Pop trio brings signature harmony and ‘90s hits to Phoenix Pride
By Laura Latzko – April 9, 2015
In the ‘90s, female pop groups reigned supreme. Pop trio Wilson Phillips made its mark with the universally relatable and equally timeless lyrics, “Don’t you know things can change; things’ll go your way; if you hold on for one more day.”
On April 11, the three original members of Wilson Phillips – Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips – will perform on Phoenix Pride festival’s Main Stage from 8 to 9 p.m.
Wilson Phillips topped the charts in 1990 with three singles from its self-titled debut album, of which the group sold 10 million copies.
After the group disbanded in 1993, the members worked on other projects before reuniting for the 2004 album California. From that album, the trio’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” reached the No. 13 spot on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Music Chart.
The group saw a spike in popularity in 2011 after singing “Hold On” in the film Bridesmaids.
In 2012, Wilson Phillips released Dedicated, an album of cover songs originated by their parents – Carnie and Wendy Wilson are the daughters of Brian Wilson, co-founder of The Beach Boys, and Chynna Phillips is the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.
That same year, drag queens Willam Belli, Detox Icunt and Vicky Vox made a parody of “Hold On” called “Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A).”
Carnie Wilson and Chynna Phillips spoke with Echo about the group’s new album, evolving sound, harmony and the group’s LGBT following.
Echo: What have the three of you been doing lately as a group?
Carnie Wilson: We’ve just been touring for going on four years now. Just going on weekend gigs. We’ve got nine children between the three of us girls here; so it’s the perfect schedule …
Echo: What do the three of you bring to the group musically and personality-wise?
Wilson: Everyone has a special way of being creative. It hasn’t really changed much … We have the same kinds of insecurities or fiery sides to us and funky sides. We crack each other up every second. I think it’s very similar to 25 years ago.
Chynna Phillips: We have known each other since birth, literally. We know each other’s ins and outs. We know each other’s personalities so well … Carnie is immensely talented with melodies, and the humor that she brings to the shows is just so great and so refreshing. Wendy is super talented when it comes to playing chords on the piano and coming up with obscure, different sounds and quirky lyrics… I’m just kind of like the free spirit, kind of goofy. But we blend together really nicely. We complement each other really well.
Echo: What’s the vibe of a Wilson Phillips show like these days?
Wilson: It’s a different time. It’s more of an appreciation and gratitude time, giving back because everybody’s been so loyal. It’s such a blessing to be able to go out on the road together at all years later. So it’s kind of like this celebration feeling every time we do a show. It’s not like work.
Echo: Do you feel like your sound is different now than when you started?
Wilson: I think our sound is still the same, but I think our voices are lower, more mature sounding. But the actual harmonic sound is still the same and so very warm. So even though we sound a little older, it still has that certain signature sound. I don’t think we’re ever going to lose that … I have a much more calm, kind of a centered feeling. Knowing who you are as a woman makes a difference when you go to perform.
Echo: Have you always had the type of chemistry audiences see today, or has it evolved?
Phillips: We’ve had it since day one. We just understand each other. We finish each other’s sentences. When one of us comes up with a melody, the other one comes up with the lyrics, or vice versa.
Wilson: Although we haven’t written together in a really long time. We’ll have to do that soon.
Echo: Do your performances include songs from your 2012 cover album, Dedicated, or more of your original music?
Phillips: We love to pay homage to our parents, so we definitely do some Mamas & Papas and some Beach Boys. The audience loves it, and for us, it’s such as honor. We absolutely love singing those songs. We’re really proud of that record, and we never really set out to make it better than our parents’ music because that would be an impossibility. We just wanted to put our own signature on it.
Wilson: We do the hits, of course, and a few obscure ones. We have a little fun with the disco moments. We sing songs from our California album. It’s a little bit of everything; we do a little bit from each album.
Echo: Does your song “Hold On” still hold relevance for you?
Phillips: There are no words really to describe what a blessing that song has been for all of us … We see this when we are on stage, that you can be a part of something that’s so much bigger than just the three of us. It’s taken on a life of its own. It’s universal lyrics that so many people can identify with. I feel like the song has morphed and changed, and it’s sort of like a custom-made song because you can apply it to anything that’s going on in your life. I think a lot of people have found strength in it for different reasons, and that’s what makes it special.
Wilson: It was really Bridesmaids that, I think, took it to another level. It was our first single, and it was the first glimpse that you got of the group. We were lucky enough that we had a number of No. 1 hits, we were lucky that we weren’t just a one-hit wonder. I would have been happy if any one of the songs had come back and was featured in the film, but it just seems like that’s the message that’s so universal, that people love and identify with.
Echo: When you saw the parody video “Chow Down (At Chick-fil-A)” for the first time, what did you think?
Phillips: I laughed my butt off. I just thought it was hysterical. You know, it’s an honor. When somebody’s making a parody of you, you know you’ve made it. So I can’t complain.
Wilson: Especially when it’s gay men. Nothing makes me happier.
Echo: Have you had an LGBT following throughout your career or has it been more recent?
Phillips: Carnie has a big gay following.
Wilson: I think we always have. For sure … I would say gay men in particular. You know how they like those bold, gregarious, take-no-shit kind of women, that are glamorous and being who they are. I think they really relate … with us. We are just very down-to-earth real people who don’t like to judge people for sexual orientation. It just doesn’t register in my heart or in my brain.
Echo: What do you think makes your sound identifiably Wilson Phillips?
Phillips: When those three voices mix, there’s something really special that happens. We love singing a cappella. It is one of our favorite things to do. We are trying to incorporate more of that into our shows because people come for the harmony… That’s really the essence of our group, the harmony.
Echo: After the hiatus, did you have to work on getting that harmony back or was it immediate and natural?
Phillips: It was laughable. I remember the first rehearsal we got together, it was like, “Has any time passed at all?”
Wilson: Nothing has ever changed since day one. Nothing. Literally zero.
Echo: Do you feel like your experiences during the hiatus influenced you as artists and as a group?
Phillips: All three of us had time to really grow up. We were stuck in the whirlwind of singing and making records. I think when we got that time off, it was really a time for us to evolve and to become mature as women and to become more compassionate and understanding and better communicators.
Wilson: I worked with my sister on projects and did a lot of stuff in between, but nothing besides having my own children could ever compare to that sense of purpose. Having children, you have that sense of purpose, and the group, that was a sense of purpose for me before my children. When we disbanded, it took me two years to not be devastated, but it was something that had to be done … I think that’s why there’s so much appreciation now because we had that separation. It just puts it in another field of gratitude because it’s not like it’s five years ago we had some hits. It’s a quarter of a century ago. We just don’t take it for granted. We’re still on the ride, and we’re still high from it.