By Chris M. Junior
Backstage small talk in summer 2015 between Nancy Wilson (co-leader of Heart) and Liv Warfield (best known for her work with Prince) led to them starting a big joint project dubbed Roadcase Royale.
“We just hit it off,” Wilson recalls, “and we were like, ‘What kind of music could we make — with the rock and the soul?’ ”
The answer is “First Things First,” the band’s debut album, released in September via Loud & Proud Records. Joining Wilson and Warfield in Roadcase Royale are guitarist Ryan Waters (who backs Warfield on her solo ventures) as well as keyboardist Chris Joyner, bassist Dan Rothchild and drummer Ben Smith (three veterans of Heart).
“This band is special because everybody brings something unique to the table,” Warfield says. “We definitely have something going on.”
While in New York recently, Wilson and Warfield were in great spirits and eager to talk up their new band.
Goldmine: What individual goals did you have in mind when you put together Roadcase Royale?
NANCY WILSON: For me, I was looking for a brand-new garden (laughs). I’ve been working in the same garden with Heart since I was 19 or so. I sensed that (Heart bandmate and sister) Ann was moving in her own direction, which was perfectly fine with me, and I was looking into moving into my own new direction.
LIV WARFIELD: When I got the call to open for Heart (at the Hollywood Bowl in 2015), I was excited. I was already talking to Prince about wanting to do a rock ’n’ roll record. So before Nancy and Ann (left the venue), I said to myself, “I need to talk to one of them. I want them to hear what I’m trying to work on.” I stopped Nancy — thank God, because she was already out the door (laughs) — and when we started talking, we really clicked. At the end of the night, we decided to continue the conversation … I kept in contact with Nancy and played her some of my stuff, and she was giving me feedback. One thing led to another, and she said, “Let’s actually try to do something together.”
NW: We all got in one room together — me and my three guys from Heart, and Liv and Ryan — and the first thing we worked on was this song by Colin Hay, “Hold On to My Hand,” which I heard on Pandora while in my kitchen. The idea was to (do it with) a rolling tempo and atmospheric guitars — like a Daniel Lanois (production). It fell together so beautifully and so naturally, we were like, “What do we do next? What have you got?” So we started writing songs.
GM: Was there anything you wanted to avoid doing, based on your previous band experiences?
NW: Well, I never really wanted to play jazz (laughs). I mean, with Heart, we went through so many phases. It’s such a very versatile band, and I think Roadcase Royale is also very versatile.
LW: Very, yes.
NW: We do all kinds of stuff already — almost campy stuff, really soulful, romantic stuff, and we rock Heart songs, too — and we’re doing those live as well, so people who love Heart can have some special “Heart candy.”
LW: I didn’t have any expectations or anything I wanted to avoid. I think I wanted to come in with an open mind. I love Nancy so much and I love her writing, and I wanted to learn something from this, pick up something new and enjoy the experience for what it is.
GM: Talk about writing the single “Get Loud.”
NW: A songwriter friend of mine, Sue Ennis, who’s worked on a lot of Heart songs, she had these lyrics and a little jam idea. It was called “It’s Gonna Get Loud.” I appreciated the approach of the lyrics, which are through the eyes of a young girl who never feels good enough, and that’s what the culture is telling her. So she’s trying to disappear half of the time — and that’s how I felt when I was a teenager. I think that’s what women need to rise out of, and that’s what the song talks about: You gotta have your opinions and stand up for the things you deserve.
Chris Joyner, our keyboard player, had this cool groove, and Liv and I crafted the words around the melodies. It happened very quickly. (In general) our writing has been fun, and it goes fast. Nobody gets stuck on one thing for too long.
GM: Liv, was it surreal for you to record two signature Heart hits, “Even It Up” and “These Dreams,” with Nancy for this album?
LW: Uh, yeah (laughs). For me, growing up with Heart music, I had to gather myself together. It’s next level, and I feel honored to sing these songs.
NW: One of the main things with Liv singing the Heart songs is there’s never any reason to compare the way Ann used to sing them and how Liv sings them now. It’s just a completely different thing, and I love that.
GM: Nancy, Dan Rothchild had a hand in producing Heart’s 2016 album, “Beautiful Broken,” and he does the same for the Roadcase Royale debut. What are his strengths as a producer?
NW: He is the most hard-working, productive person. It’s almost weird (laughs). He has this facility to kind of be ahead of everything before it even happens and have it already done. He goes home and comps vocals, and he comes back with optional finished material for you to choose from. He grew up in the studio watching his dad (Paul Rothchild) work, so he’s capable of working in an all-analog (environment) and in a modern digital context.
GM: Have you discussed a long-range future for Roadcase Royale?
NW: We were joking about this in the studio. We all want to move to L.A. and get a big house and just all live there and create nonstop. People’s schedules have been challenging (so far), but it’s worth it. I think we’re willing to sacrifice for this, whatever it takes to get the exposure that leads to bigger and better career opportunities for this band. GM