Wendy Wilson: Still holding on
It's fair to say Carnie Wilson is a big personality, and that Chynna Phillips has a flamboyant side to her. Would that make Wendy Wilson the introvert of the group?
"I would say yes," the youngest member of the band Wilson Phillips says. "When you're next to them, they have to dominate in a way. But I am who I am. I don't feel I need constant attention."
Her husband, Dan Knutson, chuckles.
"I don't think there's any choice," he says. "With those A-type personalities, what are you going to do? You can't become who you're not."
Wendy is doing just fine, thank you, as equal partner in the trio that caught lightning in a bottle with its debut album in the early '90s and continues to enjoy success on the nostalgia circuit.
Now Dan, Wendy and their four boys are calling Camas, Washington, home.
"I love it," she says. "There's nothing I can say that is negative about Camas.
"I love how everything is around you that you need. You have space. You have trees. Beautiful air. Great schools. What's not to love?"
Wendy, who turns 48 on Oct. 16, is the younger sister of Carnie, 49. They are the daughters of Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys, and Marilyn Rovell, who was a member of the female group The Honeys. Chynna, 49, is the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.
Brian Wilson and John Phillips were friends. Marilyn Rovell and Michelle Phillips were friends. The families lived in Southern California.
"They used to hang out, go play basketball, have barbecues, whatever," Wendy says.
"So Carnie and I became friends with Chynna, and we grew up together. When we were 4 or 5 years old, we performed shows and skits together for our parents."
Being the daughter of Brian Wilson had its benefits. On the other hand ...
"It's exciting to be in that kind of family," Wendy says. "It can also be irritating. You're always in the public eye. There are lots of parties and celebrities around, and lots of traveling. We went on tour every summer with my dad. That was fun. We got to go in jets and do interesting things.
"At the same time, the stability lacked in our household — the normalcy that everybody else had. And I wish I could have spent more time with my dad."
Chynna and the Wilson girls temporarily lost touch through their grade-school years. Wendy's parents, meanwhile, divorced when she was 8.
The girls came back into one another's lives as teenagers — the Wilsons living in Encino, Phillips in west Los Angeles.
"We would sing harmony," Wendy says. "We started practicing on the floor of my room at home, singing to our favorite songs (from artists such as Heart, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Electric Light Orchestra). It became a stronger friendship. But we didn't have any intention of becoming a band at that point."
Michelle Phillips had a friend named Richard Perry, producer for acts such as the Pointer Sisters. Wendy, Carnie, Chynna and Owen Elliot — daughter of the late Mama Cass — went to Perry's house and sang for him.
"We sang four lines in four-part harmony," Wendy says. "He said, 'Wow. I see magic here. Fasten your seat belts. This could be something.' "
Perry took Wendy, Carnie and Chynna under his wing; Owen wasn't part of the group moving forward.
"We started writing music and recording," Wendy says. "He hooked us up with the best producer in the whole world, Glen Ballard, who had done work with Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette. He took us on when we were still babies. When we started Wilson Phillips for real, I was fresh out of high school."
When they began, "it was just the three of us doing vocals in a studio," Wendy says.
Band members were added for their debut album "Wilson Phillips," which was released in 1990. To say it was a rousing success is an understatement.
The debut single, "Hold On," was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was named single of the Year for 1990 at the Billboard Music Awards. Two other singles from the album also reached No. 1 — "Release Me" nd "You're in Love." And two other songs were top 20 hits.
Billboard declared the debut as the best-selling album of all-time by an all-female group, beating the Supremes' "Greatest Hits." It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
All of this was startling for the 20-year-old Wendy Wilson, though she was too focused to fully appreciate it. By that time, Wilson Phillips had a full-time band playing behind them on a worldwide tour.
"We were thrilled," she says. "I was excited, but at the time, we were so busy. We were so immersed in what we were doing and traveling and promoting and touring, we missed what was going on in our lives. We were almost ahead of ourselves, not sitting back to enjoy the moment."
In 1992, the band released its second album, "Shadows and Light," which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum in the United States, signifying 1 million or more sales.
"It had a different feeling — more somber, introspective," Wendy says. "We branched out as songwriters and expressed ourselves more. The energy was different. It sold, but not like the first record."
In late 1992, Wilson Phillips disbanded, and Chynna announced plans for a solo career.
"Three years felt like an eternity," Wendy says. "We were so tired from touring and being together every minute, we needed a break. Chynna decided to branch out. We weren't expecting it, but she had to do it for
For the next decade, Wendy's life was much different. In 1993, she and Carnie released a Christmas album, and in 1997, they collaborated with their father on an album titled "The Wilsons."
"But there were years when I didn't sing at all," Wendy says.
She took jobs selling furniture, working at a health food store, selling crystals and gemstones.
"I'd never worked retail, and I thought it would be fun to work the cash register," she says. "It was awesome."
Wilson Phillips reunited in 2004. The band released an album of cover songs, and one, Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. There were some successes after that, but nothing like the first three years of the group's existence.
"I could look at it like, 'What would have happened if we'd stayed together?' " Wendy says, "but I don't like to look at things that way. I like to look at things as they were meant to be. There's a reason for everything."
Knutson, Wendy's husband, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but spent his high school years in England, where his father — an executive with Motorola — had taken employment. Dan had been a member of a band since he was 13.
"Once I graduated from high school, I came back from Britain, hooked up with my old band members and hit the road," he says. "I made my way to L.A. and landed there.
"During the '90s, I started getting jobs as a sound engineer. My career as a sound engineer kept rising as my career as a band member leveled off. One day I got hired to work with Al Jardine of the Beach Boys."
Wendy was touring with the Beach Boys at the time. She met Dan for the first time at Los Angeles International Airport.
"I thought, 'Hmm, pretty cute,'" she says. "We became friends, and it blossomed from there."
They married in 2002, settled in the San Fernando Valley and began to raise a family, which now includes sons Leo (14), Beau (13) and twins Will and Jesse (10).
Then last year, they opted for a lifestyle change.
"We decided we'd had enough of L.A. and the traffic," Wendy says.
"We were thinking about the cost of living in L.A., and the school system," Knutson says. "Our kids were getting older, and high school was one of the main considerations. It gave us the reason to finally move."
They first looked at the Seattle area, then switched their focus to Portland, where a close friend of Wendy's and sister Carnie's, Tiffany Miller, lives. The lack of income taxes in the state of Washington was appealing, though.
"I literally looked at a map and thought, 'Hmm, what is this town here?' " Wendy says. "It's in Washington, but right on the border of Oregon."
It was Vancouver.
They went online, picked out a house to rent in Fisher's Landing, got in their car and drove north in July 2016. They stayed there until June, when they found a place in Camas to rent.
They survived their first Northwest winter, one of the harshest in recent years.
"I enjoyed the snow, and we don't mind the rain," she says. "The only thing was the ice was a little scary. I'd never driven with ice on the roads."
Says Knutson: "In terms of air quality and quality of life, it's an upgrade from L.A."
Wilson Phillips took part in one season of a reality show on TV Guide Network in 2012, eight episodes in all.
"It was fun," Wendy says. "I had a good time. You get caught up in the drama. The camera can bring out different sides of people."
Since the move north, Knutson is freelancing. He does sound engineering for independent movies and has started a company installing home theaters.
Both Wendy and Dan also are doing voiceovers for radio and television commercials.
"We're just getting started," she says. "I've only had a few. Dan has gotten more."
The boys also are video makers.
"They have YouTube channels," Knutson says. "Leo took two years of a class. He's a really respectable editor. We're hoping to get that going, so when I'm older, the kids are ready to take over the business."
The boys are singers — sort of.
"All of our kids can sing on key, thank goodness," Wendy says. "But they won't perform for people. I'm like, 'Come on, guys, harmonize.' So far, they're being very shy about it."
Wendy continues to perform with Wilson Phillips.
"I love to express myself," she says. "It's a way to be artistic. I like to feel the music and move and feel it through my voice and harmonize with my partners. That's very healing."
Carnie lives in Toluca Lake, California. Chynna resides in Santa Barbara, California.
"We generally practice in L.A., or right before a show, wherever we are," Wendy says. The band will do 14 concerts this year. "It's too many for me at this point. I really value being a mom."
After all these years, Wendy, Carnie and Chynna still get along well.
"We fight sometimes, but it's really a love fest," Wendy says. "We appreciate each other. We know each other better than anybody in the world."