"I went to college for a year and a half. I knew I would never graduate," Wilson, 67, recalled, speaking from her Sonoma home.
"I just wanted to get experience in literature, creative writing, poetry and various things. I didn't feel like I knew enough, like how to write and research a paper about a subject you know nothing about. I also took music theory, which was like Chinese to me! I benefited from the experience by the time I joined ranks with my sister Ann's band, Heart, which I'd had a standing invitation to join."
Heart hit it big with the band's 1976 debut album, which featured such hard-rocking hits as "Magic Man" and "Crazy On You." With Ann on lead vocals and Nancy on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, the six-piece band found a sweet spot between Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac that resonated with millions of listeners.
Nearly 20 other Heart albums were recorded and released in the intervening years, all featuring Ann's powerful singing at the fore. Not so on "You and Me," which finds Nancy moving up to the microphone and into the spotlight. It's a transition she found intimidating after decades of providing vocal support to her older sister on Heart's albums and at the band's concerts.
"As a singer I was always insecure," Wilson admitted. "Because, for nearly 50 years in Heart, I've been standing next to one of the best singers on the planet, my sister, Ann. So, I always felt insecure about being the main singer in a solo situation. But at one point, Ann gave me some great advice. She said: 'Don't worry about your pitch or trying to achieve perfection; just tell the story.'
"And that gave me the freedom to not try to compare myself to how great the gift she has as a singer is — which comes straight from above — and just be a storyteller. So, I pulled myself through this album as a singer by remembering her advice. Because, you know, Bob Dylan is not that much of a singer. What's really important is the story. And, as James Brown said: 'It's not what you say in a song, it's the way you say it.' "
A ballad-dominated outing, Wilson's "You and Me" is a mostly understated work. It includes just one out-and-out rocker, "Party at the Angel Ballroom," which boasts cameos by Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan.
The album concludes with "4 Edward," Wilson's tender instrumental salute to guitar legend Eddie Van Halen, who died last October. She had befriended him in the 1970s — when Heart and Van Halen shared concert stages — although only after she and Ann declined an invitation from Alex and Eddie Van Halen to spend the night together.
"The Van Halen brothers were just crazy partiers, but Eddie was always the sweetest guy," Wilson said. "My fondest memory of him is that he was so joyful. The fact that he complimented my acoustic guitar playing was almost too much for me to take, because he was Eddie Van Halen! I could tell he was fond of me and I was very fond of him. We were both with other people, so it was an innocent fondness."