It’s safe to say that if the members of Heart missed out on any awards over the years, they’re certainly getting their due these days. The longtime Seattle-based classic rock group found themselves rebranded as Rock and Roll Hall of Famers with their induction into the Rock Hall in 2013, something which put a nice cap on a busy period of celebration. Singer Ann Wilson and her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, had already been taking stock of their own legacy in 2012 with the release of Strange Euphoria
, a career-spanning box set and Kicking & Dreaming
, an autobiography written by the pair in collaboration with journalist Charles R. Cross. That same year, they released a new studio album, Fanatic
, and nabbed a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In a recent conversation, Ann Wilson was quick to admit that the pacing of all of the activity found them burning the candle at both ends for a while. “There were some people with some pretty big bags under their eyes there for a couple of years,” she said with a laugh. “But we were also really enjoying it and having some amazing, insane experiences like the  Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin and things like that that just don’t come your way everyday. That’s been what’s made the last several years really exciting for me, the things that just come out of the woodwork like that.” Wilson and Heart had done their share of Zeppelin worship in the early days, both prior to the formation of the band and on the stage, where they often threw in a Zeppelin cover or two. Singing that same Led Zeppelin material in front of Robert Plant and the surviving members of the group with the President and the First Lady also sitting there is something that Wilson admits was pretty nerve-wracking in the moment at the Kennedy Center.
“It took a little bit of consciously being calm and trying to use some of the techniques I know for self-calming,” Wilson chuckles. “It did take that that night. But you know, the main thing is that when you’re performing in front of members of Led Zeppelin and the President of the United States and the First Lady, the thing that you want to do is not think about that. You want to be in the moment, but not be freaking about the moment, so I just kept my eye on the ball and stayed in the song and then when it was over, that’s when you freak."
Even with all of the accolades, you’ll find that Wilson stays really modest about it all and keeps her focus where it should be — on the stage.
“I really don’t think about that kind of stuff,” she admits. “When people ask me about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Grammys or stuff like that, it’s all very surreal to me, because to me, the real part of being a musician and being an artist is the ‘doing.’ It’s the going out and doing it, it’s not the achievement part or the trophy that you get to bring home. That’s not the thing that is very satisfying to me. It’s the doing of it.”
In a separate conversation, Nancy concurs with her sister’s feelings and also expresses a lot of warm feelings about Heart’s Rock Hall induction.
“I think that was just such a cool thing to be acknowledged for that,” she says. “You know, they don’t induct women that often, so it was especially sweet for that reason. Having started out playing music since I was nine years old — I joined Heart when I was 19 or 20 — it’s a lifetime of work and it’s so sweet to be acknowledged for all of it. All of the sacrifices. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into traveling for your work and trying to balance a career and home life and children and all of it. So yeah, that was really super-sweet to have that accolade and to be noticed and to be acknowledged.”
For Heart, it had been an interesting trip getting to that point. They had racked up a steady string of future classic rock radio classics in the ‘70s with songs like “Crazy On You” and the chugging guitar-driven “Barracuda,” but as they moved into the ‘80s, technology was changing and that would present a unique set of challenges. After struggling in the early part of the decade, they inked a new record deal with Capitol Records and found themselves working with outside songwriters and even though there was another wave of hits that came out of that, the compromises they found themselves making at that time cast shadows over the success that they found during that same period.
“The thing that I always especially realize about the ‘80s in retrospect now is that coming out of the late ‘60s, you know, when we were growing up with the Beatles and all of the sort of mind-expanded bands and musicians of the day, the poetic greatness of Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan and all of that stuff and the trippiness of the mind-expanded music that came out of the late ‘60s into the ‘70s. I think a large part of that was due to the actual types of drugs people were taking at the time,” Nancy Wilson says. “It was mind-expanded.”
“Then in the ‘80s, it changed to cocaine, which was way more of an ego sort of drug. Because when disco and cocaine and then the ‘80s happened, it shifted the entire perspective of music into more of a self-centered ego-driven kind of deal. So I think people kind of figured out that wasn’t a good idea after a while,” she recalls, laughing. “Plus, all of the digital technology was coming up at the time and you could hook gear up to other gear — I think it was just so ego-driven, all of the stuff that you could connect, all of the actual technology that was so new and everybody had to use every single piece of it. Like there was one day in the studio, where the whole day, we were auditioning one snare drum hit sample. We were auditioning snare samples all day long! That just shows you exactly what that was all about. It was very self-indulgent.”
Now, Nancy Wilson says, the material that the group has released on their last couple of albums, Fanatic
and 2010’s Red Velvet Car
, “is more reminiscent to the stuff that we did earlier on and it’s kind of our authentic identity of our original incarnation.”
They’re also having fun exploring not only their own catalog but also other favorites from their pile of influences, including more recently, a scorching cover of Robin Trower’s “Day of the Eagle.”
“Oh, I just love that song,” Ann Wilson says. “I just thought it was a really great rocker. Down in New Orleans, upstairs in this little bar, I was doing a shoot for a show called Hot Mamas and I pulled a little band together and just wanted to do a rocker that was straight out rock. That Robin Trower song just fit the bill, so then after we did it on the [television] show, it fit really well into Heart, so now we do it in Heart.”
Nancy Wilson admits that “some people are complaining that we do too many covers,” but she says the group has a good time playing them.
“It’s just so much fun,” she says. “When you love certain songs, you just want to keep them close and it’s fun to do. We’re always trying to switch it up and now we’re learning some more of our ‘80s songs, like ‘There’s the Girl,’ we added that to the set. We did ‘Wild Child’ the other night and we’re doing a different version of ‘Never’ soon. So there’s plenty of landscape for us to discover.”
As they travel across that landscape, they’re starting to work on new music, as Ann Wilson reveals.
“We’re not in a recording studio. We’ve been recording live off the stage in soundchecks, because you don’t really have to go into a traditional studio anymore,” she explains. “We have been recording, but it’s been off the stage. And then we’re going to take the tracks that we get off the stage and you know, mess with them!”
Nancy Wilson hints that the first bit of new material might make its way to fans soon in the form of an EP. “We have a new song that we haven’t quite finished yet, but there’s also some live versions of stuff like ‘Let Me Roll It’ and some different things that we’ve been recording the last two runs to probably release along with the new song. So an EP is coming pretty soon.”
The next full-length Heart album, according to Ann Wilson, might be a little bit further down the road. “You know, we’re still in the songwriting process and we’re touring at the same time. So when you’re trying to give your attention to two things, it might slow them both down. So that’s where we are right now with that. We’re still working on it!”
Heart, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, Hard Rock Rocksino, 10777 Northfield Rd, Northfield, OH, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $45-$75, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.