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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Nancy Wilson on Heart’s Seattle NYE concert, family matters and collaborations

Nancy Wilson attends the 65th Annual Grammy Awards at Arena on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles.    (Amy Sussman/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Michael Rietmulder The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Although it was a few weeks before Christmas, the holiday season has already been a memorable one for Nancy Wilson. The Seattle guitar hero and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer with Heart recently became a grandmother and had just returned from Chicago where she and her husband had their first meet-and-greet with the baby, that new-grandma glow still present in her voice.

For the first time in a long time, the empty nesters were prepping to host a house full of family — Wilson’s 23-year-old twin sons (from her previous marriage to Cameron Crowe), her stepdaughter and son-in-law and new baby — for the holidays at their Northern California home.

“I’ll be cooking and cleaning for the kids,” Wilson says gleefully. “I like being domestic. My joke is I was on the road for so long, since I was so young, that being able to do laundry and have a dishwasher was really exciting for me.”

But the remainder of 2023 wouldn’t be all Christmas cookies and laundry loads for Wilson, as she and her golden-voiced sister, Ann, have one piece of important rock star business to attend to: a hometown New Year’s Eve bash at Climate Pledge Arena. The one-off gig, preceding the annual Space Needle fireworks display, marks Heart’s first show in four years since their Love Alive Tour in 2019. Ahead of rehearsals in Nashville, Tennessee, where Ann’s solo band Tripsitter is based, the Wilson sisters had been swapping set list ideas.

“We’re going to do, of course, the familiar songs that people wanna hear,” Nancy says. “But we’re also digging a little deeper into some of the hardcore, fan-favorite deep cuts. Gonna break out the mandolin for this one, you know what I mean? … We’re [likely] gonna throw out a couple of new things, one Ann has off her cool new album called ‘Another Door’ and another that I just wrote recently.”

Heart’s 2019 outing, which featured support from Brandi Carlile on several dates, was a symbolic run, not only for its lineups of women-led bands. It was the Seattle rock matriarchs’ first tour together after Ann’s husband was arrested for assaulting Nancy’s then-teenage sons backstage during a 2016 concert at White River Amphitheatre.

Even after the Love Alive Tour’s comeback roar, speculation persisted about potential discord between the siblings, with both Wilsons downplaying the notion in interviews. (Last year, Ann told Classic Rock magazine any feud talk was a “myth,” saying “Nancy and I are okay with each other. We just have different ideas for what Heart should be, and we haven’t figured out a compromise yet.”)

Beyond Heart’s Seattle engagement, which will see the Wilsons backed by Ann’s Tripsitter band (including Seattle drummer Sean T. Lane) and Nancy’s go-to guitar ringer Ryan Waters (another local), there’s talk of future tours and “how that would play out song-wise,” Nancy says.

Between working on independent projects the past few years — including Nancy’s first proper solo album, “You and Me,” which will get a deluxe edition release with a few bonus tracks in 2024 — the Wilsons have been working on new music together, too. It’s been a creatively fertile period for Nancy, who also teamed up with Seattle indie-rock royalty on an unannounced single. (More on that later.)

Ahead of the Climate Pledge Arena show (and a recently announced New Year’s Day performance at the Seattle Kraken-hosted NHL Winter Classic), Nancy Wilson opened up about that Seattle all-star duet, Heart’s homecoming and working through family-band challenges. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How are you feeling about doing this first full show in a few years with Ann and Heart, back in your hometown?

A: I’m just really excited about working with Ann again. We’ve been texting back and forth a lot — “What about this song? What if we did that song?” It’s a really beautiful legacy to dive back into and look around and see over the four decades-plus that we’ve managed to do some pretty awesome, artistic musical things.

Q: I understand 2023 was the 50th anniversary of Heart forming. Are you big on these anniversaries or milestones?

A: 2023 was actually [the anniversary of] where Ann joined in the band, so it was going to be an ANNiversary, for Ann. So, 2025 will be the [50th] anniversary of “Dreamboat Annie,” the first album we released in 1975. But as far as demarcating and delineating how old we are [laughs], I don’t think it’s the coolest way to go. It’s just not my cup of tea to say, “50 years later, we can still do the kick!”

Q: Heart has gone through just about everything a life in rock ‘n’ roll can throw at a band. How do you feel about the fact that the band is still going strong after decades together?

A: I think it’s proof of the puddin’, as they say, that we survive. We bounce, we float. The survival of it all was largely due to a wicked sense of humor and just the passion and the desire to do music. Music is a real healing power, and right now, need I say, the world needs it a lot.

Q: You and Ann have been working on new music together, is that right?

A: Yeah. We’ve done a couple things in the can and I’ve also worked along with Sue Ennis, who did a lot of Heart songwriting with me and Ann in the past. I’ve got a bunch of new stuff with Sue that I’ve been working on.

One thing that really turned out great is a new song called “A Million Goodbyes.” It’s like a story of people agreeing to move on with their lives after they’ve said a million goodbyes already. I went to Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie because I really love his voice. It’s a conversational kind of voice. He doesn’t sing with like an ego-accented voice, and he [sang] it with me. It’ll come out early in the year. He’s not going to be around for New Year’s Eve, because I was, like, “Oh, will you come sing it with me?!” But he’s unfortunately not going to be in town. [Editor’s note: We’re gonna need a rain check, Gibbard.]

Q: What has it been like for you working through some of the family stuff that has come up between you and Ann, both for the sake of the band and also on a personal level?

A: There’s been a lot of emotionally challenging aspects to having a family that’s in a band together. It’s really hard to compartmentalize some of those things and not to be defensive or to be disruptive inside the family aspect of things when you’re trying to do business in a career setting. So, the family part and the career part can oftentimes derail pretty easily. That’s where you kinda have to think bigger and you have to be a bigger human around it all and learn how to be really forgiving and take the high road.

For me personally, I’ve really had to take the high road a lot in the last decade or so. But all of the emotional struggle that it takes to compartmentalize between the family and the business is worth it. Because then you get to go out and be larger than life on a big rock stage and make music that makes people happy. It makes you happy.

Q: In terms of Heart’s longevity, does it make it easier or harder being in a band with immediate family?

A: The first question a lot of people have always asked either of us, me or Ann, has been “Do you guys fight?” Like sibling rivalry. They’re hoping that we say yes. At one point, we even thought about staging a fight just to satisfy the, what is now like, the haters on social media — like everybody has to take sides all the time. Everybody has to be in opposite camps, which is such [expletive] to begin with, don’t get me started on that. But in my case, having Ann as my sister and having done music with her since I was born basically, it’s a good thing.

The way we write and have written songs together, that’s a really specific thing that only we can do as sisters. There’s family experience that goes all the way into our DNA. The song “Dreamboat Annie” was like a DNA song, like we were deriving from our experience of singing Beach Boys songs around campfires with our aunts and uncles and grandparents. It runs deep into your blood to have that connection with a family member and as hard as it might be sometimes over the decades to make it balance out with the career stuff, it’s a one-of-a-kind situation that makes Heart different.

Q: Thinking about those campfire singalongs with your family, did you have much for holiday traditions growing up in Seattle?

A: Oh, God yeah. The Wilson family is a bunch of hams. Kooky cutups. One year, our sister Lynn, who was married with young children, was sleeping in a sleeping bag in the living room because we were all having Christmas the next morning. We’d all been up too late having too many cocktails and stuff. Ann was in an art class at Cornish art college at the time in Seattle and one of her school projects, she decided to make a black monolith exactly like the one in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” We snuck the monolith downstairs at like 4 in the morning, so that when Lynn woke up in her sleeping bag she was looking at the monolith in the living room. Our family was never very normal, thank God. I think that gave us a lot of the tools with which to survive the larger career aspect of it all.

Q: If you’re not on the road, what does a typical New Year’s Eve look like for you?

A: Usually, I’ll turn on the TV and have a toast for each of the time zones. Too many times I’ve gotten emotional about the year turning, like, “Aahhhh, oh my God, it’s in New York.” Then it’ll go to Nashville — “Oh noooo, ahh-ha-ha.” Then I’m probably asleep by the time it gets to the West Coast. I get kind of emotional about the year turning, because you have to recap your life.

Q: How are you feeling about 2023, in the spirit of the New Year’s look-back?

A: It’s like a chemical cocktail of frustration, elation, inspiration, damnation — everything with an “-ation” on it. But inspiration, mainly. When the muse comes along you have to pay attention and I’ve been writing a lot of music during this last year. So that’s been salvation! Having love in your life and family who’s still around is the main point of what we celebrate every time the year turns.

Q: Will you be watching the East Coast and Central time zones, doing the Champagne toast backstage [at Climate Pledge Arena] before your set?

A: If so, I’ll bring my tissues along.