, they're not there for any other reason than to see us do what we do best. Our fans come ready: they know our songs and are open to our new songs. That's how we started and it's just natural for us."
Heart returns to Tulsa for a show at The Joint this Saturday night, September 15. As of press time tickets are still available for $45, $55 and $65 for a show that will not only delve into the band's catalog of hits, but provide a glimpse into the band's new album, Fanatic, as the band continues to focus on the future while reflecting on its past.
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