Heart's Nancy Wilson On Love Songs, Sisterhood And Her New Supergroup

Sep 16, 2017
Originally published on September 17, 2017 9:42 am

In the 1970s, fans of hard rock were no strangers to the impressive acoustic guitar scrambling of Nancy Wilson, perhaps best captured in the opening of the song "Crazy On You" by Heart.

Nancy Wilson and her sister, Ann, were the core of that band. Its albums, like Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen, became part of the rock canon. Younger audiences might recognize Heart's ever-iconic song "Barracuda," which was featured in the animated film Shrek and on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

Decades later, Nancy Wilson is now rocking out in a new supergroup called Roadcase Royale, which includes Liv Warfield of Prince's New Power Generation. Roadcase Royale's debut album, First Things First, comes out Sept. 22, and includes original songs alongside some revisited Heart classics.

Wilson spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about the creation of the supergroup, the fallout with her sister Ann and the impact her career has had on her audience. You can hear their conversation in the player above, or read on for an edited transcript.

Scott Simon: This name Roadcase Royale: Where does it come from?

Nancy Wilson: Well, the Heart aspect of my new band is like the road cases [for a guitar]: the old scuffed-up road dogs that Heart was. When you're out in the trenches of the rock 'n' roll touring life, you do need to develop an extra hard-shell case — it's a survival mechanism. You need to have a hard exterior.

Not all glamorous, but you must love it, after all this time.

Well, I'm good at it. I've done it long enough to know how to do it.

One of your new songs, "Get Loud," features the powerful voice of Liv Warfield, who used to sing with Prince's New Power Generation. How did you team up for this record?

We were looking for an opening act last year with Heart at the Hollywood Bowl. We had seen Liv Warfield on the Jimmy Fallon show and she was doing an amazing song called "Why Do You Lie?" Her power, her presence, her delivery, her righteousness. [Laughs.] We said, "Let's ask her to come and open for Heart." We fell into a great friendship and decided: Well, let's try to make some music, because she wants to rock and I love R&B, funk-type playing as well. So we wanted to put together a kind of a hybrid rock-and-soul band. And that's what Roadcase Royale turned out to be.

Let's talk about the song "Cover Each Other." Is this kind of a love song for the long haul?

[Laughs.] Yeah, well said! A love song for the long haul. It's a song I actually wrote from personal experience when my husband, Jeff, was going through some really difficult life changes. And I just wanted to — and I've done this before as a songwriter for people I love — to write a song of support. It's an unconditional there-for-you kind of song.

My absolutely unscientific impression is that a good 90 percent of love songs are "we-just-met" love songs.

Right, or, "Hey you, I'm attracted to you across the room"-kind of love songs. Or, like, "Why do you hurt my feelings and I'm such a victim"-kind of love songs, you know?

One of my favorites.

But the whiney love songs — there's a lot of those. But this one is more, sort of, an adult perspective of a love song — when you know enough about life to really be there for somebody else who needs you when they need you there.

I have to ask you about something for people who've been your fans all these years. The last time we had you on our program seven years ago, you were performing with your sister, Ann. You guys are at odds now, I gather.

Well, we've been at odds for a while — since the end of the last Heart tour, where there was a kerfuffle inside the family with her new husband that involved my own kids. It just felt a little bit too painful to pretend that didn't happen for a long time. And, Ann and I both know that we are unconditionally going to love each other forever, because we come from a tight-knit, military kind of family. But there's just a lot of things that are kind of hard to untangle too easily or too quickly. So, for now, we know we'll always love each other and that goes without saying — but just kind of working out the issues themselves, that might take some time.

Do you ever think about where you fit in the history of rock?

It's interesting because going into it, I wanted to be The Beatles. Because that's why I started doing rock music. And along the way I sort of figured out that you are identified by your gender more than just being a musician. I think the best part of it all, though, was that other women have come to us in droves and said, "Thank you for being the woman who did that. Because then I was able to have the courage to do it myself, or try to do it myself, and be taken seriously!" So I guess as we go we find out what our imprint is, and what our purpose has been.

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(SOUNDBITE OF HEART SONG "CRAZY ON YOU")

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

That acoustic guitar scrambling is from Nancy Wilson, one of the hottest songs and biggest acts born out of the 1970s. She and her sister Ann Wilson were the core of the rock band Heart. Their albums have become part of a rock canon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAZY ON YOU")

HEART: (Singing) Let me go crazy, crazy on you. My love is the evening breeze...

SIMON: Decades later, Nancy Wilson is now rocking out in a new supergroup, Roadcase Royale. Their debut album comes out this Friday. It's called "First Things First." There are new originals plus some hard lessons revisited.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVEN IT UP")

ROADCASE ROYALE: (Singing) Even it up. Even it up. Even it up.

SIMON: Nancy Wilson joins us now from the studios of our station WGBH in Boston.

Thanks so much for being with us.

NANCY WILSON: Hey, Scott. It's really good to be here.

SIMON: And this name, Roadcase Royale comes from...

WILSON: Well, it comes from where the road case - the Heart aspect of my new band is like the road cases, the old, scuffed-up road dogs that Heart was. And it's also, like, when you're out in the trenches of rock 'n' roll touring life, you do need to kind of develop an extra hard-shell case, you know, to (laughter) keep yourself. It's a survival mechanism. You need to kind of have a hard exterior.

SIMON: Not all glamorous, but you must love it.

WILSON: Well, I'm good at it. I mean, I've done it...

SIMON: Yeah.

WILSON: ...Long enough to know how to do it.

SIMON: Let's listen to another cut. This is "Get Loud."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET LOUD")

ROADCASE ROYALE: (Singing) No letters of love, chocolates or roses. Cruel words fall hard and mean in city streets, crowded malls, high school halls and bathroom stalls - unheard, unseen. It will get loud. It's going to get loud.

SIMON: And that very powerful voice, of course, is of Liv Warfield, who spent all that time with Prince's New Power Generation.

How did you guys team up for this effort?

WILSON: Actually, we were looking for an opening act last year with Heart at the Hollywood Bowl for two nights. And we had seen Liv Warfield on the "Jimmy Fallon" show, and she was doing an amazing song called "Why Do You Lie?" - her power, her presence, her delivery, her righteousness (laughter). And we were like, let's ask her to come and open for Heart. We fell into a great friendship, so we wanted to put together kind of a hybrid rock 'n' soul band. And that's what Roadcase Royale turned out to be.

SIMON: Let's listen to another song, if we could. This one is "Cover Each Other."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COVER EACH OTHER")

ROADCASE ROYALE: (Singing) Baby, baby, how was your day? I know it's been insane. You say it's all in vain.

SIMON: Is this kind of a love song for the long haul?

WILSON: (Laughter) Yeah - well said - a love song for the long haul. It's a song I actually wrote from personal experience when my husband Jeff was going through some really difficult life changes. And its an unconditional there-for-you kind of a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COVER EACH OTHER")

ROADCASE ROYALE: (Singing) As friends and lovers, we cover each other - discover each other.

WILSON: So many love songs - you know, a good 90 percent of them are we've-just-met love songs. (Laughter) Right - or like, hey, you, I'm attracted to you across the room kind of love songs or, you know - or, like, why-do-you-hurt-my-feelings-and-I'm-such-a-victim kind of love songs, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: One of my favorites, yeah.

WILSON: But the whiny love songs - there's a lot of those. And, you know...

SIMON: Yeah.

WILSON: But this one is a more sort of an adult perspective of a love song - when you know enough about life to really be there for somebody else who needs you when they need you there.

SIMON: Yeah. I have to ask you about something for people who have been your fans all these years. The last time we had you on our program, seven years ago, you were performing with your sister, Ann. You guys are at odds now, I gather.

WILSON: Well, we've been at odds for a while, since the end of the last Heart tour where there was a kerfuffle inside of the family with her new husband that involved my own kids. And it just felt a little bit too painful to just pretend that didn't happen for a long time now. And Ann and I both know that we're unconditionally going to love each other forever because we come from a tight-knit military kind of family. But there's just a lot of things that are kind of hard to untangle too easily or too quickly.

SIMON: Yeah. What's it like to be away from Heart?

WILSON: Well, it's different (laughter). Being away from Heart means being away from most of the comfort zones at this particular turn because we're just a brand-new baby band who has to kind of try to get a foothold and make our name. So you know, we're, all of us, in one bus - not two, not three. And we're hauling a trailer - no truck. And so, you know, we're sort of kind of the Beverly Hillbillies - the Clampetts of the brand-new rock band out here - you know, just acting like we're in our 20s or something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THESE DREAMS")

ROADCASE ROYALE: (Singing) Spare a little candle. Save some light for me.

SIMON: Do you ever think about where you fit into the history of rock?

WILSON: It's interesting 'cause, going into it, I wanted to be the Beatles because that's where - why I started doing rock music. And along the way, I sort of figured out, you are identified by your gender more than just being a musician. I think the best part of it all, though, was that other women have come to us in droves and said thank you for being the woman that did that because then I was able to have the courage to do it myself - or try to do it myself - and be taken seriously. So I guess as we go, we find out what our imprint is and what our purpose sort of has been.

SIMON: Nancy Wilson, now with Roadcase Royale - their first album, "First Things First."

Thanks very much.

WILSON: Fantastic to talk to you again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THESE DREAMS")

ROADCASE ROYALE: (Singing) These dreams go on when I close my eyes. Every second of the night, I live another life. These dreams that sleep when it's cold outside. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.