Talk about your long, strange trips.
Dance-club queen Stacey Q recorded for the Atlantic label during the late '80s and enjoyed Top 10 hits with "Two of Hearts," "We Connect" and "Don't Make a Fool of Yourself." But by 1990, the hits had vaporized, causing enough turbulence for Atlantic and Stacey Q (real last name, Swain) to part ways.
Except for a greatest-hits package released two years ago, the Orange County-bred Stacey Q all but disappeared from the scene. Now she's reemerged with a new album, "Boomerang" (ENo Records), and a supporting tour that includes a local appearance Sunday night at Club Mesa.
The diminutive singer with the girlish voice is no longer making music ripe for the dance floor. Instead, she has put forth very personal songs, in the introspective mold of a Shawn Colvin. The seeds of this transformation were planted several years ago in Nepal, where Stacey Q, now 38, spent six weeks traveling and studying Tibetan
culture. When a friend there showed her a picture of an elderly Tibetan lama, she knew that she had to visit him in India. "I just felt he could pass away at any time," she explained during a recent interview at her Fullerton home. "I felt like I had to see him.
"I don't know, I guess I am as trippy as some people think I am. But sometimes you have to follow your heart wherever it takes you. Let me tell you, my experience there was an eye-opening one too."
Stacey Q began practicing Buddhism, and she says drupchens--the intensive meditations held to celebrate the new year--helped her find a spiritual base. And the lessons bestowed by the now-deceased lama, or spiritual teacher, have given her new strength and self-confidence.
"Meditating definitely has a purifying effect and helps me stay centered," Stacey Q said. "It really helps me lessen my fears and focus on humanity and healing. Slowly, one's spirituality manifests itself in our everyday life . . . sometimes to the point where I say, 'Yes, I see things quite clearly now.' "
This spirituality weaves its way through "Boomerang," in such songs as "Clear Light," "All I Ever Wanted," "Never Stop" and particularly "Tara." Songs written by George Harrison, Janis Ian and Sam Phillips, among others, round out the album.
"When I listen to the new record, I hear my teachers talking to me about compassion, love and kindness," she offered. "I'm still learning to be a good Buddhist, to bring such enlightened principles into my life as a whole. This record is a first big step for me."
She added that it's an album that Atlantic would have never backed. After three moderately successful albums for the label from 1986 to 1989, including her gold-selling debut, she left disheartened and remains somewhat bitter.
"Because it was popular at the time, they wanted me to be this sultry dance diva. It was stifling. . . . There simply was no room for growth or change.
"You know what you're comfortable with, and if something's keeping you up at night, it's best to try getting away from it. So that's what I did."
But Stacey Q admits she was part of the problem too. "I would fight them a lot and needed to mature as a person," she said.
Despite battles over the direction of her career, Stacey Q holds fond memories. A key player on the Orange County rock scene of the '80s with her first band, SSQ, and later as a solo act, she recorded at the now-defunct Casbah studios in Fullerton. She says she cherishes time spent hanging out there with members of the Adolescents, Berlin and Social Distortion.
"It was such a unique period in music, when punk was raging and dance music was starting to catch hold," she recalled. "I was very close to some of the producers at the Casbah, like Eddie Subtitle [Adolescents] and the late 'Chaz' Ramirez [Social Distortion]. In fact, I dedicated this new album to Chaz. He really helped make some of these bands succeed. As time goes by, you realize how precious it all was."
Stacey Q is determined to see where "a more organic approach" to music will take her. Instead of dance-oriented sequencers, synthesizers, loops and other gadgetry, expect a scaled-down instrumental attack from her seven-member band.
"We're only using keyboards, guitars, bass, drums and vocals," she said. "Actually, we're just a plain old rock band these days. I'm not saying there won't be any dancing, but it will be powered by humans, not machines."
* Stacey Q performs Sunday night at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. $8. (714) 642-6634.