By the time "Un air du folklore Auvergnat" made a minor celebrity out of Stella, her light yé-yé sound had evolved into garage, beat, and psychedelia. RCA Records (she left Vogue for RCA in 1965) hired producer Gerard Hugé to work with Stella on her subsequent singles. "Gerard was listening to a lot of Phil Spector at the time, and we got along because we were on the same wavelength. He was also into the idea of exploring different sounds," Stella said. The ridiculously long-titled single "Si vous connaissez quelque chose de pire qu'un vampire, parlez m'en toujours, ça pourra peut-êre me faire sourire" (If you know something more frightening than a vampire, tell me what it is for it will always make me smile) exemplified Hugé's huge productions and his fondness for sound effects. Hugé also produced records for Pussy Cat, a wonderful French pop singer whom he later married.
As a girl singer with clear-cut ideas for the direction of her sound, Stella often clashed with studio musicians and producers who saw her as no more than a pop puppet. "I had a lot of arguments with people," Stella said. "I always saw myself as a musician, even though most people at that time wanted to be singers- which is completely different in my opinion. I mean, a singer is a musician of course, but singers are usually not very interested in the writing or the musical direction."
Before Stella's first gig at the Paris Olympia, a difference of opinions caused some friction between Stella and her record company. "The label had hired this big orchestra to play behind me, but I didn't want such an orchestra. I wanted to have my band- a bass player, drummer, and guitar player so that we could have a sound that resembled my records. The label didn't want to pay the musicians, so I remember using my paltry royalty fees to pay the musicians myself. But then the label stuck the band behind the curtain, and it ended up just looking like an orchestra with a singer. I really didn't like that. I wanted them to be onstage with me. That caused a major problem."
In the early part of her career, Stella was happy to hand over the reigns to the record company, but things changed as she grew into a more confident, savvy artist. "As a I tried to change and write music that was a bit more serious, things became complicated. I didn't mind keeping the same lyric style, but I was getting tired of the same music. I recorded my last record in 1967, and that record really sounded different- a bit like Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage. But it didn't fit with the record company's vision for me, and that's when I knew it was time. I was playing guitar, flute, piano..... I wanted to be a musician, not a singer. So that's when I stopped. I wasn't even 17 yet, but I just said 'Ok, pfft. Leave it."
She joined a blues-rock band shortly after cutting ties with the pop world, but had a hard time finding gigs. "At the time, a girl playing guitar didn't look serious. So I took up the flute instead- more appropriate for a girl. Ha!" Stella exclaimed. She met her now ex-husband Christian Vander of legendary prog-rock band Magma through some mutual friends, and has been a part of the group ever since. In 1992, she recorded her first solo album as Stella Vander, and released her second album, Le Coeur Allant Vers in the summer of 2004. I haven't heard either albums, but friends say her first record retains her signature cynicism. Le Coeur Allant Vers includes many favorites from Stella's childhood- songs by George Moustaki, The Beatles' "Blackbird" and the Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach collaboration, "God Give Me Strength. "I'm very happy with this new album because I've gotten a good response from everyone that has heard it," Stella said. "It's completely opposite to Magma's "super-strength."
In returning to the subject of her sixties pop career, Stella offered this last comment: "Instead of going to school everyday, I went to Monte Carlo, or Geneva to perform on TV. It was great fun, but as I grew older I began to realize what show business was really made of, and I didn't like what I saw."
"Pop, you know, it's all said in that word."
About the author: Filmmaker Pink Frankenstein began his love affair with French music while working at KALX- Berkeley radio in the early '90s. In 1998, he founded Bardot A Go Go, a dance club in San Francisco with DJs Alec Palao, Brother Grimm and The California Kid. Over the past three years, he has been working on Bardot A Go Go: The Movie- A History Of '60s French Pop. The movie is in the critical fundraising phase and is looking at completion sometime next year. If you would like to make a contribution to the film or find out more information, please visit http://www.bardotagogo.com/.