Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Belinda Carlisle's Q&A with Spinner

Dave Steinfeld/Spinner

If one woman embodies the pop-star prototype of the '80s, it would be Madonna. But one would be foolish to not also acknowledge that Belinda Carlisle's influence is right up there with Madge's. Alongside guitarists Jane Weidlin and Charlotte Caffey, bassist Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Schock, Carlisle had multpile hits with the Go-Gos, including "We Got the Beat," "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "Vacation." She also formed a successful solo career after the band split in 1981, releasing the hits "Mad About You" and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth."

Since the '90s, Carlisle has dabbled in various musical genres, sporadically reunited with the Go-Gos for albums and tours, posed nude for Playboy, kicked a severe drug habit, appeared on "Dancing With the Stars," spent much of her time in France soaking up that country's music, and unveiled her autobiography, Lips Unsealed.

Last month, Carlisle released a new compilation called ICON. In addition to 10 of her most popular solo hits, the album features one new track, the upbeat, life-affirming song "Sun." Spinner recently caught up with the singer a day before she left for Europe to discuss various aspects of her career.

Your new single is called "Sun." You've said that as soon as you heard this song, you knew you had to record it. What jumped out at you about this tune?

I loved the melody and the energy, and I just instinctively knew it was something that I could sing. So I approached the writer, Dave Lopez, about changing the lyrics. And I also went to my can-do bandmate Jane Wiedlin, because she is one of the most amazing lyricists I know. We came up with these lyrics that are age-appropriate, which is always a concern for me [laughs]. I am in my mid 50s!

Also, [it's] lyrically where I'm at in my mind, which is all about moving forward and being positive and looking at the bright side. So it just seemed like a perfect fit.

ICON includes of your solo hits, including the new track. What prompted you to release a collection of hits at this particular point in your career?

It [was a] coincidence. When I recorded "Sun," I wasn't sure how we were gonna put it out. There are different ways of doing things these days -- a lot different from what it used to be. And at the same time, Universal was in the process of putting out a best-of collection, which I hadn't had in a long time. So my management thought that it could work together really nicely to put the new single on it as a way of promoting the old hits. And also giving [me] the opportunity to put out something new.

You said you'd struggled with an eating disorder and body image. That surprised me because you've always seemed very comfortable in your own skin -- whether it's fronting a band, posing for Playboy or whatever. I wanted to ask you a little more about that and what the expectations are on women in the music business.

Well, in the beginning I was always very comfortable with myself. You know, I never really thought about weight. It wasn't until the Go-Gos became successful that I was always described as "pretty and plump" or "cute and chubby." To this day, it's like, "svelte" or "slim" or whatever. It does damage, that sort of thing. Looks never used to play as much of a part until video and stuff came along. Now it's all about that! Of course, you have a few artists [who are] out of the ordinary, like an Adele or someone who comes along. It's like, "Thank God!"

Going back to the early days, what did each member of the Go-Gos bring to the band?

Charlotte had a certain guitar sound. Kathy had a rock 'n' roll sensibility. Gina's a really solid drummer with a distinctive sound. Jane [brought] her songwriting and her quirkiness. And the blend of my voice, which isn't a great voice but it's distinctive.

I know that when I go out to do solo stuff and I sing Go-Gos songs, it's a sound that's impossible to replicate. You just can't! It's definitely the combination of personalities that makes the Go-Gos, it's not one person.

You guys really seemed like a true band -- and you influenced a lot of female bands after that. Were there any women that influenced you when you were coming up?

Well, Debbie Harry. I thought Chrissie Hynde was the most amazing singer and I loved her phrasing. Those two are the ones on the top of my list but of course I grew up with Tapestry, you know, Carole King. But I would say the singers who made me think "This is what I wanna do with my life" were Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry, for sure.

Several years ago you recorded an album called Voila, of songs in French. I was wondering if you could give us your thoughts on France and its music.

Well, I've been living in France half the year for 20 years, and I still do. When I moved there, I discovered this whole genre of French pop which I thought was amazing. Serge Gainsbourgand Jacques Brel and Piaf, of course. I was buying it right and left. All these iconic artists and also contemporary artists. There are amazing singers there. I've been approached through the years about doing more English-speaking albums but I wasn't really excited about that idea because I've been there and done that. [But] I always felt I had a little bit of the chanteuse in me. I don't know why I thought I could do it but when I was approached by yet another record company to do something in English, I said "No, I'm not interested but what about this idea?" And they thought it was great. So I demoed a couple of the songs. I sounded like sort of a Piaf, I guess, with the vibrato and the smokiness. And I speak really good French. So we decided to give it a shot.

Of all the albums I've ever made, it was the best experience because I went into the studio with no expectations. I didn't think anybody was gonna hear it. I got to fulfill all my fantasies of singing with an accordion and a glockenspiel and just experimenting. It turned out great and it actually did really well in Europe and got critical acclaim too. I can never work any other way again. I'm not interested in being on a hamster wheel. I only want to work from the heart and that's it. And I'm at a point in my career where I have the luxury of being able to do that.

To wrap things up -- what are your plans for the next year or so, either on your own or with The Go-Gos?

I have a really busy year. I took four months off for the first time in 30 years. Actually, I start work next week. I have a show in Bangkok, I work in Europe and [then] I go home to France for a couple of months. Then I come back and start a big Go-Gos tour. And then for the fall and winter, I work in Europe at festivals and I just joined a big Australian tour and I play Japan. So my year is pretty much planned!

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