Much is made of Carlisle's wild youth and her subsequent battles with a variety of issues, but the focus for fans remains the music, which has endured decades and still stands up fully on its own. March 19th sees the release of ICON, a greatest hits package from Universal Music. ICON contains the much-anticipated new track "Sun," her first English-speaking pop release here in the States after a lull of 15 years.
First and foremost, let's start off talking about some exciting news that on March 19th we'll see the release of ICON, featuring all your top solo hits and a fabulous new single, "Sun." What inspired you to include something newly recorded?
It's great, isn't it? It's funny. I had no real desire to do anything new, to be honest. I mean, my last album was in 2007, I think, and it was all in French and it did really well. I'm just kind of interested in doing stuff that is unexpected and so English-speaking pop didn't really interest me. My son kept pushing me, saying "Come on mom, you've got to do something" and I was thinking "No, no, no." So I said if something really good comes along, then I might. So my son actually found this song--a friend of his wrote it--and played it for me, and I went, "Oh my god, this is really amazing." I recorded it and it's catching fire actually. It's really weird, I mean, you know, weirder things have happened. So I love it and coincidentally, Universal was putting out... well, they wanted to put out a collection of my hits from the eighties and early nineties and make it part of the ICON series, which is different artists like Cher and Tina Turner and Sheryl Crow, and I thought, "That sounds kind of cool," so it worked out timing wise and here I am talking to you about it.
It's really hard to believe it's been something like fifteen years since your last pop release in the US.
Yeah, English-speaking pop release. It might actually be longer. I threw fifteen years out there when talking about it. I think it was in 1997, maybe? I'm not actually sure.
People are talking about you returning to the pop arena but because of the impressive size of your back catalog, you never really left. I can't turn on a station without hearing you some days.
It's funny, I have no desire to get back on any hamster wheel or be anywhere near where I used to be. Where I am now, it's great and I love it. You know, if something great happens then I'm just enjoying the ride and having fun with it as opposed to how I used to be so stressed out and so attached to what the outcome would be. Now, whatever happens is meant to happen and I'm just going to have fun.
That's a healthy way to approach it. You were an expat for a number of years, living in France and also in India.
Yes! And I still am, actually. Part of the time in France and here. I was part of the year in India, another part in France, a month here, and another month going wherever. For the past five years I've been doing that. I've got gypsy blood, I can't be in one place for too long.
Besides India and France having a wonderful effect on your outlook on life, do you think it's influenced your music at all?
Yes, a little but I will say that it's definitely affected my ear, especially India. Honestly, I don't really listen to a lot of Western pop. I mean, I love Middle Eastern music, I love the Indian musical scale, I listen to a lot of Bollywood and Hindi. Actually, my taste has become really international and I think it's because of my travels. I'm exposed to such weird amazing stuff that when I hear pop it's like, "Buzzzzzzz, next!"
It's funny, coming from America--you are a California girl after all--and you look around when the blinders are off in other countries and you see how limited we are in what we consume musically.
Totally true. And when I was living in France and I decided to make my French album, I was discovering all these amazing iconic artists like Serge Gainsbourg and of course Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. Now I would say ninety-five percent of the time I'm listening to some sort of Indian thing and then punk rock. I go back to the Ramones and Wall Of Voodoo and then Maria Callas.
I actually have a really limited idea of what's going on in music today. I mean, I know Adele and Lady GaGa, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and that's probably it.
It's an interesting thing with artists today. How it works today is a far cry from how it used to work and anyone who's been in it for any length of time saw the changes take place. You are considered a pioneer by many who saw music as male-dominated and controlled, starting off with the groundbreaking Go-Go's and progressing into a long and successful solo career. Looking back, do you feel you had to fight harder because you were a woman in a male-dominated industry or do you see it another way?
Honestly, The Go-Go's, we formed a band and we were packing clubs all around. You couldn't get a ticket to see The Go-Go's in 1979-1980, we were selling out all over. People were crazy for the band and record companies would come and see us but they would say to our faces, "We can't sign you because you are all women" and they'd say that there had never been a track record of a successful all-female band. So that was a big problem. Eventually someone did take the chance and we changed the course of the charts at the time . What's so weird to me is that there isn't, well of course you have groups like The Spice Girls or people like that, but they're not girl bands. They are vocal groups, with all due respect, that are put together by somebody. There are no DIY female bands out there that have really dominated the charts in a long long time. You'd think that after The Go-Go's and The Bangles, there would be someone like that on the charts. L7 was good, so maybe someone like that or the Donnas, but not on the kind of scale that The Go-Go's and The Bangles did it.
Agreed. Nowadays, though, you've branched out from music in many areas while managing to keep your longstanding position in The Go-Go's. Many artists seems to want to distance themselves from the band they originally found fame in and you seem to embrace it.
If it wasn't for The Go-Go's, I wouldn't be here. I love that part of it. I'm so lucky that I get to live between the two so effortlessly because I love them both. The Go-Go's, we go out about once a year and they are bigger than ever. When we tour, it's weird. We have a blast and then I go and do my own thing, which is totally different but equally as comfortable and that I love just as much.
Will you be doing a solo tour after ICON is released?
You know, my year is so busy already I don't know if I can. If I do something, it will be at the end of the year but I haven't done a solo tour in probably fifteen years! So I guess I'm about due.
I think you need to get on that, because we'd like to see that.
I will. I think so, too.
If they put you in charge of planning and booking your own music festival, what musicians, dead or alive, would you put on the bill and what would be the song they'd all jam to for an encore?
Oh, so funny. I would put Split Enz and The Go-Go's, of course. Let's see... oh, even though it doesn't make any sense I'd put George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. Wall Of Voodoo, of course. Oh, and Peggy Lee.
Yes, pretty eclectic, and we'd all jam to... let's say "We Got The Beat," with Peggy Lee singing it.
Let's touch a moment on Lips Unsealed, which was your autobiography. You chronicled so many rise-and-fall scenarios from your pre-Go-Go's days up until today. Is there anything you didn't include that you now wish that you had? Or the flip side, did you include anything that you now wish you hadn't?
There is plenty that I left out on purpose. But everything in there, I'm fine with and the stuff that I really wasn't fine with is not in there, so it's just enough.
So you had a good experience writing it?
Yeah, and honestly my life is like stranger than fiction in so many ways. Even up through the last couple of years or so it's been like that, so I should probably leave it at that and not freak people out too much.
It seemed like it had just enough brutal honestly to keep us all riveted. Good stuff!
Thank you so much. It's funny though, I'll never do it again.
You've really diversified over the years and along with music you've branched out with writing the book, traveling extensively and design - would you say music is still your first love, or could you take it or leave it?
I could take it or leave it, actually. And honestly, that's kind of what I've been doing. Ever since my French album, especially. That was the first album in my career that I can honestly say was done one hundred percent from the heart. I had no pressure; I could do exactly what I wanted to do. If I wanted to whistle or sing or use accordions or glockenspiel or whatever, I did it. I didn't think anybody would ever hear it. And if you hear it, it's so honest. It actually did really well, and it turns out that tons of people heard it. More in Europe, not so much in this country. So after working like that I ONLY want to work like that. I only want to do what moves me and if nothing moved me ever again, which I doubt that's going to be the case, but if it didn't then I would never record again. Honestly, I don't want to just do it just for the sake of doing it just to have something out there. I just won't work that way. I have so many different interests and so many other things going on in my life that it's okay if it never happens again. Like I said, I don't think that will happen, but I have so many projects on the side so who knows? All I'm going to do is take it one day at a time like I do with everything else.
I absolutely can't wait for this album to come out and I know plenty of people who are looking forward to more from you!
Thank you. I love that, that's so adorable.
Belinda Carlisle's ICON, featuring the brand-new single "Sun," is out now from Universal Music.
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