Belinda Carlisle has just released her first solo pop album in almost 30 years—which was back when her record label dropped her the year she turned 40.
Even for a punk rocker turned pop icon with a sexy-first image cultivated by the music marketing machine of the video-obsessed ’80s, post-40 was going to be a hard sell to the boardroom decision makers. Given the life and career Carlisle has followed since, it makes one wonder if corporate bigwigs should be in charge of anything having to do with art.
After being bailed on by the pop machine, Carlisle embraced the opportunity to walk a different path.
“I lived in France for 24 years,” said Carlise in a Zoom interview. So she made an album in French. “I love French music, and I love French pop. It was the first time in my life that I got to work from the heart and not have the pressure of coming up with a single.”
Her spiritual practice includes daily kirtan chanting. So she released an album of kirtan pop songs.
After France, Carlisle traveled the world and landed in Mexico during COVID. It’s a life that suits her, the kind one doesn’t want to leave for just another pop album.
“I live in Mexico, [where I can] head for the mountains to disappear and do my donkey sanctuary, but you don’t say no to Diane Warren,” she said, referring to the legendary songwriter who penned the song “Big Big Love” from Carlisle’s new EP, Kismet.
The iconic southern California girl, Carlisle has always had pop music in her heart.
“Growing up, California pop was always in my DNA; the Beach Boys and the Laurel Canyon scene, [all day] at my best friend’s house laying in front of her speaker and listening to all the great radio stations,” Carlisle reminisced.
“I was born a contrarian, kind of a rebel growing up,” said Carlisle. So “[when] I discovered Roxy Music, the Velvet Underground and Raw Power by Iggy Pop, I was like, da-da! This is me!” said Carlisle with a song in her voice. The new sound resonated hard.
She started collecting the requisite music magazines from the UK—Melody Maker and NME—and reading about the Sex Pistols and Sham 69 and other early punk bands.
“I saved all my money, [bought a ticket] and hung out in London and saw these incredible bands, in the very early days, like the Clash,” said Carlisle. “In LA, the punk scene was like 50 kids, and the bands were pretty horrible. But that was part of why it was cool. [That’s when] I got into the Go-Go’s.”
“Did you say (earlier that you have a) donkey sanctuary?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve had an animal project since 2014 in India and Thailand that I co-founded. We create employment for people who would have a tough time getting work. We have a lot of women on our team that have been trafficked [and got out], and a lot of stateless people, [all working with animals]. So, now I’m living in Mexico. I thought well, why not do a donkey sanctuary? The organization is called Animal People Alliance. It is serious; we’re on Instagram,” she laughed.
“Like many fans who grew up with your music, I am getting on in my years. What wisdom can you offer us?” I inquired.
Said Carlisle, “Every minute counts. It’s not every day; it’s like minutes count. Everybody thinks that you slow down at 50, but that’s when I started doing all my crazy traveling. Next year, I am hiking in Pakistan. I’m turning 66 when I do that. Age is meaningless to me. [Just] make the most of it, every single minute.”
Belinda Carlisle plays the Blue Note Summer Series at 7pm on Friday Aug. 18 at the Meritage Resort and Spa, 875 Bordeaux Way, Napa. Tickets start at $49, available online at bluenotejazz.com/napa/summer-sessions.