Women work to balance family, career
The singing daughters of Brian Wilson (the Beach Boys’ producing, songwriting genius) and John and Michelle Phillips (one-half of the Mamas & the Papas), put their voices and names together to form Wilson Phillips.
The angel-toned trio — Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips — released its self-titled debut album in 1990. Featuring the hits “You’re In Love” and “Hold On,” the album sold five million copies in the early ’90s.
“Shadows & Light” followed in 1992. The second Wilson Phillips album sold a million copies but its lack of hit singles proved disappointing and the trio split the following year.
Reunions followed in 2003 and 2008 and a holiday album, “Christmas in Harmony,” arrived in 2010.
Wilson Phillips was back in business by 2010, but it took the trio’s superbly placed cameo in Kristen Wiig’s 2011 comedy hit, “Bridesmaids,” to put the group back into mainstream consciousness in a big way.
“It was really a blessing when we got the phone call about that cameo,” Chynna Phillips said recently from New York’s Finger Lakes region, where she was vacationing with her husband, actor William Baldwin, and their three children.
“We had no idea that the movie was going to be a blockbuster,” she said. “We just did for fun and giggles.”
When Phillips and the Wilson sisters saw “Bridesmaids,” they were shocked by how prominently they are in film.
After “Bridesmaids,” offers for Wilson Phillips to perform poured in.
“Our phone was ringing off the hook,” Phillips said. “We booked a bunch of gigs. At iTunes, we got 700,000 more hits that year than we did in the previous year.”
The group followed up its cameo in a blockbuster movie with a new album, “Dedicated.” Released in 2012, the album’s 12 songs include Wilson Phillips’ renditions of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Good Vibrations,” “I Can Hear Music” and the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday Monday,” “California Dreamin’ ” and “Twelve Thirty.”
“It was a labor of love,” Phillips said. “For so long, people had been asking us, ‘When are you going to record your parents’ music?’ We got so sick of hearing it.
“But last year was the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary and my mom is the sole survivor from the Mamas and the Papas. We felt like there was no better time, so we went for it.”
Even though Phillips and the Wilsons grew up hearing and singing the classics their parents recorded, performing the songs’ intricate vocal arrangements was a challenge. Phillips gives credit to Carnie Wilson’s husband, Rob Bonfiglio, the album’s producer and co-arranger, for his attention to detail.
“He just exhausted himself trying to make sure that it was perfect,” she said.
Phillips gave her mother, Michelle, a preview of “Dedicated.”
“She listened to a couple of the songs and she was fine,” Phillips recalled. “But as soon as ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’ played, mom was in a puddle of tears.”
Phillips would like to believe that her mother experienced a moving Wilson Phillips moment as ‘Dedicated’ played but more likely, Philllips added, it was the guest vocals of Mama Cass Elliot’s daughter, Owen Elliot-Kugell, that unleashed her mother’s tears.
“My mom and Cass were best friends for so many years,” she said. “And Owen and her mother sound almost exactly alike. It’s haunting. When mom heard Owen sing on ‘Dedicated,’ it brought her to her knees.”
Phillips and Carnie and Wendy Wilson, who have a total of nine children, prefer to limit themselves to a few concerts a month.
“We could be touring more but one to two shows a month, tops, is plenty for us,” Phillips said. “When we do exceed that, we all end up kicking ourselves. It’s exhausting to be on airplanes and then come home and put on our mother hats and then go back on the road. It’s just too much.”
Nevertheless, Wilson Phillips loves performing and reconnecting with fans when the group does perform.
“We want to work and we want to still be in touch with music and creativity and singing. I think we’ve found a nice balance.”