Carly Simon is a survivor. The singer is feeling stronger than ever after recovering from a mastectomy and crippling chemotherapy. She has triumphantly returned with a new album: “This Kind of Love,” arriving on April 29.
Simon was one of many artists who was a casualty of the housecleaning that sent Clive Davis, Arista founder and music genius, packing — and a slew of other artists he discovered out the door. One of them was Carly Simon.
Davis has recovered nicely, thank you, serving as the shepherd for the talent emerging from the American Idol phenomenon with his Jive Records. And Carly — well, she’s landed at Hear Music, sharing a label with the former Beatle, Paul McCartney.
As “This Kind of Love” — her first CD of original material in eight years — hits Starbucks stores and online retailers globally, Simon took a few moments with SheKnows. She expressed her emotions concerning a new record, along with her namesake on American Idol — Carly Smithson — and how fellow Idolcontestant Brooke White has the makings of being the next, well, her!
Carly is an artist driven by passion and the urge to let the world know that she is hardly finished.
A fresh start
SheKnows:The new record arrives Tuesday, and it’s a Brazilian flavored treat. Is this really your first album of new material in eight years?
Carly Simon: It is, I guess since 2000. The last one was “The Bedroom Tapes” which was on Arista records and a very wonderful album that I fortunately own now because Clive Davis was expired from Arista. Let go, really, and LA Reid was brought in by a bunch of supposedly smart businessmen. LA Reid was into promoting his pop and R&B acts and had no interest of anyone over the age of 25 anyway. He said ‘you’re a heritage artist’ and we’ll pay you attention and there was nothing.
Hearing the music.
SheKnows: Now you are on Hear Music, the same label as Paul McCartney, that has got to be an exciting time?
Carly Simon:Yes, Hear Music a wonderful label. It is extremely artist-friendly.
SheKnows: It seems to be the other end of the spectrum from where you were when Clive Davis was removed.
Carly Simon:Yeah, they’re very pro-the artist. They have a particular end in sight which is to sell their records in Starbucks primarily, and other venues with the internet. They’re more interested in the heritage artist. Because the people that come into Starbucks are that age group.
SheKnows:You got to work with your children on this record. Was that a joy, a challenge? Was it both?
Carly Simon:I’ve always included my children in everything I’ve done since they were born, one way or another. I recorded a song by each of them. One is Ben’s song “Islands,” which he actually recorded himself. I tried to imitate him and couldn’t. I finally decided that was silly and I should just sing it my way. So I did. But I was intimidated because his version is so beautiful. Everybody loves that song. It’s a song he wrote about his sister, Sally, my daughter, so it has even more meaning. I recorded a song by Sally called “When We’re Together.” That’s a song I’ve always admired. That was on her album, too. And Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (Steely Dan) had produced it. I sure love that song, a very rich… she must have been in Rio in a former life. (laughs) She is such a Rio Bossa Nova feel to it.
SheKnows: Is that how you became enthralled with Brazilian music, because it’s all over this album?
Carly Simon:I think I became enthralled with Brazilian music a long time ago when I watched the film “Black Orpheus.” That so hugely excited me. That movie was a seminal movie in a lot of people’s lives. I saw in 15 times. From the very beginning to the very end you hear this ‘cha….cha….cha’ accent on the one. There is such color and smiles and voices. It’s thrilling. I think I began to buy the records of those musicians at the time. I listen to a lot of it. Movies more than anything else, we see the movies of another culture and hear the music of that culture, it really brings it home.
SheKnows:All that international music had to seep in as an influence. Other than the Brazilian music, what other things in the world right now inspire you?
Carly Simon: (long pause) Good question. (laughs). There is Indian music that has really impressed me of late.
The haunting Heartburn
SheKnows: I wanted to ask you about “Heartburn” with Meryl Streep. The theme to that movie is one of the most haunting and brilliant from a film in decades.
Carly Simon:Well, thank you.
SheKnows: Did you see a rough cut of the film or did you compose that soundtrack simply from the script?
Carly Simon:I read the script. I saw that “Itsy Bitsy Spider” was at the end of the movie. I wrote a new version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I wrote it to that piano theme.
SheKnows: So poignant…
Carly Simon: Then I sang the Itsy Bitsy Spiderover that and then I used it as a book end with the beginning and end of the film. When Jack Nicholson and Meryl are walking into the church to get married that drum beat is used throughout. Then, I only sing the song once in the movie, at the end. So I combined “Itsy Bitsy” with “Coming Round Again.” I put them together. They’re actually two different songs. A lot of people don’t know that. It’s the same background music.
SheKnows:It so captured the sentiment of that movie. Your music with Meryl’s facial expressions is so emotional. It is incredible.
Carly Simon:Thank you very much. That was the first time I had the opportunity to write for a film. That was Mike Nichols who asked me if I would do it. I was completely unknown to writing anything for movies. He took a chance on an unknown. (Laughs)
SheKnows:Wow, Mike Nichols, that’s quite a name to ask you for your first movie composing experience like that.
Carly Simon:He really believed in me.
SheKnows:Is having a Bond theme, “Nobody Does It Better,” still a feather in your cap.
Carly Simon: Oh, yes. I remember seeing “Dr. No” and thinking God I would love to have a song of mine coming over these movie speakers really loud. I’d love to do that one day. I really put it out there. It was a quest and it actually happened. It’s one of those things that you could be sorry for what you asked for or you could be happy. In this case I was very happy.
Honoring a survivor
SheKnows: I see you received an honorary doctorate from Berkelee School of Music. Knowing that school’s rich musical history, how much of an honor was that for you?
Carly Simon:Tremendous, and it was also the end of my chemotherapy treatment. I was really weak. Somehow I made it up to Boston with my husband. He brought me over. I was limping. I just remember being really tired. My hair was only partly there. Getting the doctorate just filled me with joy. I was very nervous about having to get up and make a speech. So I got up and didn’t make a speech. (Laughs)
SheKnows:How are you feeling now?
Carly Simon:Everything’s fine now. Every year I have to get a mammogram, which everybody should get! I’m overdue by about six months, but I’m going next week. My doctor will be furious with me. ‘Where have you been, Brigadoon?’
SheKnows: Have you seen any of the current season of “American Idol?”
Carly Simon:Yes, I sure have.
SheKnows:What do you think about the fact there’s a contestant whose mother named her after you: Carly Smithson?
Carly Simon:I didn’t hear it when she was interviewed on the show, but I heard about it. I also love the girl who sang “You’re So Vain.” Brooke White — I thought she was brilliant. I wish I could sing that song as well as she did.
SheKnows: I think she reminds me a lot of you.
Carly Simon:How so?
SheKnows: The way she embraces each song. She could be on another planet when she’s playing that piano. Much as I’ve seen you do, plus, the whole singer-songwriter thing that goes a little deeper that the usual lot on that show.
Carly Simon:Thank you. Is she still a contender?
SheKnows: Oh, yes, she sure is. She’s made the top five.
Carly Simon:Really! (laughs) Oh, good. When does it all get decided?
SheKnows: Five weeks from now.
Carly Simon:I am so touched at that connection — so touched.
SheKnows: To see so much Carly Simon on “American Idol” this year has been a joy. Maybe it’s time for you to be a mentor next season?
Carly Simon:I would!