In the lead episode of Season 3 of How I Wrote That Song, one of the most enduring voices in rock and roll looks back on her hits and the moments that inspired them. Ann Wilson’s storied career in Heart has yielded so many memorable tracks, with each of them taking the band down a different sonic path. They stand as a testament to the multifaceted songwriting skills of her and her sister Nancy Wilson, who founded the band together fifty years ago.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer tells Sara Parker of WMMR how one of Heart’s earliest hits, “Barracuda,” came together organically: “I didn’t have to think too much about it. Just let my emotions flow… I had a problem with somebody who had insulted me and my sister, and I was really angry. And so (the words) just went down on the page.”
That song showcased the grittier side of Heart, but there’s a gentler side to the music as well. “Dog and Butterfly,” released a couple years later, held a softer tone. “That was the thing about Heart,” Ann explains. “It could go all places. It wasn’t just a heavy, grinding rock band. It could do that, for sure, and have it be real, but also Nancy and I came out of a folk background. We came from a house with parents who listened to all kinds of stuff, Ray Charles, and opera… all kinds of music. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for us to write something like ‘Dog and Butterfly’.”
Ann also talks about the challenges and rewards that come with collaborating with other songwriters, her latest solo album, and Heart’s recent GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement recognition. Stream the interview in its entirety (below).
(Note: This interview was recorded in November 2022.)
“In The Blood” came on the heels of your first hit, “Good.” It seemed like “In The Blood” was also on the radio every hour on the hour. So talk about that song and the line, “Who did you love before? Who did they love before you?”
There’s some interesting things about that song. If you listen to I was completely inspired lyrically, melodically by a Catherine Wheel song called “Black Metallic.” That was their big song. Listen to “Black Metallic” and you can hear where I got part of the melody. I’ve said that to people before, and they go, “I don’t hear it.” I say, “Well, I do.” I was definitely inspired by that song melodically.
But the lyrics… I usually don’t tell people where my head was, but my girlfriend at the time, her uncle had had AIDS and he was in the last stage of battling AIDS. He passed away in ’96. It was really about AIDS and it was literally about: what’s in your blood? Do you really know the person you’re with and who did they love before you and who did they love before them? And it was really just a very literal lyric to me. It was really about her uncle Patrick, who was an amazing guy. He was an editor for The Advocate. He lived in West Hollywood and he was still somewhat healthy. But dealing with it was a tough time. But that’s what the lyrics are about. So it really wasn’t about a relationship. It was really about this man. I rarely told people about that because it’s kind of heavy.
The How I Wrote That Song limited series gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. New episodes will be released every other Monday through December 12. How I Wrote That Song is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI.
“It really kicked my booty!” Lauren Alaina could be talking about a number of obstacles life has thrown her way over the years, but right now she’s referring to COVID-19. “I was so mad when I got it because I have taken this pandemic very seriously and I ended up getting it somewhere, where a group of people was gathered everyone had tested negatively. And somehow I got it and I was pretty sick. I was only really sick for three or four days. And then it took me a couple of weeks to feel one hundred percent again. But it’s no joke, I’m better now.” When we sat down (remotely) to discuss some of her songs, she was in a joyful mood and took a lot of pride in her ability as a songwriter.
Let’s talk about your new song: “Getting Over Him.” You could have written it all just from your point of view and not had this sort of dialog with Jon Pardi. So it’s almost a movie casting decision.
I had gone through two really crazy breakups and I’d never really been single for a long length of time since high school, and I was kind of like casually dating this guy. And it didn’t work out. I mean, it was super casual, like we went on a couple of dates, whatever. It wasn’t a big thing, really, but it was nice to flirt with someone again. And when it kind of fizzled out, one of my friends said if his only purpose was to help you get over that last guy, [that’s ok].
And so I wrote down that he was my “get over him guy.” I went into the writing session with Emily Weisband, who I work with a lot, and Paul DiGiovanni, my producer, and I also write with him a ton. I brought this idea up and I was like, “I want it to be like a dirty country sound.” I actually prepped Paul with that.
[Later] I brought this idea up to Emily and she loved it. And we wrote the chorus and then we wrote the first verse. And when we were preparing for the second verse, I was like, “Do you guys think we can make this a duet and tell the male perspective as well?” So we just kind of created this character from the other side of it. We got another songwriter in town to actually sing on the demo. And I was listening to it and I was like. “Wow, we described Jon Pardi.” He literally is the definition of going out and having a good time on the weekend. And that’s what this song is about, just two people flirting in a bar. And I have been in a lot of bars with Jon Pardi. I never flirted with him! He’s married and he’s like my brother, but he plays that role really, really well. So I just called him and said, “Hey, I’ve got this song, no pressure, but I think you could be really cool for it.” And I just texted it to him and he said yes immediately. And we got him in the studio.
Check out the rest of the interview in the video above.