COVID-19 derailed touring and recording plans for countless musicians around the world in 2020 and this year like nothing else in modern history. But Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nancy Wilson cites the pandemic as the reason she was able to make "You and Me," the first official solo album in the Heart co-leader's 47-year career. It will be released Friday.
"I've been meaning to do this album for ages, and people have been asking me to do it for ages. But this is the situation in which I could actually get it done," said the veteran guitarist and songwriter, who handles nearly all of the lead vocals on "You and Me."
"We were working so hard with Heart and with my own band, Roadhouse Royale, that picking up a guitar and trying to sit down to write and create more music didn't work. When I was off the road for a week or two, it seemed like: 'This is my time off. I need the rest.' And my fingers needed a rest!
"This time, because of the shutdown, was the opportunity for me to pick up the guitar and reconnect to my pre-Heart, pre-touring, college-girl self."
As a result of the pandemic, Wilson and each of the other musicians on her new album recorded their parts separately. She did so at her woodsy home studio in Sonoma County. Her accompanists, most of whom are also members of the latest edition of the currently on-hiatus Heart, laid down their parts — separately, not at the same time — in Seattle.
Recording engineer Matt Sabin incrementally mixed it all together, track by track, in Denver. Reflecting the shutdown and health protocols that led to the making of "You and Me," none of the musicians on the album were ever together while making it.
"We were passing the (audio) files around," Wilson explained. "My engineer in Denver would put everything in a Dropbox for me and send the files to Seattle to each individual player — the drummer, the bass player, the keyboard player and the lead guitar player. Each time they'd put a part on, they'd send it to my engineer in Denver, who would send it back to me via email.
"It was kind of a laborious process, but the playing of all these musicians sounds like we were in the same room. Because we had been on a big Heart tour together (in 2019), we can anticipate each other's playing and we speak the same musical language. Because we're really familiar with each other, artistically, it turned out quite nicely."
A dozen songs strong, "You and Me" features four numbers Wilson wrote on her own and four she co-wrote with longtime Heart collaborator Sue Ennis. It also includes distinctively low-key versions of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising," Pearl Jam's "Daughter," The Cranberries' "Dreams" and Paul Simon's "The Boxer."
Wilson's stints at Oregon's Pacific University, Portland State University and the University of Washington — all of which she attended before joining Heart in 1974 — proved to be a key source of inspiration for her own songs on "You and Me." The journals she kept and poems she wrote as a student came back to life on her labor-of-love new album, which she produced herself.