August 16, 1985
By David Huff
The Wilson sisters rebound, but will it still have Heart
"We needed to find new band members who could work with women as equals. It was never a 'women's issue' with us, but a question of being able to relate to each other as people. The fact that Denny (Carmassi) and Mark (Andes) are so versatile musically, was also critical because our new material is much more demanding." - Nancy Wilson of Heart in a 1982 press release accompanying the announcement that founding member Steve Fossen and drummer Mike Derosier had left the band in a difference over musical direction for the band.
I’ve kept the above statement that Nancy Wilson made in the summer of 1982 in a file for nearly three years now. It’s a reminder of the soap opera that enveloped one of the most successful and versatile rock bands of the 1970's. To watch and hear Heart go from musical riches to vinyl rags was one of the most sobering downfalls I had ever witnessed.
Their comeback has been just as exhilarating.
As all music fans know, it’s easy to become attached to certain bands. The music speaks to you in a personal way that at times provides comfort. It is also can be quite entertaining. Heart has always been personal favorite. Can’t tell you why, nor do I care to. The five albums the band released from 1976 thru 1980 contained moments of brilliance that endeared the band to millions. And then something strange happened. The band’s label released a greatest hits album. That usually signals the beginning of the end for any band, signaling the label no longer has any confidence in the band.
The release of the band’s sixth studio recording, Private Audition, fell flat. Perhaps Epic was on to something. Then founding members Steve Fossen and Mike Derosier announced they were leaving the band over quote, “musical differences.” Had the Wilson sisters overstepped their boundaries? It was difficult to tell from the outside. The rhythm section of Mark Andes and Denny Carmassi was hired and immediately right the drifting ‘steamboat Annie’.
The resulting album, Passion Works, breathed hope into Heart, but they were still on life support. If it hadn’t been for the group’s foresight in asking one John Cougar to go on the road for them as the opening act, the tour would have been a disaster. Instead, it was a sell-out. Still, as far as Epic Records was concerned, Heart had worn out its welcome. It was time to say goodbye.
A restructured Capitol Records decided to take a gamble on the Wilson sisters. They signed Heart and crossed their fingers. The gamble, if you really want to call it that, paid off handsomely. With the release of their eighth, self-titled studio recording last month, Heart is on the fast-track for ‘comeback kids’ of the year honors. The album contains at least three hit singles, maybe more. And folks, don’t be surprised if it becomes the band’s best-selling record ever. It really is that good.
JAM: I'll be the first to admit that your new album is nothing short of brilliant. In fact, this recording seems like the logical next step you would have taken after Bebe Le Strange.
JAM: I don't want this to sound rude, but I thought the band had reached its creative peak after turmoil and confusion reared its ugly head the past three years. Honestly, I didn't think Heart literally had any heart in it anymore?
You have every right to say that, and I completely understand where you are coming from. Believe me, it helps when everyone in the band, from the management to the record company people, handle you in a very professional manner. After the experience with Passion Works, I was like really the culprit to get a lot of the changes going, especially with new management and a different record company. I thought there was a lot of holes in our organization where energy was being wasted and not spent in the right direction. I am really happy now because as hard as we work to try and devote ourselves to this thing, there's no reason why it shouldn't work.
JAM: The situation with Heart the past few years has been confusing to me. I always thought any group that was able to overcome all the adversity it takes just to become a band and then miraculously get signed, has their act together. For a group to implode after achieving hard fought success just doesn’t make sense, but Heart is living proof it really can happen.
Oh yes. This kind of situation occurs all the time and it is very unfortunate.
JAM: Then you aren't a unique case?
No, we aren't at all. A lot of bands keep their problems under wraps. They probably would rather stay together and not like one another than air their problems out in the media, or disappoint their fans by changing members. That is true with a good many groups that I know of. We were a total exception to the rule. Our lives were open to the media and it made things difficult. Today, our situation is almost too weird because we all like one another. It is so refreshing right now to be in Heart. It's not like we’re running around kissing people's behind's, it's just that we are a family. When you really love what you are doing and enjoy the people you’re with, tough situation have a way of working themselves out. Fortunately for us, that’s what happened..
JAM: I don't know if it is fair to say that Capitol Records was taking a gamble signing Heart after you were released by Epic, but was there a definite need on the band’s part to prove your worth to the label immediately?
Definitely! We took the bit in our teeth with this one.
JAM: I have followed Heart with a great deal of interest the past few years and I have to tell you Nancy, I am still somewhat puzzled over the departure of Steve Fossen and Michael Derosier three years ago?
Nancy Wilson - Well, I think that a lot of people were bummed out, including us.
JAM: I don't understand?
I don't think there was any real musical problem when the guys left, because we had all gotten pretty spoiled up to that point.
JAM: Are you talking about to the point of Bebe Le Strange?
During that whole era leading up to Bebe Le Strange and immediately afterwards, we were basically surfing the main wave for a long while. Again, I think everybody just ended up getting spoiled. That in turn led to some really bad attitudes developing. Then accusations started flying around toward Ann and myself. We were the de facto leaders of the group. Seriously, someone had to lead. The buck had to stop with someone.
JAM: So democracy turned into dictatorship?
No! You are absolutely wrong with that analogy. Ann and I have always been the main songwriters, but we always made sure to include the guys with us. As time went on, there developed a lot of the ‘behind the back stuff’, you know, backstabbing. It became uncomfortable after a while. It’s too bad because musically, we were a hot line-up. But, it was personality more than anything else that came between us. That in turn eventually spilled over onto the professional level. It came to a point where we didn't even want to be in the same room with each other. An attitude developed to where, 'Well, since I didn't write this song, I'm not going to play well on it.' There is no room for that petty sort of stuff in this business. I will tell you this. If we had not found Mark and Danny, the band Heart would not have stayed together. Those two never get involved with petty stuff. With them, we are always able to keep the line of communication open. We all talk to one another. If anyone has a grudge, we air it out immediately. The atmosphere is very healthy nowadays. It was a really sad time for Heart when the changes were made.
JAM: I think it would be fair to call Private Audition and Passion Works the break-up and post break-up albums of Heart following the very successful Bebe Le Strange. Do you attribute their poor chart performances to the emotional upheaval you, your sister and Howard had to adjust too?
Without a doubt! You can hear it in the music. The sales figures on those albums plummeted. But, the reorganization of Heart alone was not responsible for the failure of those albums. Private Audition was recorded during the break-up, and you can hear the tear jerkers. The subsequent album we made with Danny and Mark, Passion Works, had the songs "How Can I Refuse," and "Allies," and was a fairly strong album. But, at that point, Epic Records was having so much luck with Michael Jackson's Thriller album as well as the Culture Club and other acts. Their attitude was like, 'Why try for Heart? What have you done for me lately?' There were a lot of things stacked up against us.
JAM: And that was what initiated the move to Capitol Records?
Absolutely, and look what happened!
JAM: Then the pressure indeed was on for your new album?
It was basically sink or swim. There was NO middle ground with this album. When our last record was released, a lot of our fans didn't even know it was out and we found ourselves standing up and shouting so that people would notice. So consequently, on this recording, we really went for it. For the first time, we used outside writers and even wrote something like 25 songs in advance before going into the studio.
JAM: You seemed to have found the missing ingredient on this album the last two just didn't have?
We came forward with an even stronger bunch of songs, and the material we chose to use from outside writers were really great. This time out, the band did its homework. Also, with a good company and management team behind us, Heart is in a good place. This album is on the verge of going gold and it has just been out a month.
JAM: What have you avoided this time out that perhaps you didn’t think was all that serious the past few years?
A lot of the problem with us was timing. The last couple of years we were a bit overworked touring the way we did. We didn't have any time to fulfill our songwriting duties. Writing on the road's possible, but it's pretty hard. Things were more civil this time out.
JAM: During all this emotional strife, Howard Leese has been like the glue that’s held everything together. Has he always been there for you and your sister?
He's our bud, our friend. That's not saying that Mike, Steve or Roger aren't our friends anymore because there isn't a lot of animosity now. I think that Howard has always been a supportive person and we have always been able to talk. He's been real protective of us and he's invaluable as a musician because of his keyboard skills, his voice, his knowledge of music. There are a lot of things about Howard you couldn't replace and thank God he is a great friend.
JAM: As Heart was getting its ship in order, the rolls you and your sister assumed are now front and center. Has it been for the best?
Well, I don't think that it has taken any pressure off us if that’s what you’re asking in. I think the rolls that you ascribe to us comes down to this. The success of this new album so far has added a new dimension to what people expect out of women in the music business to be honest with you. We look the industry a bit differently now. We were sort of women pioneers in a rock band when we started out. Now others have now followed our lead.
JAM: Did Heart get caught up in the ever changing cycles of the music industry?
I don't think that ever had anything to do with why the original band broke up. Actually, Heart never did break up per se, it just replaced members. Those changes occurred because people held grudges. It was hard for the men to feel compatible with the women. There is a happy way to be competitive and then there is a destructive way.
JAM: You would think that after a while, egos would be the last thing to expect when it came to the overall health of a successful band.
Well, that's an excellent point, and you are right. There is no good reason that egos should have played any role in this band. Then again, you also have to realize we were young and hungry when we first started out. All of us were pretty naive on things like how to deal with pressure, living in close quarters or how not to get on each other’s nerves. That in itself is a real art form. You have to know how to be diplomatic, professional and still keep a really positive atmosphere.
JAM: Has it been somewhat disheartening at times to always be in the public eye and allow music to totally consume you?
Well, I do have a little bit of an outside life when I get home. I can brush my dogs or ride my horses. Then again, I am still writing songs or getting new equipment and doing my guitar homework. But, this is the lifestyle I chose. It's what I enjoy doing. It's not like a huge sacrifice to not have much time for anything else but music. That's just the way this life is. We aren't dwelling on the past anymore. You have to go through some painful things in order to stay alive at times. Heart could have very easily fallen apart and not be in existence today. We had to do whatever it took to keep this band alive. The nucleus of Heart is Ann, myself and Howard. We are real happy with the people that are in it right now. Heart is an ongoing entity that has become a lifelong commitment. Each album has its own story behind it and a set of different circumstances under which it was recorded. What we've done now is sort of bring the band full circle.