A Case Of Rock and Soul
Nothing Half-Hearted About Nancy Wilson's Roadcase Royale
While classic rock band Heart is currently on an indefinite hiatus, guitarist-singer-songwriter Nancy Wilson is focused on the creation of a brand new project.
Roadcase Royale blends Wilson and the current backing musicians of Heart - Dan Rothchild (bass), Ben Smith (drums) and Chris Joyner (keyboards) - with former Prince associates Liv Warfield of the New Power Generation (vocals) and Ryan Waters (guitar).
The new band first played live in March at a charity gig in Los Angeles. Currently they're alternating headlining shows and opening slots on Bob Seger's Runaway Train tour to support their debut album First Things First.
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Wilson, back from vacation with her family, recently spoke with INsite from her home in California.
How's it going today?
Great. I just had a really relaxing vacation and I got some yoga time in. We're not on the road yet, so right now it's just the calm before the storm.
Did you need a vacation after playing the recent Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp?
Oh it was just so much fun to do that. I'm going to do another one soon, too. It was so great to see all the people who want that fantasy of being in a rock band. They worked really hard on their songs, too. They learned a lot with their tutor guys so by the time I came in, the 18 bands I stood and played with were all so ready and they were such happy people.
That fantasy is coveted by so many age groups. Who doesn't want to run off and join a rock band at some point?
Exactly, and there were all kinds of people there. We had a whole band of teenage girls, a couple of cops, just young and old and from all walks of life. It was a really big group who are all joined at the intersection of rock and roll.
And you've been at that crossroad for most of your life at this point. Do you think you have to be born to rock, or can it be taught?
Well there's some that can be taught and you can definitely learn a lot. I think if you're a natural to it, if it's in your DNA, then it's better.
The new band is also poised at the crossroads. In your case, it's rock and soul. How did it come about and why did you call it Roadcase Royale?
Well I'd formed a production company called Roadcase Productions for various projects including film and TV projects and things outside of the Heart moniker. When we all got together - since Ann was off doing her Ann Wilson Thing - we said, "Let's just try something." We could instantly tell that we needed to be a band, so we needed a name as soon as possible. We kinda toyed around with ideas. Liv and Ryan are both from Prince's world and everybody else is from Heart. So to me, the image of the old scruffed-up roadcase that's been rolling along like Heart for the last 40-plus years, is a nice contrast to the royalty, the purple people of Prince's world. Liv is very regal and I'm just kind of a road dog. Somehow it all works out. We're rock and soul. And we're doing some Heart music, too.
What was the bond that brought you all together in the first place?
Liv and her Blackbird band opened for us two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. We'd seen them on the Jimmy Fallon show and we were just blown away with Liv and her energy and her voice. So instead of going the kind of L.A. route, we went with something a little more surprising with Liv and her Blackbird band as openers. Then we just fell into a great friendship immediately. 'We should make something together, we should do some kind of music together.' She was like, 'You know, I feel a little stuck in the R&B world, I'd really love to do stuff that's more rock and roll.' I was like, 'Well that'd be fun!' I love blending the two elements because I love R&B so the way we fell together was really natural.
"Get Loud" was the first track released, but was it the first song you wrote?
Actually we got together to rehearse and we worked on this song that I'd been wanting to reimagine. It's turned out to be the one cover on the new album. It's written by Colin Hay from Men At Work and called "Hold On To My Hand." I wanted to just rebuild it into more of the rock ethic. When we got our groove going on that it was so good. Then we started writing and "Get Loud" was one of the first songs we did. Liv and Ryan brought in "Not Giving Up," and we all finished it together. And then we just finished up some songs that had been waiting in notebooks and files and brought them to life. We worked really fast and got a lot of new stuff.
"Get Loud" became sort of a rally cry at the first Women's March early this year.
Yeah at the big one in Washington and there was a huge one in Texas, too. It became a bit of a theme for those marches. It doesn't push too hard or sound too controversial but it does stand up for human rights - which women should have, of course. So it was nice timing. When you look around at the world, you can't put you head in the sand, you have to react with a solution if possible. Then when we were working on "Not Giving Up," we changed some of the lyrics to describe some of the issues that are going on now. You have to push back at all the wrong-doing but without hitting people over the head too hard.
Music and art are the best ways to stand up to any sort of injustice.
Yeah and I was there in the '60s at some of the rallies myself - for similar causes. To be quite honest, it's a little bit of a deja vu, unfortunately, of how similar they are. But music inspires and brings people together because it's a source for good and for healing. Now I'm not just Pollyanna over here, but I feel really strongly that music can help.
And now in today's chaotic world, with the music industry so segmented, you're putting out a new album. Is this the record for the moment?
I think it's a really strong album and if it helps people get through kinda what we're all going through, then yeah. It doesn't have to matter if it's a big [commercial] success, if it helps people then that's why it should be out there.
Now you're taking it out on the road. This is still a new thing because you've only been doing shows since March. How was that first show?
It was so good to get out of the rehearsal room and on to the stage. We had lots of support from our friends and fans there to cheer us on and the show turned out really well. There were some extreme rockers there doing their metal stuff. And Danny Gold was there; he's a filmmaker (HBO's "If You're Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast," "100 Voices") who wants to do a series about us - from the inception forward of a new rock band. So we've got that first show captured on film. We're working on getting the series set up and hopefully continuing it on the road.
So this will be a reality show and a rock and roll tour at the same time.
(Laughs) Yeah but you're not going to see me rolling out of bed or anything like that. I'll be awake with make-up on.
We won't see any arguing with band mates? Reality TV loves petty drama.
Arguing - yeah the old inner-group strife! But if we had to, we could always stage a couple of good fights, just to make good TV.
You've been in bands with occasionally volatile dynamics, so it probably wouldn't require too much Method Acting to recall those emotions.
Yeah but you know for us in Roadcase Royale, we're really tight. We haven't lived together in the submarine for eight weeks yet but I think everybody's all cool, real people.
They say touring either makes a band great or causes them to become bitter enemies. Or, in come cases, both.
Right! Well we're still in the honeymoon of our band. We're all experienced already and we've all done other things for so long, we all kinda know the protocol already.
So now you have the combined history to explore on stage but how do you include the familiar with the new stuff?
We're doing some new things and looking back, too. We'll do quite a few Heart songs, but our way. It'll be a revolving set as it goes to be able to include it all, but Liv just kills on "Crazy On You." It's ridiculous!
Roadcase Royale opens for Bob Seger October 7 at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth. For more information, please visit roadcaseroyale.com.