Ann Wilson admits that Heart, the band she leads and co-founded with her sister Nancy, didn’t think much of the news that the powerhouse Seattle rockers were being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2013. In hindsight, though, she’s come to realize the honor did change some things—particularly how other people treated the long-running group.
“We were kind of cynical, like ‘Yeah, yeah, we’re a working band. Go ahead and put some letters behind our name. We’re a working band. We’ll juust go back to work the next day,’ Wilson said in an interview with Salt Lake magazine. “But after the induction, it’s like having a masters or PhD. All of the sudden, people treat you differently. Whether it’s true or not, people suddenly start taking you more seriously. It’s an interesting thing.”
It’s also probably a frustrating thing for the Wilson sisters, who have been making waves in the rock ‘n’ roll boys club since they broke through 40 years ago with the hit album Dreamboat Annie, and then dominated MTV and radio through the 80s and early 90s with a series of hits. Who cares what a museum says about you when you have that kind of track record? But Wilson is far from bitter. Rather, she comes across in conversation as a person thankful to still be able to get on stage and rock with her band to thousands of adoring fans.
This summer, Heart is headlining a tour that includes fellow Rock Hall of Famers Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick, and Wilson notes that her band has toured plenty with both. She says to expect plenty of the classic hits from all the bands, like Heart’s “Barracuda,” Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” or Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” And she also notes that all three acts are still writing and recording new music, even if people don’t buy albums like they used to.
Heart’s new album is Beautiful Broken, a searing set of new original tunes and some re-recorded old songs that the Wilsons felt never were recorded properly. The result is classic Heart, rocking heavy one moment and soaring with gorgeous ballads the next. The title track and “Two” both make it into the band’s set on the summer tour, but Wilson knows the audience wants to revel in the oldies for the most part.
“There’s just enough new stuff and just enough hits,” Wilson says. “People who come to the show … they like hearing the really exciting new stuff, but if you just went off and did 10 new songs, they’d all be out there buying t-shirts.”
Wilson sees the different eras of Heart’s history as “whole different lives” in her mind. The 70s were great because Heart made their way out of their Seattle hometown onto the radio and the road. The 80s was a commercially successful time, but the industry was “a lot more clamped-down in terms of what radio would play and not play. They didn’t want experimentation. I’ve never seen a time when naturalness, whether it be female or male, was placed at a lower premium. It got so into the hair and shoulder pads and corsets and stiletto heels. Like you were playing in a costume drama, kind of.”
The 90s might have been the most musically satisfying era, she says, when Heart went on hiatus and the Wilson’s created the Lovemongers, a side project with a penchant for Led Zeppelin covers. “That was awesome,” Wilson says. “No expectations. Just fun.”
No matter the era, the Wilson sisters were typically some of the only women finding success in a male-dominated genre. Wilson thinks it’s easier today for young women to break through, but it’s still a challenge.
“It IS still male-dominated,” Wilson says. “But it’s getting closer [to equality] than when we came up. It’s closer than I’ve ever seen it. It’s just a matter of women being out there and getting good. I don’t think men want to keep women down or anything like that. I just think there aren’t as many women who are good. Yet. But they’re getting there. They ARE getting there.”
No doubt a few more will be inspired seeing Heart on Monday in Utah.
Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick play West Valley City’s Usana Amphitheatre on Monday, Aug. 29, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $30.50 to $90.50 and are available through Smith’s Tix outlets.