By Chris Shapiro
As a young girl, Carnie Wilson had the aspiration to help people. It was her dream to become a nurse and put her ambition into action. Although she never became a nurse, Wilson never deserted her inner desire of helping. It has been through her music, rather than medical means, in which Wilson has helped millions of people from all walks of life.
Wilson remembers being in high school when she realized, along with her sister Wendy and best friend Chynna Phillips, that the their three person group had the talent to make music their life. Together they went on to form the very successful Wilson Phillips.
“When we heard our harmonies blend, it was like, you know the gates of heaven opened up and it dawned on us right there, ‘something is magical here,’” Wilson said.
The band never played any gigs or did any performances until after they had signed their record deal. Wilson says the early days were marked by the group singing along to their favorite Cds.
Things changed when they met their produced Glenn Ballard and they landed their record contract.
“Our first performance in front of the public was at a KISS FM concert on a football field in front of fifty thousand people,” Wilson remembers.
Wilson is thankful of her career choice. “I believe it’s allowed me to travel the world and meet some incredible people, meet some of my musical idols, singing idols and producers,” she said.
Wilson goes on to say that, “it’s given me the opportunity to help people and touch people’s hearts with the music. When I was young, I wanted to be a nurse. I always was singing and dancing and having fun but I wanted to be a nurse when I was young.”
She says that the two fields aren’t as different as one might think because in the end, both the nurse and the singer are helping people. The real difference is how they are helping. “You’re helping them heal in someway,” she said.
In 1990, Wilson Phillips released their debut album to major success. The album received a multi-platinum certification from the RIAA and several of the singles hit number one on the Billboard top ten.
The production of the album teamed Wilson up with one of her musical idols, Joe Walsh of the Eagles.
“Joe Walsh is probably one of the funniest, he’s a total character,” Wilson said.
“I’ve never seen anyone smoke more cigarettes in my entire life. He had an ash tray of like fifty butts and he constantly had a cigarette like hanging out of his mouth,” she said.
Wilson goes on to call Walsh a “wonderful man” who was “classic funny” but also, “quite and focused” when it came to creating music. As for his guitar skills, Wilson said he is, “a genius guitar player, he just did these really cool riffs for ‘Hold On.’”
Along with their chart topper “Hold On,” Wilson Phillips also released other hit singles from their debut album including, “The Dream Is Still Alive.”
“It was very 60’s inspired,” Wilson said.
In writing the song, the band teamed up with their producer Glen Ballard, who is credited with crafting the lyric, “they stopped a war but not the dying.”
“I think the song’s about spirit and it’s about, you know, that you can, no matter what happens in your life, you can still hold on to something you believe in or that you dream about,” Wilson said.
Wilson also says the song contains some of their best harmonies and vocals on the album.
“We have an a cappella version. I remember Glen asking me for a copy,” Wilson said. It was ten years after the song was released that she remembers Ballard asking her for an a cappella version of the song. “If you heard that one a cappella it’s really beautiful, really beautiful,” she said.
Those who know their music history will recognize the Wilson name as Carnie and Wendy are the daughters of Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys and Chynna Phillips is the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas.
“For the most part I think it was a blessing and it definitely got people to listen to us, and got us in the door, but I really believe it’s our own song writing and our vocal blend that made us successful. I don’t think it’s our parents at all but we definitely got advice from them, we learned from them,” Wilson said.
When it came to the skeptics, Wilson says that it was the group’s talent and song writing ability that proved Wilson Phillips were more than just the daughters of the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas.
“I think there are people who had like this, they kind of wanted to believe that we were like these spoiled Beverly Hills kids of the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas and that we didn’t have, you know couldn’t stand on our own feet. But once they found out that we wrote our hits, we write our songs, we arrange our vocals, we’re hands on, we have, you know, talent. It’s not bragging, it’s true. It’s not a manufactured bullshit. I think that that commands respect and I think no matter, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you know, if there’s integrity and there’s true artistry that, you know, that other stuff becomes trivial,” Wilson said.
When asked if she foresees a third generation of musicians in the family tree, Wilson said, “You know what, I hope it does happen.”
Wilson said her daughter Lola and her sister Wendy’s son, Leo, show “major vocal ability.”
“Lola hears harmony like I heard harmony and my husband, she’s gifted,” Wilson said. As for her nephew Leo, Wilson describes his voice as “beautiful.”
“You know, you just never know. That would totally trip me out. That’d be great,” Wilson said of the possibility of her nephew Leo and daughter Lola covering the songs of Wilson Phillips.
During the mid 1990’s, Wilson took a break from the music industry and entered into the world of television. She hosted a nationally syndicated talk show that aired 150 shows.
“That just like literality fell onto my lap. I went on Howard Stern and Howard Stern you know really, gave me some shit, and I really fought back and it was spontaneous and I think that you know this producer Kathy Germal, she heard that, she heard it, and she called the executive of TelePictures, and Jim gave me the job and I hosted my own nationally syndicated show.”
Wilson was thankful for the opportunity as she says it was, “the introduction into television for me.”
Her most recent television work is the reality show that follows the three members of Wilson Phillips through their daily life. The show’s first season aired on TV Guide. A second season has yet to be announced.
“I think people are interested in that kind of behind the scenes thing. They want to get to know us better and they definitely do,” Wilson said.
When 2011’s blockbuster film Bridesmaids, starring Kirsten Wiig, hit theaters, Wilson Phillips received an introduction to a new generation of fans.
Wilson said the script originally called for Wilson Phillips to be in the movie but they didn’t know a thing about the storyline.
“When they called us, it was part of the movie and we were asked to do the cameo and we had not a clue about anything about the movie. We didn’t know one thing about it. We showed up, we were happy, we were thrilled to do it because it was a Judd Apatow movie. And we, you know, knew nothing and we made friends with all the ladies when we got there. We went out and sang ‘Hold On’ until two o’clock in the morning,” Wilson remembers.
“When the movie came out, we completely flipped out. It was one of the funniest movies, it was so top secret nobody knew anything about the script, nothing. And when I saw it I was so incredibly thrilled that it was A, so funny and B, so successful. So it was such a blessing for that to happen, it was unreal. The best ever, that really helped get our name back out there, boy are we lucky to have gotten that,” Wilson said.
Having a successfully and diverse career in music and entertainment, Wilson has a wealth of knowledge and advice to offer the next ambition generation.
“This is what I think, I think that if you have an interest and a passion for music you shouldn’t let the state of the business or the record business bring you down and just know that, first of all, have a backup career and have a career simultaneously unless you land yourself a record deal and that’s no guarantee anyway but there are no guarantees. Just know that music is art and it’s individual expression. Be proud of yourself individual, and what you can do individually and how you express yourself.
She also believes that musicians should, “follow that gut instinct inside and try and be original, try to be innovative and know that anything is possible.”