||Talk & Butterfly
Sue Ennis talks about growing up with the Wilsons
by Michael Cobb
Lou Wilson talks about her daughters
by Michael Cobb
Desire Walks On
Exclusive handwritten interview with Ann Wilson
by Aprile Gordon
In the Studio with Little Queen and Dog & Butterfly
Transcibed from The CD radio show
by Nicole Zaiser
Talk & Butterfly
Where are you originally from, and how did you end up in Bellevue?
I was born in Peoria. And when I was one year old, my parents heard about the Golden State of California and they decided to move. So they joined the rush to San Diego, and we moved out there. Thats where I grew up, in beautiful San Diego, by the ocean. I had a great childhood there. Then, when I was fourteen, we moved to Denver and stayed there for three years. And then my dad was transferred again to Seattle. So I was sixteen when I moved to Bellevue.
What were your initial impressions of the area? Did you like it?
I wasnt really sure what to think. I really liked the house my dad got for us. I was pretty surprised at how dark it was we moved in the winter, and I couldnt believe that, day after day, it rained. It was amazing to me. But at that point in my life I was feeling pretty flexible. It was more of a shock to move to Denver when I was fourteen. I just thought, ok, Im the new girl again. It was okay. It wasnt as traumatic for me as the first move. Mainly, at that age all you care about is what school is like, and if you can make any friends. So, I adjusted pretty well.
I suppose I have to ask you the particulars of when and how you first met Ann. You know, weve all heard little bits here and there.
Well, the legend is true. My dad pointed her picture out to me in the Seattle Post-lntelligencer one morning and said, Oh, this girl from Sammamish won the Beatles contest I was a fanatic, and I looked at her and recognized her right away. Id seen her around in fact, she was in my German class. (This was) right at the beginning of our Junior year, because the Beatles came in August they had just been there when school started. So I just had to know her, because I was a Beatles expert, and shed written this essay about them. It was reprinted in the paper and it showed her movie camera shed won from the contest. So thats how I entrapped her. (laughter)
How did you and Ann hit it off? Were you instant best friends, or was it more gradual?
We were really impressed with each others Beatles knowledge. I realized that she was the real thing. You know, back then - well, I guess with any fan, you talk to them and you see just how deep it goes. And it was, really
she just knew as much as I did. I was really impressed with that. Personally, we were in kind of different phases as teen-age girls. She had one foot in the world of dating and boys, and shed already gone steady, and I hadnt done any of that. The first time we ever went out and did something, I think we went to a football game. I picked her up, and it was the first time shed ever been with a teenage driver, and her mother made a big thing about it, that I was the first teenage driver. And so, lets just be real careful. We had a lot of fun talking about the Beatles. We didnt watch the game.
We all know who Anns favorite Beatle was. Were you in agreement on that?
No, in the early days I went for George, because everybody else was for Paul and I just couldnt do that. As time went on and I began to understand songwriting and the creative forces in the bad, I really gravitated to John. I always loved Paul too, but I didnt have that same, well, crush on him that most of the Paul girls had - including Ann.
How long was it until you met the rest of the Wilson family?
Well, what happened was that I called Ann up it may have been before a football game and we were having a lo-o-ng talk on the phone. I got kind of upset, because she got so distracted and kept laughing. And she said, Im sorry. You know, my sister is here, and shes just cracking me up. And ld here all this rambunctious stuff going on in the background. I thought that was weird, because I have a younger sister, and we werent friends in the same way, at least back then. So I was kind of upset Im talking to you on the phone, and youre barely here. Then I remember one day we were going to go shopping and she said, Can I bring my sister? And I thought that was the weirdest thing in the world, because she was twelve years old, and thats a kid when youre sixteen. But she came along and sat in the back. Ill never forget looking in the rearview mirror she was just the funniest kid. She knew just as much about the Beatles as the rest of us, and in fact, played the guitar, which I thought was amazing for a twelve year old. I just thought she was great. And so then I ended up going into the house and meeting the parents. I was kind of nervous because their dad was a teacher at school. When you see a teacher at home, you feel a little embarrassed, you know. I thought they were the nicest people. And then, as I got to know them, and saw how they contrasted to my family, I was really sucked in. I just wanted to be in their family. Much to my parents chagrin, especially my dad he felt a little bit hurt, because I was spending so much time with the Wilsons he just didnt understand it. And, Why dont you just go move in with them we had a little bit of that going on. But I just thought they were so great that I just wanted to be there as much as I could, and I was there all the time I mean, everyday after school, and usually one slumber party a week-end, and wed just stay up all night.
At what point did you first write songs?
Well, I had sort of a funky guitar, and those guys had nicer guitars. I knew a couple of the chords, but they knew a lot of the chords they even had their own group, the Viewpoints. And I was a piano player, but not much of a guitarist. They started teaching me about how chords are put together, and we would play Beatles songs as well as other songs. Like, one of the favorites was Chains by the Cookies, and you know, the Beatles covered that. Once I started learning how to do chords, we started, um, playing guitars all the time. And thats when we started writing songs. In the beginning, they were joke songs. I remember Nance and I wrote a song for Ann once when she was gone that was a parody of a surf song. I was really into the Beach Boys before the Beatles (giggle), and so, I just thought that Brian Wilson wrote the best songs in the world (and I still think so! Except for the Beatles! ) But, anyway, I sort of brought the surf influence in. So we wrote a parody I think that was the first song we wrote. It sort of had goofy words, but it was a full-fledged song with verses and choruses. And then we just wrote songs that were silly, and then we got started jamming. After we got better, we would just play and play and play. We really didnt scope any songs out of those jam sessions, but we were still doing music together. Then I think Through Eyes And Glass was the first song they wrote together... a serious stab. And I just thought it was beautiful, I just was astounded. I thought it was a great song. So they really did it by themselves first. Somebody then said, Gee, we need a song. Do you want to write one? They did.
What did you do after 1968?
I was a pretty good student, and I liked learning stuff I did pretty well in high school and I knew I had to go to college I didn't want to stop there. This one counselor at school kind of took me under his wing and thought that I had something. He called me in one day and said, I think you should check out this liberal arts school in Oregon. Ive just come back and Im super impressed. Its called Willamette University in Salem, a small liberal arts school. My parents took me down for a weekend and I really liked it and thats where I ended up going for four years. I became an English major and I was also taking German. I fell under the magic spell of this one German professor who really was teaching a lot more than German you know, one of those teachers you find that really speaks to you and teaches things that are so astonishing that you never thought of them. He kind of became my mentor, and so after I got my B.A. in English, he thought I was a pretty gifted German student so he recommended that I go to Vienna for a year to get some experience, and be on my own, and learn German better. So I did that. I came back to Willamette for a fifth year to study with him some more and got another major in German Lit and then, on his recommendation, went off to Grad school in German. So there was that part of my life, but it wasnt really so black and white as that besause I never stopped writing Ann and Nance letters and seeing them whenever I could. Nance took the train to Salem a lot when she could when Ann was up in Vancouver. We really stayed close. It was hard for me to go, in a way. I knew I had to one of those inner voice things that said, You just have to go to college. The world I had with Ann and Nance was so comforting, and funny, and lively and nothing else in my life compared to what it felt like when I was with those guys. We just had this understanding that was amazing the same sense of humour so I felt like I was being torn out of something really sacred and beautiful and thrust into this world. You think you cry the first day you go to kindergarten when your mom leaves. I walked through the park, across the street, by the capital by myself and I just sat in the park and cried. It was called Wilson Park. I was just really, really sad about what I was doing, and if it was the right thing. But it was the right thing. (Pauses) So that puts me to Berkeley where I went to Grad school in German. That was about the time Dreamboat Annie started to happen.
I know that in past interviews lve read that you grew somewhat disillusioned with academic life, or something to that effect. Is that true, and what were the circumstances surrounding that? How did you get back in touch with Ann and Nancy around 1978?
What I liked a lot was teaching. I was teaching assistant there and I really loved that part of my day. I taught freshman language classes. Then I started to find that the students that were coming in after a couple of years were different. These were some of the smartest kids in California that go to Berkeley. You have to have a pretty high GPA to get there and I started to find that I had to teach them parts of speech. They didnt even come equipped with knowing exactly what a noun or a verb was. So if you dont know that you cant begin to learn a foreign language. I started wondering if German was even a viable thing to try and teach people. I felt like they should be learning computer skills or I mean you could just feel other stuff going on that I felt like the world was shifting and so that part was a little disillusioning. I found that the more I studied and got into what basically was Lit Crit Literary Critizism is what you do as you ascend and go towards your doctorate. I just liked the texts. I like beautiful literature. I was becoming a little less enchanted with the ways you had to become an advanced doctoral candidate. You had to develop your own perspective - how you were going to read literature. Then you had to write papers about it, and I just wanted to read it and teach it and talk about the ideas and apply it to life. It started getting a little cold and cerebral for me. The other thing was that I didnt like the people. I didnt have anything in common with these other German students. Mostly they were really messed up people who were looking for a place to fit in and they were smart, but they were really messed up emotionally. So anyway all of that kind of fed into, Do I really want to spend my life in the ivory tower with these neurotic people trying to write stuff? - you know, publish or perish. So those things all fed into it. While I was becoming disillusioned I was hearing these amazing stories of what was happening to my friends. They were calling me all the time Guess what happened tonight? We met Mick Jagger! When can we see you? And they came and visited and slept on the floor in my little studio apartment. They came to my classes and watched me teach. We were still really close even though our worlds were pretty far apart. I was home for Christmas and they had just got off the road and they said, This is a song idea we have. Would you listen to it? It was Dog & Butterfly. I made a few suggestions and worked on it a little bit and they said, Would you mind if we put your name on this? I said no, thats great! And thats really how we started writing. They said, We have to put this album together really fast, weve got this deadline, and we mostly feel really burned out from the road and were just not that inspired right now, but when the three of us are together its just great so lets try to write another song. So they came to San Francisco on weekends when I didnt have to teach, and would pick me up in a limo from my little apartment in Berkeley, and wed go over to one of the really nice hotels in San Francisco and stay there all weekend and write a song. Then Id be dropped off Monday morning and go back to my classes. So that was kind of a schizophrenic existence for awhile, but it was also really great thats how we wrote one of the songs on Dog & Butterfly.
Did you feel any pressure due to the fact that this was an already remarkably successful band?
Not really. I guess I didnt think of it in those terms. I just thought of it as my friends and it was so fun to be with them. And ld been reading a lot of things, so I could bring ideas, like Have you ever heard of Mistral Wind? Well, Id read about this wind in France and so there were some things that I could contribute, stuff I was thinking about, and then they could help to temper it down so that it wasnt just a grad student thought. And so I didnt feel any pressure because I didnt feel that I had come in, in any way, with an agenda or even a sense of what we were doing we were just getting together, having a great time creating. When theyd take the songs back to the guys and theyd send me tapes, I was just thrilled.
How exactly did the three of you write together? The thing that always strikes me about material credited to Ann and you or the three of you is that it always sounds like one person is talking, not three people chipping on ideas. Would one of you write the bulk of a song and then the others tinker with it how did that work?
Mostly it was that we would jam on a music idea and just play guitars. Wed start off playing old favorite songs just to get warmed up. Then someone would have a chord they really liked (Listen to this!) or a progression, and so wed develop it and wed make a little tape of it. Then wed ask if anyone had any ideas. Usually someone would say, Ive always wanted to write a song about... I dont know, a lighter touch? And,What would it be like to write a really lush love song? Everybodyd love that and wed say, Great, lets try to do it. Mostly, wed conceptualize what it was about first, then wed grab a title, then just start putting it together. Ann would always write the words down because she has the most legible handwriting and shes a meticulous writer. She writes these beautiful big capitals and if she makes any mistake at all, shell start again, copying it over. She spends a lot of time copying lyrics and its almost as if she goes over each word as she writes it down to make sure its the right word. And as the singer, shes the one who usually ends up refining and really polishing the words anyway. So thats what her strength is. And also shes just a great word person. She loves words and she can come up with really great ways to say things. We got to a point where we can really just throw out lots of ideas and thats mostly how we work. We fire ideas as fast as we can and no one feels that any idea is too stupid. We just throw them out there and see if something sticks in the air. Thats mostly how we work usually the melody comes last.
How about you personally as a song writer? Is it a catharsis or is it just something that you do?
Does it come better when youre sad, depressed, or unhappy about something, or does that matter? You know the old saying about how only great art comes from sheer misery.
I kind of get the sense of what I feel when I sit down at the piano and I dont have anything in mind. I just sit down and start playing around. Sometimes Ill surprise myself and say, Boy, that sounds really melancholy or really sad. Its just a way to get a sense of where you are when you are playing. Sometimes you sit down and feel kind of silly or goofy and you start playing happy little chords, and something will pop into your head thats funny. I guess I like the emotion of music, and then I like the other side too, where you have a song idea Im so inspired by what this person said or what I saw or what I heard. I want to put it down or recreate it somehow. I guess I do find that I mostly want to write stuff when lm sad, but I dont think thats my best stuff. I think my sad stuff is my most self-indulgent. When I go back and look at it I think, Oh, too bad oh, you poor thing.
Are there any songwriters in particular that you feel youve been especially inspired by and maybe emulated in terms of style?
Elton John comes to mind he was a big influence on my piano playing. I love the way he puts chords together, but I dont think that I ever thought that I was gonna try to write an Elton John song. I just learned a lot from listening to him. In terms of Iyrics, I guess Id have to cite Bernie Taupin, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. Those are my three favorite Iyric writers.
What would you say are your particular strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter?
I think I have a fairly good melodic sense. I love good melodies. So thats probably something lm pretty good at. I think Im good at structuring and figuring out where the next part should go. I guess in terms of weakness, Id say I tend to be too literary. I dont think simple stuff comes easily for me. Ill always go for the bigger word, and thats not necessarily good for Iyrics. That probably comes from too many English classes, too many formal paper writings. So that is where Ann is really a good person to work with. Ill throw out a bunch of words and a concept and send it her way, and shell look at it and say these are good phrases, great images, but maybe you could say it this way. Her way is usually much more universally understandable and acceptable than mine. Thats probably my greatest weakness.
Bebe Le Strange marked the first appearance of Connie on a Heart album. What did that name mean, whats the origin, and the significance? We havent seen it on the last few albums have you abandoned that nickname?
In a way. Its mutated over the years. I dont know. It was just one of those weird things that we thought was funny and I dont know why. I think because we always felt like outsiders in high school, Nance at Interlake and us at Sammamish, and in our whole lives really. It was just that we werent the cheerleader types. A lot of those girls seemed to be superficial to us and a lot of them had names like Kathy and Amy, etc. Connie seemed to be like one of those girls, too. We just thought, Were glad were not like you. I had heard that was a boys name, too, like a country and western name probably for Conrad. Ann and Nance thought that was so funny, that a guy would be named Connie. I dont know why we focused on that name, but we just thought that it was funny and we started calling each other that. Over the years its kind of mutated, but Ann and Nance still call each other Con.
By this point in time youd written songs on two successful albums. Were you still teaching? What were you doing in the early 80s outside of Heart?
I had left Berkeley. Ann and Nance really worked hard on me to move back to Seattle and I was really ready not to I got all the way to where I was going to have to take my writtens and orals for my PH.D. and then write my dissertation. I was just not enjoying it and, by this time, things were starting to happen with Dog & Butterfly and I think I got a royalty check that was like two dollars more than my entire years salary as a T.A. which was really not very much. It was just the most amazing thing to me. I remember I had this little black and white TV that was like a ten-inch screen that sometimes worked, and you had to warm it up for an hour. And so I remember that I bought a new TV with my first money. lt was not a big deal TV, but you turned it on and it worked. It was really great! They were really working on me to move to Seattle and it was looking like that was really what I wanted to do. So I did. I actually moved back home with my parents for a short time a very short time. Then it was time for Ann and Nance to go on the road. Nance needed a housesitter so I set up headquarters at her house out in Redmond, at her farm. I stayed out there for the time they were on the road, which was about three months, I think. In that time I was just writing stuff. I was getting a bunch of songs ideas together, I was reading, I was going to experimental university classes just trying to see what I wanted to do next. I would go visit them on the road and we would talk about song ideas, and then it was time to write the next album. Luckily I was really, really careful with every penny I got. I was really careful and I put it away and tried to make some investments that would help me so that I wouldnt have to ever go and be a cashier at the drug store again, which is what I did one summer. The next step was that was around the time that Ann needed a secretary, and so I brought an old friend Alan (Muller) onto the scene. Alan was my friend in high school. He was the funniest kid. He was a really good friend and wed stayed really close Alan went off to University like I did we wrote each other a lot and called. At the time he was becoming a little disenchanted he was the secretary at the U. Hospital in the eye clinic. He had a really pretty important job. He was the executive secretary running the whole show over there. But he had artistic ambitions of his own really, he wanted to write a novel. and he had written in a journal for years and years. Taking the job as Anns secretary would give him the time sometimes youd work a really long day and sometimes you wouldnt. That would give him time to write his novel. He quit his job and went to work for Ann for fourteen years.
On the Greatest Hits/Live album, how did you get a writing credit on Hit Single? How did anybody get a writing credit on that?
At that point there was an awful lot of talk about writing a hit, and the management was saying, We need a hit, lets write a hit! and the record company guys were talking about hits. lt was pretty offensive to us on some levels. Not that we dont want to write a hit, but how do you write a hit? Do you just craft it? We were kind of offended by the idea that this music, that we thought came from a really great and honest place, could be calculated, that you would sit down and calculate it. There were some songs out that really did sound calculated and really were hits. I think we were, on the one hand, thinking that we would never do that; and, on the other hand, a bit jealous of it you know, how do you do that? So thats how the title came around. It was a bit sarcastic Heres your Hit single.
Epic was not amused.
No, they didnt think that it was funny at all. But I dont think they thought that it was a slap in the face either. I just think they thought, Oh, lets get experimental,why dont we? They really didnt know what to make of it. Who can blame them, looking back? It was just a little explosion of fun that was terribly amusing to us.
Ann said in the past that writing Private Audition was like a purge of emotion. What is your memory of writing that album. Was it a depressed time?
It was a depressed time for a lot of reasons. The thing is that when you write an album, you just write stuff from where you are emotionally. You dont have the luxury of collecting stuff for a long time living with it. We were not very inspired and there were a lot of things going on. We were really shaken up by John Lennons death, and Ann was really shaken up by the breakup of her long-term relationship with Mike Fisher. As the Connies... it was not our best time. Nance was off exploring new worlds and we werent together as much as we were before and have been since. It just wasnt a great time. Out of that came some songs that were forced and some that were really down and then some that still have some merit, like Angels. We were experimenting a lot, too, with some chord progressions, like in the song America, seeing how far you could stretch the form of a pop song. Seeing if there are other things you could do. We were listening to Randy Newman then and those kind of influences were seeping in, too. So I dont think it was a very cohesive album, just like the Connies werent cohesive then.
You once said that in the early 80s that Connie had drifted apart. If its not too personal, what was the cause of that drift?
Boyfriends.In a word boyfriends. Bad boyfriends and bad choices. Some of us made bad boyfriend choices and they started to meddle in a lot of stuff where they really shouldnt have been. You know that we all went through it. We made some bad choices, like most people do in life our love mistakes we call them thats really what it was. lt was amazing how, once each person took hold of their life again, we all came back together.
When you first became part of the Heart set up as a songwriter, were there any tensions between you and the guys in the band, since to them you were an unknown quantity?
I think so, although they were really nice to me. No one made me feel unwelcome. But I heard rumblings about jealousies, you know. The relationship dynamics were shifting quite a bit within the band with the Fishers and the Wilsons. I think some of the guys probably didnt think that my contributions to the songs rocked hard enough. They really liked to do the hard stuff. But there was never any open animosity or hostility. lm sure there were rumblings among themselves. But I think that after awhile they kind of accepted my role. It was always very friendly, but I was aware that they had a choke hold on the rock stuff.
With Michael Derosier and Steve Fossen almost out in the early eighties, was there ever any talk of you joining the band? Im sure a lot of people wonder why youve never officially joined Heart.
I was just never interested in performing. One of the stories we tell, which is true, is (when) they asked me to join the Viewpoints back when we were sixteen. I remember they took me out into that garage and they said, We have something to ask you. The other girls, the two other Viewpoints, were in the house. Will you be in our group? Please wont you be in our group? You can play triangle, anything, just be in our group with us! I just couldnt. I was just too shy. I couldnt step up on stage. There was nothing in me that would allow me to do that at that point. First off, I didnt feel that I was a competent enough player. Howard Leese is a really good musician, and he plays great keyboards. What could my possible role be except maybe as a Linda McCartney figure heres our best friend and wed just like to have her around. She can play some chords and do a little bit of harmony. I didnt feel I had the temperament to go on the road. I would go visit them for three days on the road and I would come home exhausted, just a wreck. I dont know how they did it. I guess it has to do with knowing how to sleep on the road, but I never learned how to do that. Anyway, I just didnt feel like I had the chops to be in a band as accomplished as they were. It just never really came up.
For Private Audition, was there a significant difference between the work the band did with Jimmy Iovine as opposed to what you guys did on your own?
The band didnt work with him very long. It became clear that it was not a good match after about a month. I think it was personality conflicts that really just kept it from working. So, really, very little got done with him. I cant even recall the songs that he helped produce. At the time he was pretty high flying, hed had a lot of success Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Dire Straits and his big philosophy was I believe Mark Knopfler had given him twenty or thirty songs and he rejected all of them, saying None of this is good. This gave Mark Knopfler a shock, cause hed already had a couple of successful albums. So Jimmy sent him back to the drawing board and worked with him really closely, and Knopfler was willing to do that. That was part of the problem between Jimmy and Ann, because he was really cavalier about rejecting every little idea that came along. I think he was pretty rough. He was used to working with guys who could take it and not women, who had a little more sensitivity and were not as thick-skinned. It just didnt work. I supposed it didnt really get off the ground. I dont think that theres any songs that he had a particularly huge hand in.
Would you throw Passionworks in the same bag as Private Audition?
Yeah. We were kind of adrift. We still hadnt really got back together with Nance yet. Nance was really starting to want to establish herself as a writer and as a performer. She worked really hard on her songs, to be the sole writer and performer and stuff.
I really miss those songs she used to have in the middle of side two. I wish theyd bring that back.
Right! Those are pure Nance songs. Like Treat Me Well or Nada One those are just so pure. (pause) I think we hooked up with Keith Olsen at a kind of bad time in his career, personally. He wasnt really at the top of his form, I dont think. I dont want to blame it on him, but the songs went through a lot of changes under his command. I dont think he was having too great of a time in his own life, so it just didnt quite gel. I dont think that we really felt that excited about the songs. There was a lot of pressure to produce them quick, write them, then give them to the band and see what happens. Again, there wasnt that sort of Were all together on this looking in the same direction feeling.
We know that the band took the relatively weak sales performance of Private Audition and Passionworks particularly hard. As a writing collaborator, did it upset you particularly? How important was commercial success in your mind?
It was a disappointment. It was kind of a huge disappointment be-cause we had really tried to do something that was honest with Private Audition. There wasnt a producer for that album and it doesnt sound very good. I think we were disappointed that it didnt do better. We were really hoping that this would be a way to allow us some success without having a producer. That would have been great but it didnt happen, so then we hooked up with Keith and that didnt really work. I guess I was disappointed. I talked to Ann and Nance all the time about it. I went through every day hearing, The single isnt happening. Its just not happening. Then Id think, Oh God! Why? Is the record company doing their job? Is it that the song just isnt good? It was confusing and disappointing. I guess when you think about it, it was really close to being the end of the group commercially. After two flop albums, everyone starts to look the other way. It really wasnt very fun.
You said that the songwriting on those two albums was forced. I was wondering if it felt like that at the time, or is that a hindsight assessment?
Oh, its hindsight. I think that when youre working on something and youre really into it, youre trying your best to express yourself and make the songs be good they mean a lot to you at the time I think that those were honest efforts. As time passes, you kind of look back, like you do with your life, and you see different episodes or relation-ships or something with a different cast on them. You can see where the songs came from and why they arent as strong as you like, or how they didnt get proper production. But at the time you just think they are great. You go home and listen and you get excited and you cant wait for the world to hear them. I dont think there was ever a time when we deliberately put out a song just because we needed material.
What kept the band from giving up?
Probably Anns ambition. Shes a really forceful person and she has enough power to just galvanize the troops. I think that the guys at Capitol saw the group as kind of anemic and not particularly interesting. But they thought that Anns voice was something, I mean really extraordinary. Don Grierson came along and just thought she was an extraordinary talent, and also Nance, of course. He really focused on the Wilson sisters, getting them back on track. He was the one who recommended Ron Nevison, and there were some compromises that needed to be made in order to have the comeback album. Those were mainly due to the management It was the visual part. So they really stepped into a whole new world into new management, a new record label, a really aggressive marketing arm of the management company. A lot of Hearts success had to do with the videos and the way they packaged Ann and Nance as vixens.
With the redirection of the band and the use of so much cover material by outside writers, what impact did that have on the bands own song-writing? Do you think that material was more generic, for lack of a better term?
It was really interesting because we were still writing songs and wed play them for the producer and theyd say, Oh yeah, right you guys now Mutt Lange just wrote this great song. So a lot of the stuff that we felt were Heart songs in the old sense were really not given any development or anything. We'd get all these songs from outside songwriters. These are supposed to he guaranteed hits. but how does anyone know that? What did make the cut were the more commercial of our songs. A lot of those songs, like All Eyes, were collaborations where there were too many cooks, in my view. I think Nobody Home is our strongest from that album. It was really a pure song from a pure place. Then there were some songs that the guys jammed on, just tapes and tapes of jams
Theyd say, Put some words on these, you guys. There was a certain amount of pressure to do that for band politics. Songs like The Wolf and Shell Shock arent my favorite songs. They seem like what they are; the guys jammed and got some riffs going and somebody came along and... I think I thought of the title Shell Shock. I dont know why Lets call it that and when it came time to write the words, it just didnt come from an honest place. But you finish it and you submit it with five of your songs and, because of pressure and group politics, thats the one that got selected for recording and to develop. Thats pretty much how it goes.
Would you say that Bad Animals and Brigade were more of the same?
Probably by degrees, a little less so. Taking baby steps away from the Heart album as the paradoxically most successful album, and probably the least to do with Heart. Having said that, nobody thinks that These Dreams isnt a great song. That is a seriously wonderful well-written and astonishing song worth respecting. Unlike, maybe, All I Wanna Do
What about the critical assessment of Hearts songwriting? Heart is hardly revered as gods in professional critics circles. Does that bother you at all? Have you ever yearncd for critical respectability?
I dont know if yearned is the right word. I feel proud and naturally happy when I read a good review. Thats fun. I think we all enjoy that. Especially when somebody had obviously listened to it and has taken time to see how the songs are put together, and has really spent time with the record before they write the review. Thats gratifying. In terms of longing for critical respect I dont know. I guess it would be nice. I think it is just not in the cards because of Hearts popularity I think it would be tough for critics to, after the 80s, after the promos and the videos and using other peoples songs. I think that was kind of the last blow to critical respectability. What I like is when fans talk about how much songs mean to them. That makes me know that lve reached people and thats what I really like.
Right around that same time, there was that Ann and Nancy movie that you wrote that never came to pass. Why didnt it happen? What was the story going to be?
I guess what happened was that they were busy. They were really busy. The management company had them pretty much locked up touring everywhere and then coming back to make the next album. We were looking about two years down the road.
So this is the same reason that Ann and Nancys solo albums never came to pass back then.
Thats right. There was also a sense of striking while the iron was hot. The machinery was really cranking. We had a big hit album, everyone was really excited. It gave Capitol a boost, it gave the management company a boost, and so there was just no way to figure out when they could ever make a movie. Not that the movie would have ever been made, I dont know. I wrote a screenplay. I really enjoyed doing it and they liked it. It was basically about two rival bands, two girls in rival bands. And I dont need to tell you the plot it never really happened. But it was really fun to do and lm sorry that it didnt happen. I think they wouldve really en-joyed it. I know that theyre both really good actors and Ann is an excellent mimic. I think she would be a really great screen presence playing a character that was well-written.
You said that you were dubious about joining Ann and Nancy on stage in the past. When they approached you about joining them in the Lovemongers, what made you accept their offer?
Well, all they really asked me was Do you think you could play some chords behind us when we do With God On Our Side? It was for this benefit. I was actually out at Nancys house one night. They were rehearsing with Frank Cox because they loved his vocal blend with them. Weve been friends forever and weve always sung with Frank. Hes a really good melody guy in particular, I think. Hes written some really cute children songs, too, that are really strong. Anyway, they didnt say, Well, we have a band now. It was just, Will you play some keyboard for us? I thought that would be fun and it was. It was really fun to be up on stage with them. I was nervous, not so much for myself, but I wanted to make sure that I played right. I didnt want to let them down. Thats one of the great things, for me, about being in the Lovemongers to see what excellent musicians Ann and Nancy are from a whole different perspective. When youre in a band with them theyre just uncompromising about how things have to be. You really have to be there in every way. Its really a lot of fun to be on stage with your friends.
Who came up with the name Lovemongers anyway?
I think we all did. We were joking around and because it was a peace concert thats how it was being billed. It was for the Red Cross during the Gulf War and we were trying to think of something funny, sort of harking back to peace and love. I think Nance called us the Peace Puppies for a while and I dont know who came up with that. I dont think anyone remembers. The four of us were sitting around the table with guitars and my synthesizer really laughing and throwing out every weird name we could. I dont know who threw out Lovemongers but we just jumped on it.
How did that Lovemongers EP come about?
We had just recorded a couple of shows and Cameron Crowe really liked our version of Battle Of Evermore and wanted to put it on the Singles soundtrack. So Capitol said Wait. You can, but we want it, too. We want to put it out. So they suggested that we make a little EP out of it and we picked what we felt were the strongest songs from our shows and put it out.
Has work begun on the much-rumoured Lovemongers album yet?
We have about four tracks down, basics in any case, that still need production they dont have any vocals on them yet, but weve been working with a local drummer named Ben Smith and its likely that we will also get Denny Fongheiser to come out and play on some tracks. Hes a really good drummer and a really nice guy. Were moving along kind of slowly, at our leisure.
What was the story behind the Christmas song How Beautiful that the Lovemongers just did?
Ann and Nance wrote How Beautiful and then they brought it to Frank and me and we worked it out as a group and changed the arrangement quite a bit. We recorded it for a benefit album that never happened. So its been languishing for a year and a half. So we just decided to hand it around to the stations in Seattle and we thought it would be fun to offer it through the fan club just as a gift, you know.
Have you helped Nancy with her Dreamfriends project at all?
Yes, I did. Nance wrote the original story and then she gave it to me, and I wrote it into a treatment. Then the three of us worked it over really hard and honed the story. Then I rewrote another treatment, which was legitimately a kind of Connie collaboration, to work out some of the plot things and some of the characters. That was shopped around L.A. and it actually got pretty far. It sat at Amblin for six months, Steven Spielbergs company, and they passed on it, saying they felt it was too much like My Little Pony. Then we decided that we could collaborate on a screenplay for it. Nance started doing demos for the thing and we rewrote one of the songs I wrote for Marie for Christmas into a Dreamfriends song. Actually she did most of it. We gave it a different title; its called Hello Rebel now. So she made four really good sounding demos in her home studio. Those have been shopped around. Theres some interest in it. At this point, people are talking about turning it into a childrens book, accompanied by a CD. Bob Hamilton has also talked about putting it on to a CD-Rom.
Will you be helping Ann write her solo album too?
Well, we hope to. She wants to sit down and really start working on some songs. Some people are already submitting, as you can imagine. Nothing has really been started on that. Shes talked to Don Was about getting involved. I guess the next thing thats gonna happen will be the Heart album will be released. (This interview was done prior to the release of The Road Home) Then itll be time for her to do the solo album. Actually, we might have the Mongers record done by then, and who knows whatll happen with that? A lot of the songs that well be doing for it are songs that were rejected for Desire Walks On. The producors felt they were just too soft.
Stuff like Friend Meets Friend?
Yeah. I dont know if were going to do Friend Meets Friend; no ones brought it up yet. We might do it why not? But were gonna do a couple of songs from Nothing Ever Happens Here and a couple of Frank Coxs songs My Beautiful and Daddys War. And were gonna do a couple of songs from Desire that we were really fond of they were really great. But the guys wanted to make a hard Heart album. One of the songs is called Two Black Lambs, which Ann wrote most of the lyrics for and I wrote the music and Nance helped to put it together. I think its really a Ann-and-Nancy-early-days type song, really tuneful and melodic. So were really excited because theres no pressure nobodys asking Wheres the single?
Do you ever wish you were more widely recognized in the publics eye, or do you enjoy being able to maintain some degree of anonymity, even though your songs have helped sell millions of albums?
I cherish my anonymity. I have NO interest in being famous at all. I dont see what it can do for you. I think the way our world is going the more you can hang on to being an anonymous person, the better off you are. I think the people who are really out there attract some really crazy people. Its not anything that I would want. I just drive the most anonymous car I can. No one ever looks at me and I like it that way. I feel safer and I come and go as I want. The little bit of recognition I do get, with the Lovemongers is, in almost every case, fun. Most of the fans are really great genuine people who just want to come up and say Hi I thought the show was great. But the other side of that is, for example, when people bombard you with tapes. Even my family gets it. People call my sister and say Could you find out if the Lovemongers would play a benefit? or My son is a really good bass player. Do you think Sue could listen to his tape and pass it on to Kelly (Curtis)? That sort of thing,.
You cherish your anonymity, but I was wondering if youve ever gotten the chance to meet any of your musical idols due to your connection to Heart?
I met Elton John.Hes definitely an idol and it was just a hugely great moment for me. Actually Ive met him twice. One time I met him just sort of, Hi how are you doing? in L.A. When he played in Seattle, Ann and I were invited back to his hotel room with a bunch of people, and we kind of sat around with Elton for hours and kind of had a party with him and saw his scene. It was really a thrill just to be with him. Hes a huge talent.
Whats your favorite Heart song that youve written and why? Whats your favorite Heart song that you didnt have a hand in writing?
Wow. Lets see. I think probably Mistral Wind. I just thought it had this great atmosphere to it. It has a mystery and a haunting about it that Im really attracted to. I like the memory of what it was like to write it. It was a big deal for us to write that song. We were really working on getting the words just right. I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom because we had been working on it all weekend and we werent done with the Iyrics, and Ann and Nances plane didnt leave until the evening. I think we sat there for six hours, just working over the last verse what finally happens when the wind comes. It was a lot of sweat, but it was worth it. I remember it was something that was fascinating to us because we were kind of likened the Mistral Wind to the spirit of inspiration. And so when we first started writing it we were thinking, What are we gonna write a song about? and we thought of the analogy of just sitting in a boat, waiting for some inspiration to come. So thats what the song really became about for us; it was about the creative spark. So I like it for its metaphor and its implications. It could be love. It could be anything that comes and sweeps you up and you really get caught up in it and moved by it. So I like what its about, the dynamics. I dont know if they make songs like that anymore a song that goes places, that really takes you places. I thought, really, that the song was at its best live, because thats when Ann is just at her best. My favorite Heart song that I didnt have a hand in? The song that comes to mind is How Deep It Goes. That song is so powerful in its simplicity and I think its got all the elements of the sort of purity and honesty that is the Wilsons. Actually, I think Ann wrote that by herself. I dont know what she thinks of that song now. I suppose Ann would look back and see it as really a young persons song. Like Paul Simon looking back on The Sounds Of Silence you know, Who wrote that? I dont think that she identifies with who that person is anymore. That was really her description of her life at that time in Canada. I dont think she thinks of herself as somebodys girlfriend anymore, in those same terms as she did then. But I think its just a really honest and tuneful song.
Last time I was talking to you, you mentioned that you were working on a screenplay. May one ask what it's about? ls it too early to tell, or would you like to keep it under wraps for right now?
Yeah, I would like to keep it under wraps just because I dont know if anyone else is doing it. I passed it on to the powers that can take it to the next level and its gotten good response so I dont want to jinx it. Im excited about it. Its a romantic comedy, Ill put it that way. Its not an action film or anything. Ive also got a couple of other ones. Ones about guess what? some teenage girls who are Beatles fans in the 60s. Im also writing another one thats about women! And friendships.
Are you gonna call it Ann and Sue and make it a sort of Thelma and Louise thing?
No. Its sort of an ensemble thing and its about some friendships and I really liked doing it. Thats mostly what lm doing these days, but Im also putting the finishing touches on some songs. Every year I write four or five songs for Marie for Christmas. Ive been doing that since her first year. Im writing them for two reasons some of them are to amuse her now and theyre silly kiddie songs one of them is called Eat A Pickle, thats how silly it is. But some of them are more about where she is in her development. Like learning the alphabet or a lullaby. I figure that one day when shes a bummed out teenager and shes wondering about Who am I? and Oh, my life!, she can look back Here I was at one, here I was at two... So this year Ive got five songs and I still have to mix them. One of them is called Learning Manners shes four years old so this is what shes going through right now; shes learning you need to cover your mouth when you cough.
What sort of music are you currently listening to?
I wish I could tell you something that lm really excited about right now. Ive got the Indigo Girls in my CD player right now and Im a huge Joni Mitchell fan, as we all are. I think her new album is really quite strong its kind of a bummer but its so bleak, some of that stuff. Wow! I just love the music part of it a lot and some of the songs are really, really great. So thats the one Im most excited about. And believe it or not, I actually think there are a couple of tunes on the new Pearl Jam album that I think are really excellent. Im not really a grunge fan, if you can even call them that anymore probably not. But I think there are songs like Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden and I Stay Away by Alice In Chains and Immortality And Nothingman by Pearl Jam I think those are really good, well-crafted songs. Im really happy to like it. Some of it hasnt gotten through to me but I think those are really creative bands and I like that.
One last question: knowing Ann and Nancy as well as you do, after all these years, are they still coffee generation achievers?
(Laughter) No theyre not really coffee people