"Fanatic" is Heart at its best
Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart/NORMAN SEEF
(CBS News) At this point in their almost 40-year music career, it would be understandable for Ann and Nancy Wilson of the Seattle band Heart to want to take a break from recording/touring and appreciate what they've accomplished. But judging by the their most recent activities, it doesn't appear that the Wilson sisters plan to stop anytime soon. Earlier this year, Heart released a 3 CD/1 DVD boxed set retrospective, "Strange Euphoria," which spans their entire musical output. And having already been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Heart will be receiving a star Tuesday on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Last week, the Wilson sisters' new memoir, "Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll," was recently published. "It's our first memoir ever," Ann Wilson tells CBSNews.com, "so that represents a little change in atmosphere for us. I'm really happy that we have a new album coming out to balance all the retrospect."
Cover of Heart's album "Fanatic"
Cover of Ann and Nancy Wilson's book "Kicking and Dreaming"
The new album that Ann is referring to is "Fanatic," Heart's 12th album of original material, which comes out next Tuesday. And like its predecessor, 2010's "Red Velvet Car," "Fanatic" captures vintage '70s Heart with its blend of hard rock and soulful, folk-inspired tracks, while it also sounds contemporary. For the Wilsons--with Ann as singer and Nancy as guitarist-- it also marks another collaboration with producer Ben Mink, who worked on "Red Velvet Car."
"We didn't start in with a theme," says Ann. "Because these songs come from the same people--all the songs come from three people that worked together really closely. We had hours, days, weeks of conversations around these songs, just sitting around as friends."
Some of the tracks drew from the sisters' own personal experiences, such as the rocking "Dear Old America," which Ann says it's a soldier's song -- her dad was an ex-Marine. "It's a song about a soldier's heart, about shellshock or PTSD...about trying to reenter the world having had this experience of war that probably isn't something the human psyche can really experience and then come back from that easily. We have a very large and so far undealt with problem about it in this country. It still resonates now in our family and in each of us."
About the album's title track, Ann says that "in this case, this person is a fanatic about love. Actually, my sister Nancy inspired it because she fell in love with a man about a year ago. It was just amazing to watch and it all went really quick, but she would not hear anything about, 'Hey, take it slow.' She has always been a romantic love fanatic in the Joni Mitchell sense. So then when I started writing the words, then all of a sudden, it began to mount. It became more global than human romance."
And going back full circle in the context of the Wilsons' history is a song from "Fanatic" called "Rock Deep (Vancouver)" -- Vancouver is the city where Heart began. "It was nostalgic in a big way," Ann says. "I live in Seattle, so I go up to Vancouver every now and then. But to go back for this specific reason of revisiting old haunts, especially when you're first in love with somebody [and] starting a band, that's some powerful stuff. We just went back there again with the "CBS Sunday Morning" crew the other day and it was even more powerful because here we are with a camera crew and going back to the site where you were in love when you were 24. It was definitely a very powerful experience."
Revisiting the past is something that Heart also did on the newly-published memoir "Kicking and Dreaming," co-written with Charles R. Cross. The Wilson's story is a unique one given the fact Heart was one of the first bands whose focal points were two female musicians in the-then male dominated world of rock. Along with the music, their new memoir also touches on the personal, such as the sisters' early lives growing up as part of a military family; their romantic relationships and breakups with some of the men associated with the band back in the '70s; and Ann's battle with her weight that had originated as far back as her childhood.
"There's so many things that can land in a young person's life that makes their life hard," Ann says of the latter. "The body issue thing is only thing that could happen to really make it really to be 13, or 33 or 43. I just hope that my experience will help people understand, like people who aren't really perfect, or who are stereotyped beautiful, or have something in their lives that keeps them from being the perfect stereotyped beautiful person. They could look at my story and go, 'Yeah, that hurts.'"
Heart, whose roots began in Vancouver in the early '70s, were rock superstars by the middle of that decade, beginning with the debut album "Dreamboat Annie"; subsequent records such as 'Little Queen," "Dog and Butterfly" and "Bebe Le Strange" also went platinum. As told in "Kicking and Dreaming," the Wilson sisters experienced chauvinism from some of the male rock groups they were on the road with. In fact, Ann's encounter with a male radio promoter inspired the hard-rocking hit "Barracuda."
"It came out as a form of a ball of angst against sexism," she says now of that song. "Back in the 1970s, when that song came out, that was when the first issue of Ms. [magazine] came out --it was just a whole time when suddenly women were saying that sexism wasn't okay. Because back then, if you were having problems with sexism, it was your own fault." See how much things have changed--wow."
In the early '80s, Heart weathered personnel changes. But its output drew little commercial success, which led to CBS Records to drop them. Then Heart made a huge comeback starting in 1985 with a string of hits such as "What About Love," "These Dreams, ""Never," and "Alone." However, most of the material from that period was written by other songwriters; not to mention, it was the era of the glossy music video era where the emphasis was on mostly physical appearance.
"I look back at it as a time where I made more money that I probably will ever make again in my whole life," Ann says now. "But I had to shed some of my authenticity to do it. Plus, as an artist, you listen to the music that we made in that era and some of the songs were great, like "These Dreams" and "Alone"--it doesn't matter who wrote them or where they came from. Some of the other ones sonically really didn't stand the test of time. It was more about MTV -- 'How does it look?' 'Who's wearing what?' The idea then was to try to write more songs like the ones that were already being played on the radio. We've never been that comfortable with that."
In the '90s, the Wilson sisters were involved in the Seattle grunge music scene that produced bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden; they also started a side group called the Lovemongers. However, sometime during the late '90s, Nancy told her sister that she wanted to take a break from Heart.
"I wasn't ready to admit the group was finished," Ann says, "because I've never known a time in my life where Heart was finished. Once Heart got going, I never knew a time when it wasn't moving forward. I felt for sure though it was metamorphisizing. That '80s thing had to die, so that's really what it took was for Nancy and I to breathe and take a break and do the Lovemongers, and then when the time was right, to come back together."
Since they reunited as Heart in the mid 2000s, Ann and Nancy have continued to record tour, as they are doing as of this moment. Despite changing musical trends in the last 40 years, the personal and professional relationship between the sisters remains sturdy and drama-free -- a stark contrast to the relationships of some brothers who lead their own rock bands.
"In our lifetime for some reason," says Ann, "we were brought together to make this thing. it's the thing that she and I could only do together. It's very transcendent, so we take it very seriously--it's deep, meaningful and spiritual."