Heart: Still beating strong

You may find it a little strange to know that in their 30-plus years together as a band, classic hard rockers Heart are about to embark on their most extensive Canadian tour to date.

It’s not that the Wilson sisters (vocalist Ann and guitarist-vocalist Nancy) have anything against the good people of Canada, but they’ve been busy.

Since joining Heart in 1973, the Wilson sisters have been an unquestionable driving force behind the uber-successful act. Phase one of the group’s rise to fame was in the mid to late 1970s, with Ann Wilson’s powerhouse vocals driving tracks like Barracuda, Crazy On You and Magic Man. The songs ruled the airwaves then and continue to be classic rock radio staples still to this day. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Heart reinvented itself with the help of outside writers, giving it a new lease on life as well as the biggest album sales of the group’s career.

Heart’s newest record, Red Velvet Car, released in August 2010, isn’t merely a band going through the motions of making a new record to fulfill a contract. The ambitious passion that drove some of the group’s earliest records has returned to the Heart camp and obviously struck a chord with its devoted fans that sent the album to a Number 10 debut on the Billboard charts for the week following its release.

Heart’s Canadian tour will see the band grace the stage at the Moncton Coliseum this Wednesday, starting at 7:30 p.m. Cape Breton’s Carmen Townsend opens the show.

According to Ann Wilson, the band is looking forward to its upcoming Canadian run of shows. She notes that unlike some acts who only tour when they have product to promote, it is not that unusual for Heart to tour long after any promotional efforts for a specific record have wrapped up.

“When you’re a real working musician, touring is your life,” she says. “It is how you bring your music to the people. I love being in the studio but when I can get up on stage, that’s when I can really say my piece and let my soul sing. It’s kind of what I live for.”

With a father who was in the Marine Corps as they grew up, Ann says that her family had the opportunity to live in many different locations all over the world. The frequent moves helped strengthen the bond between her and Nancy, although she believes they were lucky to have found one another as artists as well.

“I have always thought that we would have found each other as artists even if we weren’t sisters,” she says. “Honestly, it is hard to visualize us not playing in a band together.”

While their biography not-so-lovingly refers to the group’s output in the 1980s and ’90s as a “devil’s bargain,” Ann admits that the success afforded to the band during that era was great, even if they were not feeling creatively fulfilled.

“If you think about the fact that the typical lifespan of a band is about five years, our time would have been up in the ’80s,” she says. “Along with strong pressure from our label at the time, we decided it was time for us to bring some outside material in to freshen things up a little bit within the band.

“The material we were writing at the time wasn’t being accepted on the radio so we did what we did to survive and keep ourselves alive. And at first it was fun but after awhile it began to really get old because we just wanted to hurry up and get back to our own stuff, which we eventually did but it took us awhile to wriggle out of that corporate stranglehold.”

Ann jokes that it wasn’t all bad during those years, having had the opportunity to experience the thrill of number one records and singles while also having the opportunity to play for millions world-wide.

“Creatively though, we felt kind of stymied.”

When it came to the making of Red Velvet Car, Ann says that they wanted to work with a producer who would be in a position to collaborate with the sisters as well. The producer role ended up being filled by Ben Mink, whom Ann describes as being “an amazing musician and can play everything he touches.”

“Ben is very intellectual and that was a big reason why I believe we worked so well together,” she says. “He is a real artist and has impeccable taste. Nancy and I tend to push hard and maybe not know best when to stop. Ben was a great guiding hand for that reason; he was good at reeling us in when he felt it was needed but also encouraged us to play more if he felt that it best served the song.”

Asked how audiences have been responding to the band’s new material live, Ann says that the new songs have been going over really well with their fans.

“A lot of veteran musicians have a rough time trying to get people to pay attention to new songs because everyone is there to hear the ‘classics’ but we are truly happy with the response the new songs have been afforded. As opposed to people making the new songs their chance to hit the concession stand or the washroom, people are sticking around to hear the tracks.”

Article published in January 31, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript