O.C.'S BARDEUX : Dance Duo Steps Out of the Shadows
In the beginning, Bardeux was a musical marketing concept in search of a comely embodiment.
The concept belonged to Jon St. James, the Orange County record producer best known for his work with Stacey Q.
St. James’ thinking wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but events have proven it sound: if you could find a couple of stylish, sexy-looking young women, give them a peppy dance rhythm to shake and shimmy to and some light, catchy melodies to sing--well, the idea had sales potential.
Last year, Bardeux’s debut album, “Bold As Love,” produced one Top 40 hit, “When We Kiss.” Two other singles from the album did well on the dance charts. Now “I Love to Bass,” the first single from Bardeux’s new album, “Shangri La,” is moving up both the pop and black music charts.
Concept vindicated. But concept-embodier a little resentful--at least when it comes to the less-than-respectful reception Bardeux gets from some beholders in the music press.
“The resentment’s there only when people come up to me and give me ignorance,” said Stacy Smith, a former Cal State Fullerton political science major who is better known to Bardeux fans as Acacia, the fair-haired half of the concept. “Don’t try to treat me like some kind of bimbo, ‘cause I’m not.”
In fact, Smith came off sounding intelligent and self-possessed as she spoke on the phone last week from St. James’ studio in La Habra. She and her new singing partner, Melanie Taylor, had been preparing for a Bardeux blitz that included shooting a promotional video for “I Love to Bass,” and a national tour that begins Thursday night at Carnivale, a dance club in Smith’s hometown of Fullerton (the tour has Bardeux headlining a bill of Enigma Records acts that also includes Japanese singer Hiroko and April Wayne, a swimsuit model whose first record is being produced by St. James).
“If you’re a good-looking girl to begin with, you’re going to be dealing with that your whole life,” Smith said of the “bimbo” stigma. In Bardeux’s case, any such stigma would seem to be amplified by the fact that the concept calls for the duo not only to look good, but to sing songs that typically emphasize a kittenish, dance-floor seductiveness.
But even that quality deserves some respect, Smith said. “As far as being sexy, that has to come from within. You can’t just put that on.”
Smith points out that she has her share of creative input as lyricist and takes an active role in promoting Bardeux’s business interests. It’s not a case, she insists, of a pair of passive pop starlets having their career orchestrated by a producer-as-Svengali.
“There are so many girls out there who are producer puppets. They want to lump Bardeux in that. But a producer can only do so much. When you get up on stage, there’s nobody holding your hand up there and if you can’t carry your own weight, you’re going to sink.”
Smith, 24, was carrying breakfast trays at Coco’s restaurant in Brea when St. James, one of the regulars, decided that his waitress had the look and personality to make her Bardeux material.
“When he finally asked me if I could sing, I didn’t know who he was,” recalled Smith, who is now St. James’ girlfriend as well as his musical collaborator. “Who was this slimy guy saying he would make me a star? I took two friends to the audition as chaperones. I wasn’t going to go by myself until I found out he was legitimate.”
Until that point, Smith’s only pop-music experience had come as singer in “a really terrible garage band” that never had performed publicly.
“It was always a fantasy-type thing for me to think about being in the music business,” she said. “But I never took it seriously enough until the opportunity landed in my lap. It’s something I probably wouldn’t have knocked myself out to get,” she admitted. But, she says, opportunity brought with it a determination to work hard.
Smith’s first partner in Bardeux, Jaz, was recruited on the strength of a demo tape. The singers had a similar vocal quality: the thin, girlish tone that has marked most female dance-pop generated in Madonna’s wake.
Early this year, Smith says, Jaz decided that she would rather have more time for a personal life than keep up Bardeux’s pace as dance-pop careerists. Smith found her replacement singing in one of the rock-oldies revues at the Hop in Fountain Valley.
“I noticed Melanie in the show. I was really impressed that night after night, although she was doing the same show, she had a smile on her face,” Smith said. “She had a conviction about the business.” Taylor, 26, also had a good, breathy-but-full-bodied singing voice, somewhat like Diana Ross’. It enabled Bardeux to achieve more vocal contrast on “Shangri La” and to explore funkier, R&B-oriented; material. Smith thinks the fact that Bardeux is now an interracial duo may have helped it to get its first play on black radio formats.
“I don’t think that on my own, a middle-class (white) girl from Orange County would have been accepted on the black charts,” she said. “But (choosing Taylor) was never a question of was she black or was she white. I just hit it off with her and she was the best qualified.”
The songs on “Shangri La” offer a surface sheen of catchiness and an energetic dance pulse, but the themes and lyrics are tried-and-true love-and-lust stuff that shows little individuality or depth. So far, Bardeux remains more a commercial concept than a vehicle for interesting or meaningful expression.
“I have a stack of notebooks with lyrics,” Smith said. “I have lots of songs that have nothing to do with ‘Honey, kiss me’ or ‘Let’s go out and dance.’ But right now I’m doing pop music. If they want to buy something serious, let them get that from Tracy Chapman. I don’t think they want to hear that from Bardeux. I think I’ve written a really good song about child abuse, and another about pollution and apathy, but these are things I don’t think are right for this particular project.”
One thing that Bardeux would like to change is the fact that its shows--including the coming date at Carnivale--are sung to prerecorded music rather than with live accompaniment. These “track shows,” in which the use of backing tracks renders the supposedly live singing suspect as well, are common in dance-pop circles.
“You don’t get to ad lib the way a true live performance would be,” Smith said. “That’s something Melanie and I look forward to doing. The live situation is always the best and we’re working toward that. At this point it’s more cost-effective to do track shows. It would be wonderful to have a band.”
Smith says her transformation from a college student waiting on tables between classes to a dance-club glamour object has not drastically changed her material circumstances. She still lives at home with her parents in Fullerton when Bardeux isn’t on the road.
“To dispel any myth that you’re making millions as soon as you’re on the radio, I did buy myself a new car on the first album (earnings), but I’m not exactly rolling in dough,” she said. “My parents are still very helpful when I need it. I’m waiting for the big check.”
Bardeux, Hiroko and April Wayne play Thursday night at 10 at Carnivale, 1401 S. Lemon St., Fullerton. Tickets: $8. Information: (714) 441-1666.