Belinda Carlisle, New EP ‘Kismet,’ Interview
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Belinda Carlisle, New EP ‘Kismet,’ Interview

Aug 02, 2023

"I think I was born under a lucky star," Belinda Carlisle muses.

"My life has been a series of amazing happenstance and coincidences," she says. "The fact that I’m sitting here, still doing this since 1977 … I’m in tune with the universe, I guess."

Carlisle is discussing her new EP, Kismet, whose title reflects, in many ways, the singer's life as a whole, as well, more specifically, the path that led to the collection – her first of English-language pop songs in more than 25 years.

Released May 12 on BMG, the five-song set of Carlisle's trademark anthemic pop was written by Diane Warren, who has penned nine Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, among 32 top 10s. The pair previously teamed for the No. 2-peaking 1988 hit "I Get Weak," from Carlisle's second solo album apart from The Go-Go's, 1987's Heaven on Earth. (The LP also includes the Warren-written "World Without You," a top 40 hit in 1988 in the UK.)

It truly was kismet that sparked Carlisle's new music: her son, Duke, saw Warren at a coffee shop, and she (adamantly) told him that his mother needed to record some of Warren's new songs.

"I can't say ‘no’ to her," Carlisle says. "I thought, ‘Do I really want to make that commitment?’ Then I heard ‘Big Big Love,’ oh my God …," she adds of the song that became the set's first single, with an accompanying official video. "The fact that she gave me these amazing songs is like a gift. I’m 64 – usually things like that don't happen to singers my age. I mean, maybe Cher, when she had ‘Believe’ …"

The Los Angeles native, now living in Mexico City, first stormed Billboard's charts in 1980 with The Go-Go's’ "Our Lips Are Sealed." The group – Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin – sent the song to No. 20 on the Hot 100 in 1981, while follow-up "We Got the Beat" soared to No. 2. Parent album Beauty and the Beat crowned the Billboard 200 for six weeks in 1982 – and remains the only set by an all-female rock band to have led the list. Interspersed with breakups and reunions, The Go-Go's’ chart archives include four more albums through 2001, and three more top 40 Hot 100 hits.

Carlisle went solo in 1986. Her debut album, Belinda, that year, as well as Heaven on Earth, hit No. 13 on the Billboard 200, while 1989's Runaway Horses rode to No. 37. She has notched six top 40 Hot 100 hits, including four top 10s: Belinda's "Mad About You" (No. 3) and Heaven on Earth's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" (No. 1 for one week), "I Get Weak" and "Circle in the Sand" (No. 7). (Runaway Horses lead single "Leave a Light On" reached No. 11, and the Adult Contemporary top 10, and features George Harrison on slide guitar.)

Earlier in 2023, Carlisle extended her Billboard chart history by entering Digital Song Sales with another Warren composition, "Gonna Be You." The all-star song, from the comedy 80 for Brady, brought Carlisle together with Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Estefan and Debbie Harry.

Reinforcing the new EP's title, Carlisle says that Warren wrote "Big Big Love" "a couple days before" her son ran into her, and Warren thought that Carlisle would be the ideal singer for it. Warren also wrote the set's "If U Go" with Carlisle in mind, while the other songs were already in Warren's stockpile. "She writes every single day," Carlisle says. "She has thousands and thousands and thousands of songs. She has like a catalog inside her brain: ‘Oh, this’ll be good [for a particular artist] …’ "

Warren's intuition was confirmed by Carlisle's reaction. "This was five out of five," Carlisle felt upon hearing the songs that would become Kismet. "She didn't show me anything else, and I loved them all."

Carlisle's favorite song on the EP? Its closing track, "Sanity." "It's the hardest song I’ve ever sung in my whole career," she notes. "And I love it. This is really out there, but it kind of reminds me of a cross between Jay and the Americans and the monkeys from The Wizard of Oz at the end. You know, ‘oh-ee-oh …’," she sings, laughing. "There's a harmony that's very Jay and the Americans – I’m really dating myself, ‘cause that's the ‘60s. That song is a mishmash of different styles of an era gone by."

Notably, the release's "Big Big Love," "If U Go" and "I Couldn't Do That to Me" feature Caffey on backing vocals, making for a partial Go-Go's team-up. ("If U Go" sports a "go, go" echo – although Carlisle says that Warren didn't originally plan for two Go-Go's to sing that line. More kismet.)

Rounding out the set is "Deeper Into You," with that and "I Couldn't Do That to Me" its gentlest songs. (Carlisle says that the latter was modeled, as it was being recorded, after Sinead O’Connor's Prince-penned "Nothing Compares 2 U" – "one of the greatest songs ever written.") Carlisle is best known for uptempo hits, although her discography includes such other ballads as Runaway Horses’ "Vision of You," a UK chart hit in 1990 written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley – who authored "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," "Circle in the Sand" and many other of Carlisle's solo songs. (Carlisle credits Steve Nicks for suggesting that she collaborate with Nowels after he and Nicks co-wrote her top 20 1986 Hot 100 hit "I Can't Wait.")

Apart from one-offs, including her hooky 2013 track "Sun" (which Carlisle and Wiedlin co-wrote, with Gabe Lopez), Kismet – which Mathia-Mathithiahu Gavriel produced, with Peter Stengaard having co-produced "Big Big Love" and "I Couldn't Do That to Me" – returns Carlisle to traditional pop as a soloist for the first time since 1997's A Woman & A Man, which generated two more UK top 10s. In between, The Go-Go's released God Bless The Go-Go's in 2001 and, as a soloist, she released the French pop album Voila in 2007 and the chants collection Wilder Shores in 2017; the lattermost set hit No. 4 on both Billboard's New Age Albums and World Albums charts. She also released her autobiography, Lips Unsealed, in 2010.

Carlisle looks back on her hits with pride, describing them as a mix of "big, lush choruses … lots of melody … lyrics that are poetic … background vocals … romance.

"I always said that if I was going to record pop in the same vein that I did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it would have to be on par with those songs," she says. "I’m not going to record a song just to record it."

In perhaps yet another validation of the new EP's title, the set's release coincides with a host of recent ‘80s-influenced hit songs, including The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" and Harry Styles’ "As It Was," while Kate Bush's 1985 classic "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)," sparked by its synch in Netflix's Stranger Things, surged to No. 3 on the Hot 100 in 2022.

"When you hear an ‘80s song, you know it's an ‘80s song," Carlisle says. "There's something sonically that tells you that. And there was so much diverse music coming out at that time – rockabilly, punk, new wave, electronic, new romantic … and it was all great."

The Go-Go's’ ‘80s albums launched the band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. "I was over caring" about potential induction," Carlisle says, "but when it actually happens, you care. It was great, the band getting the recognition like that. It feels really good."

Carlisle also feels that the honor is benefiting her solo career; in addition to Kismet, she has U.S. tour dates set through August, followed by shows in Australia beginning in November.

Carlisle's highest-charting solo contribution to the ‘80s canon, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," topped the Hot 100 in December 1987. "I was doing a charity event at the Universal Amphitheatre [in Los Angeles] with Chicago and other artists and I was on-stage," she recalls. "I had just finished or was about to sing ‘Heaven’ and some of the people from the record company [MCA] and some of the guys from Chicago came out and said, ‘You’re No. 1!’ I was like, ‘Oh my God … that's the first time that's happened.’ "

As detailed in Lips Unsealed, in between releasing A Woman & A Man and Kismet, Carlisle found sobriety, supported by her husband of 37 years, producer/actor Morgan Mason. She calls that span, which also included being dropped from a record label deal the day after her 40th birthday in 1998, "the most interesting time of my life … up to the present moment.

"Good things always come out of something like that," says Carlisle, who remains a contributor to multiple charities, including Animal People Alliance. "For me, it was self-reflection. I always identified myself as a singer, or a Go-Go, but never really cared to dig any deeper. It forced me to dig deeper. I think I’m more centered, for sure. I have a very strong spiritual foundation that I live my life from. It's a very happy life."

Meanwhile, Carlisle is open to more than the five songs on Kismet. "When we were toward the end of recording, Diane goes, ‘Let's make an album!’ And it was like, ‘Well, it's a little bit too late now that they have a release date for it …’," Carlisle says with a chuckle. "I kind of wish it was an album. But this is five great pop songs."

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