Q&A: Belinda Carlisle
Belinda Carlisle is having one of her busiest professional years since her ’80s heyday with the Go-Go’s and subsequent solo success. Carlisle left her adopted home in France to tour the U.S. through the spring—she’s at The Orleans April 30 and May 1—and reunites with the Go-Go’s this summer for a long-planned farewell tour. She’s making sure to enjoy life along the way though, her partying ways long-replaced by a healthy and spiritual lifestyle that is inspiring the next direction of her recording career.
I was listening to [2007 album] Voilà. It’s a good album to start with if you want to add French pop standards to your collection.
I’m really proud of that, actually. It was the first project that really, for me, was from the heart, and I had no expectations. I was sort of in this 30-odd-year grind of having to come up with hits or whatever, so for me it was a really fresh way of working and I could never imagine working any other way again after that. That was fun, and it actually got a lot of critical and commercial acclaim in Europe. Everywhere except for France.
There was just prejudice there from the get-go, huh?
Yeah. Oh, yeah. They’re iconic songs though, by artists that are iconic in France such as Léo Ferré and Piaf, and Jacques Brel. Of course, I understand that. But yeah, that’s probably one of my favorite projects that I’ve ever done.
Well, let the interview transcription stand as testimony that Voilà is good for an essential listening collection.
(Laughs) In broad strokes, yeah.
In one of your last tweets you mentioned watching a Louis Malle film (The Lovers) during downtime. Are you Francofied enough to where you need reminders of home while you’re on the road?
No, I usually watch Bollywood films. That’s my most favorite, French being second, but I’ve been on a complete Jeanne Moreau kick. I watched La Notte, I watched Elevator to the Gallows. I watched The Lovers the other night, which is just amazing. So I’m rediscovering Jeanne Moreau more than Louis Malle. I think she’s just amazing to watch.
Are you absorbing anything from her that’s influencing you, like informing your image?
No, not in that way, but I think she’s really unique. She’s a unique person and really fun to watch. That’s what I get out of her. Just pure entertainment, I think.
It’s Tuesday today, so it must be Cleveland.
It’s freezing outside. It’s 29 degrees.
Do you have to stick pretty tightly to your tour schedule or does it give you time to reconnect with your U.S. home and catch up with people?
I work two days on, one day off. I go out and see things. In the old days I would never have time to go for a walk or goof around with friends, so I do get that chance on my own.
I noticed you gave yourself a little bit of time between some tour dates. Did the wisdom of hindsight lead you to make sure you had time to breathe a little bit while you were on the road?
Yeah, plus just my voice. I can’t really do more than two-on/one-off anymore. It’s just not good. That’s the main reason. And physically it’s grueling no matter how you cut it. Being on the road is fun but it’s physically grueling and I’m not 20, so I have to do it a different way now.
Speaking of grueling, it looks like 2016 is one of your busiest professional years in a while, with a solo tour and the Go-Go’s farewell shows set for this summer.
Well, after this I’m back and forth to Europe quite a bit because I have a lot of festivals there, and then of course I have the Go-Go’s in the month of August. And then I’m taking five months off, because I’m going to need it. Then I go to the Far East and I’m there for five months, but yeah, professionally I can’t complain. It’s been an amazing year so far and busier than I’ve been in years, and I’m enjoying it and I love singing. It’s all good.
Which tour did you have lined up first?
Mine, my own. I knew for a year now that it was going to be the last Go-Go’s tour, but that wasn’t confirmed because there were a lot of things to work out. I went ahead and confirmed my own thing, and then of course the Go-Go’s was confirmed and announced, I think, last week or two weeks ago. So yeah, it’s kind of non-stop until September 1.
Weren’t the Go-Go’s initially going to do a reunion tour in 2010 before Jane Wiedlin injured herself?
Yes. We left the (plans for a) farewell tour on an acrimonious sort of ending. The reason that was called off was because Jane fell off a cliff and broke her knee. I love saying that, but that’s true. Then everybody sort of kissed and made up, the difference between that and this is that there’s no bad feelings at all. We just feel that it’s time to leave on a high note and not when it gets to be too long. It could go on too long easily and I don’t think any of us want that, so to go out on a high note and celebrate the legacy of the band—that’s the difference between this time around and last time. Last time it was because we were all pissed off at each other. This time it’s because … we’ve been doing it for so long, since we were kids, so it’s just time to call it a day.
The genesis of the Go-Go’s was very much on your own terms. You definitely wouldn’t want to drag it out. The Go-Go’s could never become a tribute band like a lot of bands become. You wouldn’t want to drag out a tour that lasted longer than the band was together in its first phase.
No, and I’m very, very aware that there is a certain amount of sexism in music where it’s a little bit more OK for men to drag it out too long, but still at the end of the day, I think that especially because of the genre of music that we do … you know, it’s a lot about youth. We can still pull it off, but there’s going to be one point when you can’t. For women it’s more difficult than for men. So it’s good, it’s good. I’m 57. Most of us are in our late 50s. Charlotte’s 62 or 63, so it’s time.
And you’re all alive, which is great.
Alive, which is a miracle. It’s time. It’s just time. We’re really happy about it, and we’re having a great time planning it all out. It’s going to be a real celebration.
Do you feel a little melancholy or sentimental right now performing Go-Go’s songs in your current set?
No, I probably will though. I probably will get melancholy at some point, but not right now. I’m fine with it, and I’m sure on the last date I’m going to be upset as I’m sure we all will, but at least we left it … I mean, it was going to have to happen sooner or later anyways. It’s just good that we leave it on a high note and quit while we’re ahead, you know?
How have your latest shows been?
Well, we’ve only done two. It’s focused on solo material and there’s Go-Go’s songs because the Go-Go’s are my roots, and I sometimes do a couple of cover songs but that’s the main gist of my show is my stuff and my back catalog.
“Superstar” is new. What was the reason behind that choice?
Well, I wanted to do a cover song and I hadn’t really done a cover song in my set at all, ever, with the exception of (Cream’s) “I Feel Free” ages ago. I just came across “Superstar,” the Carpenters’ version, on YouTube and I was like, “That’s the most amazing song.” And I forgot how … I mean, it’s one of my favorite songs ever. Then I started researching the song, and all different artists did versions of that. A lot of people sang that song, and that song was actually written by Leon Russell [and Bonnie Bramlett], and what it’s about—now when you listen to the lyrics you’ll get it —it’s about a groupie who has a one night thing with a rock star, obviously, and of course he tells her he loves her and goes away, of course. When you listen to the lyrics it all makes sense. Actually, it’s kind of humorous, and it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek. It’s just a very melancholy melody.
Yeah, I can imagine you ending your set with it. It seems like a good choice for your voice.
It feels really natural and it’s an amazing song to sing, and really fun song to sing.
What song are people responding to the strongest, or do I have to ask?
The hits (laughs). They love “Heaven” and “Mad About You.” “Circle in the Sand” gets a big reaction, and some of the superfans love hearing “Vision of You” or “Summer Rain.” And of course there are a couple of Go-Go’s songs that I do. People come to the show knowing they might hear a couple of Go-Go’s songs but their focus is also on the solo material. The lesser-known songs that might have been hits in other countries get a good reaction as well. All in all it’s been really good.
I’m three-quarters into (Carlisle’s memoir) Lips Unsealed. Even though it’s been well known for most of the Go-Go’s history that early success was accompanied by hard partying, the extent depicted in the book is still a little eyebrow-raising. But I think the part that was most interesting was when the Go-Go’s formed and the group dynamic quickly emerged. I don’t remember where I read this, but I think the best summation of the Go-Go’s legacy is they “may not have directly inspired the female alternative rockers and riot grrrls of the '90s, but it certainly foreshadowed it.” Every one of those bands probably saw the “Our Lips Are Sealed” on MTV as young girls, and that was their first exposure to an all-female self-contained unit.
Probably. It’s not something I think about but I hear it all the time from artists like Courtney Love. I’ve heard it from men too, and guys in bands, that the Go-Go’s were an influence. Green Day, bands that were maybe inspired but absolutely aware. And the band’s story is an amazing story, and I think people were really inspired by that —not just the music but the way the band came about and did everything on its own terms. Yeah, I’m aware of that. I’ve been hearing that for years, which is always a great thing and very flattering.
You reportedly have a new album finished. Did you have to delay its release because of the Go-Go’s reunion?
No, I’m delaying the release because it’s a very specific genre. It’s Kundalini yoga chants. It’s very specific, and actually it’s still going. It’s being mixed right now, and I could put it out in the fall, but I want to take five months off and I’m going to probably put it out in January. But it’s a totally different thing than the Go-Go’s or anything I’ve ever done. It’s repetitive mantra, and I’ve been into chanting for years. Years and years and years. And I’ve studied specific types of chants, Kundalini chants. It’s a science. It has an effect on your glandular system when you chant. It’s really what I’m into, but I don’t think anyone’s ever done anything life this before. The mantras, usually they’re seven minutes or 11 minutes, but mine are put into pop song format. If you heard it in another room you would think it was just a normal album, but then when you came in you would realize that it’s actually repetitive and in a different language. It’s in Sanskrit. It’s called “Ghurmeki” and it’s in ancient Sanskrit. I did it because I do self-practice every day. I’ve studied with master teachers for, gosh, 23 years. In the last 10 years, quite a bit. And then I just felt I wanted to do something like this because, like I said earlier, I can only work from my heart now no matter who wants to listen to it or not. The audience would be pretty … I don’t know, maybe it would cross over. There’s a couple of things that are in English but for the most part it’s in Sanskrit. I worked really hard on the pronunciation and what kind of kriyas, or yoga postures, could go with the different chanting. So it’s a science, but it’s really interesting to me.
This offers a challenge on how to get the music out.
Oh, I know.
Do you have any ideas on how to promote it or bring it to people?
I don’t know. I have no idea. Because the genre is so limited I have to be creative with it, so that’s kind of a challenge but it’s OK. I don’t really have any expectations of the sort of outcome on this. I know it will find it’s audience and I know it will find it’s way into classrooms, that’s for sure. There’s one particular mantra in English that could crossover to radio because it’s that good, or it could be on the dance floor because a lot of them could be remixed for dance tracks. But it would be mantra. I think, when you start researching that genre, there’s amazing chant artists out there, and there’s traditional and non-traditional. This definitely fits into the non-traditional camp.