NEW YORK — Some bands are created by giddy accidents or random meetings. Others are created cynically for the bottom line. The new band Roadcase Royale was created to overcome loss.
Nancy Wilson, the guitarist of the legendary band Heart, was recovering from a family crisis that had estranged her from her sister, Ann. Meanwhile, singer Liv Warfield was mourning the loss of her mentor, Prince. They decided to join forces, blending Wilson’s rock with Warfield’s R&B.
“It’s been this amazing kind of confluence of really good luck and bad luck where we both had losses in our lives,” said Wilson. “We’d already met. We’d already talked about maybe doing something together. And we decided, ‘Let’s be the people that really do something when they say they’re going to do it.'”
Like musical step-parents, Wilson brought to the project three current members of Heart — keyboardist Chris Joyner, bassist Dan Rothchild and drummer Ben Smith. Warfield recruited guitarist Ryan Waters, who she’d gotten to know while in the New Power Generation, Prince’s backing band.
They named themselves Roadcase Royale, a title inspired by the combination of the scuffed instrument containers from Heart and the aristocracy of Prince — a “cool contrast between the royalty of the Prince people joining forces with the old road dogs,” said Wilson.
The band’s debut album, “First Things First,” came out this fall and has something for everyone — rock ‘n’ roll that’s funky, lyrics that are sometimes socially conscious and sometimes fiery, with brand new songs, a few reworked Heart songs (“Even It Up” and “These Dreams”) and a Colin Hay cover.
“It’s all coming from the soul, from experience and from life. You learn how you can break all the rules that you feel confined in. So that’s how we write. It’s so natural. I love it,” said Wilson.
The band’s roots stretch back to 2015, when Heart was booked for two shows at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. They were looking for an opening act when they were advised to check out a singer who had electrified “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” That was Warfield, who with her band had performed “Why Do You Lie?” Wilson decided their opening act was found.
During their Hollywood Bowl shows, Wilson and Warfield bonded. Warfield confessed she felt a little stuck in the world of R&B and wanted to do more rock. Wilson responded: “That’s funny ’cause I love the funk.”
Real life interrupted both women in 2016. Heart, the band that gave us “Barracuda” and “Alone,” was rocked by a body blow that summer when Ann Wilson’s husband was arrested for assaulting Nancy’s 16-year-old twin sons. And Warfield was trying to come to terms with the loss of Prince in the spring.
“That really affected me because I really didn’t know which way to go. I was just kind of lost. I was in my head a lot. I didn’t really know how to express myself,” said Warfield. “And when I met Nancy, it was like picking ourselves back up again. I was like, ‘The wheels are turning.'”
Even so, their first recording session had a nervous, tentative air. “It was like a first dance kind of thing,” said Wilson. “Music is a very intimate thing that you share with someone and we were like, ‘OK, what if it sucks?’ What if it doesn’t work?”
The first song they tackled — Hays’ “Hold On to My Hand” — was an attempt to make their own and it ended up on the album. Everyone recognized the experiment was working. That same day they started working on new stuff.
Judging by their first single, “Get Loud,” the band can rock. The song, championing those women “unheard, unseen” is a perfect mix of cultural empowerment and anthem rock. It would fit perfectly being sung at protest marches.
Roadcase Royale isn’t scared of commenting on society — their song “Not Giving Up” pointedly references someone building a wall while “we’re waiting just to see it fall” — even if many Heart fans come from red states.
“Politics don’t necessarily mix with rock ‘n’ roll. But if you’re speaking about what life is handing us, how unfair it can seem and strange and confusing it is, then it makes you feel better to be able to talk about that,” said Wilson.
With the new band, Wilson said she’s found a new musical home. She said there are still ragged feelings between her and her sister, who is touring on her own this year.
“Being able to open up an easygoing conversation after that has been really difficult. So I think this is the healthiest place for me to be right now, as long as I can be here,” said Wilson. “The molecules of Heart may never amass once again but it remains to be seen. This is where I want to be, Roadcase Royale.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits