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Nancy Wilson of Heart

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New book, new album and the joy of plugging in

There are few bands of Heart's stature and longevity who can lay claim to a year like this one. June saw the release of 'Strange Euphoria' - a box set containing a wealth of previously unheard material across three discs, along with a DVD of a 1976 Heart performance.

Last week, Ann and Nancy Wilson released their joint autobiography, 'Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll,' while Heart's 14th album of new material, 'Fanatic,' is due for release on Tuesday, Oct. 2 from Sony/Legacy.

Heart received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (appropriately, in front of the Musician's Institute) on Sept. 25, and a 50-date tour that will bring the band to Meadowbrook in Guilford NH on Oct. 7 continues through November.

On top of her band's intense schedule, Nancy Wilson enjoyed Heart activity of another kind earlier this year when she said 'I do' (and on her Facebook page, 'Love rules') and married Geoff Bywater, an executive for Fox. All in all, 2012 has been a pretty sweet year and it's far from over. Last week, I spoke with Nancy Wilson about her life and Heart's rollercoaster of a career.

Dow: I'm anxious to read the new Heart biography that you and Ann have written with Charles Cross. I'm guessing that one of the advantages to writing the book yourselves is that you can be sure that the story will be correct! What surprised you? What did you learn from doing this book?

Wilson: It's a cool thing to go back and really look at your whole life. We did individual interviews and Charles Cross did the hard work. We just talked about ourselves and he pulled it together. When I went back and read it all as a piece, it was really interesting and kind of surprising to see what everything had been like for Ann. I was interested to find out about her experiences during the years when I was not in the band when I was trying to start my family and going through some of the fertility issues that I went through. We both talked about those times when we were not working together, and it was really different on her end of things than it was on my end of things. I learned a lot about myself and about the two of us, about our family and the history of our family. I learned a lot about 'the roaring '80s,' the party years there's a lot of stuff I wasn't aware of. It's a cool chronicle. It's a little sensational here and there, but it's all true and it's something I think our kids can also be proud of. It walks a good line. It's a good balance.

Dow: 'Fanatic' (the title song from Heart's new album) sounds like vintage Heart. I had the same thought when I first heard 'WTF' from your last album, 'Red Velvet Car.'

Wilson: Oh God, thanks. Yeah, when we did 'Red Velvet Car,' we were like, 'Let's do the acoustic/heavy rock thing' with acoustic guitars and this time, on Fanatic, we were like, 'OK, let's plug it in!' You can't go wrong when it goes to 11, as they say (laughing). The new stuff is really muscular and vital and it's really fun to play. We're on tour now and we've been playing some of the new songs in concert. It's just a blast and people are liking it a lot.

Dow: I hope Heart will come back to Maine sometime soon. Here in Bangor, they're building a new arena as we speak and for the warmer months, we have a wonderful concert pavilion on the waterfront. What do you think of when you think of Maine?

Wilson: Oh, we've always loved it there. It's so much like our hometown of Seattle and even Vancouver where we sort of grew the band originally. I love the scenic grandeur of the Northeast - the seasons, the beauty of the trees and the water and the beaches it's so much like home for us. When you have that college-town vibe combined with that kind of scenery, it's super-homey. We love Maine.

Dow: Heart in the 1970s was very different from Heart in the '80s. Where is that division and how do you perceive the two eras now?

Wilson: Where we came from the 1970s - that was an extension of the '60s. It was a much more mind-expanded, philosophic and poetic musical time. The '80s really changed things. The drugs changed with the weirdness of the cocaine era. It became much more about ego and less about music. With the arrival of MTV, it was much more about imaging. The fashions switched so radically. We were like, 'Whoa, how do we survive this?' We were sort of like, 'If you can't beat em, join em' - at least for a while. It got us feeling a little bit out of place, for sure. We had to do a lot of regrouping. When the '90s arrived, the Seattle explosion happened and we were really grateful for that (laughing). Even though we had our biggest success in the '80s, it was our hardest decade to live through in many ways especially the late '80s. There are a lot of lifetimes in a lifetime if you're lucky, and that's just one of them for us.

Dow: Did drugs ever become a part of Heart and, if so, when did that happen?

Wilson: Mostly in the '80s. That was a cocaine time. That's when all of the band and everybody was doing cocaine. We were pretty lightweight compared to a lot of these bands. We didn't do any drinking or anything before a show. We were always professional about getting up there and getting our job done. Then afterwards, we'd have a big party that would go way too late and we'd be like, 'Oh no! What did we do?' Comparatively speaking, we were pretty good in context of the time (laughing).

Dow: A few months ago, Heart released 'Strange Euphoria' a very unique box set. In some ways, it offers an alternate view of the band. You have demo versions of some of your best known material, alternate versions, completely unreleased songs and live material. It's a very cool treat for the Heart fan who thinks they've heard everything.

Wilson: Yeah, that's right. We dug out some completely unreleased cool songs, demo versions of cool unreleased songs and even some of the really rare family comedy stuff. It's really a trip through many different phases we went through. There are songs that, when I heard them, I didn't know why we didn't put them on albums at the time. There are pretty cool songs on there that never saw the light of day until now.

Dow: After 'Red Velvet Car' was released, I spoke with Ann (interview for The Maine Edge edition 236 June 15, 2011). During the interview, Ann used the word 'generous' when describing you more than once as I recall. I know it can't always be easy being in a successful band with a sibling, but the love you two have for each other is real, isn't it? It isn't an act.

Wilson: No, we don't pose at that. We wouldn't be able to do this if we weren't completely authentic about it. It's really what we're called to do. We come from a military family where there's a real strong work ethic. We believe that life is too short for any extra drama. We love our job and we've done it for a long time. We do it professionally and we give it our authentic, honest, college try (laughing).

Dow: You and Ann put yourselves under the microscope for your new book. As you look back over the last 40 years, what's been the most satisfying moment and what was the most challenging?

Wilson: The most challenging has been trying to be a mom and find that perfect balance between home life and touring life trying to make time for everybody and everything that you need to make time for along with the job. I've managed to do a pretty good job with that but it's really not easy being the CEO of a corporation called Heart which requires a lot of travel. When your kids get to the age where they're going to school, you can really only travel in the summer. And if you get big offers in the spring and in the fall, you need to figure that out. Do I take them out of school and bring them along? That's the toughest part.

The most rewarding part has been the music itself. When you write a song and put together a collection of songs that seem to really work like on 'Fantatic' it feels right, it feels good. Somehow, it's like, 'How did that happen? It dropped out of the sky and it works!' The muse is the most rewarding part.

Mike Dow is part of The Mike and Mike Show mornings on Kiss 94.5. Connect with him at www.Facebook.com/MikeandMike and www.MikeDow.net.

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