Wilson Phillips: Good Vibrations : Pop: The daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson and John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas are making it on their own as a trio.
California Dreamin’ 1990: Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips have witnessed a lot of show biz mistakes in their young lives. As the daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Mama Michelle and Papa John Phillips they were born with legacies of both influential talent and self-destructive natures.
Now, as the pop singing trio Wilson Phillips, with a recent debut album and the single “Hold On” (No. 16 on Billboard’s pop chart this week) to introduce them, the three are determined to do things right.
"(The music business) is a lot different (than when our parents were starting),” said Phillips, 22, who inherited her mother’s blond-and-blue-eyed model’s looks. “There are music videos and you have to tour. There’s more work.”
Added Carnie Wilson, also 22: “Plus, if you want to stay around you’ve got to . . .
” . . . watch what you say,” said Phillips, picking up the thought.
” . . . and watch what you do,” concluded Carnie.
Sitting in the airy conference room of SBK Records’ West Hollywood office recently, the three indeed kept a very close watch on speech and action, as well as appearance. A stylist was on hand for touch-ups before photo sessions (Phillips requested a major mousse redo before allowing herself to be shot) and answers to a reporter’s questions were by and large handled with practiced hands, developed in what had been eight weeks of constant dealings with radio and print media around the United States.
Carnie was the most assertive, taking charge on most topics, while Chynna chimed in with some very to-the-point comments. Wendy, the youngest at 20, at first stayed mute, but eventually she, too, made it clear that she has decidedly definitive views on what Wilson Phillips is and is not.
It was an is not that was presented most definitively.
“We don’t want to comment more on our parents if that’s OK,” Phillips said part way through the interview, which had to this point included only several fairly vague questions about parental influence.
“We allow a few questions (about them) to go by. But if it was up to some people they’d revolve the whole interview around that subject.”
“It’s important to be ‘Wilson Phillips,’ not ‘the daughters of . . .,’ ” said Wendy Wilson.
Asked to list their influences, the three threw out such names as Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, the Eagles and Heart, but never mentioned either the Beach Boys or the Mamas and Papas.
“Harmonically (our parents’ music influenced us), but so did the Eagles,” said Carnie. “That’s the only influence on us from those two groups.”
But when it comes to singing, there’s no denying the trio’s genealogy. The voices blend with a natural ease. The album emphasizes that, with lush but straightforward production by Glen Ballard (writer of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”) making a stab at a fresh take on sunny California pop.
“We’ve known each other since infancy, so we maybe first sang together at three or four,” Carnie said.
But it wasn’t until four years ago that the three really thought of being a group.
“We were sitting in Wendy’s room singing along to Heart and Stevie Nicks records and it sounded great,” Carnie said. “We just felt it in our stomachs.”
Soon, the three began writing songs and making tapes, which they shopped to the major record labels. Interest was immediate, though the three say that some companies wanted them to use more outside material while others, said Phillips, “only saw the parents angle, and we said that wouldn’t work.”
Last year, though, their tape ended up in the New York office of Charles Koppelman, chairman and chief executive officer of SBK Records, a new outfit formed by the powerhouse management team that handles Tracy Chapman among many others.
Koppelman recalls that the same thing that struck the singers struck him.
“One night driving home I was listening to the tape in the car and their harmonies absolutely captivated me,” he said. Soon, he flew the three and their representatives to New York and a deal was struck, not only for them to record for his label, but for him to serve as executive producer of the album.
“The nice thing about Wilson Phillips is what you see is what you get,” he said. “Their parents are who they are and the girls are who they are and the music stands by itself. . . . At the end of the day, the music wins out and talent and charisma and they have all of the above.”
Now the trio is learning the ropes of the music business in their own terms. In the last two months, they estimate they’ve taken 45 plane rides while doing the press and radio circuit, and they’re preparing to launch themselves as a live act. In the meantime, they’re trying to just keep their heads on straight.
“We want to be taken seriously for our music,” said Carnie. “We’re not in it for money.”
Phillips darted upright at that: “We are in it for the money! Let’s get real !”