Maria co-founded the group along with Myriam Valle and Diana Grasselli. Together they released two amazing records, the self-titled debut and the follow-up Runners in the Night. As a fan from day one, it was a thrill to talk to Maria recently about the re-issue of these records, re-mastered and on CD, as well as a bit about her subsequent solo career. Time restraints prevented all the many things this lady has done so a follow-up is definitely in order. In the meantime, however, here's one of my most enjoyable conversations of recent memory. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Maria Vidal:
antiMusic: In early '79, I was at a record store and just then a worker was putting out a bunch of new albums on a shelf. I saw some (laughs) interesting looking ladies on the cover and I thought, I'll have to investigate this. I picked up the record and I don't want to embarrass you but my eyes kept going to the left. (laughs) They must have used it as an in-store player or something because the record was open. The liner notes fell out and I'm always a rat for those kind of things. I saw Paul Stanley's name on there.
I was a big KISS fan so I was really intrigued and I thought there was no way I could pass up this record even though I had not heard anything. I brought it home and let's just say that after I heard "Lazy Love" and "Main Man", I was in love. So it's an absolute pleasure to speak with you. I'm so excited about the re-issues on CD of the first two Desmond Child and Rouge records because these are two of the most important ones in my collection. They are definitely desert island discs.
Maria: Ah, that was so sweet. My god. That was so sweet.
antiMusic: I guess to start, were you a musical kid --- music lessons and all that?
Maria: Well, I was a musical kid. My parents didn't really know what to do with me about that. We lived all over the world because my dad was in the Air Force. So every two or three years, we moved. I always wanted to take piano lessons and ballet lessons and things like that. And my parents were like, "Well, that's nice but it's not what we're going to promote in your life." (laughs)
They danced all the time. They were always dancing. My dad was an audiophile from early on. We had reel to reel tape recorders with beautiful old Cuban songs and big band records and stuff. So there was always music around. They were always dancing together. So it was a musical family in that respect. I was the one who was always singing and doing little shows and things. But I wasn't formally trained as a kid or anything like that.
antiMusic: You first met Desmond in school. Was it love at first sight?
Maria: Huh. What a question. (long pause) I would say that maybe it was in many ways....you know how it is when you're young. When we talk about love at first sight the way we do, it was on many levels. I remember going into the theatre at the school and there was a piano in the middle of the stage for some reason. And there was a light on it and there was this guy there singing. And it was him. I was so mesmerized by that. So it was love at first because of that and also as a person later. So it's multi-layered.
antiMusic: How did you begin to make music together? Were you doing his songs at that time or were you singing covers?
Maria: We were in college. I was studying acting. I don't know how he remembers it but school was out and we decided to put something together. He was singing and writing songs and putting together something for him to sing and me to sing while this school break was happening. We ended up making this really amazing thing with our friends Diana Grasselli and Myriam Valle and we started playing around. But it turned into something that we didn't know it was going to turn into.
And it was always Desmond's songs. I mean he's really, really incredible. He always has been and he always writes from the heart and from his life experiences. It was magical, I have to say. And it turned into something. I quit school and we just started playing and developing it, little by little. More and more. Playing in all kinds of clubs and places. I had two jobs and we were just doing that New York thing of being young and "Going to make it" kind of thing.
We loved the same kind of music --- Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell. All those background vocals....I don't know if you know those albums....even the Supremes, if you think about Motown, the background vocals are as important as the main melody of the song. That's something that's always lived in my heart and all of our hearts really. We actually became a vocal group. We didn't have money to pay musicians really so we just fleshed out the sound with our voices and it became this thing. We didn't know that we were going to love it or that it would sound so great. It just sort of happened to us.
antiMusic: How did you meet Myriam and Diana?
Maria: Desmond knew Myriam already from their time when they were teenagers in a place in upstate New York. Diana had gone to school with Desmond and I. We three met at the same time actually. Then when we met Myriam, it was love at first sight. All of us had love at first sight actually when I really think of it. And we still do. We're really, really close...all of us still...after many years of not really continuing working together and everybody doing different things. We're all still in love with each other.
antiMusic: Your shows in the clubs were creating a lot of buzz and drawing a lot of celebrities. Was the first record out then or was this prior to the first record?
Maria: Prior to the first record.
antiMusic: Tell us about putting together the first record. The vocal harmonies and arrangements are what really drew me into the songs. Things like harmonies on "Our Love is Insane", the bridge on "Lovin' Your Love" and "West Side Pow Wow" and even later on Runners in the Night with "Goodbye Baby" were just amazing, as well as moments like the line in "My Heart's On Fire" "and the pennies fly" with your vocals just rippling like water and that amazing harmony just before the guitar solo.
Maria: Yes!! You really know the songs. You really know the songs, Morley.
antiMusic: I LOVE the songs Maria. Did you have a particular process in putting together the vocals?
Maria: Well, I don't know what Desmond would say about it but honestly when you're doing something like that, it springs from inspiration. It really does. Also, if you have an idea of what you want to hear, to be able to execute it. So you have the inspiration, the feeling inside of your stomach and your ear. It just feels right to you and then you're able to execute it.
And then the thing about us three girls is that we can all sing really high and need to go high a little bit. So there's a lot of flexibility and elasticity in the vocals. They're gymnastics that we do sometimes....cuz it feels right. Because it fits it. It feels right. It has the right groove. Sometimes it's to give rhythm to something. It's very girl group too. You answer something. There's a sassiness to it. And there's just a real pleasure of singing together.
We would be in this little apartment on 81st St and this little bar piano was stuck where there had been shelves or something. Desmond would be at the piano with his back to us and we'd be in the back and just coming up with parts. My memory of coming up with those parts is very much attached to that 81st St apartment and us being in a certain configuration.
We were always around the piano when we were coming up with the harmonies. Sometimes we would just stick to one harmony. Let's say I would sing the bottom. Myriam would be in the middle and Diana would be at the top and we'd do that for the entire song through, especially on stage of course. But then when we got in the studio, we'd double the parts. We do all the parts and double it to create a thicker sound. Then Desmond's voice on top of it would be this real back and forth between us and him. So it's a process how you come up with these things.
You know, it's so funny. I haven't done that many interviews. Desmond has done a lot of interviews in the last few years. He's gone out to be Desmond Child, writer of all these huge songs and he's gone out to express himself that way. He put a show together and he's out there.
This thing that we're doing with Desmond Child and Rouge is a little bit different. You know, we were short-lived and we didn't live as a band for a very long time. But so much happened to us in that short period of time. And this was also at an amazing juncture of music in New York in 1979. There was disco, punk, rock, Latin, pop...there was everything.
We were real young and rather naive. We had a record company in Capitol who didn't quite understand what we were doing. I hate to use that term, "ahead of its time" because I don't believe in that but I do think we were an amalgam of so many different ideas and ways of expressing ourselves musically. We rolled ourselves up into two records of different styles that came out in the same year.
We were understood by people like you. We were kind of cult-y. Nobody could put us in a bag. And in those days, I don't think Capitol knew what to do about that, So they put us on the shelf as like a disco act, which it wasn't quite. It also wasn't a rock album. Now I look at it and it's something that I really value what that music was. I didn't listen to it for a really long time and I put those records on a couple of years ago and I was kind of blown away. I thought it was really interesting.
I don't know if Desmond told you but he had a dream a few years ago. Did he tell you about his dream?
Maria: He's kind of mystical in this way. He dreamt that Desmond Child and Rouge was going to make music together again. We all kind of convened in New York and we started talking about it and how we'd go about doing it. And if we wanted to do it and all that kind of stuff. We started gathering material. But everybody lives in different places and everybody is busy doing stuff so it sort of was a slow go but we started putting some songs together and it's turned into something really interesting to me. I really thought it would be great for us to have stuff out there. A website so people would know who Desmond Child and Rouge was and who we can still be. But who we can be in a different way. I don't know that we're going to go out on tour as the people that we are today. I don't know that we're going to be doing all that kind of stuff. But I do know that we're going to be putting music out through the Desmond Child and Rouge prism.
Before you called, I just wanted to listen to the new song. I call it XX, the remake of "Our Love is Insane", And you know, that was all done with me in LA, Diana in Minneapolis. Myriam upstate. and Desmond in Nashville. All done during COVID. It sounds great to me. Have you listened to it?
antiMusic: I have and that was the amazing thing to me that everybody sounds like...it came from that same time period. Just fresher. And in fact, Diana is hitting higher notes.
Maria: Yes, that's the thing. I think it sounds really good. I have all the confidence in the world. It's not like people who have lost their bloom. It's real exciting. I've already produced two of the songs for it and they're just waiting in the wings. So we're gonna drop some new music. We're gonna do some stuff.
The other thing is today we all have phones. We all take pictures of everything....what we eat, our jobs...everything we do (laughs). But in those days, of course, personally we didn't really do that. We took a snapshot occasionally. However we have a friend Ciro Barbaro. He's an Italian photographer in New York. He sort of became the fifth member of Desmond Child and Rouge because as a band, we did picture after picture. He had a loft there with a dark room and it was all just fun like nobody's business.
So a few years ago he came to LA and we went into this big storage unit where he had all these negatives and we went looking for pictures of us. So of course we uncovered a whole bunch of these fantastic pictures. We've been working on Instagram with that. And looking back at all these things, it really feels like today. It feels so fresh. It feels like a continuum. It's not like way back when and now. It's just like one big thing. So it makes me excited to keep this thing going, I have to say...to whatever it has to be. I don't know what it's going to turn out to be.
I would love to see the new remake of "Our Love is Insane" go on play lists somewhere for young people to discover it. It could happen. (laughs)
antiMusic: Desmond told me about the new songs and said that yours was an opus.
Maria: Yeah, we've got the new songs. Myriam is singing one and I'm singing the other one. Desmond has one as well but he has to finish his vocal. I'm just excited because it's a project that's going to go on. It's just one long love affair that's going on with Desmond Child and Rouge.
antiMusic: How did you decide who sang lead on the different songs? Was there any competition for particular songs, in particular on the first record since you had two lead vocals and you were Desmond's girlfriend?
Maria: Huh. I never saw it that way. You know, I don't have a good recollection of that being something like, "No I get to sing this. You get to sing that." We didn't have any of that. Certain songs just fit certain voices. When you hear Myriam sing "The Night Was Not" or "Lovin' Your Love", she just makes the most of it. She has an amazing voice and she's actually kind of the glue between me and Diana. Diana has a really, really high voice. So in choosing songs....not that Myriam couldn't do it or I couldn't do it but it would just have a different quality so I think each choice was pretty natural. So no there was never really any jostling or anything like that. And maybe the reason was that they were cast properly, it seems to me. And also there's so much singing on each song that we're all involved in it. And we are a vocal group. That's ultimately what we are.
antiMusic: Tell us about hearing your single "Our Love is Insane" on the radio for the first time.
Maria: You know, I don't remember. But it's funny, that guy John Luongo did a dance remix of it. They were playing it at Studio 54 and all over. We heard that they were playing it at Studio 54 and so we went for the first time there and they wouldn't let us in. (laughs) They were playing our song but they wouldn't let us in to hear it. (laughs) That was pretty funny. And then later on when they knew what was going on, the golden cord got opened up and we got in. So I remember going but there was a lot going on in the city at the time of course.
New York is spectacular! You know when you hear people talking about movies and things, things like Moonstruck or even things out now like The Undoing , it's set in New York. But New York is a character there. It's one of the characters of the film because it presents so much possibility. And that's how it fit into Desmond Child and Rouge. We are New York all the way. New York is enmeshed in our blood. We're really what the lyrics are about. And it's the congas and the beats in "West Side Pow Wow" and "City in Heat" and any of those things. They're very street.
antiMusic: Of course, my two favorite songs on the record are "Main Man" and "Lazy Love". First "Main Man". It's such a warm vocal. Tell us about memories of first hearing this one and putting it on record.
Maria: Let me just think. In those days, Desmond would be at home writing and I had different jobs during the day. And I would come up the stairs and he would be playing the thing that had happened that day, whatever that was. I seem to remember when "Main Man" happened ...you know, there's such a tenderness to that song and such a feeling in there, it probably had something to do with our relationship. But we didn't talk about it in that way. It just kind of melted into like...this is a song and this is what's going to happen here. And how we were going to do it.
We had an amazing string arranger Charlie Caletto and that was epic, being in the studio and watching the string sessions go down with him. And just being in the studios. You know we worked in huge, beautiful recording studios...Media Sound on 57th St. It used to be a big church and they made it into this recording studio and lots of people made their records there. So you're young and you're in this amazing place, making a record. It's pretty great, I have to say!! (laughs) And then like anything you do, there's refinements. You sing it over and over.
And it's funny, my mom and dad ended up living in this little town near the everglades, south of Miami. I would go home for Christmas or something. This local singer loved this song so much. I remember going to a little club down there and she sang "Main Man" and it was really sweet.
antiMusic: "Lazy Love" has just such a wonderfully (appropriately enough) relaxed vocal.
Maria: Very relaxed!!! A little too relaxed, Morley!!! (laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) Anything you can tell us about recording this one?
Maria: Nope, nope, nope. (laughs) And at that tine, the whole blue-eyed soul was happening and that has a certain feeling to it. I don't remember how that song happened but I remember singing it on stage and it always evoked a big response. And I'm very surprised by that actually. I don't know what to say. (laughs)
antiMusic: What did you do to celebrate once the first record hit the shelves?
Maria: Hmmm. That's a good question. These are very good questions that you're asking. Well, one of the things that we did was a tour around the U.S. in major cities. One of the things that I remember very distinctly is we came to this place called Los Angeles, you know and that was really very far away and it was exciting. We were playing at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Boulevard and on the side of the building they would paint the album cover of whoever was coming to play the club. It wasn't like a poster. They would actually paint it. And I remember seeing that for the first time, driving on Sunset Boulevard and seeing our record cover on the side of this big building. We went in to do sound check and I was just amazed by that, at this famous place. That really got to me, I have to say.
And also all the shows we played....like Tulsa, Oklahoma and New Orleans. We were all over the place. We played Boston, Philly...big clubs, littler clubs and that really impressed itself on me. That was the first tour I had ever done...with us. We were like a little family and it was just all really exciting.
Yeah, there were things. Some guys would try to grab me from the stage and the guitar player would bash the guy over the head. There were a lot of things that happened. But we started writing and recording the second album almost right away. We did release both records in the same year, 1979. So there wasn't much time to dwell on one thing. We were always moving onto the next stage.
antiMusic: Runners in the Night came out six months after the first and had a slightly different feel with a slightly beefier guitar sound. Tell us about the decision to punch up the material --- was this from the group or a record company direction?
Maria: Well, a lot of things had happened in the group. My relationship with Desmond changed and different songs started happening because of that. Like I said, everything has been really confessional. What was really going on in the records was what was really going on and coming out in the records or whatever poetic or musical form it came out in. Otti really did exist in our lives. So did Rosa.
I love that album. I think that album is really, really beautiful. Very real. So a lot of things were happening around then. When you're on stage, there's a sound that happens that's different from when you're in the studio. So we did have two guitar players and an amazing drummer. We did sing our asses off onstage. So it did become more guitar-oriented and more rock-oriented but I think that was just the nature of what was starting to happen to us. I don't know how that would have morphed if we can continued making records after that. But I do think that at different stages that different musical influences we had would come out and that's what was happening at that time.
antiMusic: This record has your songwriting debut, "Goodbye Baby". Was this a letter to Desmond?
Maria: Umm. Could have been. But it was something that we did together. (long pause) Yeah, it could have been. (laughs) You know, being in a band is what's going on. Everything you do leaks into everything you do (laughs). There's a flavor or a taste of something in the songs that run through. There was high emotion during the making of that album, Really, really high emotion where everything is...you just feel everything. It's really real. And as we all know, when you're very young, the first time you're experiencing anything is always the most amazing.
So that's the nature of this band that we were really young. We did do this for the first time. We were in an unbelievable state of mind and in an unbelievable city. We all had these inter-relationships with each other, our managers, the record company, the producer Richard Landis, all the musicians.
I mean, Aerosmith was recording upstairs at Media Sound and they asked Rouge to come up and sing background parts on one of their songs. We, as Rouge, were invited to sing on a lot of records so during the day when we weren't making an album, we'd be out doing sessions. Then come home. Take a bath. Eat a little something and then go to the Winter Garden Theater and do the Gilda Radner show on Broadway. So we had this life of a revolving cornucopia of stuff that we were doing.
antiMusic: I wish we had time to talk about everything but you did a solo record and then had great success with "Body Rock". Going from "Body Rock", I was totally not expecting Living in Radical Radiance . This was a surprise in the most pleasant way ever. I absolutely love this record.
Maria: Really? Wow.
antiMusic: I know there had been a few years in-between but what led to his amazing departure in styles from your debut solo record.
Maria: Well, I wrote all of these songs on Living in Radical Radiance by myself. My songwriting partner was Robbie Seidman with whom I wrote, "Summer Rain" and then I wrote "A Woman and a Man" for Belinda Carlisle. They were songs that I had written for myself to do, actually and I ended up giving them to Belinda. So Robbie and I were just writing a bunch of stuff. I was writing with him at the time I did "Body Rock" and I was making an album on EMI with Jellybean Benitez as the producer. Then the record company came to me and said, "Look we've got this song for this movie and we want you to sing it." Phil Ramone was producing it.
So I thought, "Ok, I'll just do this little departure and then I'll get back to making the rest of my record." But it became big and they sent me to Europe and I did this amazing tour. All of these television shows like Top of the Pops in Britain and others in Germany and Italy. Then I was at this dinner, I think it was in Germany, with all the guys from EMI and one of the guys just whispered in my ear as we were eating, "You know, it's unfortunate that you were just dropped." It was like, "What???" So I had half of an album done and I needed to shift gears so I went on to have an album released by A&M. That was with Jimmy Iovine. And "Do Me Right", which Desmond wrote for me to sing...I don't know if you've heard that.
antiMusic: Of course. I have that record, Maria.
Maria: OK good. So you know everything. (laughs) I don't know why you're even asking me any questions (laughs). So all of that stuff happened. And then I took a really big break. I just started writing songs for myself. I didn't really think that anybody was going to listen to that album, Living in Radical Radiance , to tell you the truth. It's just something I did in my little home studio. It's very arty and just what I was thinking about. My friend, Robbie had passed away and I was sad about that. So it was just a very personal, poetry album kind of.
I'm so happy that you know about it. Really. It touches me. Because I didn't even think people would know about that.
antiMusic: OMG, I love every single song on there. Literally. I'm not just blowing smoke. But my favorite song is "Firefly", I love the way the guitars come in at the end. I was wishing there was an alternate hard rock version cuz it just lends itself to that perfectly.
Maria: It does. You're right. That's Dave Dale who did all those guitars. He's fantastic.
antiMusic: Tell us about writing this one.
Maria: Well, let me see. I was in Vermont and I had been there for a little bit of the summer. We don't have fireflies in California. And I've been living here for along time now. But I remember growing up with fireflies and those humid, gloomy kind of summer days. I was sitting in this old farm house that we had rented and I had my guitar and I just wrote the whole thing right there in a second. Then when I came home, Dave was my engineer and he is a great guitar player. I played guitar on there as well, since I wrote it on guitar. I said, "Let's just play. Let's just do it." I love that song too, I have to say. It's probably my favorite song on the record. I'm glad that you like it too. That's really nice.
antiMusic: The title track is just amazing. What do you mean by living in radical radiance?
Maria: When you do any kind of spiritual work or meditation or anything like that, there is a concept of spiritual radiance where you're really in touch with something. So I just like the concept of radical radiance where you're really, radically and totally immersed in that feeling of something sublime kind of. You can think of that sublime thing in any way you'd like. Living in that kind of sublime feeling is what I'm always after.
antiMusic: We could talk about every song here but I guess the other song that stands out to me on here is "Love Hunts". there's just such a great vibe on here and I love the way that you say "Love teaches you, taunts you. Works you over in an alley when you think you're only walking home."
Maria: Well, that lyric is written with my friend Lori who is not a songwriter but she wrote the beginnings of this kind of poem and I just said, "Let me write a song to that." And I fleshed it out lyrically. But it does have a very intense feeling and it really does grab you by the throat. And I have been grabbed like that and taken down and brought back up. It's the passion of being alive, really. It's the passion of that thing we call love that is really intense.
If you're just doing it tepid, in kind of a warm way, it's not quite the same as feeling things in a fiery hot way. It doesn't mean that there's no place for that quality in life but I think that things that impress us all are a little bit more intense than that.
antiMusic: Any plans for more solo material?
Maria: You know what? I do. I have about seven or eight songs that I'm kind of finished with but I have to decide what I'm going to do with them. And where I'm going to turn my gaze. At the moment, my gaze is really on Desmond Child and Rouge visually and musically so I'm sort of doing these things in stages. I do have these songs ready to go actually but how do I put them out? In what way? Where do I dwell is really what I have to decide. But I think I'm just going to continue to work on Desmond Child and Rouge and getting people to hear the new song and other new songs..
antiMusic: That's great. Well, we're at the end. I don't want to keep you any longer. I could talk to you literally all night but I guess we'll leave it with, how does it feel to be honored in one of the most popular songs in history as Gina of "Livin' On a Prayer"?
Maria: (laughs) Well, as I said, he really does write from his life. It doesn't surprise me that I spring up somewhere. It is kind of cool. I mean, it's not new to me but it is interesting that he's talking about it. And Jon has his story about it too. But they came together and wrote that unbelievable song. I mean, un-believe-able song, in my opinion anyway. I love it so much. And yeah, it's cool. What can I say? But it's the truth. The truth never surprises anybody.
Morley and antiMusic thank Maria for taking the time to do this interview.
Purchase Desmond Child and Rouge CD here
Purchase Desmond Child and Rouge - Runners in the Night CD here
Visit the official website here