Heart’s Nancy Wilson Explains the ‘Beautiful Collusion’ of Roadcase Royale: Exclusive Interview
Roadcase Royale are a powerful new band featuring Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson and singer Liv Warfield, a New Power Generation member who was mentored by Prince. Rounding out the band's lineup is Warfield's musical director and lead guitarist, Ryan Waters, as well as three members of Heart: bassist Dan Rothchild, drummer Ben Smith and keyboardist Chris Joyner.
Unsurprisingly, Roadcase Royale produce mighty grooves and a mighty roar indebted to rock, funk, soul and R&B. Although Heart songs "These Dreams" and "Crazy On You" are part of the band's initial repertoire, Roadcase Royale have also worked up several originals: the empowering anthems "Get Loud" and "Not Giving Up"; "The Dragon," a song Wilson has had floating around since the '90s; and a slow-burning, evocative cover of Colin Hay's "Hold On to My Hand."
These songs sound effortless, which is a testament to the group's nearly immediate chemistry. Speaking to Ultimate Classic Rock, Wilson confirms this; in fact, she says Roadcase Royale came together so easily, the band's biggest stress ended up being figuring out what to name the group. "Almost everybody almost liked almost everything, but not quite, so it took a long time," Wilson says with a laugh.
Wilson chatted with Ultimate Classic Rock about Roadcase Royale's genesis, first music and future plans, as well as the other creative projects she has brewing.
How did you and Liv meet, and how did you become familiar with her work?
We saw her on [The Tonight Show Starring] Jimmy Fallon. She was doing that song "Why Do You Lie?" with the Roots. We were like, "Check this out! Look at her!" She has this force of nature power about her — not just her voice, but her whole energy and her presence. At the time, we were looking for an opener for the two nights at the Hollywood Bowl [in August 2015]. As soon as we asked her, she accepted. She brought just her and her guitar player, Ryan Waters. It was a match made in heaven. We talked and hung out and got to know each other a little bit backstage, and then she and I were like, "We should do something. We should actually get together and try to do something together," because we're both just excited about music. We said, "Let's be the people that actually do something that they want to do, instead of just say that they're gonna do it, and never do it."
And so we were touring later that summer, and we were out in New York. We invited her to come and hang out with us and talk about a project we could maybe do together. Because Ann had already been out doing her own Ann Wilson Thing, previously, so I figured [I could] do something musical and fun and interesting and inspiring and exciting. Liv and Ryan came out, and we hung out — we had drinks, actually, with Cheap Trick, one night outside in New York — and just brainstormed a lot about songs and what kind of music we could do. After the summer tour was done, we got together in L.A. and started playing. I brought my rhythm section — bass player [Ben Rothchild], drummer [Ben Smith] and keyboard player [Chris Joyner] from Heart — together with Liv and Ryan, and we immediately just started doing amazing, good-sounding things. We were kind of, "What's this gonna be like? Are we gonna like each other? Are we gonna play together easily?" It was kind of like the first date.
And it went really, really smooth, and it was really easy, and natural for us all to make good sounds together. We started writing songs. We spent about two weeks almost together on two different occasions, and came up with six songs, new songs, and reinterpreted a Colin Hay song called "Hold On to My Hand," and we wrote "Get Loud," we wrote "Not Giving Up." "The Dragon" is a song that I do, that I've been meaning to finish for a few decades, and that got finished finally. It's just such a beautiful collusion with these guys. It's sort of like, "Let's make a band." "Yeah! What do we call ourselves?" It took us a while to figure out Roadcase Royale.
I liked it, though. It totally made sense. I mean 'cause you're always on the road and there's something regal about it, but it's kinda funky.
Well, Heart is such a road band. We're like an old, beat-up, scuffed-up road case kind of a band. [Laughs] And Liv and Ryan are both from the New Power Generation and Prince's world; they're protégés from the Land of Prince. So that's the Royale. So it fits together, in a cool way.
What was it about this configuration of artists that finally helped you finish "The Dragon"?
I started writing that in the '90s for Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, who at the time had not yet departed the world. But everybody saw it coming, and it was inevitable that he was gonna overdose. And so it was sort of a song like, "Don't go there." And I had the verse and the chorus, I just never had the B part, the other part. It just wasn't meant to be a Heart song, I guess. Finally, with Dan Rothchild, my bass player, he came up with the little bridge section that sort of completed the song. And it was supposed to be a Roadcase Royale song, I suppose. It was too square for the round hole for Heart.
And it sometimes that just happens. It's not the right time for the song.
It's interesting. Some songs are like that. There's songs in my back pocket ... they're the kernels of corn that just didn't pop. [Laughs] But that was one that I always loved, and I always wanted to make it somehow come to light. And I'm really happy that it finally did.
What other new elements have you been able to discover and explore in your own playing style, from working with Liv and Ryan Waters?
I love his way of playing pretty simply. He has the deceptive simplicity of playing and supporting songs, song structures, without playing too much. So it's a really beautiful match, for me and Ryan to play in the same band. His sensibility is really amazing, because he's not showboating. In his case, playing less is always a little bit more, 'cause it's better for the song. I really appreciate that way of doing things, 'cause different players I've played with, they're just trying to impress you. They're trying to show you how many notes that they can play. [Laughs] And it's a great, different way of approaching things. When you don't play as much, you end up listening to the song more. You're not being distracted by a bunch of extra frilly stuff all over the place.
I totally have seen players like that — I totally know what you mean. Absolutely. What I like about Liv is that her voice is so incredible too. She can handle any style of music. You throw anything at her, and she can do it. That's exciting in terms of I think where Roadcase Royale is going as well. Each of the songs is a little bit different, and there's a little variation. There are many different places that it's going.
Yeah. I love the way she interprets lyrics. She makes it a conversation, so she's not exactly singing to show off either. She's really got a statement. She lays the lyrics out, conversationally, and she's really talking about what the words are about. She's much like Ryan Waters as a singer, as Ryan is a player, where she's deceptively simple — and then when she pulls it out, she flattens you.
Watch Roadcase Royale's 'Get Loud' Video
"Get Loud" especially is so powerful but in such kind of a subtle way. And the message of it is so empowering.
That's a cool one. Our keyboard player, Chris Joyner, had the track. He had that whole track all ready to go, and I had some really cool lyrics that I was working on with Sue Ennis, who's written a bunch of Heart songs with us before. And then me and Liv finished up the lyrics and melodies together. In this band it's awesome; it's a collaboration between at least three or four members on the songwriting part. I really like that we've approached it like a democracy, where it's sort of the Pearl Jam ethic of songwriting, where if a couple people write most of the song, they get the 50 percent, and then the rest of the band gets the other 50 percent, split evenly. It's a creative democracy of songwriting, which is good incentive for the whole band to participate.
It must be inspiring to be like, "What did you come up with? All right, well, what am I going to come up with then?"
Yeah. Anything anybody can add, they're gonna try to help. It's really good. I mean, it's never easy to be a full-on democracy — the majority's gonna be able to vote, and win the vote. If there's six people in the band, and four of them think one thing, you get the majority vote.
What did you guys really like about the Colin Hay song? I think he's such an underrated songwriter.
He's a really amazing songwriter, and a great singer. That was just a song that I was hearing in my kitchen, on Pandora, that I kept thumbs-upping. And it was just a simple kind of folk version of it with one guitar, one acoustic. I just loved what it's about. It's deceptively sad. It's like, you're in love with someone, and you might be losing someone that you love, and it's how you cope. I just thought it was so powerful, even though the version we were hearing in our kitchen was very simple. But when I finally checked out the lyrics, it was like, "Whoa, that's wild. That's human and painful, in the greatest way." And so I imagined a version of it where …[it would have] kind of a Daniel Lanois rolling rhythm drum part. [It] would be really a cool way to approach it with, you know, a rock ethic, and let it grow and really build to a big, dynamic crescendo kinda thing. That was the first song we actually learned together. That was the first groove we put together, and it was pretty perfect. A lot of people say that's their favorite of the four songs. That's a keeper.
Are you guys going to put out an EP, or are you going to have enough songs for a full length? What are your plans?
Well, we have a few more songs we haven't finished writing yet. It's always better when we can be together in the same room to do that. We've got a tour coming up, a short tour, and so we'll probably try to glue some stuff together between the shows, or during soundcheck. We already have enough for an EP, 'cause we have six songs. We did a show for a Rock Against MS benefit at the L.A. Theatre not too long back. Our documentary guy was like, "Can I make a documentary of you people? Because you're a new band. " His concept was to make a documentary of a new band, instead of a retrospective of an older band. We're like, "Absolutely. Come and run around, follow us around with cameras." So we have a bunch of material from that whole day and show, and the day before that, too, with all the rehearsals.
We have live versions of all those songs, and a couple of the Heart songs as well. We did a really cool, different version of "These Dreams," and then when you see and hear Liv Warfield sing "Crazy On You," it's ridiculous. She just nails it to the floor.
That's awesome. And that's so interesting too, having a documentary on a new band, because after a band has been together for X amount of years, you never get the sense of, "Here they are at the very beginning." You guys are all seasoned musicians too, so what is it like when you're starting a band together? How is it different now than it might have been in the past?
It's pretty amazing, because all of us in this band are really experienced. We've all been out there. We've all done all this other stuff first, so it's very different. It's a shorthand. It's almost like, "I already know this language. Let's speak it." We're fluent. It's really a pleasure to not be kind of waiting around for somebody else's learning curve. It's automatic, it's fun, it's instant depth that you really want it to have, and you don't have to go training people to understand what it is you're trying to say, or what you're trying to do or play or how you want it to sound. It's just pretty natural. It's really great.
That illustrates the chemistry you guys have as well.
There's no ego hangups with us, for some odd reason. I mean, that's always something you encounter, in the world, in life, any group pack mentality thing that you're involved with. There's always a doofus. [Laughs] There's always somebody that's just in it for the showboating, or themselves, or their ego trip or whatever it is. And in this case, at least so far — maybe I'm in a beautiful honeymoon part of this relationship here. But so far it's just a beautiful thing. Everyone's supportive and smart enough and experienced enough not to be that doofus. [Laughs]
Are you working on anything else then besides Roadcase Royale? Do you have anything else brewing?
Quite a few things actually, yes. There's two different TV series concepts that I'm involved with. One is with Hart Hanson, who did Bones. He and I have been collaborating on this script for a series that's loosely based on the book that Heart came out with. So it's a sisters-in-a-band kind of a story, but it's not the Heart story either. And then there's another series called The Run, which we're developing with some really great people. It's about a fashion college in New York City, with "the run" being the fashion runway kind of thing that they're all working towards, collaborate to become the next big designer or the next big photographer, fashion person.
And then I've also got a thing with Rita Wilson going right now, and Sue Ennis, who was one of our song collaborators forever, hopefully for Broadway. We're having some meetings about that. There's a whole bunch of stuff that's brewing and just bubbling under right now.
Is it too early to talk about the concept of the Broadway thing? Or is it one of those things where you don't want to jinx it?
I don't wanna jinx it too much. We've got a producer in Rita, and then we've got a director we're meeting with in a week, or a couple weeks, who's gonna probably bring a writer—just kind of the final rewrite. It's a Broadway play for women, about women. And there's a lot of women's empowerment, kinda things about it. It's musical, and it'll incorporate Heart songs, Heart music, so there's that.
Especially with what's going on now do you feel any more urgency to kind of talk about women's empowerment? Obviously, you've always talked about that with Heart. Do you feel any more urgency now to creatively do more of that?
You know, ever since I could remember, women's issues have been pretty urgent. And even now more than they have been for a while, with healthcare and women's right to choose of their own bodies, and do what they will with their own bodies and stuff. So that's all coming back again, it's coming back around again where women need to stand up for their own freedoms. And that's what "Get Loud" was mainly about as well. It's kind of a call to arms, that song. It speaks to women's issues that continue to be shoved back.
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