The daughters of pop music royalty, siblings Carnie and Wendy Wilson and their childhood pal Chynna Phillips hit pay dirt as the trio Wilson Phillips in the 1990s with a handful of soaring singles. Today the vocal group still performs but not at the breakneck pace of its hit-song heyday.
“We’re on tour every year, but we just do one to two shows a month,” says Carnie Wilson, calling from her Los Angeles home. “That’s all we can do in terms of travel because we’ve got nine children between us. We do wish we could do more, but that’s a good pace for us.”
It has been 27 years since the release of Wilson Phillips’ self-titled debut, an album that yielded the No. 1 Billboard hits “Hold On,” “Release Me” and “You’re in Love.” Their success allowed the three to step out of the long shadows cast by their famous parents. Carnie and Wendy are the daughters of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson and Marilyn Rovell of the Honeys. Chynna is the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.
The trio took a 10-year hiatus before reuniting in 2004. Through the years Phillips released a solo album and appeared as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.” The Wilson sisters recorded with their father and also made a Christmas album. All three starred in the reality show “Wilson Phillips: Still Holding On” on the TV Guide Network.
The trio’s brand continues to pack a nostalgic wallop for a generation that came of age to the group’s glistening pop harmonies. The trio turned in a memorable cameo singing “Hold On” in the 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids.”
We recently caught up with Carnie Wilson to talk about life in the world of Wilson Phillips. This is an edited transcript.
Q: What are your first memories of the three of you together?
A: I’m a year and a half older than Wendy. Chynna is a few months older than me. We met when I was born, so we have literally been lifelong friends. My first memories are from around 4 years old. We were playing in the backyard and in my sister’s room. We would go to the living room and play our favorite music by Fleetwood Mac and the Carpenters. We’d lip-sync with hairbrushes and brooms. We charged everyone a nickel to come to the show.
Q: Is performing with Wendy and Chynna second nature to you at this point?
A: Oh yeah. It comes naturally. Wendy is my sister and Chynna is like a sister. When we get on stage everything else washes away — all the stresses of children, all the mommy stuff. We go into our own little world of harmonies. It’s very comforting.
Q: When you look back to the debut of Wilson Phillips in 1990, how does that time live in your memory?
A: It’s sacred. It’s really special to me. The record business has changed. It’s entirely different now. Back then, it was a whirlwind because we were really overworked. We were traveling to four or five cities a day for long stretches of time. It really wore us out. The great news was that we got to make an impression with radio stations and fans. We got a real introduction to the music industry. Luckily, everyone loved the song “Hold On” and we wound up at No. 1 for a couple weeks. Then we had a string of hits. We’re so grateful for all of it.
Q: How do you feel about the material when you sing it today?
A: Every song is special in its own way. With “Hold On,” the movie “Bridesmaids” really brought it back. The meaning of that song circles around again — just take it one day at a time. If you hang in there, it will usually work out OK . That’s really important to people. It’s inspirational and very personal. You can apply it to anything in your life, which is why it had such a universal message. Everyone can relate to having some pain in their life. Chynna, (songwriter and producer) Glen Ballard and I wrote that song. It’s about finding the strength within you.
Q: How old were you when you first performed in public?
A: I remember going on stage at 6 years old for a huge Beach Boys concert in San Diego. There had to be 50,000 people there. I have pictures of it with my sister and cousin. The crowd was roaring. I loved the feeling. I liked it up there. I loved to sing. I wanted to be the person they were yelling for.
Q: Besides Wilson Phillips, what other projects are you involved in?
A: I was just on an episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” It’s a whole big amazing episode about my baking company that launches this summer called Love Bites by Carnie. I originally met (“Housewives” star) Kyle Richards when we were both on “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” She invited me to come to her house. Kyle is a real sweetheart. We get along really well. All we do is laugh and talk about our kids and husbands. We’ve got businesses and we’re working mothers. We always put too much on our plates. It’s like therapy when we see each other. We go to the laughter.
Q: What is your audience like today?
A: When people come to see us in concert, it’s more the mothers getting away from their families for a night out. They can have a couple drinks, let loose and relive their teenage years. It’s great. It’s beautiful. We have been a part of these people’s lives for a long time. It really is a celebration.
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