(Photo: Jeremy Danger)

As 2016 came to an end, so did Heart. Whether or not that’s a permanent ending remains to be seen but the Wilson sisters immediately jumped into new projects – Ann released an EP while Nancy put together an all-star band, Roadcase Royale, featuring members of Heart and Prince’s New Power Generation.

Roadcase Royale’s debut, First Things First (Loud & Proud Records), was released last week and is a wonderful new chapter for Nancy Wilson – an engaging fusion of R&B and rock, showcasing each member’s backgrounds and talents. In addition to the originals the band wrote together after forming last year, there are some reinterpretations of Heart songs (“Even it Up”, “These Dreams”), a grungy, Zeppelin-esque tribute to Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley (“The Dragon”) and a cover of (Men at Work) Colin Hay’s “Hold On to My Hand”.

On Friday, Used Kids Records will be hosting an intimate Roadcase Royale in-store performance and autograph signing. Free tickets are extremely limited and are available by going to Used Kids and purchasing a copy of Roadcase Royale’s CD ($15). Please note that the band will only be signing copies of the purchased CD, no other memorabilia. Roadcase Royale will open for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night.

In what can only be considered a thrill of a lifetime, I had the chance to chat with Nancy on one of her off days during the current tour. Nancy explains how she got together with Liv Warfield, what it’s been like opening for Bob Seger, how some of the songs on the album came together and more.

You’ve been releasing music for nearly 40 years. I realize in 2017 releasing music is a lot different and the number of weekly releases is probably 10 times what it was during the 70s and 80s but do you still get excited/nervous as release day approaches?

Oh yeah. I’m so excited. I just feel really good and strong about this album. I really like it. Because it’s such a brand new freedom and space that I feel we’ve got going with this new band, there’s no baggage even though there’s a couple of Heart songs on the album that are re-interpreted. That’s just kind of like a cross-pollination where Heart fans can hear a fresh take on a Heart song, they also get a whole bunch of other brand new songs with Roadcase Royale. It’s like a natural equation for something really meaningful and positive.

How did you discover Liv Warfield?

I saw her on the Jimmy Fallon show singing “Why Do You Lie?” with her band. Her presence and her captivating energy and her voice and just her super righteousness was so compelling.

We [Heart] were looking for an opening act for the two shows at the Hollywood Bowl so we called up her people and asked them to open and they did. We hit it off right away and we started talking about how she wanted to do more rock music and not be quite as semi-confined in the R&B style.

We started seriously talking about putting something together. She had a lot of material – her and her guitar player, Ryan Waters, they worked together and had songs together. I love working with my Heart guys and we have songs and it’s like new songs were not hard to come by with this group of people. It happened pretty quickly and in just a really cool way.

This tour is the first run of dates you’ve done as Roadcase Royale?

Yes, it’s our first run. We just did a few shows around the LA area initially just to kind of get our feet wet. This is a real tour now, opening for Bob Seger. We’re opening in huge arenas, like 10,000 – 18,000 people and all of them are sold out. We’re just jumping into the fire as a new band and it’s been going great. I guess, maybe because people are curious about what it is and because it’s billed as “Nancy Wilson of Heart with Roadcase Royale”, people want to see what it is.

So everybody is showing up – almost all the way full – before Bob Seger. The seats are pretty full when we go on which is kind of unheard of for an opening act, usually people are just kind of trickling in and you’re playing to just a couple hundred. But, so far, knocking on wood, it’s been nearly full when we start every night. We came and they are showing up for us which is really amazing.

I mean, you’re a member of Heart and have had some amazing experiences as a band and on tours you’ve been on. But, tell me, do you look over during shows at Liv and think to yourself, “How lucky am I to be sharing a stage with somebody like her?”

Well, yeah. I feel so lucky just the way it all fell together. The people in this band are all bringing so much to the band. Everyone can write, produce, everyone is a great player. We’ve all had a lot of great experience and the work ethic is pretty stellar. Nobody is afraid to work hard to do this. It’s like second nature to all of us to do this the way we’re doing it even though there’s not a lot of comfort zones, we’re plowing through this and getting it done and having a really good time. We’re pretending we’re in our 20s, I guess, these days. When you’re in your 20s, that’s how hard you work. But, right now, it’s really fulfilling to get it off the ground and working.

I don’t buy as much physical music as I used to and I miss reading over liner notes and see who played on what albums and who is thanked in the credits. But I did see a name that I recognized when reading about Roadcase Royale. I am a fan of a singer named Jeremy Toback and I remember Chris Joyner’s name from when he played with Jeremy in the mid-90s.

That’s very cool. He’s done a lot of great things. Everybody in this group – Ben Smith, my drummer has produced a lot of cool stuff. Dan Rothchild’s the son of Paul Rothchild who has produced The Doors and Janis Joplin and a lot of hits. He’s kind of from a production aristocracy, all around amazing player/producer. Ryan Waters, he’s just an ace on that guitar and he’s played with Sade and all kinds of people.

Everybody has been out there, cutting their teeth on greatness all ready, so to do this for the love of it kind of project with these guys is just super cool. I just love it, I can’t say enough good things about it.

Wanted to ask you about the Colin Hay cover. I read the interview you did with my friend Annie Zaleski for UltimateClassicRock.com where you discussed the song and why you chose to cover it. As he’s been performing for nearly as long as you have, do you know him personally? 

I never had, in the past, hung out with Colin Hay but it turns out the way it happened was I was listening to my Pandora station at my house and that song, I kept putting a thumbs up on that song and then I was like, “Wow, that song is very haunting.” The lyrics are so – it’s just a version he did with just one guitar, there was no production on it – but when I really looked closely at it and listened to the lyrics, it really grabbed me. It’s such an achingly beautiful song and so we wanted to make a version of it – I thought of a sort of Daniel Lanois production style would be really nice with a rolling sort of drum part and vibey, atmospherics.

We made a really cool version of it first thing, when we first got together to play, it was the first thing we did. We wanted to write, maybe, but first we had to figure out what we sounded like together.

When we started looking for the publishing information for the song to put on the album credits, it was nowhere to be found. We looked up Colin Hay’s information and came to learn that he actually lives in my same home town.And we called him up and said, “Want to have dinner?” We wound up having dinner with him and his wife. Really great people, got his publishing information and made a friend at the same time!

With Heart, over the last 10 or so years you’ve been doing headlining, co-headlining and even support gigs. With those tours, I imagine there’s a certain level of pressure – do we play the hits and satisfy the audience? Do we dig deep into the catalog? Do we focus on new stuff? Is it satisfying performing with Roadcase Royale in that you’re a newer band and there aren’t maybe those same expectation or pressure?

If it were true, that would be great. But there is kind of an expectation for what we do on a big stage to open for Bob Seger. We bring some Heart to it. That’s kind of a contingency for getting the gig to begin with. It was initially offered to Heart and Ann sort of declined and said “I don’t really want to do that.” So we said, “What about Roadcase Royale?” They said, “No, we have to sell tickets but send us your materials and we’ll check it out.” So then we sent the materials to Bob Seger and his manager Punch Andrews and they kind of freaked out for it and they were like, “On second thought, yes, why don’t you come open for us?”

We really feel lucky about it. Nobody has really heard of us before and they are taking a big leap of faith to bring us out with them. It’s going so well that we’re really feeling relieved about that because people are in their seats when start and that’s pretty unheard of.

It’s no secret that you’re in the band but the band isn’t called Nancy Wilson and Roadcase Royale so I imagine there’s not as much weight on your shoulders.

They are advertising us as “Nancy Wilson of Heart with Roadcase Royale” so I think the Heart moniker is out there to get butts in seats which makes sense to me. I don’t feel weird about that at all, whatever helps with the perception out there that yes, it’s Nancy Wilson of Heart, but it’s something fresh coming along with it. I don’t have any issues with that whatsoever, I see the necessity.

The album is fresh, you’re on the road now. After the Bob Seger tour wraps up, have you started looking into the next tour, either as a headliner or opener? Do you foresee this album taking on the typical album cycle where you’re out supporting it for the next 6 to 8 months?

After we wrap this one up in mid-November, we’ll take a break for the holidays. We might have more dates with Seger in the new year or we might be talking about headlining some theaters too. Right now it all remains to be seen because this thing is appearing to be pretty successful the way we’re doing it. I guess we’ll just wait and see what kind of opportunities arise.

Outside of this band, and, again, I read Annie’s interview so I know you’ve got some TV stuff and Broadway stuff brewing, but anything else musical that people should be keeping their eyes and ears open for?

This one is sort of all consuming at this particular point in time. But, as Roadcase Royale, we all have a bunch of new songs we want to get finished. We have all these lyrics in notebooks and jams in emails. If we can just get time sitting around together with a guitar or two, then we can get some new material recorded. Even if we’re out here on the road, we can maybe take a day off and maybe go to a demo studio and record something. There’s a momentum here we all feel that is uplifting and we want to keep chasing it.

These days, you can record something quickly and throw it up online without having to think about an album or single release cycle and without much planning.

That’s true. That’s how we did the first song, “Get Loud”. We kind of shot it out there really quickly for the Women’s Marches that were happening around Washington DC and around the world. We aimed it at the Women’s Marches and it sort of became one of their themes and anthems. That was really our first foray as Roadcase Royale.

It’s kind of weird – I’m from a different era where you go and labor over a hot stove, cooking up new music. It takes time and then you have to present it and then you have to get the art work ready and all this other stuff has to happen. With “Get Loud” it was like, BOOM, there it was. We just dropped it. It was like, “Wow, what will they think of next?”