Heart’s Ann Wilson Talks About New Live Album, Plans for More Music and 40 Years of ‘Little Queen': Exclusive Interview
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One of the most surprising things about Heart ‘s new live album is that, after more than four decades of being a band, it was their first time playing the historic Royal Albert Hall. It was a gig that had special significance for several reasons.
“We wanted to go to England and play in Britain, because we haven’t been there for some years,” Ann Wilson explains to Ultimate Classic Rock. “But we wanted to do it in some kind of special way, not just go up and down the country doing the typical shows. When [the opportunity to play Royal Albert Hall] came around, it just worked out great, and it was special for everybody.”
Finding the right balance between the band and the orchestra can be a tricky thing. Wilson says it was a combination of carefully rehearsing each song, but also making sure that everything was properly miked to capture both sides, something that they left up to the technical folks who had been brought in. “I think all of the people who were working on that end of it were really professional and they were good and careful,” she says. “It turned out great — it sounds good and it looks good. But it doesn’t look too worked over. It looks like it really looked.”
Fans can hear and see the results on Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which was recently released on audio and video.
For the singer, it was quite an experience going onstage at the Royal Albert Hall. “It felt similar to what it feels like to step out onto the Carnegie Hall stage,” she says. “It’s got a certain amount of gravitas to it, for sure. It’s so traditional [and] there’s so much history there, it can be somewhat intimidating. But as it turned out, it was just a real nice rock evening.”
Leading off with “Magic Man” from their 1976 Dreamboat Annie album, it was clear that the guitars were not going to take a backseat to the orchestra at the gig. The added instrumentation elevated the emotional levels of the material in that evening’s set list, breathing fresh air into fan favorites like “What About Love” and fleshing out some of the songs from the band’s latest album, Beautiful Broken.
According to Wilson, the idea to revisit some older songs for the Beautiful Broken album was one that came about during discussions with their record company, which suggested the project. “We sat in their office and discussed it, and it seemed like a fun idea,” she says. Songs like “Johnny Moon,” from 1983’s Passionworks, were given “another chance” at finding an audience that might have missed them at the time they were originally released. The album came along at a time that the band had already been working on new music, as Wilson described in a 2015 interview.
“We’ve been recording live off the stage in soundchecks, because you don’t really have to go into a traditional studio anymore,” she said at that time. “We’re going to take the tracks that we get off the stage and mess with them.”
Beautiful Broken found Heart moving in a different direction than what they had planned. So what about those original recordings? Wilson says that there’s a possibility that they might do something with them at some point. “We still have all of those live tapes and everything sitting around,” she says. “We have all of the files from years of playing live, so that stuff is still available to access.”
For now, she’s just enjoying a short break after another full year of touring. There are no solid plans for a new Heart studio album right now, she says. “At this point, I think we’re just writing. The process is just getting ideas and just writing and then as you go along with that, you start getting bigger ideas on how they could be brought out. We’re rolled back to just having come off the road, a situation that means complete sacrifice from everything. That’s touring — we toured [this past year] and the year before and the year before, so we’re really kind of just calling in new ideas right now.”
There is new music on the horizon from her other musical passion, the Ann Wilson Thing!, who will release their third EP sometime this year. Wilson says three of its five songs are originals. “We’re just taking a break right now from it all,” she says. “We’ll be coming back with fresh things.”
Time will tell what all of those things might be, but Wilson will spend at least the early part of the year touring a show called Ann Wilson of Heart. She recently announced a month-long tour that will begin on March 8 in Seattle, and includes a mix of solo songs, covers and selected Heart favorites.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Heart’s second album, Little Queen, which arrived during a legal scuffle with Mushroom Records. Newly signed to Portrait, the band worked at breakneck speed when it was on the road to complete the record and get it out before Mushroom could interfere and halt the recording of the album and possibly jeopardize the future of the new songs that they were working on.
As Wilson points out, it was a prolific time. It helped they were young. “I think you would have had to have been 26 or 27 years old to do that,” she laughs. The album that they emerged with, Little Queen, remains one of their best, and features songs like “Barracuda,” “Kick It Out” and the title track that remain fan favorites.
“We were still figuring out how to write songs, record them and tour at the same time. I think that year, we did something like 250 shows,” she recalls. “Our health suffered, but we were so young that we just kept on doing it. I remember it being a complete immersion in songwriting, recording and touring, all at once. It was a real big thing. It was like when they shoot a rocket off from a planet — the first stage of the rocket has to be the most powerful to get it off through the gravitational pull, and that’s what that year was like for us.”
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