The last five years have brought about big life changes for Ann Wilson. The flute-tooting vocal dynamo who fronts legendary Seattle rock band Heart fell in love, got hitched and moved to northern Florida. Last year, Wilson sold the Capitol Hill mansion she called home for decades — a fabled grunge-era party pad — and reconnected with her guitar-hero sister Nancy Wilson for Heart’s first tour since Ann’s husband pleaded guilty to assaulting Nancy’s teenage sons during a White River Amphitheatre concert in 2016.
The hometown groundbreakers, who kicked the door open for women in the misogynistic ’70s rock scene, are getting the biopic treatment, with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein — another influential woman in Northwest rock history — reportedly writing and directing.
This month Wilson toasted her Alice in Chains buds with a commanding rendition of their hit “Rooster,” a tribute for MoPOP’s Founders Award show saluting the grunge kings. We recently caught up with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer to discuss Florida living, Heart’s bounce-back roar and road tripping back home to cut new music.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Layne [Staley] had such a distinct voice. Did you know how you wanted to approach “Rooster” going in?
I wanted to remain true to the song as much as possible, but I wanted to make it my own. But really, honoring the original spirit of the song, which is cockroaches and flies and all this kind of stuff [laughs]. Before I knew what form the MoPOP thing was gonna take with the live performances, I made a video for “Rooster” that was really dark. They decided not to use it because they wanted it to be a bunch of live performances. But sometime I’ll put that video out because it’s really cool. It’s just maggots and war stuff and darkness and insanity.
You released “Rooster” as a [B-side to] a Steve Earle cover. Are you kicking around another covers album after “Immortal”?
No. The rest of the songs I’ve been writing and recording were written by me and [Heart members] Dan Walker of Seattle and Craig Bartock. So, I have maybe six songs that are originals.
What’s your process been like for working on the material during the pandemic?
Well, what happened was I was in lockdown from March until September. I was just about to lose it, so my husband and I decided to make a journey back to the West Coast. So we bit the bullet and rented a tour bus and we turned it into our own little COVID-protocol bubble, except rolling [laughs]. It was absolutely cool, because it was just us and our manager and we all had been tested and all that. So we went from Florida to L.A., had meetings outside. Then we went to San Francisco, did the same thing, and then up to Seattle and I was in the studio for a week.
Are you working toward another solo album?
My feeling is it makes much more sense to me to just release one song at a time. Put a song out and let people digest it, and hang out with it. I’ve made so many albums in my day, and you throw an album of 12 to 16 songs at people and you generally get maybe two, three, four tops, and the rest kinda get lost. So what’s the point, you know? [Laughs.]
What’s it been like moving to the opposite corner of the country?
It’s been a huge adjustment, to be honest. I love the weather down here. I miss the turning of the seasons, but I really don’t miss the nine months of constant drizzle and dreariness that is Seattle weather. I’m really glad to wake up every day and be able to see the sky. I’m still adjusting to living in a town that isn’t a progressive bubble like Seattle is.
I imagine the sociopolitical climate is very different.
Yeah, I think most of the country’s really that way. I think when you get away from the certain coastal urban areas, that’s pretty much the way it is. You’ve got people with all kinds of ideas living together. So, that’s been the biggest adjustment, because in Seattle, if someone dared to put a Trump sign on their lawn, you would go, “Oh my God!” But here, it’s all kinds of different ideas, so you have to put your money where your mouth is when it turns to accepting diversity.
Have there been any difficult moments in that transition?
I’ve been surprised a few times in spite of myself, because I’ll be talking with someone who I really like — they’re smart, they’re warm and they’re a good person — and if the subject turns to politics, suddenly it gets very weird. They’ll go “Oh, don’t worry. Mr. Trump’s gonna fix everything.” And you kinda go, “Whaaaaaaaat?!” You learn to not judge people. You don’t judge the human by their political beliefs. You have to look past that.
I think that so-called progressive people are just as guilty as conservative people are, as being sort of isolated and not giving the other side a chance. That’s what I really wanna call for, especially with the song “The Revolution Starts Now.” You don’t have to marry the person, but you can live next door to them and you can share a cup of sugar.
What was it like being back on the road with Nancy and Heart last year after dealing with some family issues?
Oh, that whole family thing that happened, much was made of it, but it wasn’t anywhere near as extreme as the myth made it be. Time passed, we worked it out. We all went “OK, OK, OK. Let’s not make a big deal out of this and let’s go on.” Things happen inside of families and then you absorb it and move on. So, being out on the road was good. Nancy and I got along. It was really good working with Nancy again because she’s a triple threat. It takes two guys to take her place.
Was [the tour] healing for your relationship or had it already been handled by the time you hit the road?
I think both. It was healing to actualize it again. It had been since ’16, so three years. It was healing and it was already on its way to being healed. We’ve been up, we’ve been down, we’ve been all around, you know. And that was just a little skirmish.
[Alice in Chains drummer] Sean Kinney recently mentioned anytime you got together that you and Nancy would break out instruments wanting to jam.
Are there any memories that stand out to you from those times [at your Capitol Hill house]?
Yeah, lots of memories of super late nights with a fire burning low in my living room, and people sitting around with acoustics on the floor. I remember one time it was after, let’s see, somebody had passed away. But they all gathered at my house. Not only the Alice people, but others as well from other bands. There were so many of them that I took all the furniture out of the room. There was this one big carpeted room with a fireplace and everyone just leaned up against the wall and hung out. No one hardly even spoke. They were like a whole wave of young people that were being sought after in the industry, and at the same time these horrific things were happening. People were dying.
My house was a place where they could go and they could just hang out. Nobody expected anything from them and nobody was looking. There were times like that. And the next day I would get up and one of ’em would have put their car in the ravine, like run his car off the road, and somebody else had left their bra by the pool. [Laughs.]
How did it feel to leave that house where there were so many memories?
I raised my kids there and everything. It was hard. It was really hard. But at the time, it was way too much house for me after my kids had left. I had fallen in love and frankly all I could see was him. I was so anxious to take off into a new life. I wasn’t looking backward anymore. But when the time came to sell the house, yeah, it hurt.
What did you think of the first draft [of the Heart biopic script]?
It was great. Carrie [Brownstein]’s a great writer. I always liked “Portlandia” and just the whole smart quirkiness of it. The first draft of the script I saw was really imaginative and not literal.
What’s been your involvement with the picture?
So far just sitting for hours and hours with Carrie. She’s done all her research and she’s lived in unimaginable Heart saturation in the last year or so. [Laughs.]
[Were] you happy to have her behind the project?
Yeah. It makes me feel more confident that it isn’t just going to be another typical rock story of like, “Oh, it starts out great, then somebody gets screwed up and falls from grace, then there’s a resurrection at the end.” It’s not that. Because we’ve seen that arc a million times. [Laughs.] She’s gonna make it something new and cool.