Nancy Wilson Gets to the Powerful Heart of Roadcase Royale’s First Things First
Nancy Wilson doesn’t like being idle. The noted Northwest-bred guitarist/vocalist was up for tackling new challenges while Heart, the band she and her sister Ann Wilson made famous, decided to take an extended break—and she found exactly what she was looking for with her new six-piece collective, Roadcase Royale.
“As a band, we’re very democratic—everybody writes, everybody contributes, everybody votes,” says Wilson about the collective energy behind RR’s propulsive debut album, First Things First. The proof is deep in the groove, from the pure head rush of lead single “Get Loud” to the crackling push-pull addiction lament of “The Dragon”—not to mention of-the-moment updates of a pair of Heart classics: the slide-guitar turnaround of “These Dreams” and a funkified reading of “Even It Up.”
Wilson’s chief RR foil is powerhouse vocalist Liv Warfield, the one-time singer with Prince’s
New Power Generation who also appeared on the late Purple One’s 2009 release, Lotusflow3r. “I like bringing elements of soul into the rock part of what I’m singing, plus making sure there’s a certain level of angst in there too,” explains Warfield. “I also love rock guitar and those big power chords, so I’m really glad how Nancy and I get along so well in this band. It’s a really incredible link-up and match, so I have to believe it was by divine intervention.”
I got on the line with Wilson, 63, to discuss how the band’s two guitarists mastered the album’s stereo soundfield and how she figured out the right harmony blends with her new vocal partner. While you’re still alive, you’ve gotta kick it out…
MM: Looking at the way the two Roadcase Royale guitarists come across visually, you’re at stage right—or left, for audience members—and Ryan [Waters] is on the opposite side. Did you guys map out the stereo field on the record to match that? Did you say, “I need to be over here, and you need to be over there”?
NW: We naturally fell together that way, so we similarly mixed the album that way, just so the soundstage would match the live setting. And because Dan [Rothchild], the bass player, needs to stand closer to Ben [Smith], the drummer, Ryan and I are the stereo guitar players. We also played almost everything live at the same time in the studio.
When I was playing acoustic guitar, obviously, I would be in a different room. Ben, Dan, and Chris [Joyner, RR keyboardist] were all in the same room. If I was playing electric, then I was in the same room with them—and that’s when we’d really play off each other.
MM: I can really hear that vibe during the second half of “Insaniac,” where you’ve got that major power riffage going on and the whole band just totally goes for it there together.
NW: (chuckles) Yeah! A couple of times when Ryan has played that one live, I thought his guitar was going to explode. He’s a monster of a player. He doesn’t overplay. He knows when to be subtle, but then he really pulls out the stops for when it means something. I have endless admiration in working with Ryan right now.
MM: Since you’ve sung with your sister Ann in Heart for so many years, you probably have some intuitive sense about how to do harmonies. Did you have to change anything mentally when you and Liv started singing together? How did you two work that out?
NW: Well, harmony singing is one of my all-time favorite things to do. And singing with Ann Wilson— first, it’s a sisterly blend. It’s also second nature as to how the phrasing is going to go, what intervals are going to sound better, and what the rhythm movement should be.
It’s a really interesting thing for me to sing harmony with Liv, because she has a whole other way of phrasing. A lot of times, she’ll just throw the last syllable out, to where she almost doesn’t even sing the last syllable. I really like following her stylings, and the way she forms her sentences. Following her form is a really fun thing to do.
MM: Does that just kick in naturally live, even if you’re subconsciously conditioned to sing it another way? NW: That’s exactly right! Liv does a lot of really interesting things with her phrasing that I can anticipate, now that I’m singing with her more often. Our harmonic singing has been a really cool way of learning her map, vocally.
An extended version of the Mettler-Wilson Q&A, including a discussion of why she feels the Roadcase Royale take on “These Dreams” is the best version of that chart-topping song, appears in the S&V Interview blog on soundandvision.com.