Ann Wilson, a self-described peacenik, is also a firebrand. After more than 30 years establishing a foundation for women in rock music, Wilson turned an artistic corner by releasing Hope and Glory in September 2007.
This is Wilson’s first solo effort: a creative platform from which to rally for what she believes in, a brave step for an artist in today’s quagmire of false reality and pop star idol worship. Hope and Glory may be Wilson’s initial flight from the band Heart, but it’s a collage of talent, featuring collaborative experiments on songs first made famous by other artists. These are songs that Wilson believes stir the soul and force the listener to think about what’s happening in the world.
In Hope and Glory, you explore the world's troubled times through legendary songs by artists such as Bob Dylan ("A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"), John Lennon ("Isolation"), Led Zeppelin ("Immigrant Song"), and others. Those of a particular generation may recognize these songs as cries from previous conflicts, but what impact do you hope to have on younger people with that selection?
Well, I hope they will listen to these words and these songs and get the message. Take the messages from an earlier time and receive them inside their own time.
How did you approach many of your collaborators, including Elton John, Alison Krauss, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang, and Shawn Colvin, about the Hope and Glory project? Is this the kind of effort that many other artists say, "Oh, HELL yes!" to?
Yes, it’s an “Oh, HELL yes!” experience to both listen to it and be the one experiencing it! My producer and collaborator Ben Mink and my manager Carol Peters were the people who actually made the connections, but most of these artists I’ve met before. It really wasn’t too much of a jump. I just had to get them the music and tell them what I wanted and they said, “Oh, HELL yes!”
Alison Krauss was possibly the only artist I hadn’t met but after she sung her part, she called back with this most delightful of responses saying how happy she was. That was the first time we’d actually connected – receiving her recorded voice on my phone saying how thrilled she was over the collaboration.
With the bombardment of 24-hour news and arguing pundits, how can a minstrel's voice be heard above the din?
I don’t think it’s an artist’s place to scream louder than pundits. I don’t think that’s the point. Music will always serve as a private score in people’s lives and when people are tired of the screaming and complaining, the music will be there to be their private sounding board.
There's a saying: "Mommas don't send their babies off to war." Does this hold up to political scrutiny?
I don’t know about political scrutiny, but I don’t think a mother should ever send a child to war. If a young man or woman wants to be a soldier, it should be of his or her own volition. If my children told me they wanted to be soldiers, I would try to fight them out of it tooth and nail. However, if they really persisted and it was their own choice, I would understand.
What questions do your children have about the current state of affairs, and how do you answer?
I think I’ve created a couple of monsters, because I have always been outspoken about my antiwar feelings.
I come from a military family with many generations of soldiers behind me, and our family has always been affected by war and especially by post-traumatic stress disorder. I have always been very vocal about war, and my kids scream at the TV when they see Bush on television.
My oldest daughter just received a letter from the Army because she turned 17. The letter said, “If you are interested in doing something after high school, you’ll get a chance to serve, and get an education, blah, blah, blah.” She ripped it into pieces and put it in an envelope with a note, on which she’d written something really rude, and a list of all her relatives who’d been in the Army, and she sent it off. So that’s how just one of my kids responded!
My 9-year-old son still likes the way soldiers look with their guns, but it’s sort of a videotape mentality. I just let them know they won’t be doing any fighting on my watch.
"We're getting older...the world's getting colder." Nearly 30 years have passed since you, sister Nancy Wilson, and Sue Ennis wrote this line as part of the song, "Dog and Butterfly." Do you feel a loss of innocence since then, or do you still have hope?
Yes, I feel a loss of innocence but, at the same time, I am a hopeful person and despite feeling like I’ve seen these patterns happen before, I still have a cock-eyed optimism, as they sang in South Pacific. I still think there is a chance for us, but it will take a lot of pulling together.
I'm certain I'm not the only woman who sang into a hairbrush to that song. What encouragement do you have for up and coming female musicians and vocalists?
One thing is that, if you are going to sing into a hairbrush, it better be a Mason Pearson, and not some cheap drugstore hairbrush!
Seriously, it’s just that there obviously are some snares involved in being a woman in the music industry, so don’t compromise. I don’t think things have gotten easier; they have just morphed from one thing into another. It is still just as likely that a woman will be used for the image she portrays, rather than for the talent she possesses.
So women should be aware that if they are going to make it they are going to have to work harder than guys. Learn to say no to whatever you can, and say yes only to those things that really matter.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I’m going to see Led Zeppelin in London next month and I can’t wait!
Follow Wilson on tour.
View her MySpace page.
Purchase Hope and Glory.
Tracey Kelley will explore more creative views and influences in future installments of “Portrait of An Artist.”
Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou
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11.26.07 @ 12:23p
Great interview Tracey!
11.26.07 @ 4:03p
Great questions, Tracey! I wish Wilson had gone into more depth about the songs she chose for this album and the reasons behind them, more than "I hope they get the message." I would have loved to know what message SHE gets from these songs and how she thinks the messages might be received by a generation that hears them out of their original context.
I've been Heart fan since the early days. Teenage girls c.1978 had three major mavens to emulate - the granola girls went for Stevie Nicks; the popular girls had Farrah Fawcett-Majors. And we working-class rocker-wannabes knew the only REALLY cool chick was Ann. It's good to see that she's still that really cool chick.
11.26.07 @ 5:15p
What Juli said.
Also, it's a bit disheartening (*cough*) that the "collaboration" comes off as such a shallow thing. Did she actually get together with Allison Krauss? Well, no. She sang her bit into a can, and somewhere else Ms. Krauss sang her bit into a can, and then Ben Mink put it in a blender and made it into a record. This is not a bunch of good friends gathered around a microphone, amicably trading licks and harmonies. It's as collaborative as in vitro fertilization.
And the guy who came up with the album cover should be shot. It says nothing at all, when -- given the songs included and the "brave step" we're supposed to believe AW is taking -- it should be the first means of communicating with the would-be customer.
11.26.07 @ 5:50p
I dunno, Russ, I'm not sure that much collaboration happens with friends gathered around a mic anymore. But that doesn't necessarily mean they haven't put a fair bit of themselves into this. I know a number of artists who exchange musical bits via email and still manage to put together pretty stunning albums, with meaningful contribution and collaboration despite the distances between them.
I've listened to the sample tracks from Wilson's website, and I'll say one thing: she still has the killer pipes. What's up there sounds less "raw" and more polished than her earlier work, but she can still sing the shit out of anything.
11.27.07 @ 12:21a
Way to raise the bar for the features page, TK.
12.7.07 @ 3:39p
Apologies for my severely late response to this, but congrats Tracey! Damn straight, this is a great way to raise the bar for features!
I think it's pretty interesting that Wilson doesn't think it's an artist's place to be louder than a pundit, because an artist has the ability to be heard louder and be more well-received than a pundit. AIDS in Africa has gotten a lot more attention thanks to Bono making himself heard, and if an artist has to yell to produce that effect, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.