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Kiwi girl groups didn't start and end with TrueBliss. LOUISA CLEAVE tracks down two contrasting pop contenders.

In this corner Deep Obsession: blond, ambitious, dressed for success.

In the other Ma-V-Elle: brown, dressed for the street and on a pop mission from God.

Despite apperances, both duos do have quite a bit in common - some early successes, the loss of a third member along the way and albums out in the very same week.

Ma-V-Elle's Angel is their second effort, Deep Obsession's Infinity a debut.


For both bands that means the pairs spending quite a bit of time in their respective record company boardrooms talking about the pop life, why their trios turned into pairs and the inevitable comparisons with the Blissgirls.

It's not the first time I've encountered Ma-V-Elle's Maybelle Galuvao and Lavina Williams.

Three years ago they and the since-departed Marina Davis were still at school. We sat in the music room of James Cook High School in Manurewa and talked about their future. They wanted to conquer the world but they wanted to do it from home, Manukau City.

Ma-V-Elle have grown up and undergone some major changes since, not the least Marina's decision to leave the group. There is no bitterness about the departure - Marina realised God was calling louder than fame and her friends understood.

"We promised each other if someone wanted to leave to do the gospel ministry we wouldn't stop that," Maybelle says. "She had a calling and wanted to do it."

There were the initial concerns about a change in sound - they had relied on the harmonies of three voices - and outsiders presuming that it was all over.

"It made us think 'what's going to happen?' but we did a lot of praying and knew by the end it wasn't the end," Maybelle says.

Talking to Galuvao and Williams three years later, it is pleasantly obvious that some things have not changed. Even if they're in streetwear rather than school uniform.

In that time they've released debut album Spoken To, played in Britain and Europe and performed at seemingly any and every festival from Pasifika to the Christian music bash, the Parachute Festival.

As well, Maybelle married Auckland Warriors league player Joseph Galuvao and gave birth six months ago to daughter Praise.

After some adjusting to Marina's absence and the slowing down brought on by Maybelle's pregnancy, they got down to business producing a "heavier" sound to their new album, says Williams.

"We wanted more drum and bass," she says. "The other album was really tinny, very light, but this one has a more solid feeling."

"The last album wasn't R'n'B because we didn't get a say in it. Now we had our say and [producer Peter Van Gent] took in what we wanted before what he wanted. This album is so us," Maybelle says.

Maybelle and Lavina say they have achieved some of the things we talked about in the music room three years ago.

"Part of our dream has come true and that is to achieve national success. Now we're going for the international sound. This is not just for New Zealand."

A few days later it's pop interview time for Deep Obsession, a task Zara Clark and Vanessa Kelly take seriously. Today they look more like legal secretaries than pop stars. They say it is a conscious decision to dress in "corporate wear" for interviews rather than their skimpy stage costumes so they are taken seriously.

It's a marked contrast to the look of their album cover. Actually, the Deep Obsession of November 1999 is a marked contrast to the band which has already had two No 1 singles - a dancepop cover of Air Supply's Lost in Love and Cold.

Look in the album's fine print and you'll see the name of founder Chris Banks all over it - musician, co-writer of all songs, producer, additional vocalist. The album was assembled when Banks walked.

"Chris had a little monopoly going on Deep Obsession," according to Zara. "Our manager [Steve Booth] and him were making decisions and telling Vanessa and I at the last minute."

They wanted more consensus in the group so called a meeting at their record company, Universal.

"Vanessa and I put our needs forward - that we would like to have our say and could there be more of a consensus. That wasn't really what Chris wanted to happen so he resigned," Clark says. "Some people want to be captain of their ship but that's not really the way we work."

A point of contention was Banks' desire to remain a studio band while they wanted the focus to be on live performance.

The band had started in the studio. Clark joined Banks after answering an advertisement for a singer to work on a demo project at the studios of More FM radio station.

There, they had the ear of the station DJs (and Clark had a secondary job singing advertising jingles) who lapped up their first effort Lost In Love.

A third singer was sought when Clark "wondered how I would cope on stage by myself."

Clark and Kelly share similar backgrounds (and these days the same shade of blonde). Both started their education at Catholic schools and finished it at public high schools - Clark in Whangarei and Kelly in Titirangi, West Auckland.

Kelly went on to study drama, singing and dance for two years in Christchurch before returning to Auckland and working with different bands before joining Deep Obsession.

Clark studied journalism for a year before ditching it in favour of singing and toured Northland with live bands, playing pubs and summer festivals at summer resort towns like Paihia.

Now carrying Deep Obsession on their own slim shoulders, Clark and Kelly say their aim is not to become stars, but to reach people with their lyrics. Even if something might get lost in the translation: having found fame in New Zealand, they are now seeking fortune by bypassing Australia and heading straight for the Japanese market.

As for their television-generated forerunners, Clark says she takes heart from their continued existence.

"I'm so glad they're still alive because it's the kind of industry that eats you up and spits you out."