Photo: Nick Spanos
Living Legends: Belinda Carlisle On L.A. Punk And Why People Need Pop Music Now More Than Ever
The Go-Go’s frontwoman is still living life on her own terms. In the midst of a national tour, Carlisle spoke to GRAMMY.com about coming up in SoCal's punk scene, working with Diane Warren, and developing confidence.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Belinda Carlisle, singer of the groundbreaking rock group the Go-Go's and a solo act. Carlisle is currently on tour, supporting a new EP, Kismet.
Belinda Carlisle first fell in love with music when she was about 10 years old. Her family lived in the L.A area, and Carlisle would wile away the hours listening to records by the Beach Boys, the Animals, and Cat Stevens. Fast forward four years and Carlisle was a full-blown angsty adolescent, prone to skipping school and seeing what trouble she and her friends could get into. Though she managed to graduate high school, she bounced from job to job after, ultimately (and fortunately) leaving home around 19 to pursue music, thanks in part to a few nudges from Lorna Doom, bassist for foundational punk band the Germs, who she’d met in high school.
Carlisle’s stint in the Germs was quick and dirty thanks to a bad case of mono, but she bounced back with aplomb, teaming up with a few friends, to form the group that would become the Go-Go’s. The group’s 1981 debut LP, Beauty And The Beat, hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts — the first record by an all-female rock ‘n’ roll band to do so. Two more hit records followed, with singles like "Our Lips Are Sealed," "We Got The Beat," and "Head Over Heels" helping The Go-Go’s cement their place in the pantheon of popular music.
The Go-Go’s broke up in 1985 and Carlisle set out on a solo career. She snatched early success with singles like "Mad About You" and "In My Wildest Dreams,"but really hit it big with her second solo effort, 1987’s Heaven On Earth. That album's power pop production, boldly infectious title track and the Diane Warren-penned "I Get Weak" earned Carlisle a GRAMMY nomination. (The Go-Go’s also got one, for Best New Artist in 1982.)
Carlisle’s relationship with music has been on an interesting trajectory ever since. Her four pop records were tepidly received in the States and her two most recent solo full-lengths — 2007’s Voila and 2017’s Wilder Shoes — contained only French standards and Sikh chants, respectively.
But on her new EP, Kismet, Carlisle is re-entering the pop space. A collaboration of sorts with Diane Warren, who penned all of the record’s tracks, Kismet is joyful and modern, with lead single "Big, Big Love" landing atop the charts for the UK’s Radio 2. It’s a welcome surprise for Carlisle, who’s currently out on the road doing live dates, including stops in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York.
GRAMMY.com spoke to Carlisle about her new record, her thoughts on the future of the Go-Gos, and why she thinks people need pop music now more than ever.
It’s been reported that this record is called Kismet in part because it came out of a chance encounter your son had with Diane Warren at a coffee shop. What really made you want to get back into the studio and release this record?
The songs. It’s as simple as that. I wasn't really planning to go back into the studio before, because I didn't really think that it would happen. Great songs usually go to artists that are already in the charts or younger artists, you know? And when I got the call, I was "Do I really want to do this?"
It's a big commitment. But I felt like I needed to give it a chance, at least, and when I heard the songs, that's really what got me excited to do another English-language pop project in the vein of my older albums.
And it’s doing well! You’ve got the No. 1 single on the Radio 2 charts!
It's totally unexpected. It's so weird.
I had no expectations but I knew it was a really good project, and really good solid pop songs. My attitude has always been, I had a blast doing it, I know it's good work, the fans will love it, and we'll see what happens. And I've been totally surprised that, in countries around the world including the U.S., it has debuted in the top five.
Tell us about your relationship with Diane Warren. Do you think a song like "Big Big Love" would work for anyone, or do you two just really just get each other?
Diane and I clicked when we first met. Through the years, we’ve run into each other on occasion, but when this whole thing started happening and I went to the studio to start working with her, it was like… you know how with certain friends you can just pick up where you left off and there's no feeling uncomfortable, no weirdness, and no getting to know each other? It’s like that.
I have a really good sense of myself. She has a really good sense of my voice. Weirdly enough, I loved every song that she presented to me. I mean, I'm normally very fussy. I don't just want to sing anything for the sake of doing it.I have to absolutely love it both lyrically and melodically, so it's tough.
How was that sense of self that you have changed over the years? Do you see yourself differently now than you did in ‘87? Or even in ‘97?
I was really insecure in the mid-‘80s when I embarked on my solo career. I was really lucky to work with [Producer] Rick Nowels on Heaven On Earth, because I was kind of like his muse and he took me under his wing. And it just so happened that I loved his songwriting and Ellen Shipley’s and Diane’s, so I was lucky in that way but I still was insecure about my voice and insecure in a lot of different ways.
I think as I've gotten older — and especially after I got sober like 18 years ago — it’s gotten a bit better. I thought, Okay, this is really what I'm meant to be doing and obviously, I'm good at what I do. It may not be the best voice but it's distinctive. And I’ve been really working on my voice and not taking it for granted, too.
I just think overall now I have confidence that I didn't have when I was younger, and even when I was younger and successful.
I wanted to ask about the Go-Go’s being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago. You were quoted after the fact saying that you didn’t think the experience would be that amazing but that, in reality, it really was. Tell me what you meant, and why it meant so much to you all in that moment.
Of course, it's great to get recognition. What we did was amazing. There's no doubt about that. I don't really care about awards, but it's the whole thing about how when you actually get an award, it's pretty cool. It feels really good.
That night was a great way to cement the legacy of the band and the hard work that we put into it for 40-odd years. I don't think I've ever felt such an enormous wave of love for the band. It really kind of took me aback, actually. I knew that people liked us, but this was like this amazing, energetic sort of wave. And of course you’re performing in front of your peers and people like Paul McCartney, which was, in the end, even more amazing than I expected.
You've known Diane Warren for almost 40 years. You've known the women in the Go-Go's for longer than that? How have your relationships changed in that time?
There are very complicated dynamics in a band full of five women that have been together for that long, for sure. But I think that when we all were sitting at the Sundance festival, when the documentary [about The Go-Go’s] was being premiered… Some people didn't look up to the band as ground breakers or whatever, but when we saw what we did on the big screen, it was like, wow, we did that.
When you see it kind of encapsulated in the story that was told really well and that captured the essence of the band, I think it made all of us have a new respect for each other. Maybe through the years, we might have taken each other for granted, but that changed seeing that documentary.
It's family. It's not even friends or colleagues. We know each other like the back of our hand. We might not see each other for years and years but whenever we get back into the rehearsal studio, it’s like riding a bike. We pick up where you left off.
The same goes with Diane. You pick up where you left off, and not just work-wise but friendship wise. She's not a good friend, but she's still a friend and we just really gel. Even if she wasn't the greatest living songwriter at this moment, I would still probably have her as a friend because I like her a lot as a person.
Let’s talk about your time coming up in the L.A. punk scene in the late ‘70s. It is sort of staggering to think all that was happening around the same time Laurel Canyon was still churning and Fleetwood Mac was releasing Rumours. Talk to me about what it was like to be with the Germs and in that scene at that time. Sometimes, the actual group of people who start something like that can be very small, but in the end it turns out to be so significant.
In retrospect, everything around the world was different. London was angry and political and New York was sort of dark and junky. Detroit was hardcore working class. But in L.A. and in Southern California, there wasn't a whole lot to be angry about really in the late ‘70s.
It was kind of a sparkle. I don't know how to put it into words, because it was an energy that was very much about art. That was a big part of the punk scene. It was kind of sparkly, somehow, and that was probably because of the magic that California had back then.
I was one of the original punks. I met Darby [Crash] and Pat [Smear, of the Germs] trying to get Freddie Mercury's autograph at the Beverly Hilton back in 1977. That was at the very beginning of the punk scene and the Germs did the very first punk show or one of the very first punk shows in L.A. at a horrifying theater on Holloway Drive in West Hollywood. It's not there anymore but we knew that it was something special.
It exploded really fast. It was 50 kids then all of a sudden it was 500 kids and then 5,000 kids. There were beach punks, Hollywood punks, Valley punks… There was an energy in the air. Everything was so exciting. I lived in this punk rock crash pad called Disgraceland that’s kind of infamous — but I remember saying, "It's so lucky that we can realize this in the moment and know that we're part of something that is really special." Those kinds of movements don't come along very often and we were there at the very beginning. It was an incredible, incredible experience.
And to have the fortitude and foresight to say, "I don't play an instrument, but I'm going to figure it out and we're going to put something together." I mean, the Go-Go’s really happened pretty fast, from inception to No. 1.
Well, we were kids and, of course, it was the American dream where anything is possible. We were prime examples of that. Everybody was in a band, really, because the scene was so small, but not everybody was that good. We didn't have to be good.
That was part of the beauty of the punk scene is that we didn't really have to be musicians. We could learn as we went along, and that's what we did. We were lucky to have gotten a lot of guitar lessons and vocal lessons along the way from other bands, too.
Are you still in touch with Pat Smear?
Yes, because Pat and I were in our first band together so when [Smear’s current band] the Foo Fighters got into inducted into the Rock Hall, the Go-Go’s were the same year, so we had a conversation on the phone, like, "Isn't it weird to go from the Germs to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?" It was very sweet and funny.
How do you define your musical style at this point? If you had to say put Belinda Carlisle in a subsection of music, what would it be?
Sort of anthemic, melodic pop, I think. Maybe romantic pop songs with complicated melodies? There's a little bit of sadness in a lot of my songs and especially in my earlier catalog, but, really, I guess I would just say "good solid pop songs," which people may write off, but they're really important.
I just did a big tour in the UK that was sold out every night. In the UK, 20 years ago, I was doing little clubs where maybe 20 people would show up because I really had some serious issues going on, but now I’m doing these big shows? And so when I was doing this tour that was packed with people, I just realized that people need pop music. It brings joy to people. People can escape, and especially in this world right now, that’s really, really important.
Photo: Rebecca Sapp
5 Things We Learned From GRAMMY Museum's New The Power Of Song Exhibit, A Celebration Of Songwriters From Tom Petty To Taylor Swift
Nile Rodgers, Jimmy Jam, Smokey Robinson and more provide deep insights into their hit collaborations and creative process at GRAMMY Museum's The Power of Song: A Songwriters Hall of Fame Exhibit, open from April 26 through Sept. 4.
Since its founding in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame has been celebrating the great songwriters and composers of our time. In 2010, it found a physical home at Downtown Los Angeles' GRAMMY Museum.
Now, the GRAMMY Museum is adding to that legacy with a special expanded exhibit, which dives deep into the history of songwriting and recorded music in the United States — as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame and its inductees' role in it. Whether you're a songwriter or musician who loves the creative process, a history nerd, or simply a music lover, this exhibit is for you.
When you enter The Power Of Song, you'll hear the voices of legendary Songwriter Hall of Fame inductees and GRAMMY winners — including Nile Rodgers, Carole King, Diane Warren, Smokey Robinson and Jimmy Jam — discussing their creative process and some of the biggest songs they've written. Take a seat on the couch to absorb all their wisdom in the deeply informative and inspiring original short film.
Turn to the right, and you'll find a timeline across the entire wall, explaining the origins and key points around songwriting and recorded music in the U.S. On the other wall, pop on the headphones provided to enjoy a video of memorable Hall of Fame ceremony performances. One interactive video interface near the entrance allows you to hear "song highlights," and another allows you to explore the entire Songwriters Hall of Fame database.
The exhibit is filled with a treasure trove of handwritten song lyrics from Taylor Swift, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty and many more, as well as iconic artifacts, including Daft Punk's helmets, a classy Nile Rodgers GRAMMY look, and guitars from Bill Withers, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and Toby Keith.
Below, take a look at five things we learned from The Power Of Song: A Songwriters Hall Of Fame Exhibit, which will be at the GRAMMY Museum from April 26 through Sept. 4.
Daft Punk Rerecorded "Get Lucky" To Fit Nile Rodgers' Funky Guitar
Legendary funk pioneer and superproducer Nile Rodgers is the current Chairman of the SHOF and has an active presence at the exhibit. One case features the disco-esque lime green Dior tuxedo Rodgers wore to the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, along with the shiny metallic helmets of French dance duo Daft Punk, who collaborated with Rodgers on their GRAMMY-winning 2013 album, Random Access Memories.
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk and Rodgers had forged a friendship and been wanting to collab for years prior to 2013's Record Of The Year-winning smash "Get Lucky." When they finally connected and Bangalter and de Homem-Christo played the CHIC founder the demo for "Get Lucky," he asked to hear it again with everything muted except the drum track, so he could create the perfect guitar lick for it.
Bangalter and de Homem-Christo decided to essentially re-record the whole song to fit Rodgers' guitar, which joyously drives the track — and carried it to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, Daft Punk's first Top 5 hit.
Photo: Rebecca Sapp
Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis Set Up Their Studio The "Wrong" Way Because Of Prince
In the exhibit film, Jimmy Jam tells several stories about working with — and learning from — Prince. He recalls how he and Terry Lewis watched Prince work and record everything "in the red," so they set up their Minneapolis studio to follow his lead. A sound engineer told them it was too loud, but that ended up being the sound that artists like Janet Jackson and Usher came to them for. It was a "happy mistake," as Jam put it, that helped their legendary careers as a powerhouse production duo take off.
Prince's dogmatic, tireless work ethic also rubbed off on the powerhouse pair. One rehearsal, the Purple One kept pressing Jam to do more, which resulted in him playing two instruments, singing and hitting the choreography from behind his keyboard. "He saw that I could do more than I thought I could; he saw me better than I saw myself," he reflected.
"God Bless America" Composer Irving Berlin Didn't Read Music
In his 50 year-career, Irving Berlin wrote over 1000 songs, many of which defined American popular music for the better part of the 20th century. Along with penning "God Bless America," "White Christmas," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "There's No Business Like Show Business" (among many other classics), he wrote 17 full Broadway musical scores and contributed songs to six more plays.
Berlin also wrote scores for early Hollywood musicals starring the likes of Ginger Rodgers, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, and Bing Crosby. He made a lasting, indelible mark on music, theater, film and American culture writ large.
Rather astonishingly, the widely celebrated American Tin Pan Alley-era composer was self-taught and didn't read sheet music. His family immigrated to New York from Imperial Russia when he was 5 years old, and when he was just 13, his father died, so he busked on the streets and worked as a singing waiter to help his family out.
In 1907, at 19, he had his first song published, and just four years later penned his first international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Berlin had a natural musicality and played music by ear in the key of F-sharp, with the help of his trusted upright transposing piano, a rare instrument that had a mechanism allowing him to shift into different keys. His "trick piano," as he called it, where many of his unforgettable songs first came to life, is on display at the exhibit.
Smokey Robinson Didn't Expect "My Girl" To Become A Timeless Hit
Smokey Robinson was an important part of Motown's hit-making factory as a singer, songwriter and producer. In the exhibit film, he discusses "My Girl," one of his classic tunes, which he wrote and produced for the Temptations in 1965.
"I had no idea it would become what it would become," he said.
He says that people often ask him why he didn't record the unforgettable song with his group the Miracles instead of "giving it away" to the Temptations, but he never regretted his decision. Instead, he's honored to have created music that stands the test of time and means so much to so many people.
Robinson joked that the Temptations' then-lead singer David Ruffin's gruff voice scared girls into going out with him. Really, he loved Ruffin's voice, and thought he'd sound great singing a sweet love song like "My Girl." Safe to say he was right.
After World War II, Pop Music Changed Forever
Prior to World War II, American music operated as a singular mainstream market, and New York's Tin Pan Alley songwriters competed to make the next pop or Broadway hit. In a post-World War II America, especially when the early Baby Boomer generation became teenagers and young adults in the '60s and '70s, tastes changed and new styles of pop and pop songwriting emerged. As rock shook up popular culture, Tin Pan Alley gave way to a new era of young songwriters, many who worked out of just two buildings in midtown Manhattan, 1619 Broadway (the Brill Building) and 1650 Broadway.
In this richly creative and collaborative environment, powerhouse songwriting duos began to emerge and reshape pop music, challenging and balancing each other — and creating a ton of hits in the process. The hit-making duos of this diversified pop era included Burt Bacharach and Hal David (Dionne Warrick's "That's What Friends Are For"), Carole King and Gerry Goffin (Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'") and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me," both in collaboration with Phil Spector). In fact, there are far too many classics penned by these four prolific songwriter duos to list here.
While there are still songwriters that pen big hit after hit for pop stars (Max Martin is still at it, as is his protege Oscar Görres), the dynamics in the industry have continued to shift with singers taking on more creative power themselves. Today's pop stars — including Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift — have found success co-writing with their own trusted teams of songwriters and producers. But as this new exhibit shows, it doesn't matter who is behind the pen — the power of song is mighty.
Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Sofia Carson And Diane Warren Deserve "Applause" For Their Ascendant 2023 Oscars Performance
Tonight marks both performers' Oscars stage debut as they share the stage to perform their poignant nominated track "Applause."
"Applause" is Carson's first Oscar nomination, and it marks Warren's fourteenth. Warren has been nominated for Best Original Song every year since 2018.
Warren has taken home a golden gramophone for her songwriting, with 15 GRAMMY nominations under her belt. Actress and singer Carson funded the Latin GRAMMY 2022 Prodigy Scholarship presented by the Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation.
Other nominees in the Best Original Song category are “Applause” from Tell It like a Woman (Diane Warren), “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick (Lady Gaga, BloodPop), "Lift Me Up" from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Göransson), “Naatu Naatu” from RRR (M.M. Keeravaani, Chandrabose), and “This Is A Life” from Everything Everywhere All at Once (Ryan Lott, David Byrne, Mitski).
Photo: Mekael Dawson
How Diane Warren Stepped Out From Behind The Curtain On Her Debut Album 'The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1'
Diane Warren has written hits for GRAMMY winners for decades, but never made an album with her own name on the sleeve. That just changed with 'The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1,' where she's flanked by some seriously famous friends.
Like a bird simply being a bird or a tree being a tree, Diane Warren has an unshakeable understanding of herself—both what she is and isn't. She's not a singer. She doesn't perform live. Rather, Warren writes songs—some of the most successful songs of all time, for artists like Lady Gaga, Aerosmith, and Cher. She harbors no illusions about doing anything else. Nor does she play up the persona of the arteest, getting precious in interviews about "the craft."
That said, what prompted this non-performer to release her first-ever studio album, The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1, with a litany of famous collaborators—ranging from Carlos Santana to John Legend to Ty Dolla $ign? While considering the pantheon of DJs in the music world, the GRAMMY winner and 15-time nominee had a lightbulb moment. "I thought, 'You know what? I'll be DJ Diane and I'll do the songwriter version of that,'" Warren tells GRAMMY.com. As such, she took a crack at a "curated body of work" of self-written songs.
DJ Diane's gambit paid off on the first volume of The Cave Sessions, which was released August 27. (In fact, she's already pondering a Vol. 2.) The wildly diverse and genre-shifting album gets sultry ("She's Fire," with Santana and G-Eazy), ebullient ("Seaside," with Rita Ora, Sofia Reyes, and Reik), and cathartic ("Where Is Your Heart," with John Legend) in equal measure. What ties it all together is Warren's unmistakable songwriting voice—economical, universal, leading with emotion.
As for Santana, it was no problem jumping on "She's Fire" on short notice—despite not previously knowing Warren, not to mention the unconventionality of working with a rapper. To explain this, he evokes the landscapers on riding mowers in his Maui neighborhood. "Behind them, there are 12 to 20 white storks, and they look like angels following them," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I feel like that. I feel like I can mow anybody's lawn—or be in anybody's song—and just show up, and the angels will show up with me."
Ultimately, that's what The Cave Sessions, Vol. 1 sounds like: A master stepping out from behind the curtain with earned confidence—and a battalion of powerful guardians cheering her on. Read on for an in-depth interview with Diane Warren about The Cave Sessions, looking back on her decades-long career, and the one thing she'd change about the music industry.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Can you lay out the foundation of how The Cave Sessions came to be?
The Cave is my writing room, and it's really disgusting. I haven't cleaned it in quite a long time. The idea of doing this record was that I saw so many DJs—Mark Ronson, DJ Khaled, David Guetta—all these guys that do that. I thought, "You know what? I'll be DJ Diane and I'll do the songwriter version of that."
Most songwriters are in one genre; I'm all over the place—I wanted my album to reflect that. I'm still going to do the same thing I normally do where the artist does all the work, but it's a curated body of work. That's what's different.
You've never recorded an album under your name before. Why is that?
I'm a behind-the-scenes person, basically. I'm cool just writing songs for people. That's still what I'm doing on this record. The artists and producers are doing all the work; I happened to write the songs. I just thought it was a cool thing to do to show the diversity in styles in what I do and tie it all together—hopefully with great songs.
It was almost like a microcosm of my career in the various styles I work in—whether it's Latin, whether it's country, whether it's rock, whether it's hip-hop or R&B. I'm everywhere, so I wanted my record to be like that.
What was it about your early development that made you want to remain behind the curtain?
I always just wanted to be a songwriter. I wasn't one of those people where it didn't work out being an artist, or being in a band. I never was an artist, and I never was in a band.
There was no question about what you wanted to do, then.
Yeah, it was never a question of what I wanted to do. I knew from when I was a kid that this is what I aspired to be and wanted to do. I've known it for a while. It's what I do.
Tell me about your collaborators on The Cave Sessions. How did they arrive in your orbit?
We'll start with John Legend and "Where Is Your Heart." I just kept getting frustrated that he kept not using the song. It was such a great song and performance. I kept giving it to other artists and he wanted it back and then wouldn't use it and I'd get it back from him.
Truth be told, nobody sounded as great as John Legend on that song. A couple of other people worked it up, but I was like, "This song needs to get heard. I'm not giving up on it." Anybody who knows me knows that's how I am. I'm a pain in the ass until something's a hit, and then they're like, [Gushing voice] "We love your passion!" But this song, I just felt determined to get it heard.
What do you appreciate about John Legend's musicality at its core?
He's a real artist. He's a great musician. He's a great singer. I had a meeting with him seven or eight years ago. I played him a couple of things that he wasn't that into, and I went, "I wrote this song, and I don't know if it's right for you." That was "Where Is Your Heart," and he literally recorded it the next day. I remember being in the room and being like, "F*, man. This is one of the best things I've ever heard." It was just him and a piano.
That's the thing: When a song's great, you don't need a lot more. It's just his emotion and what he put into that song. So it was frustrating when he kept not using it, but you know what? Now the world gets to hear it.
How did The Cave Sessions continue to grow from there?
When I was thinking about doing this project, I was like, "That song has to be on this!" And then there were a couple of other ones, and it went on and on, and it kept changing. I'm always writing new songs, so I was frustrating my team because I was like, "No, I want this one! But wait, that one's great! We'll do a Vol. II!". I kept doing songs when the album was almost turned in.
That's why I did the last song, "Sweet," with Jon Batiste and Pentatonix. The album was done, but I loved the song and thought it was an important song for the album. I loved the message of it, as the world was starting to open up. It's such a positive message, so I put that on the album.
A lot of these artists I didn't know. Like, I didn't know Santana, but I knew I wanted him on "She's Fire." I came up with that guitar riff—I usually don't write a guitar riff in a song—but I wrote that little thing at the end of the chorus. I kept hearing Carlos Santana in my head, playing it. I didn't know him, but I sent him the song and he loved it.
And then it was like, "Oh, well, someone's got to sing it!" A friend of mine said, "You've got to work with G-Eazy. He'd be so f*ing perfect for this song. He's known as a rapper, but I bet he could sing this. I bet he'd put some swag on it." You don't have to be a virtuoso singer to sing it; you just have to be vibey. It turned out great. He loved the song. He kind of said "yes" before he even heard it, and then when he heard it, he was really excited.
What's your background with Santana's music? To me, his guitar is a sound you hear very early on as a music fan.
Yeah! I mean, I grew up being a huge Santana fan. All his records were so great. I'm from L.A. and we love Santana here. But, again, I didn't know him. I actually reached out to Narada Michael Walden, who's a friend of mine. He gave me Carlos' manager's number, and I reached out and sent the song to Carlos. He sent me a giant thing of flowers. It was really nice.
I still haven't met him! We've only met on Zoom and text and talking on the phone. It's so funny because, with the pandemic, when everything was under lockdown, my friend Peter Stengaard—who co-produced "She's Fire" with Ish Cano—actually had a place next door to Carlos on Kauai. When I was trying to get him involved with the production, Peter goes "He's my next-door neighbor." Oh my god. How perfect is that? So he literally went next door and did the guitar part.
And then with G-Eazy, these are two totally different artists. And the fun, for me, was putting these two worlds together—that you wouldn't think would be together—and they create a different world. Like this magical combination, you know? I love the two of them on there.
Songs aside, what are your favorite moments on The Cave Sessions?
I have a lot of favorites. I'll tell you one that just blows me away every time I hear it: "Not Prepared For You" by Lauren Jauregui. That performance is spectacular. Something my songs do for people over the years is take them to the next level.
Lauren's from Fifth Harmony, where Camila Cabello and Normani are from. And Ally Brooke, who's also great. With "Not Prepared For You," I wanted it for Lauren. I was in the studio when she did that and I was like, "F. She's so fing good on this song. This song will take her to the next level."
I love everything on the record, or it wouldn't be on the record, to be honest. With each song, there's a moment.
Tell me about the information embedded in these tunes—what you were trying to say that you haven't said in songs in the past.
Well, it wasn't like I was trying to say anything in particular, to be honest. I just wanted to put together an album of great songs with great artists, like Celine [Dion]. I gave Celine something so different than normally I would give her. It wasn't the big ballad. [It was] something more soulful.
And for me, it was a chance to work with someone like Ty Dolla $ign. I worked with Luis Fonsi a long time ago, and it was great to work with him again. I've worked with Rita Ora before. I was nominated for an Oscar with a song called "Grateful" I did for her. But we hadn't done anything since then, and it was kind of fun putting together Rita, Sofia [Reyes], and Reik, who's a Latin group.
I appreciate your intense focus on what you wish to accomplish in life and art. What about your early life made you you, demeanor-wise?
I have no idea. I've just been doing this forever. I love writing songs. It's my life. It's been my life since I was about 11, and I'm older than that now. Now I'm 29—I'm just kidding. This is just what I love and what I do. I'm happy that what I do is what I love.
Every time I write a song, I'm learning something. I just wrote a song that I finished yesterday, actually, in a style I've never written in before. So, that was really fun. I'm always learning.
From your perspective, how has the music industry landscape changed in the decades you've been in this business?
I mean, I'll tell you what's consistent: It's all about the song. I think there are a lot more writers on songs now. The writing-by-committee thing—I'm so not a committee person. I think it's always the power of one person that changes the world. I don't know what 10 people do on a song, to be honest. I know what one person does on my songs, you know?
It's changed a bit, with streaming and all that. But what it all comes down to—it doesn't matter what it is—is either the song's compelling and people want it, or it's not.
Are the pressures different for you today versus when the industry was in a different place?
No. I still put myself under a lot of pressure. I can only speak from my point of view, really. The only pressure for me is pressure to better myself.
What about on the licensing and publishing side? What have you learned over the years that you can share?
I mean, I own my own publishing, which is great. If you can do that, that's always good to do it. Not everybody can, and it takes time to get to that place.
To build up your autonomy?
Yeah. It just worked for me because I'm a self-starter and a go-getter. It's not like I've ever needed a publisher to do what I do. I can't give big life lessons about that. I just know what works for me.
Diane Warren. Photo: Mekael Dawson
When you look back on your entire songbook, what stands out in your mind? Are there any tunes you're particularly proud of?
You know, I'm proud of a lot of them. "'Til It Happens For You," the song I wrote for Gaga. I'm proud of "Because You Loved Me," the one Celine did. I'm proud of all my songs. I'm proud of songs you haven't heard yet. I'm proud of "I Was Here," the song I did with Beyoncé. They're all deep songs.
But then, I love "Seaside," from my album. I'm proud of that. It's like a shot of positivity right now.
It seems like you're not jaded about the process at all.
No! But I don't let it f* with my process at all because this is what I do and this is what I love.
What are you jaded about?
Well, I'll tell you one thing: Everything's so data-driven. That's frustrating. Because, to me, the data that matters is: Does it make your heart stop? Does it make the hairs on your arms stand up? Does it make you say, "What the f* was that?" Does it make you sit there and say, [Breathless voice] "What?" That's the data that matters to me. But what are you going to do? That's the world that we live in.
Do you mean streaming numbers, specifically?
I'll give you an example: There's an unnamed artist and his manager works for a major record company. He did an independent release, right? I said, "Why? Your manager works for that major label." He said, "My TikTok numbers aren't high enough." That... just… f. Because this guy's really talented and his records are really good. Yeah, that kind of s is frustrating.
If the Beatles or Prince came out and their TikTok numbers weren't high enough—you know what I mean? It's a strange world with all that. I don't understand that, to be honest. My brain isn't a data brain. I just try to write songs that make you feel something.
Well, you're plucking something from the ether that's spiritual and immaterial. It seems unfair to assign a cold numerical value to it.
I mean, it is a business. I get it. It's the music business.
If you could change one thing about the mechanisms of the music industry, what would it be?
I would make it less about that stuff and more about playing something because you love it. Not putting something on the radio because it has enough TikTok numbers, but because it's a great song and a great artist.
Diane Warren performs at the "Oscars: Into the Spotlight" special at the 2021 Oscars
Photo: Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images
Laura Pausini & Diane Warren Perform An Ascendant Version Of "Io Si/Seen" From 'The Life Ahead' At 2021 Oscars
At the "Oscars: Into the Spotlight" 2021 Oscars pre-show special, Laura Pausini and Diane Warren performed a rapturous version of "Io Si/Seen" from 'The Life Ahead'
At the "Oscars: Into the Spotlight" 2021 Oscars pre-show special, Laura Pausini and Diane Warren performed "Io Si/Seen" from The Life Ahead.
The song was up for Best Original Song. H.E.R. ultimately won the Oscar for "Fight For You” from the five-time-nominated film Judas and the Black Messiah.
Keep watching this space at GRAMMY.com for more news about performers and winners at the 2021 Oscars.