“I wanted to make a record with a twist,” says STELLA SOLEIL of her sparkling Universal debut, Dirty Little Secret. “I wanted to prove that you could make a record that concentrated on songcraft but that was still fun, something you could listen to and love and even dance to, but not hate yourself in the morning. I think I did that.”
Recorded in five countries over a two-year span, Dirty Little Secret is packed with pop hooks, dance beats, and the occasional hint of electronica. It’s the ideal record for anyone who thought smart, infectious pop records were a thing of the past.
The lead-off single, “Kiss Kiss,” is a flirty, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head tune that showcases STELLA’s memorable voice as well as her playful side. “That song cracked me up so much when I was recording it,” she remembers. “I had a difficult time blowing the kisses in the chorus, because I would just start to giggle. They actually had to bring in other girls to do it. The producer was so mad!”
For all its lighthearted moments, Dirty Little Secret packs a powerful, sexual charge. STELLA derived inspiration for tracks like “Dance With Me” and the driving, witty “Let’s Go to Bed” from re-reading years’ worth of journals she’d kept since she was a teenager, as well as from a fondness for famed erotica writer Anais Nin. “She’s such a beautiful erotic writer,” STELLA says. “She was writing erotica back when women didn’t do things like that, and that was a model for me.”
Lyrically, Dirty Little Secret draws much of its power from SOLEIL’s own recollections. “I kept all my letters that I never sent, hundreds of them. They became a muse to me. I found myself writing even more of them, love letters to nobody,” she remembers. “And eventually they wound up being songs. After a while, I had so many ideas in my head I started walking around the house with a dictaphone. I’d keep it by my bed because I’d dream melodies, or I’d feel them in the shower. I just tried to keep my muses in my head at all times.”
STELLA spent the past few years in London, chasing down her muse, and putting together the pieces of what would eventually become Dirty Little Secret. “I was totally alone,” she says now. “I wanted to dig deep, and it was a great thing. I can’t even tell you what wonderful things I figured out about life.”
Originally from Chicago but currently dividing her time between New York and Los Angeles, STELLA (born Stella Katsoudas) was a classically trained ballet dancer when she was a teenager. Fate intervened when a band her brother was in needed a lead singer in a hurry. STELLA, who had been weaned on a steady diet of Cocteau Twins and Nine Inch Nails records, dove in and never looked back.
While living in Chicago, STELLA talked venerable recording studio Chicago Traxx into giving her free studio time, which led to a job there. Within short order Stella found herself singing backup on records by acts like Ministry, 16 Volt , Chemlab and others. Stella soon recorded her own 7-song EP, sent out 150 packages to record labels, and got 150 packages sent back. Realizing most record labels would only open packages that looked official, Stella decided to form her own, pseudo record label, though the idea quickly took on a very real life of its own.
“I just wanted to get my tapes past the receptionist!” says STELLA. “I gave myself a fake name and title, Sarah Kaye, Head of A&R, and I recruited my friends as street team members.” STELLA, who had never even played live before, created such a buzz that her first concert, at Chicago’s legendary, 1100 seat Metro, was a sellout. She used the proceeds to form her own real label, Katharsis Records, and to release the first record from her then-project, Sister Soleil. Sister Soleil eventually signed to Universal for 1998’s “Soularium.” After the project ran its course, STELLA remained signed to the label and began work in earnest on “Dirty Little Secret.”
Dirty Little Secret fairly brims with dynamic, intricately layered songs, many of which derive their power from their air of easy intimacy. The singer worked with a series of musical collaborators, as well as a team of producers and executive producers that included record industry legends Thom Panunzio (The Go-Gos, Joan Jett), Brian Rawlings (Enrique Iglesias, Cher), Sweden’s Murlyn Music (David Erickson, Bloodshy), Tony Swain (Bananarama, Allison Moyet).
“I’m not the kind of person who says, ‘this is the way things have to be,’ ” she says. “I collaborate on everything. I went into the studio thinking I needed to put my ego in my back pocket. And I think I wrote some great songs because I wasn’t afraid to listen. When I was younger I thought I needed to know everything, but now I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses. I totally went in open-minded, and beautiful things happened.”
About the gorgeous ballad “You,” STELLA says, “I wrote that in Norway. I literally had the melody and lyrics recorded in my dictaphone. A friend of mine was going through hard times, and I wrote it for him. It felt more like a writing a letter to someone.”
Another standout, “Let’s go to Bed,” was crafted in Sweden with the help of famed producer Bloodshy. “It was very tongue in cheek, very naughty and sexual, but with a sense of humor, which fits my personality. It was a blast doing it, and that’s what I hope people take away from the record, how fun it was to make it.”
“I didn’t do anything on this record that I didn’t want to do,” she says. “My goal was to deliver a genuine and honest record, and I think I did that.”