Belinda Carlisle has a new box set of her singles out and is on tour. Duncan Seaman spoke to her ahead of her appearance in Leeds in October.
American singer Belinda Carlisle’s career has been stellar. First fronting The Go-Go’s, the most successful female rock band of all time, before going on to sell more than 10 million records worldwide as a solo artist.
Nowhere has her gutsy way with a tune been more comprehensively celebrated than in her new box set, The CD Singles 1986-2014, which draws together chart smashes such as Heaven Is A Place on Earth, I Get Weak, Leave a Light On and Circle In The Sand with rare B-sides, remixes and live tracks.
There are 130 tracks spread across 29 discs. “It’s a pretty comprehensive collection and it’s great for super-fans – they’d love it,” says Carlisle, who is now 57. She’s full of praise for Edsel, the specialist reissues label, with whom she assembled the box set.
“I’m really lucky to be working with a company that does things with class and they love music. Of course I have the last say but they were able to find things that I would never think of finding.”
That includes “tracks from movies I had never heard before – I mean I sang them but I haven’t heard them since”.
The sheer breadth of the collection is also testimony to the longevity of Carlisle’s career, which began in the Los Angeles punk scene in the late 1970s. Back in 1978 when she left Germs to form The Go-Go’s with Margot Olavarria, Elissa Bello and Jane Wiedlin, she says she couldn’t have imagined she would still be making music nearly four decades later. “When I was starting out I always gave myself ‘Well, in six months we’ll see...In six months we’ll see’ and then I’d say, ‘Well, maybe I’m meant to be doing something else’, even doing Mad About You [her first solo hit, which reached Number 1 in Canada and Number 3 in the Billboard Hot 100].
“Maybe things changed a little bit with Heaven [Is A Place On Earth, a Number 1 in seven countries including the US and UK] but I always felt ‘Well, I have to have Plan B’.
“Then after about ten years I thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing as a profession, as a career, it’s kind of obvious.”
As for which songs from this set mean most to her, she says: “Probably Mad About You, as my first single after I left The Go-Go’s, that was a big hit in the States, and I’d say Heaven... was absolutely the most important single of the whole collection because it established my career all over the world.”
Another highlight of the collection is her collaboration with legendary Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson. Having grown up in Hollywood steeped in Wilson’s music, and sung backing vocals on a couple of his solo albums, Carlisle says “he was part of me on like a very musical cellular level”. “To actually have him sing on my track California, from A Woman and a Man [her 1996 album], the experience was totally surreal and exhausting because how can you follow that?” For all that, the session began inauspiciously, she recalls. “He came into the studio and was singing a capella the background parts that he wanted to put down and it was actually kind of horrifying because it sounded awful and we thought ‘how are going to tell Brian it’s not working out?’ But the producer rightly said, ‘We have to let him try’.
“So he went into the vocal booth and started laying down layers of what he does and it all made sense and it was ‘Oh, my God, this is like Mozart’. It was emotional and I’ll never forget it; it was exhausting too.”
Having recently suggested that she might not make another pop album, fans might be forgiven for thinking her forthcoming UK tour might be a goodbye to the pop world. “I don’t know if it’s goodbye,” she says. “I have an album coming out in spring of next year and it’s all Sanskrit mantra which I’m really into, I’m a big Kundalini yoga person, but they’re put in pop song structure, so it’s a pop album but using repetitive mantra.
“But as far as doing a classical English pop [record] like I used to I’m not so sure, maybe. I’d say never say never but I have no plans. I just want to do things that inspire me and come from the heart and with English-speaking pop I’ve been there and done that and I loved it. I’ve worked with some of the best writers but I want to do different things, you know? Things that inspire me.”
Her interest in Kundalini yoga goes back to when she was pregnant with her son, James, 23 years ago. “And with sobriety of the past ten years [having given up drink and drugs] I got really into it and studied really diligent strong practice, and then studying mantra and studying chanting,” she says. “After taking two Kundalini yoga courses I was ready to do an album myself.
“I listened to a lot of mantra and it’s interesting because as I said it’s structured like a pop song where there’s a verse and a chorus and maybe a bridge section but it’s repetitive and there’s a science to it.”
In the early 1990s Carlisle and her husband Morgan Mason, son of the actor James, quit the States to live in rural France. She says the turning point was going with her husband to a big party for the 50th anniversary of the president of a big movie agency.
“It was all these rich old people at the country club with their big cars, coming from their big houses, and I thought, ‘Is this my life? This is how it can turn out but this is not the kind of life that I want’.
“I wanted adventure – to this day I’m still like that, I’m all up for an adventure – and to me [the Hollywood lifestyle] sounded claustrophobic and mundane and my husband luckily felt the same way.”
Belinda Carlisle’s new CD box set is out now. She plays at Leeds Town Hall on October 3. www.leeds.gov.uk/Events/