Ann Wilson of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Heart is still a West Coast woman at heart, but she’s lived with her husband in northern, rural Florida for four years. On her street, almost every house has a Trump sign. If you were from a city and were to find yourself there, you’d probably feel uneasy and maybe even unsafe, she said in a video call two weeks ago.
People are generally friendly, even though their opinions are different. She admits that she struggles respecting people’s conservative beliefs while upholding her own progressive ones. She sometimes feels alienated in her own neighborhood. She’s learned how to accept people with different opinions as her friends, but she understands to avoid politics, or else the conversation is over.
“I’m a blue in a red state,” said Wilson, who along with her sister, Nancy Wilson, is responsible for iconic hits like “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda.”
“I talk a lot about compromise and everything,” she said. “Well, I’m living it, because I live smack dab in the middle of a very conservative area, and people all have guns and stuff like that, which is not my way, but that’s the neighborhood.”
A week before the presidential election, Wilson released her message of compromise; a cover of Steve Earle’s 2004 single, “The Revolution Starts Now.” She’s following it up this week with a cover of Alice In Chains’ “The Rooster,” the second in a series of singles fans can expect through the winter.
“’The Revolution Starts Now’ wasn’t particularly referring to the election, but rather, referring to the mood of the country as a whole and just how polarized the population is at the moment,” she said. “To me, the song talks about the idea of, ‘let’s reach higher, let’s think higher.’ Hatred and polarization is one of our more base emotions. Let’s just see what else we got as humans; like, can we go higher?
Wilson didn’t expect the song to create some sort of kumbaya moment. In fact, the country seems more divided than ever as about 72 million people voted for Donald Trump, some of whom are now parading through the streets and demanding that he remain in charge.
She predicts things will get worse after the states certify the election for Joe Biden. That’s because Trump’s base will believe him no matter what, not wanting to be proven wrong.
“They’ll go to town. I don’t want to be a crepehanger and predict horrible things for the country, but until we get past this thing right now, and everybody just accepts that this is what has happened, that we’re living in a democracy, [there may be trouble].”
Nonetheless, Ann Wilson said she loves the United States more than any other place she’s visited. The U.S. still leads the world with its pioneering spirit, but is going through what she described as whitewater rapids that have to be navigated. She has hope, though. And there’s that word again: compromise.
“Another word for democracy is compromise, where everyone supposedly throws in their ideas and their opinion, and we come to a consensus,” she said. “It’s not one way or the other. Americans are always talking about themselves being so uncompromising, but really we’re not. We built the system that’s built on that. When we get our heads around that and are able to accept it and move on, then I think we’ll be OK. Change happens, but it’s incremental.”
“The Revolution Starts Now” and “The Rooster” were both recorded in Seattle last summer, in the middle of a cross-country road trip that Wilson embarked on with her husband, Dean Wetter, and her manager.
The couple and had been cooped up with their dogs. Wilson had the time to live a typical life: writing, reading, watching TV and otherwise “feeding my head.” But eventually, they couldn’t contain themselves anymore. The two splurged on a fancy tour bus rental—“it had a stateroom in the back and all that”—and took off, maintaining COVID protocols along the way.
They visited Joshua Tree National Park before Los Angeles, where they met with music industry executives and others to discuss the state of the industry.
Next on the trip was San Francisco, where they visited with Wetter’s side of the family.
“It sounds strange, but between Dean and I, we have 10 grandchildren,” the 70-year-old said. “They’re all little children, and half of them are in the Bay Area and half are in Seattle, so we saw all of them.”
In the Bay Area, they also met with people like longtime music attorney Brian Rohan, who has worked with the likes of Bill Graham, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.
“All musicians are trying to figure out, ‘What do we do now that the world is changing? How do we continue expressing ourselves so that people can receive our message and our music? What do we do? And how can we actually make a living at it? What’s worth worrying about and what’s not?’” she said.
Next, the trio was off to Seattle, where Wilson recruited a band of musicians and recorded a handful of songs over a week.
“The sessions were really funny because everybody had masks on so you couldn’t really tell if people were glaring at you or smiling,” she said. “You just got used to reading people’s eyes.”
The Alice in Chains cover was recorded for an event at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, which was presenting that band with an award. She liked how it turned out and decided to release it. Several other singles will follow every four to five weeks.
The road trip continued onward, through Yellowstone, Bridal Veil Falls in Utah and Kansas City, where they visited more family. She said the most beautiful sight on the entire trip was Wasatch Mountain in Utah.
“It’s all just aflame with color and just so gorgeous and fresh,” she said. “It was so great to just get a look at what was going on out in the rest of the country. … It was like breathing after being in a suffocating small room after a while.”
In Nashville, Wilson played her songs for some trusted friends in the music industry, who encouraged her to continue to pursue the music that resonated most with her rather than pandering to formulas. They told her to not be swayed by Los Angeles or Nashville, continuing to embrace her Seattle influences.
“I really appreciated that viewpoint, because sometimes when you’re in the music industry, you’re easily influenced by what’s hip and what’s happening, what’s on the radio and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “You lose sight of who you are, basically, and who you are is why people want to hear your music.”
Both she and her sister, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, continue working on their solo music, and will one day reunite to perform their songs after the pandemic.
“We’ll do them in the Heart way,” she said. “I think that our each having solo careers is really a great thing because it makes us both feel refreshed. We come back to the stuff we do together with a whole new energy. It’s so important to keep whatever you do; it’s got to be fresh. It’s got to be real. Or, it’s not; it’s the old, spoiled thing on the shelf that you’re just trying to sell.
“Frankly, between you and I, I would rather not do it than just be that.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.
An earlier version misspelled the name of Dean Wetter.