Nancy Wilson talks first solo album, 35th anniversary of 'These Dreams' and giving Eddie Van Halen his first acoustic guitar

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·8 min read
Nancy Wilson (Photo: Jeremy Danger)
Nancy Wilson (Photo: Jeremy Danger)

Incredibly, it’s taken until now for pioneering Heart guitarist, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and four-time Grammy-winner Nancy Wilson to release her first studio solo album. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume about that LP, You and Me — which was remotely recorded during the 2020 pandemic while Heart’s tour plans were on indefinite hold — she says, “I guess I've been sucked into the vortex of the Heart world for so long. … I was always in the blur of the heart of Heart. Being able to stop and be creative in this way has been really rewarding.”

Interestingly, in a full-circle moment, the album’s release coincides almost exactly with the 35th anniversary of “These Dreams” — the first Heart single to go to No. 1 on the Billboard chart, and one of only two Heart singles to feature Nancy, instead of her sister and bandmate Ann Wilson, on lead vocals. That power ballad, written by longtime Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin and former Q-Feel member Martin Page, was originally offered to Stevie Nicks, who passed, and Heart nearly passed on it too — until Nancy fought to record the song herself. She now confesses with a chuckle that once “These Dreams” became Heart’s biggest hit, the unexpected success caused some friction between her and Ann.

“We were at Ann's house listening to cassette after cassette after cassette of outside writers, songs that we might want to try as for a Heart songs,” Nancy recalls. “And the guy that was the producer we were working with that day said, ‘This is a really beautiful other kind of song. It's not a hard song, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a beautiful song.’ And so we heard this demo, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this song. I need to sing this song. I need it! I need this for me!’ And they were like, ‘Nah, that's not going to work out. … No, no, no, no, no, we're not gonna do that song. It's just not a Heart song.’ And so I said, ‘Please, please, please, please. I gotta do this!’”

Nancy was so insistent, in fact, that she “talked everybody into allowing me to make a demo of it.” But even then, it seemed like the odds of “These Dreams” being a breakout hit, or even being released at all, were slim, because she was under the weather when it came time to record. “When I was singing on the demo, the mock vocal, I had a cold that day, so my voice was really scratchy. And they said, ‘That's really a cool sound. We should keep that in the song.’ So, it just came about, like every which way, for that song to actually become the very first ever No. 1 single we ever had — and Ann was pissed!”

Nancy reveals that Ann, who is four years older and had joined Heart first, was “not happy, and she was not the kind to keep that under her belt. You know, she couldn't quite go there for me. She wasn't going to say, ‘Oh, I'm so happy for you!’ … I mean, she really has a problem with me getting glory; that’s just in her personality. She gets jealous when I get paid a lot of attention, because she wants to be the center of attention.” However, Nancy points out: “And she is the lead singer, you know. I'm just another singer in the band.”

Ironically, Nancy adds with a laugh that when Ann later took a stab at singing “These Dreams” herself, she realized that Nancy had been the right woman for the job all along. “It’s just so funny to me that she said, ‘I want to try singing it sometime,’ and I said, ‘OK, why don't you do it?’ So, we got a karaoke machine. We put ‘These Dreams’ on the karaoke machine, and she goes, ‘Well, I can't sing that song. It makes it sound like jazz! So never mind. I'm never going to try to sing that again.’”

Growing up as “fresh-faced girls from the Northwest” who “hardly wore any makeup” and didn’t want to be “forced into any sort of image-making,” both Nancy and Ann bristled when their label styled them as hairsprayed hard-rock vixens in the 1980s, even if that glam makeover did lead to heavy MTV rotation for tracks like “These Dreams,” “Alone” (which also went to No. 1), and “What About Love.” Says Nancy, “It was a far cry from where we started.” She even admits that when Northwest alt-rockers like Nirvana and Pearl Jam essentially eradicated hair-metal from the MTV airwaves and “it was suddenly very cool to be from Seattle,” she and Ann worried that Heart would become persona non grata in their own hometown. “We thought, ‘Those guys are going to hate us! They’ll think we’re big-haired, shallow, rock dinosaurs!’”

Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell, and inductees Nancy and Ann Wilson at the 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. (Photo: Kevin Kane/WireImage)
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell, and inductees Nancy and Ann Wilson at the 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. (Photo: Kevin Kane/WireImage)

Thankfully, that was not the case. The Wilson sisters were embraced and respected in the '90s Seattle scene, forging lasting bonds with members of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains after meeting many of them at a memorial for Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. “They never shut us out. They never were snooty with us,” Nancy says with a smile. In other full-circle moments, Northwest indie icon Carrie Brownstein, of Olympia’s Sleater-Kinney, is now set to write and direct a Heart biopic for Amazon (Nancy thinks Florence Pugh or Brie Larson would be a good pick to play her), while Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters bandmate, Taylor Hawkins, and Seattle-born rock legend Duff McKagan are among the guest stars on You and Me.

You and Me, a mix of covers (including Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”) and originals, also features guest vocalist Sammy Hagar on a remake of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” But it’s an acoustic instrumental tribute to Hagar’s former bandmate (and a member of another famous family band) that is sure to garner extra attention: “4 Edward,” dedicated to Nancy’s late friend Eddie Van Halen. This is yet another full-circle development, since Eddie actually received his very first acoustic guitar from Nancy.

“One time, Eddie said, ‘You know, you're really good on that acoustic guitar.’ And I said, ‘Well, thank you. I mean, coming from you, that's everything. But why don't you ever play an acoustic?’ And he said, ‘I don't really have an acoustic.’ And I said, ‘Well. I guess you do now, ‘cause I'm giving you this one right here,’” Nancy recalls. “Flash-forward to the crack of dawn, and my phone rings in the hotel room. And it's Eddie on the phone, saying, ‘I gotta play this song for you!’ And he played it, and it was really gorgeous piece of music on this acoustic that I'd given to him. And so I figured, because I got to give him his first acoustic guitar, I would make a song on acoustic guitar for him, because he just left us recently. That's the tribute I wanted to do.”

Nancy also has some fond memories of less quiet moments on the road with Eddie and Alex Van Halen. “When we used to tour and party with them, they introduced us to the kamikaze [shots]. … Those guys were crazy, just crazy brothers,” she laughs. “They’d just get way out of it, really too far down the road of partying, and suddenly they'd be in fisticuffs. And then a couple of minutes later, they'd be like, ‘Oh man, I love you!’ You know, they'd be hugging, making up. They were pretty volatile!”

Volatility in family bands is obviously a common phenomenon. Friction between Ann and Nancy Wilson came to a head in 2016, throwing the future of Heart in jeopardy, but the sisters repaired relations, resumed touring in 2019, and hope to return to the road in 2021 or 2022. “I think it's DNA; there's just a sound that you can achieve in a family of singers,” muses Nancy, recalling singing Everly Brothers and Beach Boys harmonies with Ann, their older sister Lynn, and “aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, ukuleles everywhere, all the time, playing piano” as a kid. And with that Brownstein-helmed biopic promising to tell Heart’s fascinating and complicated story, Nancy looks back at her family legacy and marvels, “It was pretty unusual for those days [to be women in a rock band], but I'm glad we did it. I'm glad we weren't scared to do it, because so many women since those days have said, ‘You gave me the courage to pick up a guitar. I never would've done that if you hadn't done it first.’

“That's pretty amazing, when you think about it. That's a really cool thing.”

Nancy (L) and Ann Wilson of Heart perform at the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles April 18, 2013.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Nancy (L) and Ann Wilson of Heart perform at the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles April 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

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The above interview is taken from Nancy Wilson's appearance on the SiriusXM Volume show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on the SiriusXM app.