Interview: Ann Wilson of Heart on surviving as a woman in the music industry


“I’ve never really not been on the road,” says Ann Wilson, precisely one-half of iconic rock duo Heart, as she reflects on her current summer solo tour. Of course, this is a 100 percent true statement, considering that Heart, one of the first groups to machete through the inundation of hirsute white dudes dominating rock in the 1970s, boasts a career that spans decades, generations, and subgenres.

And Wilson has been there to witness every flash-in-the-pan trend in between.

“With every era that passes, there are different challenges,” she explains by phone as we chat about her career and her show this Sunday (August 13) at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium in Lynn. “Let’s say that in the 1970s, you had to be x, y, and z in order to be famous, and then going into the ’80s you had to do something else to stay around, and then in the ’90s… you have to learn how to evolve and not go with the times, not try and stay with the trends, but rather, be ahead of them.”


Now on the second leg of her solo tour, billed as “Ann Wilson of Heart,” the living legend is creeping towards her 80-gig goal for 2017 as she rolls into Lynn this weekend. Expect far more than classic like “Barracuda” and “Crazy On You,” though — the Heart singer says that she’s also bringing along covers and material from her self-titled project for her solo shows.

In advance of her Lynn appearance, Wilson chatted with Vanyaland to discuss her thoughts on picking the perfect setlist, recording a new solo album, and what it’s like to be a woman in the music industry after over 40 years as Heart’s frontwoman.

Victoria Wasylak: What made you decide to extend your tour?


Ann Wilson: Well, we’re getting an incredible response. My goal this year was to do about 80 shows, and we’re gonna hit that goal, so — that’s as long as it takes to do that many shows.

How far along are you now?

About halfway.


On this tour, you’re going to be doing some Heart music, some of your solo music, and some covers. How did you pick what your setlist was going to be for these shows?

We had a “wish list” for the covers and the originals, and we just kept honing it down until the ones that were really good just showed themselves. I just wanted to design a set that’s really interesting to people, that goes all different kinds of places, and that’s fun and fresh.

What are some of your favorite covers from the list?

I like playing the Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up” and Rich Robinson’s [Black Crows’] song “She Talks to Angels”. There are a bunch that I like doing.


Do you think that you perform differently now than when you started out?

Oh totally, yeah — because you just get better at it, you know? You figure out how to do it.

If there were a tip or performing secret that you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self, what would that be?

I’d just tell myself to not worry about stuff and just focus — and not party too much, stuff like that.


Do you have plans to release a new solo album? I know you’ve put out two solo EPs in the past.

Yeah, I think at some point they’ll be at least another EP or a compilation of the EPs. But the live thing is more fun than spending thousands and thousands of bucks making an album and then nobody buys it. People just don’t buy records anymore, they want downloads, they want single downloads, so that’s more what I would be thinking about, I think.

And touring is a lot more interactive. You can’t see people’s reactions when they’re at home listening to an album.

Right, if they even listen to the whole thing. It’s not like it used to be in the old days where people went to a record store and bought an album, and checked out all the cover art, and listened to it, and then re-listened to it and discussed it. They just don’t do that now.


You’ve been in the industry for a really long time, so you’ve seen it go from records and 8-tracks to CDs and cassettes, and now digital downloads and streaming services — what’s that like to see music change that much?

It’s just the way of the world now. It’s kind of good, in a way, because when you go out now to perform to people, you have to be good, you can’t just hide in the studio and use a bunch of autotune and a bunch of effects to make yourself seem good. You have to go out and be good. So that’s the good part.

When you started in Heart, rock and roll was such a boys club, and even now, women and women-fronted bands are still having a hard time getting the attention they deserve. For instance, at a lot of music festivals, women might make up only 10 percent of the bands in the lineup. How do you think that the music industry has changed for women since you started?

It’s changed in that there’s a lot more acceptance of women in all roles — attorneys and managers and producers and everything. But in terms of musicians and being in front of a camera, it still is pretty backwards for women. You see young chicks just walking around in stilettos, hypersexualizing themselves in order to be noticed, and that’s pretty ancient, that’s nothing new. That part of being a woman in the music industry still has room for improvement.

I think that a lot of the blame has to go to the women themselves, because the longer they accept that kind of prejudice, and act on it and live behind it, the longer it’ll survive. I think as an older woman, someone who has been around since 1950 and been in the music industry since the early ’70s, I think the only way women can make any progress at all and in society is to not take “no,” and to stand up and be bold and obvious, and not shrink behind just looking “cute.”


What do you think is the key to lasting this long in an industry that changes so fast and so much?

With every era that passes, there are different challenges. Let’s say that in the 1970s, you had to be x,y, and z in order to be famous, and then going into the ’80s you had to do something else to stay around, and then in the ’90s… you have to learn how to evolve and not go with the times, not try and stay with the trends, but rather, be ahead of them.

ANN WILSON OF HEART :: Sunday, August 13 at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium, 3 City Hall Square in Lynn, MA :: 7 p.m., all ages, $19 to $47 :: Advance tickets :: Event page :: Featured photo via MSO PR