Where the Heart is

The Wilson sisters stay relevant, sexy and powerful, making music the way they want. Fan-girl Alison Lang lives the dream, chats with Nancy Wilson.

Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are still doing it for themselves.

Ahh, the inner fan girl. One would think that after a certain period of time, the 16-year-old banshee lurking within---she with the painted, bitten fingernails, the notebook with the Led Zeppelin stickers and the tendency to scream at inopportune moments---would learn to shut up, already.

One would think so. However, after two minutes of speaking with Heart's Nancy Wilson---the guitar legend who, along with her siren sister Ann, wrote "Dreamboat Annie," the soundtrack to my childhood and yours; the songwriter who scored Almost Famous, one of the best rock 'n' roll movies of all time; the woman who has somehow managed to stay relevant and sexy and powerful at age 56---well, the verbal diarrhea came sputtering out of its own accord.

Wilson is relaxed and hippie-cool, responding to this barrage of questions from an LA kitchen, surrounded by dogs while her twin sons are at school. When the standard "What do you think about women in music today?" comes up, she answers like she hasn't heard it a million times already.

"In order to be embraced by pop culture, you have to be Lady Gaga these days," she says. "I think she's completely talented, too, but there's so much more artifice going on. There's so much more about the disposability of the next sensational image."

Heart experienced this prominently in the '80s, when their videos for "Alone" and "These Dreams" featured the sisters dolled up in sexy outfits and stiletto heels. "Our idea was more of a rock royalty, Prince and the Revolution-type thing, but not quite as pimpy," she says. "It was kind of fun at first. Like playing dress-up. But you work with all these Hollywood designer people, and they always want more cleavage. They want the pole dancer effect. People started asking me, 'Is that guitar a prop, or are you really playing?' I felt like if that was all they saw, it was time to back away from the bombshell thing a bit. We're really comfortable in our own skins these days."

The Wilsons brought this sense of ease to the writing process for their first studio album in six years, Red Velvet Car, which they're promoting along with a new live DVD, Night at Sky Church. The album was produced by Canadian musician Ben Mink (kd lang, Feist), and serves as a stylistic retrospective of their storied career.

"When you write songs from the experiences you have, it tends to reflect what you're going through at the time," Wilson says. "We're not 20-somethings anymore. We've been around a little longer. So we're writing about other stuff other than, 'Oh! My boyfriend!'"

Both women have experienced periods of change in recent years, and have marked them in their own ways. When their mother died in 2006, Ann got a tattoo of an iris, her mom's favourite flower, on her right arm. Recently, and more publicly, Nancy separated from her husband, Cameron Crowe.

"When John Lennon died, I got one ear pierced, and when I separated from my husband, I did the other," she says. "I think it was sort of a sacrifice---a pain you inflict on yourself, to acknowledge the pain of something so huge in your life. So when you wear your earrings, you remember the romance of a previous time."

In its own way, Red Velvet Car is a paean to romance, but it's also a celebration---a nod to getting older, to making music, to doing things exactly your own way---and in true Heart fashion, it's done with honesty and grace.

Heart w/Carmen Townsend, Thursday, February 3 7:30pm, Halifax Metro Centre, 1800 Argyle Street, $62.50-$72.50

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