- Jess Griffin
- 'I'm like, "OK, I can get out of bed today."'
Heart vocalist Ann Wilson's recent career moves are easy to explain. After releasing the band's well-received 16th album Beautiful Broken last year, Heart followed up with an extensive world tour, culminating in a plush Royal Albert Hall concert in London with a full orchestra. After that, she and her guitarist sister Nancy each decided to take solo-project breaks. Hers is dubbed The Ann Wilson Thing! — the exclamation mark there to indicate that it's "exciting, fun, and in the moment," she says. Her current 20-city tour, meanwhile, is billed as the Ann Wilson of Heart Tour. "I put the 'Of Heart' thing on there," she says, "just so people would know."
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has actually put out two EPs, which afford her the opportunity to delve into rock classics. The first includes a moving rendition of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," while its follow-up finds her wrapping her rafter-rattling pipes around Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's "Don't Give Up," Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression," alongside heartfelt originals like "Anguish."
"The covers are almost my favorite part," says the singer, who brought down the house in 2012 when she performed "Stairway to Heaven" with her sister at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony for Robert Plant. She also recorded an impressive version of Led Zeppelin's etched-in-stone classic "Immigrant Song."
Why does Wilson enjoy singing other musicians' songs so much? "Hey, I was born and raised as a bar-song singer by my parents," she says with a laugh. "First, old English pub songs, then folk songs, then everybody else's songs. And then — in the '70s, '80s and '90s — the songs that Nancy and I had written ourselves. But the first things I learned on are what really inspired me, and they're so fun to do. Doing covers is just so satisfying, and a great exercise for me as a singer."
Wilson has overcome some trying times in her life, including a personal battle with substance abuse that she won in 2009. She's grateful now, she says, for small things like the pattern of sunlight she sees every morning move across the walls of her yoga room. "I see that first thing, and I'm like, 'Okay — I can get out of bed today,'" she says. "It's proof. Proof of the ultimate beauty."
Through it all, the singer has developed a Zen-like philosophy that grounds her in every choice she makes, like, say, singing with Metallica's James Hetfield on Beautiful Broken's title song — a collaboration that Heart fans might never have expected. "I think if you hang around long enough, you are going to see some amazing things,' she says, "things that you never would have been able to accept when you were younger. And you just get more fluid, more accepting, I think. Except for those people who get more crystallized and hardened. And I'm certainly not one of those."