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Lift-off: Stellar* - Chris van de Geer, Boh RUnga, Kurt Shanks and Andrew Maclaren - set to propel fans into the cosmos

By MATTHEW MCKEW

It was a ride on a downtown Auckland bus that launched a journey of a lifetime, catapulting the line-up of Stellar* into the pop stratosphere.

Andrew Maclaren still remembers that life-changing but modest trip.

There was no limo, no private jet, just a normal commute on a very extraordinary day.

‘‘It was such a huge deal and I remember getting off the bus and I wasn’t even sure it [the deal] would happen, I just felt so excited.

‘‘It’s everything you work towards and then it feels like starting all over again.

‘‘The bus almost went directly to the Sony office and I remember walking home afterwards like I was in a dream.’’

Maclaren’s the man that made it all happen — the drummer had been looking for somebody to join his original band, Amez Amez, in Christchurch when he teamed up with singer Boh Runga.

Stymied in their home town, the pair moved to Auckland to chase their dreams and soon recruited bass guitarist Kurt Shanks.

The trio took their time on recruiting a full-time guitarist, but eventually brought in Chris van de Geer, who already had been involved with several tracks.

It was shortly after that the band decided to turn their back on their early tracks, Maclaren says.

‘‘It was very much the mid-’90s and there were a lot of guitar-based acts, but we wanted to experiment with technology.

‘‘We wanted to combine an electronic effect with the fact that at the core we were still a band.

‘‘I really think there was a frustration with our previous sound, so we drew a line in the sand and said, ‘let’s try something else’, and automatically found an area we were comfortable in … once we did that Sony Music started to notice what we were doing.’’

Maclaren says the hard graft started once they were signed in 1998, and the band refused to stand still and rest on their laurels.

‘‘I think we put our foot down at that point, we were really lucky that the producer who came on board was that other person we really needed to exploit the ideas we wanted to get done.’’

Their first album, Mix, went to number one in New Zealand and was certified five times platinum.

They produced three albums together before splitting, with Maclaren somewhat frustrated by the limits placed on their music by early success and the band reaching a natural conclusion.

‘‘The demos of our second album are nothing like the final sound of it and that’s disappointing, looking back retrospectively, because I think in many ways we compromised where we shouldn’t have.’’

He says the issue is record companies are keen to latch on to a winning formula, but simultaneously pop bands risk being left behind by standing still in a genre that’s ever-changing.

Stellar* parted ways on good terms in 2010 after a victory lap of their favourite songs and they each pursued new projects.

But about three years ago they joined forces for a one-off gig and both their interest and others’ was piqued.

Offers rolled in and they found themselves enjoying each other’s company so much they decided to get back on the road.

Stellar* roll into Queenstown tomorrow to take the 12.45pm slot at the Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert.

‘‘The vibe will be pretty upbeat, we will be on in the heat of the day and are going to have a great time,’’ Maclaren says, going on to hint at a little surprise they’re planning for their fans.

Stellar*, alongside The Jordan Luck Band and Hello Sailor, are late additions to the bill after Aussie acts The Angels, Pseudo Echo and Mi-Sex were forced to cancel because of Covid-19.

Headlining the NZ-only line-up tomorrow are Gin Wigmore and Dragon.

Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert, Gibbston, Saturday, 10.45am till 6.15pm. Tickets from $115 plus booking fee from greenstoneentertainment.co.nz

matthew.mckew@scene.co.nz