By Tim Sommer
There is no expiration date on the memories that music made, nor on the great voices who created those memories.
We may have made no plans for rock’n’roll to grow old, but grow old it did. As it ages (and as we age, too), we find that rock’n’roll provides the same thrills and the same platforms for escape and expression it always did. The great songs and singers of our time speak to us – and for us – in 2016 just like they did in 1976. And if you search just a little (you don’t have to look too hard), you’ll find that many of the classic performers of the past still have something very fresh to say. See, your memories aren’t just alive; the makers of those memories are alive, too, many of them intent on continually reinventing themselves. Regardless of age, some of the great musical icons of our time are making the music of their lives; no one told them that passion, intention, invention, and electricity were just tools that belonged to the young.
Everyone of a certain age knows the name Ann Wilson, and knows the songs she sang with Heart. As much as Ms. Wilson may respect the memories that made her famous, she’s committed to making new ones, too. Ms. Wilson has a new band called The Ann Wilson Thing! They are a deep, fiery and literate garage band who play tuned soul with an untamed heart, wise and wild and fresh with youth yet full of the friction of experience. Barely half a year old, they land on the stage of the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, March 25.
“What makes this so different and unusual is that it’s not Heart, it’s something completely different,” explains Ms. Wilson. “We’re not doing any Heart songs at all, this is just about me and what I want to do and all kinds of different songs. I get to stretch out and I get to show myself as a singer in new ways that I haven’t got to do yet. It’s allowing me to experiment and in some ways to be more of a troubadour, you know, to take really great lyrics and poetry and put them across as I travel. It’s really a great balance for me, because Heart is still functioning, of course, and I’m doing my solo thing in between Heart gigs. It’s a balance for me, I get to stretch out.”
Although Ms. Wilson used the word “solo,” she’s very keen to emphasize that The Ann Wilson Thing! is very much a band, and not an indulgent solo product (by the way, the band members refer to the group as the TAW).
“I’ve always been a band person,” Ms. Wilson says, “I want to be in a band. I’ve never been someone who wants to go out and have a big explosive glittering solo career, I’ve always really liked being part of a team, and getting chemistry going with other people in a band.”
Of course, Ann is still a member of another famous band, too.
“When we had just started out with this Ann Wilson Thing! there was a lot of apprehension within the Heart camp that me doing this thing was going to damage the Heart brand, y’know,” Ms. Wilson notes. “And, well, the minute I heard it put that way, I kind of went, well, this makes me want to rebel! But I didn’t quite rebel, I just didn’t believe that anything I might do to unleash my creative self was going to damage the Heart thing. And it hasn’t – in fact, it’s kind of helped it. There are people who come to the Heart thing, and then the next night I’ll see ‘em at a TAW show, and they’ll go ‘Wow! Here we are again!’ And it’s not a dualistic thing, it’s all just different ways of hearing this music. “
The Ann Wilson Thing! has released one record so far, a four-song EP titled “#1 (another one called #2 is on the way — you can find out more about these records, along with some in-depth information about the band, at www.theannwilsonthing.com). Live and in the studio, the music of The Ann Wilson Thing! is living and immediate, tense and playful, kicking at the sides of the familiar and hollering down the well of the edge. This band is most certainly not on Classic Rock cruise control; deeply modern without an ounce of trendiness, it’s claustrophobic with tension and expansive with emotion, a deep blues that does not resort to blues clichés. The Ann Wilson Thing!, breathes fire and fine perfume, Bowery and Berkley, countryside and city sidewalk. Ms. Wilson’s voice, raw and sweet and reminiscent at time of great singers like Sam Cooke and Stevie Marriott, cuts across the highlights and lowlights of our lives, one foot in Wynonie Harris and Bessie Smith and another foot in Jack White and Norah Jones.
Ms. Wilson is very aware that it’s a completely different experience releasing a record in 2016 then it was when Heart scored their biggest hits in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“The changes that have happened in the music industry are so extreme and so complete that the music industry is unrecognizable from what it was when I started,” says Ms. Wilson. “It’s a good thing that I like performing live, and it’s a good thing that I consider myself a live performer. The industry is calling the names of people like me right now. You have to go out there and put your butt on the line. And I kind of like that, in a way, because it means it’s much harder to fake it. I mean, if you’re out there really doing shows you gotta be authentic, you gotta show what you got. You can’t hide in the studio and use autotune and that sort of stuff.”
And The Ann Wilson Thing! is up for the challenge.
“It’s a pretty amazing live experience – it’s raw and it’s rough, but it’s tender, and it’s really dynamic. It’s a really good band and we really put it out.”
The Ann Wilson Thing! plays on Friday, March 25th at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC), 76 Main Street, Westhampton. Tickets are $120, $95 and $80. Visit whbpac.org or call (631) 288-1500 for more information.