05/31/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Twelve years after Wilson Phillips split up, Chynna Phillips is ready to give her bandmates their just desserts. As the now reunited pop trio—Phillips, Wendy Wilson and Carnie Wilson—finish gabbing about their husbands, sharing family pictures and picking from each other's plates over lunch at a West Hollywood eatery, Phillips pulls out a bag of organic chocolate-covered raisins, pours them onto a bread plate and passes them around. "You've got to have more," she says as a waitress stops by to offer dessert. "Sorry," Phillips says cheerfully. "We kinda started already."
Make that started over. The easy give-and-take between the lifelong friends is a far cry from the tension that led to the group's 1992 breakup after they topped the charts with songs like "Hold On" and "Release Me." And it's this renewed harmony that explains why they're back with California, a cover album of'60s and '70s pop staples ("songs we grew up and were emotionally connected with," says Wendy) from the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac and both of their parents' famous bands (Wendy, 34, and Carnie, 36, are the daughters of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson; Chynna, 36, is the daughter of the Mamas and the Papas' Michelle and John Phillips). "We had a long break," says Carnie, "but we needed it for sure."
The hiatus allowed each woman to find the kind of love they so frequently sang about. "The three of us come from broken, unstable families," says Phillips, who married actor William Baldwin in 1995 (Carnie wed musician Rob Bonfiglio in 2000, and Wendy married producer and sound engineer Dan Knutson in 2001). "Now there's a feeling of completeness."
That feeling had been foreign to them during the whirlwind success of their self-titled 1990 debut, which sold 8 million copies. They endured five-city-a-day promotional tours and endless media questions about Carnie's weight struggles and Chynna's solo ambitions. "When the planets are aligned, it's great," says Baldwin of the women, "but they also get into catfights and hold grudges, and they decided to go their own ways." After 1992's under-performing Shadows and Light, the group stopped recording.
"I had a lot of sad feelings," says Carnie of the split. " 'What do I do now?' " She found her answer by hosting a daytime talk show from 1995 to 1996 and finally bested her weight troubles by undergoing gastric bypass surgery in 1999. As she dropped 150 lbs. over the next two years, "her personality came out," says Bonfiglio, 36. Carnie also worked with Wendy—who has a son, Leo, 8 months, with husband Knutson, 36, and is five months pregnant with their second child—to mend their strained relationship with dad Brian, 61. In 1997 the family bonded by recording the album The Wilsons. "There's been a lot of healing there," says Carnie, who hopes to start her own family next year.
Phillips was also enjoying life with Baldwin, daughter Jameson, 4, and son Vance, 2. Still, watching as Carnie and Wendy continued performing, she felt a twinge of regret. "I did my own thing, but it was not that great for me," says Phillips, whose 1995 solo album fizzled. "Though it was my choice to take a break, it was like, Oh my gosh, they're singing and I'm not a part of it!"
By 2000 the trio were finally ready for a reunion. "They're best when they're together," says Bonfiglio. They began collaborating on new music but shifted gears last year to do the cover album. Next up is a tour, with Knutson as sound engineer and Bonfiglio as musical director. And this time, the women say they're in it for the long haul. "I can see us when we are all old and gray," says Wendy, "in a dark, smoky bar, all singing together."
Jason Lynch. Cynthia Wang in Los Angeles