Exclusive Q&A: Ann Wilson Opens ‘Another Door’ With New Solo Album

Ann Wilson and her band, dubbed Tripsitter, will release a new album, Another Door, September 29. The powerful and eclectic collection from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame frontwoman for Heart features 11 all new original songs that show Wilson’s range as both a vocalist and a songwriter. The record will be accompanied by a PBS special to air November 24.

Before Wilson took the stage Saturday night in L.A. at a benefit for Playing For Change Foundation honoring legendary producer Norman Lear (All In The Family, The Jeffersons), she spoke with Sage Bava (who also performed that night, doing double duty), about the new album, finding her voice as a singer, feeling free as an artist at this point in her life to say what she wants and much more.

Steve Baltin: We were just discussing Neil Young. I am sure it is inspiring to see artists who are able to continuously evolve.

Ann Wilson: Yeah. And I think artists have to do that, they better do it or else they’re caricatures of themselves real fast.

Baltin: Yeah, it’s also just enjoyable as an artist to get to switch it up and do so many different things.

Wilson: Yeah, the trick is getting people to follow you through it, because the humans don’t like change, it’s just anti what we all want. We all want to stay in the beautiful moment, of the best times and so we latch to a song that’s 30, 40 years old. I know I do it, so I don’t blame people, but still.

Baltin: What was the last 30 to 40 year old song you latched on to?

Wilson: Oh my God. It was something ridiculous like, “I Want to Kiss You All Over,” by Exile, something like that. I think it’s one of the sexiest songs ever written and performed, but yeah. So to get people to actually follow your ideas is tricky.

Sage Bava: I’d love to hear more about that process of discovering your own authenticity in a song that is decades old and how you lock into that and allow people to follow.

Wilson: I think when you’re writing songs, when I’m writing songs, it’s really easy to find my real voice, because that’s the voice that I write the lyrics in and come up with the melodies and all that, and it’s just an extension of my speaking voice. But when people cover your songs that’s the tricky thing, like I’ve heard people cover Beatles songs and I always cringe because it doesn’t matter who it is, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, it never sat right with me, it just didn’t because it wasn’t the authentic, it wasn’t John Lennon.

Baltin: That’s so fascinating to me because you have one of the most iconic covers of all time, which is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven. Talk about when you have those moments of doing a song, ’cause actually “Stairway” is not the only Zeppelin song you’ve done.

Wilson: No, and we have fun in Heart with Zeppelin, because it’s in my range and it’s rock and people love it and everything. But “Stairway,” it’s damn near Holy and when we were asked to do it at the Kennedy Center Honors, at first I sort of went, “Oh, I don’t know, it’d be so easy to screw this up and to just have people sort of go, ugh.” And in fact after it was over we had a dinner with the all the cast and everything, and the Zeppelin guys were there and [Robert] Plant told me, “I usually hate when people do ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ I just hate it, because it’s just always wrong but I liked your version.” And that was enough said for me, I just thought, “Okay, we didn’t blow it, we kept true to the nature of the song. We didn’t try and bend it and make it a big jazz song or something like that.” It just, although I’ve heard really cool versions of people covering Joni Mitchell songs that go way off, so I just think it varies with the artist.

Bava: You spoke on your own voice as a writer and then getting in these cover songs. Do you find that similar feeling of where it comes from, as far as the core of the inspiration or is it just a completely different mental and physical being?

Wilson: That’s a real good question. ‘Cause I happen to feel kind of Zen about singing, like, you leave yourself, you’re not up there, at least I’m not up there going, “This is me, here I am.” It’s not me, it’s coming direct, and so in that sense it’s more than authentic, it’s essential and pure. There’s nothing thought out about it, about trying to stay original or stay authentic.

Bava: It’s amazing to hear stories from incredible artists about these out-of-body experiences that to me is truer than true. And hearing the process of their discovery of that. Was it just something that was always there or was there a clear experience that you had that made that a permanent thing in your being?

Wilson: Well, I can’t speak to whether or not it was always there, because I don’t know. It might’ve been but it was just so subterranean that I didn’t ever have the tools to uncover it. But I reached a certain age and a confidence came over me that allowed me to reach in and grab it and start to work with it. But [chuckle] it’s all mental to me. It’s not about what shape my throat is in necessarily, it’s about what kind of confidence I have, how much I can just open up and let it out. If I’m feeling uptight or closed down or something like that it’s much harder. I’m sure you understand exactly what I’m saying.

Bava: I’m feeling like I’m still finding that chapter shift of like, now it’s permanent. Because it ebbs and flows quite a bit. So to hear the rituals and the process of someone like you is so inspiring. And hearing that confidence is so potent for me, because that’s really what it’s all about, is knowing and doing.

Wilson: Yeah. I sure wish, I’ve always wished there was some kind of magic bullet that just on nights when you just don’t feel like doing it, which is a big deterrent right there. You’ve just done it too many times that week or that month, and you just… I’d just rather stay silent tonight but you have to do it, I wish there was some way you could just take a key and go, “Nope, here it is.” And that would be great, but there isn’t.

Baltin: What was that age for you when you started to feel that confidence? You mentioned there was a certain age. Do you remember when it was that it just clicked on?

Wilson: Yeah, I was probably around 22, ’cause I was all through junior high and high school and I went to art school after high school. So all through those years I was playing the flute in bands and orchestras and singing in choirs and everything, but it never struck me, I was never the person who got chosen to sing the solo. I didn’t have a voice then, I didn’t have the confidence, I was a shrinking violet.

Baltin: You say it clicked on. Was there something that clicked it for you?

Wilson: Yeah. And it was the graduation from being the kid listening to the radio and loving songs to singing along with them, to all of a sudden feeling the need to sing them to people and then being in front of people and then getting their reaction and getting that hit of the super love you get. I think all that went together, there was a transition there. But it was weird because people didn’t really understand what was happening with me, like my parents and most of my friends in Seattle and stuff, they were like, “What are you doing? [laughter] All of a sudden you’re up on this stage and you’re screaming, you’re yelling. We know you as this soft spoken girl, and here you are this Janis Joplin-ish in those days type character, who’s just screaming.” And all I could say was, “I don’t know, I just feel it.” And it was the songs that the band I was in was playing, they were so fun that you’d just forget who you are and you just become Janis Joplin or you become Elton John or whoever it was they’re covering at the time.

Baltin: Let’s tie this in with the new album, which is coming out September 29. I think for everybody as you get older you find yourself tapping in more into that authenticity as a writer, and just becoming more confident in your voice. For you as an artist, how gratifying is to be in that place in life where you’re just like, “Look, I’ve achieved everything that I would want to achieve as an artist. And now I get to just say, this is the record that I want to make at this moment?”

Wilson: Yeah, and see that’s a full circle, that’s coming back to where you started from. And that’s really something that makes me feel so good about this new record. I’ve got no aspiration to have hit singles, to go beyond MTV or any of those things that, those tools that they used to use to get people huge, I don’t have that now. And it’s just so liberating and just to play with these musicians who support me in these crazy songs, some of them are really unusual, like “Rusty Robots” and a few of them are really different.

Baltin: Was there one song that jump started the record and set the tone for the fact that A, this was the record you wanted to make and B, it’s going to be really different?

Wilson: There were two of them, there was one called, “This Is Now,” that was the first one we cut. And then there’s one called “Tripsitter.” And especially “Tripsitter.” I think was the one that really made us all spin our heads around and go, “There’s nothing else on here like that. Can all these songs live together with ‘Tripsitter’?” And they can, they can. In fact, ‘Tripsitter’ kind of radiated into them all and, [laughter] now you think that they’re all tied together and living together.

Baltin: Are there songs from this one that you are really excited to play live and see how people respond to them?

Wilson: Yeah, I think it’s been really cool to have just be given free reign and to not be scared and it helps that I’m paying, I’m not using somebody else’s money, like there’s no record company involved, I’m the record company. So I’m not beholden to them and like you feel so good about your record and then the day comes when the record guys come in and sit down and go, “Oh, we don’t hear a single on here.” [Laughter] That’s the very bad day, but I don’t have that now, it’s freeing.

Baltin: In addition to “Tripsitter” or “Rusty Robots,” are there one or two songs in particular off this album that you’re really excited to do in front of an audience and see how people respond?

Wilson: “Rain of Hell,” I love doing that song, ’cause it’s it was written from a real heartbreak, I was thinking about the Ukraine War and how horrible and devastating that is to so many lives. And it really got me worked up, like I was sad for days until I found out a way to put it onto paper. And that was a song that’s kind of like a take on a Medieval folk song or something, but it’s put to metal background and it’s just about the horror.

Bava: The message that you had going into this project, did it turn out to be what came out of the project, did it change, is there a core message at all?

Wilson: Good question again, I don’t know if there’s a single core message. Each song has a message, and together it’s just all about a person and the things they feel. It’s about the things, it’s about my poetry, for instance, and of course the music that the guys and I came up with to put it to. That would be as close to a message as it has, but it’s definitely all the songs are not things that I’ve written before. I was so happy to just come up with 11 new original songs and just no covers, it’s great.

Baltin: Were there things on this album that really surprised you when you go back and look at it?

Wilson: I think that some of them didn’t surprise me at all, like the song “Still” is a pretty straight ahead love song. “Miss One And Only” surprised me, because it’s a really personal song where a person is really all alone, but yet talking to someone in the wind who is far away, but she’s all alone and she refers to herself, which I never do in songs. I’m always the person who’s invisible behind the voice. But it’s like the first song I think I’ve done that and that thought came out really great.

Bava: I love invisible behind the voice. That should be one of the songs you write. I’d love to know what else is invisible behind the voice, I feel like so much of what the state that an artist is in makes them be inspired for what comes out of them. So I’m curious, in this time of your life what’s inspiring you and what has been the seeds for this beautiful album that you’ve created?

Wilson: At this exalted time in my life, I feel freer to talk openly than I ever have. And I don’t feel as afraid of things, I don’t feel the need to try and stay behind some kind of armor. And when I look back at some of the songs that were written earlier in the ’80s, for instance, and in the ’90s, there was something between me and reality, there was something there like an invisible armor, and it’s not there now. Maybe enough stuff happened, enough time has gone by that I don’t need to worry about stuff. People have said everything they’re gonna say and there’s nothing they could say that would be so injuring or I imagine there’s something, but it wouldn’t be fatal. And I think that some artists worry about that feeling of vulnerability and fatality when they open up.

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