Belinda Carlisle exploded onto the music scene in the early 1980’s as the lead singer of the powder keg girl group The Go-Go’s; musical pioneers that charted the then virgin territory of women in rock being able to successfully front a group by writing their songs, playing their own instruments and were light years away from the manufactured girl groups of the 1960’s. They were the first female band in history to achieve a #1 album by utilizing these talents.
Carlisle spoke with me about her latest project and those heady days of the past.
“The Go-Go’s was really an amazing experience, it was, as cliché as it sounds, The American Dream of overcoming obstacles and having a dream and really working towards that dream and making it happen. And it was crazy and it was fun.” Carlisle reminisced
The group not only racked up hits with “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “We Got The Beat,” “Vacation,” and “Head Over Heels,” they also became notorious for their off-stage hard partying ways and sexual antics that rivaled any of their male musical counterparts at the time, which have gone on to become the stuff of legend.
Sadly, the party ended in 1985 amidst infighting between the group. Carlisle persevered and carved out a successful solo act for herself, hitting it big with the singles, “Mad About You,” “Heaven Is A Place On Earth,” “I Get Weak,” “Circle In The Sand,” “I Feel Free,” “Leave A Light On,” and “Summer Rain.”
Even though the group splintered, they did eventually mend fences, reuniting for the 2 disc retrospective “Return to the Valley of The Go-Go’s” in 1994 and “God Bless The Go-Go’s” in 2001, and have toured together, most recently in 2006 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Beauty and the Beat,” the record that started it all.
“We get along, we’ve had a relationship with each other, pretty much, for the last thirty years, with the exception of from about 1985 to 1990; there were five years where we weren’t talking that much.” Carlisle said of the camaraderie amongst The Go-Go’s then and now. “It’s like being married to four other people, its complete dysfunction. Sometimes there’s a lot of tension, but at the end of the day we love each other very much.”
And Carlisle knows a thing or two about maintaining a healthy relationship in her personal life as well. She and husband Morgan Mason have been married for over twenty years and have a son, James Duke Mason. While it seems that there is a celebrity divorce occurring every other day, Carlisle had this to say about the secret of success in her marriage.
“Giving each other a lot of space and that’s probably it.” She quipped with a laugh. “My husband and I get along so well, it’s scary, I mean knock on wood (I’m knocking on wood right now). But, we do have a lot of separations, where I go off and do my thing and he goes off and does his thing, and then we get together and we’re one big happy family. I think that’s the key, to not be breathing down each other’s necks and saying, ‘no, you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ We let each other be who we need to be.”
Carlisle has taken a new musical direction with her latest CD, “Voila,” a project that consists of French pop standards that are both haunting and evocative to listen to. This is Carlisle’s seventh solo CD and her first release in over a decade; and the inspiration for what may seem like the equivalent of a musical 180 to some makes perfect sense to Carlisle, who now resides in both London and France.
“I’ve been pretty much living in France for the past fourteen years and I listen to a lot of French radio and became really familiar with a lot of French artists and music and icons.” She explained and continued. “About two years ago, I was at a music conference in town and I was approached about making another album, and I said ‘no, don’t really have any interested, but, (and the idea just came out of my mouth) I’d love to try to make an album of French pop and classics.’ It was challenging and exciting and something I’d never done before.”
Carlisle has seen the landscapes of her life change from walking along the Pacific Ocean as a native Southern Californian to strolls along The Seine in her new homeland, which was quite the adjustment.
“It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. When we first got there, I think I kind of freaked out, but it was a little bit too late because all of the furniture was packed and on some ship in the middle of the ocean somewhere.” She said with a laugh. “My husband and I thought, ‘let’s give it six months, we can always go back’ and we gave it six months and six months turned into 13 years. We love living in Europe and this life that we have there, it’s interesting all of the time. And I love coming back to The States, too. But I feel like my life is in Europe now.”
She has also seen the music world that she has resided in for the last almost three decades change dramatically.
“I don’t think that music is that healthy right now…and I think that shows like “American Idol” have kind of tainted the music industry, too. It’s not so much about having real, organic talent nurturing arts, it’s more about marketing.” She explained. “But also, record companies get greedy and don’t know the first thing about music anymore; and they think about how much money they make each quarter, their profits, and if something doesn’t make money, but it has talent, it doesn’t matter – they just drop it. There’s no more nurturing the young artist.”
And even though the music industry is a different ball of wax nowadays, Carlisle is very much subscribed to stay true to herself with her artistic vision.
“I could never see myself making another pop album in the same vein that I’ve made in the past. It’s just not interesting to me, and it’s not challenging and my heart would definitely not be in it; so it’s like why bother?” She recanted. “I’m at the point in my career where I really don’t have to work within commercial constraints and think about the chart position, that’s past, and I am really not interested in competing in that way anymore. For me (recording “Voila”) was a really freeing, exciting experience and one where I could experiment and do whatever I wanted to do, and it was great.”