Ann Wilson, the dramatic soprano who, along with her sister Nancy Wilson, fronts the legendary rock band Heart, has been behind the mic since the early 70s. She's played arenas worldwide, and was inducted, alongside her band mates, into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Though that level of success has had an enormous impact on her life, she's still driven by things that got her into music in the first place—testing the limits of her voice, playing with excellent musicians, and connecting with her audience.
While Heart has, for the most part, provided a steady beat over the years, The Ann Wilson Thing (TAWT) allows Wilson a much-needed opportunity to stretch out, to test her limits as a vocalist and keep her performances dynamic and fresh. With this in mind, Wilson compiled a wish list of songs she'd always wanted to do live, eventually whittling it down to a multi-genre set of originals and covers that she is really excited about. "It's allowed me to reach into all my different kinds of abilities as a singer," she says. "It's a great stretch for me."
It's hard to imagine that such an accomplished vocalist would feel easily stretched, but despite her decades in the limelight, Wilson still experiences pre-show jitters. "I think that if you don't feel those feelings you're kind of numb to the experience," she says. In addition to breathing exercises, Wilson shoos away the butterflies by focusing on the audience. "When you're afraid of something," she says, "you have to go up to it and wrap your arms around it before you face it."
The dynamism of live performance keeps Wilson excited about music. She loves touring, and while she says that each show is great in its own way, her most memorable on this tour so far was at a small venue in Indianapolis, where she was able to connect with the audience. "The people were just so over the top excited. I could reach out and touch them," she says. "I'm used to big arenas, so it was very thrilling for me to play a show like that."
Those simple moments of connection are what drive Wilson, and over the years she's learned to not let the less-savory aspects of the music business taint her experience. "In the late 80s or early 90s I realized that there's live performing, and then there's the music industry, and those two don't have to meet," she says. "For me it's best if they're kept separate."
She doesn't want her time on stage with her audience to be influenced by worries about reviews or sales or likes. "I don't put much stock in what the industry says anymore, and that's really liberating," says Wilson. She's there for the crowd, not for some record person or booking agent.
Heart has played Tucson many times, but this will be Wilson's first time performing in Tucson as TAWT. "I'm really looking forward to coming there in a small, raw way," she says. And one can imagine that she won't be disappointed—that when she wraps her arms around the audience at The Rialto Theater on Monday, April 18th, the crowd will be waiting to hug her right back.