Writing Mistral Wind
Ann, Nancy and I wrote this song in my dingy, little apartment in Berkeley CA. one afternoon. Our jumping off point was a simple, catchy chord progression Roger had given us. We decided to build our chorus around that strong progression and we were off and running. The 3 of us sat on the floor of my tiny living room, each playing, creating musical chaos with our guitars, but as we started to work out the main opening riff to the song, Ann and I put down our instruments and let Nancy do the finger-work. We wanted to capture something haunting so we began directing Nancy to try some strange notes. Soon she had fashioned out a series of 6 notes that seemed like they were in love with each other. They just needed to go together and we were so happy to have found them. We got the verse progression from those notes and discovered that it led nicely into our new chorus. We now had our beginning blue print for the song.
Meanwhile, we'd been looking for a something to write about. Ann and Nancy had recently come off a 9 month tour of the US and they were trying to think of something they'd experienced that was worthy of building a song around. After "Love Alive" - which features a verse about the transcendent experience being on stage - we all agreed that songs about road life are boring and non-relatable and didn't want to write anymore. Who wants to hear about the French fries in Kansas or the men's locker rooms that served as backstage areas at some of the gigs? And I had completely NOTHING to offer since I was in grad school studying German lit. Anybody in the mood to hear a depressing song inspired by Kafka? As we sat there, struggling to find just the right concept for our new song, someone said, "this is like being in a sailboat on a windless day, waiting for the wind to rise so you can move on." I started riffing about the Mistral Wind in Europe and some of the legends associated with it. Seemed like the Mistral Wind could represent inspiration. We came up with the idea that we were sailors calling, crying, begging for the wind to come. Ann had the idea to link the concept with a kind of longing for a lover. So: it was to be a song about passion! Artistic passion and passionate love, all together in one song. Yeah, back in the 70's you could write songs with dramatic, lofty goals. Sometimes, they actually worked!
Once we had all the elements in place, we could jump in and assemble our big monument. That's what you can't wait for when you're writing a song: the fun part, the incredible, joyful, cool part, as things start to come together.
I remember us trying to figure out how to build the song, make it bigger and bigger, turn on even more intensity. Nancy said to Ann "You could always just go up an octave towards the end." And Ann nodded, "OK. Sure." But the thing was, it was a superhuman vocal leap for an ordinary singer. (Like me and maybe you.) But Ann just nodded. And when she got to the studio, she pulled it off without strain, without a stretch. Effortless. I tell you, writing for her voice spoiled me. Many years later, I tried to direct a demo singer to go up an octave in order to increase excitement on one of my songs and she just stared back at me. "Could you please ask me to do something POSSIBLE? Jeez, I'm not Ann Wilson!"
Mistral Wind is one of our favorite songs we've ever written. The crew in the studio did a fantastic job capturing the song on the record but I've always thought the Mistral journey is best experienced live.