Sure, pixie poppers Frogpond attracted respectable crowds, as do the Get Up Kids now, but both faced an uphill climb for hometown acceptance, even as crowds in other cities showered the orphaned outfits with sold-out shows. For the most part, it doesn't pay to be cute and catchy here, given that top live venues such as Davey's Uptown, El Torreon and Niener's specialize in heart-breaking country, bone-breaking hardcore and break-stuff nü metal, respectively. In a state that's virtually named "misery," happiness doesn't always sell. And yet Jade Raven, a group with more perky bounce than a cheerleading squad, managed to win a Best New Band Klammie in 2001. The then-trio became one of the area's top local draws, spray-painting happy faces on the dour walls of mirth-starved clubs and sugar-shocking fans of the angst-ridden bands with which it shared bills.
Jade Raven also attracted more than its share of haters. Drooling misogynists revealed crass fantasies about frontwoman Holly King; macho moshers dismissed Jade Raven as cotton candy, devoid of nutritional value and sickening in large doses; music snobs attacked the simplicity of the group's songs, especially when King unstrapped her guitar, leaving the band bassless while Eric Cornwell assumed ax duties. Yet Jade Raven continued to spread its sunshine, with King winning over more skeptical jocks than Goldie Hawn in Wildcats. The group added another member, Kelly Cook, eliminating one of its critics' favorite harping points and freeing King for more crowd-pleasing choreography. But the addition of Cook, an L7-loving, brick-heavy bassist, steered Jade Raven into rocky terrain. Its recently released EP, Plus One, bristles with previously untapped intensity, replacing peppy guitar leads with meatier stop-and-start progressions. Granted, Jade Raven is still more Josie and the Pussycats than Kittie, but the group wears its new weight well.
While some skeptics accuse Jade Raven of selling out, King says the band's new edge is the result of months of steady sharpening. "We already had an urge to rock out," she explains. "When we added Kelly, she had a lot of influence on our direction."
Jade Raven has been custom-fitting its sets to venues for some time, testing out addictive Plus One tracks such as "Cigarettes" at Niener's, where it plays its next gig on Saturday, May 18, alongside Fatal Candy Machine and Trophy Wives. Moody and anthemic, "Cigarettes" documents King's struggles with the Marlboro man. Its chorus warns, Cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes are bad, and it's easy to imagine the old Jade Raven turning that chant into a cheery, commercial-ready jingle. By contrast, the new group chants the phrase nervously and guiltily between puffs. "I don't want to be a smoker, but there is a time in everyone's life where the man brings you down," King says.
Such times explain the difference in tone between Plus One and its powerpuff predecessor, In the Dark. "It's harder when you're not a kid anymore," King explains. "You have to take responsibility for your own decisions and deal with the consequences." King also draws inspiration from national events, as on "5000," her response to both the September 11 attacks and turbulent relationships. "It's about individuals' using jealousy as a weapon, which creates so many disasters in friendships across the world," she says.
Now that King has begun reflecting on such matters, she admits it can be difficult to get into character for Jade Raven's early works. "I just try to put myself back in the state of mind I was in at that time," she says. "The feelings come back, and I remember why we wrote those songs. It's like looking at a photo book and smiling at the past adventures."