Heart leads with soul not vagina

HART ROCK PIONEERS: Nancy and Ann Wilson
HART ROCK PIONEERS: Nancy and Ann Wilson

The first women to front a hard rock band, Ann and Nancy Wilson, of 1970s band Heart, were pioneers.

How did they break into a male-dominated industry?

"You cannot lead with your vagina," says Ann Wilson down the phone from Seattle. "You have to lead with your soul."

When Heart stormed the charts in the 1970s, the Wilson sisters led the band, wrote the songs and played the instruments too.

"It was a struggle just to be taken seriously. Back then women were disco divas or they were more cheesecake, kind of like it is again now."

She describes fighting to be heard as an artist as a struggle.

"We had to push all the way and turn a deaf ear to a lot of sleazy comments. When we did that, then eventually people saw that we were different."

With songs like Crazy On You, Magic Man, Barracuda, Straight On and more, the sisters and their band Heart have sold more than 35 million albums and sold out arenas worldwide.

Barracuda was written, Wilson says, after a "sleazy" moment backstage.

"It was written out of angst. Some sleazebag guy said something sleazy to me, and it really made me angry and offended me. My reaction was to go write the words to Barracuda."

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, the sisters are heading to New Zealand over summer for a concert tour, performing with Foreigner and Three Dog Night in Queenstown.

"We are going to be rocking out," Wilson says. "We'll play some of the old hits and some newer stuff and some surprising covers. The whole band is coming, my son is coming along too."

Almost 35 years after their first big hit, the Wilson sisters returned to the Billboard Top 10 in 2010 with Heart's Red Velvet Car album.

In 2012, the sisters were asked to perform Stairway to Heaven as the finale to the Kennedy Centre Honours tribute to Led Zeppelin.

Their performance visibly moved Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

Wilson describes it as a "life moment".

"That was so much fun and so deeply moving, because we really wanted to please them and they were pleased. Robert said to me afterwards that he usually hated it when people covered Stairway to Heaven, but he said that he actually liked our version."

You'll have heard Wilson's voice at the movies, too, with her songs Almost Paradise from Footloose, Surrender to Me from Tequila Sunrise and Best Man in the World from Goldenchild.

Her sister Nancy composed and performed the scores to films, including the award-winning Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.

What advice would she offer women new to the industry?

"Don't confuse your rear end with your talent," Wilson says. "Just really work on being your best artistic self.

"A lot of young women don't yet understand the difference between sexuality and feminism. They think that by going out there and being overtly sexual in place of doing something artistic, then they are showing their feminist power.

"I would say leave all that stuff outside the door and just be as good an artist as you can."

The natural connection the siblings have has been an asset musically.

"We have that family blend. We grew up playing guitar together, so it's just a natural thing for us to be on stage together."

Right now she has a notebook full of songs and is "casting her eye" around for a producer.

She has always written the same way. She starts with the lyrics and then goes in for the music.

"That's harder for me. I end up taking my lyrics to Nancy, she's really the musical half of the songwriting team."

She and her sister experienced pressure to change their appearance in the 1970s and, over 40 years later, she doesn't believe much has changed for women in the industry.

"Back at the beginning people wanted us to be different to the way we were, dress in a really sexy way, to be as sexy as possible.

"That was way more important than the lyrics or the chords or our performance.

"We always felt that was pretty wrong and insulting and missing the point, so we turned a deaf ear."

When she is on stage she simply seeks to share a piece of her soul with the audience.

"Looking fab is only one corner of the sky when you're an artist. It goes way deeper and higher - your art, your voice, your soul. For your soul to sing is just another form of sexuality.

"The thing that I enjoy the most about performing is the feeling of transcendence on stage, and when I can attain that that's better than any party substance I ever came in contact with.

"It's just the same feeling you have when you stand with someone and you feel each other give your hearts to each other, only it's with a whole room full of people."


Heart, Foreigner and Three Dog Night play at Whitianga Waterways Arena on January 25, in Taupo Amphitheatre on January 26 and at Gibbston Valley Winery, Queenstown, on January 31, 2015.

Tickets are on sale now, $99 plus booking fees, from Ticketek.co.nz, 0800 TICKETEK.