Having famous parents does not ensure success in any field - especially in the music business. But if you're the daughters of Brian Wilson and John Phillips, leaders of two of the '60s best-loved groups, the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, it certainly can't hurt.
Of course, you must have the talent to back it up. In the case of Wendy Wilson, Carnie Wilson and Chynna Phillips, it's an inbred talent for harmony and a song, ``Hold On,' so catchy it oozes hit appeal.Though the girls are hesitant to answer too many questions about their illustrious parents (their record company bio never mentions them), they realize the curiosity and the comparisons are inevitable.
``We knew that it was going to happen,' says Chynna Phillips. ``It happened to Julian Lennon, it happened to Janet being Michael's little sister and it happened to Ziggy Marley. It's inevitable. You can't get over that. The way you get over it is by people responding to the music and saying, 'Wow, this really stands on its own.' '
These native California girls obviously didn't shy away from their parental connection when naming the group. But according to Carnie Wilson, it was more of a last resort than a conscious attempt to cash in on past glories. Names such as Gypsy, Leda, Nirvana and Zen Girl were all considered and discarded before they settled on Wilson Phillips.
``The thing is,' says Wendy Wilson, ``people think you're using your parents' name. But it's also our name, too.'
``If you went up to the average 15-year-old and asked them, 'Does Wilson ring a bell?' they're not gonna go, 'Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys,' ' adds Chynna. ``They're just not gonna do that. Maybe you would, but the average 15-year-olds on the street wouldn't know. Or Phillips - come on, they wouldn't connect it with the Mamas and the Papas.'
The three women bring a distinct personality to Wilson Phillips. Model/actress Chynna Phillips, easily the most poised and polished of the three, eagerly adds her input to every question; Carnie Wilson, the most forceful, peppers her conversation with wit and a solid knowledge of music; and Wendy Wilson, the most serious and introverted of the three, sits back and bides her time, choosing her words carefully before offering an answer.
Wendy reflects on what it was like growing up with famous parents. ``It was exciting, but it was very normal for us because that's all we knew.'
Normal for them, but not for the friends who visited the Phillips and Wilson residences. Their slack-jawed reaction when rock stars such as Mick Jagger would casually come over made Chynna Phillips aware of the special environment that surrounded her.
Carnie Wilson remembers the recording studio as her home away from home. ``I was in the studio since I was born. It was great. A lot of my memories are of watching the Beach Boys standing around singing harmonies and Mike (Love) trying to get the lead vocal down ... for the millionth take.'
Though they surely didn't realize it at the time, some of these good musical vibrations must have rubbed off on them. In addition to their love and talent for harmony, their sound - a combination of polished production, breezy melodies and seamless harmonies - is as evocative of the Southern California pop climate as their fathers' music was in the '60s.
It was one day, four years ago, while singing along with familiar favorites (Fleetwood Mac, Heart) that the girls - close friends all of their lives - discovered their gift for harmony.
``I hadn't seen Carnie and Wendy for awhile,' remembers Chynna, ``so the first thing we did was listen to music - 'cause that's what we used to do when we were little. And we started harmonizing together and there was this really nice vocal blend.'
The three spent the next few years refining their singing and songwriting style.
``When we thought we had four pretty good songs, we made a demo tape and went around shopping deals,' relates Carnie. ``And it was almost like bidding war. It was pretty flattering. We couldn't believe it. Eight major labels wanted to sign us, and we had to pick - which is so mind-boggling and unbelievable.'
Obviously, their last names helped get a foot in the door, but ultimately it was the music that had to impress. ``I'm sure people were more curious to hear our music because of who our parents are,' says Chynna, ``because they wanted to hear what we sounded like. But once they heard the music ... I don't really think our music sounds like the Beach Boys or the Mamas and Papas. The harmonies maybe, but other than that, no. So they heard that this really stood on its own.
Many labels came a-courtin', but it was SBK who won their hand. ``SBK was small and new,' explains Carnie, ``and they would give us a lot of attention and we wouldn't get lost in a big label.'
``They genuinely loved the music,' adds Chynna. ``They really believed in it. They didn't give us this big pep talk. They just sat us down and said, 'You know what, you come with us, we're gonna make it happen.' '
And make it happen they did. With an album in the top 10, a couple of worthy follow-up candidates waiting in the wings and the women's good looks and wholesome appeal to help it along, SBK Records may have a mini-pop phenomenon on its hands.
Helping shape this success story in the studio was ace tunesmith Glen Ballard, coauthor of Michael Jackson's ``Man In The Mirror.' Ballard co-wrote several songs with Wilson Phillips - including ``Hold On' - and also produced the album. Veteran producer Richard Perry, who originally took the three into the studio to record, hooked them up with Ballard.
``We had no idea that Glen would be our producer until after writing with him for a period of time and knowing that our chemistry was so great,' Wendy says.
And how are their parents reacting to these women's out-of-the-box success? ``My dad is ecstatic,' says Chynna Phillips. ``He calls me all the time and says, 'Now my favorite song is ...' '
Though the fathers are justifiably happy with their children's success, all three women credit their mothers, Marilyn Wilson and actress Michelle Phillips, not their fathers, as the guiding forces in their lives. ``Our mothers were the ones who taught us everything and have been really supportive,' says Carnie. ``Our fathers ... the music is as far as they get in terms of closeness.'
One thing that all three women adamantly agree on is a desire not to repeat their fathers' mistakes. As was the prevailing fashion in the '60s, both Brian Wilson and John Phillips experimented heavily with drugs. Phillips became an addict and eventually hit rock bottom before cleaning himself up. Brian Wilson, who became an overweight recluse as a result of his formidable drug intake, has also managed to put the pieces back together again, but not without a cost.
``I think that it's a totally different time,' says Carnie, ``where it's just not in and it's not cool. People are more into health, and taking drugs is not smart and it's not healthy. That was that time, but this is about work, commitment, loyalty, endurance and longevity.'