It’s hard to believe that in a music career that has spanned nearly five decades, Nancy Wilson had never released a solo studio album — until now. The musician, best known for contributing her innovative guitar work, vocals and songwriting skills to the legendary rock band Heart, recently released the first studio album that’s all hers, You and Me. “I felt like it would be fun,” Nancy, 67, tells Closer. “I wasn’t nervous. It’s been a really freeing experience. I felt like I could really stretch out.”
The performer also recently designed her own guitar, the Epiphone Nancy Wilson Fanatic guitar, which is available now. Just before the pandemic hit, she and her husband, Geoff Bywater, moved to Northern California to a home that provided her with more room to let her hair down and be creative.
“I have a two-room apartment above the garage, separate from the actual house,” Nancy explains. “It’s my first-ever music space, where I can hang my guitars up on the wall. When I play, I can just turn it up and be as loud as I want without disturbing the other people in the house. It’s great!”
When did you first start playing guitar?
“I was around 9. And when the Beatles showed up, I said that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be John Lennon.”
Did you come from a musical family?
“Yeah, all the way around. My mom was a pianist, and we all sang harmonies together. We had opera on Sunday with pancakes. We had Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland and the Beatles. Our parents got hip to our music. We’d listen to the Beatles’ Abbey Road with them.”
Does your new solo album, You and Me, have a message or theme?
“It’s pretty personal. The first song, “You and Me,” is kind of a conversation I had with my mom in a dream. When you have a close relationship with someone that you lose and they visit you in a dream or you feel like they are part of your DNA — that’s what the song is about. So, yeah, pretty darn personal.”
There is also a film coming out that features one of your songs.
“Yes, it’s called I Am All Girls, and it’s on Netflix. It features the song ‘Daughter,’ which is on my album. It’s a true story of human trafficking and a really good film.”
Tell us about the instrument you recently designed, the Epiphone Nancy Wilson Fanatic guitar.
“It’s kind of based on the female shape, but it’s good for men and women alike to play. It’s a gorgeous rock ’n’ roll guitar, and it’s affordable. Also, when I played it on stage, it’s really loud. So it delivers.”
You’ve succeeded as a guitarist in a field dominated by men. What advice would you give to other women with similar aspirations?
“I think that the key is to remain yourself, and don’t let them talk you into being objectified. And just be competent. Learn the craft. Work at it. Work hard. You can’t be a wimp if you’re going to go on tour. It’s like joining the Army. You have to be diligent and watch your back. Do not be sucked into drama. Be above the drama.”
If you hadn’t been a musician, what do you think you would have done?
“I would have gone insane! [Laughs] I probably could have been a vet because I am an animal person. A vet or a trainer, maybe. We have four dogs right now. It’s a little bit of a herd of buffalo sometimes!”
You have two young adult sons. Was it hard to be a mother and a touring musician?
“Yes! It’s been very hard. Once they started going to a structured school, I flew them out on breaks to where I was working to spend as many days together as possible. They would help the road crew, rolling cases around or putting things [in place]. They had their jobs on the road with me.”
Did either of them follow you into music?
“One of my twin boys, who are now 21, is a really good guitar player. He had a band right before the pandemic. My other son has switched his major to screenwriting, like his dad, Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire). They are both very artistic, talented kids.”
What is the best lesson you’ve learned?
“I think it’s how to be a mom. That’s the most challenging and the scariest thing to get right. Because you can’t be too overprotective and you have to set boundaries. I think the more that you prove your love and support to them unconditionally — even when they screw it up really bad — then you end up catching them and being there for them.”
Do you have plans to tour with Heart again?
“It looks very likely that we’ll be able to get out there and do another big Heart tour in 2022. In the meantime, I’m doing my solo thing.”
What do you enjoy most about working with your sister, Ann, in Heart?
“I love the camaraderie. There’s something about musicians, everybody has the same reference points for humor — it’s Spinal Tap and various things. And with Ann, it’s always been a beautiful communication we have without words. We could always just read each other’s face. That’s the beauty of having a sister out there in the world to lean on.”
Heart has had so many hits through the years. Do you have a favorite album?
“Well, there’s so many great songs on different ones that I would probably have to make a hybrid favorite Heart album. It would probably would be between Little Queen and Dog and Butterfly. There has been talk about a Heart biopic.”
Where does that stand?
“We’ve had meetings with Carrie Brownstein, who’s such a great writer. Her Portlandia is hysterical. Right now, we’re circling a potential green light on that, but we don’t know all the details yet.”
What other ambitions do you have for the future?
“I think I just want to keep making music because that is the most gratifying for me. I want to get back out there and have fun.”