Heart to hold

Ann and Nancy Wilson aren't a nostalgia act...yet

"There are still so many expectations with the name Heart," Ann laments. "Right now, we're negotiating with the [new] label about what to call the album. I don't know if people need more recognizability than Ann and Nancy Wilson, but we'll see. It does get harder and harder the more of a past you have to stay fresh, to say we still have goals beyond this.

"I think for a while there I was considering it a burden," Ann says of the Heart catalog. "But now that we're out there playing these old songs in a new way, it's great seeing people get off. I'd be pretty callous if I didn't get a thrill out of seeing someone really get into 'Dog and Butterfly' again. But if that was all I could play, I'd feel like Ricky Nelson in Garden Party. With this tour, we're just playing new stuff without asking anyone's permission."

The Wilson sisters have been toiling in their own Heart-shaped shadow for the last few years, mostly coupling old songs with new ones in live and recorded form, as if they were trying to soften the shock of unfamiliarity and entice longtime fans to try something new. Nancy Wilson recently released Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop, two acoustic shows recorded at the famed Los Angeles music store, and has just finished the score for husband Cameron Crowe's upcoming feature. Ann has toured as Heart with Ann Wilson and co-starred for seven months in a musical revue called Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle, where she performed classic jazz tunes.

Wait, which one is the dog and which is the butterfly? Nancy and Ann Wilson are still crazy on you after all these years.
Wait, which one is the dog and which is the butterfly? Nancy and Ann Wilson are still crazy on you after all these years.

In 1997, the twosome released the debut album of their most significant side incarnation -- an acoustic quartet with Sue Ennis and Frank Cox called The Lovemongers, whose recordings have brought them back to the snaky folk feel of songs off Dreamboat Annie. Whirlygig followed 1992's The Battle of Evermore EP, whose title track was the Zeppelin cover featured on the soundtrack of Crowe's Singles movie. That cover isn't nearly as attention-getting as another, released just this year, that Ann and Nancy perform with a guest vocalist: the Eurythmics' "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" with Lisa Simpson [voiced by Yeardley Smith] for The Yellow Album, the new compilation of songs and instrumentals from The Simpsons.

Of the new material to be presented on their current national tour, Ann is especially excited about one song: "Nothing But Love," her first collaboration with Burt Bacharach.

"Both of us were really impressed with what he'd been doing with Elvis Costello," Ann says. "So we took him some of my lyrics and said, 'Here.' He liked them, and lifted out the most meaningful ones. I'd say about three-quarters of the original stuff survived the cutting-room floor. And then he began to compose this very sultry music, with interesting jumps in the melodies. He really does compose with women in mind. Of course, male singers like a Sting or an Elvis Costello sound right singing it too."

The current tour as Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart has them playing before crowds of 10,000 in New Jersey and a few hundred in Fort Worth's Caravan of Dreams. Splitting familiar and fresh material "right down the middle," Ann says, the sisters will be sharing bass, electric and acoustic guitar, piano, and flute duties alone on stage, as well as something called "an atomic beat box" -- a hollow wooden box with pickup inside that's cued by the sound man. They kick it to make the sound of a bass drum. All in all, Ann says, she's surprised that she forgot how much intimate venues -- they haven't played this many clubs consecutively since the early '70s, when they traveled all over the Pacific Northwest -- require of a musician.

"I go to bed exhausted every night [on this tour]," Ann says. "But it's great. When you can see the whites of the audience's eyes, you feel like you have to work harder but be more relaxed at the same time." And as for the ultimate goal of playing smaller shows to feature never-before-heard tunes, Ann says, "We're trying to build a bridge to the future with this, saying we're not ready to tour for the next 20 years as a nostalgia act, and then retire to Boot Hill." But what about the name Heart?

"It's not dead," Ann insists. "It's just up on blocks in the back yard."

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