Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Crafting the Perfect Album: Inside Jade Starling's Captive

photo by Gretchen Johnson Photography

Very few artists are ever fortunate enough to record a perfect song, but Jade Starling did it.

In 1987, Starling and her group Pretty Poison hit #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Catch Me (I'm Falling),” one of the brightest moments in a decade full of incredible Pop music. The song (as well as its accompanying video) was inescapable that year, and appearances on TV and a spot on the soundtrack to the John Cryer film Hiding Out helped bring the song to #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. And as fans of Breaking Bad know, the song still has a strong place in popular culture.

Now, the voice of one of the world's most revered tracks is back with Captive (Subpoena/Universal), her amazing EDM-driven solo debut. Due out August 12 and created with longtime musical partner/Pretty Poison bandmate Whey Cooler, Captive finds Starling working with some of the world's greatest DJs and remixers, including Lee Dagger of the hugely successful English remix team Bimbo Jones (Lady Gaga/Rihanna/Kylie Minogue), Laszlo (Selena Gomez/Kelly Clarkson/Justin Bieber/Nicki Minaj) and Franck Dona (Universal France). In addition to stellar tunes, Captive features stunning cover art and other photos taken at the Eastern State Penitentiary (including the actual cell that once housed infamous mobster Al Capone) by Gretchen Johnson Photography. A true labor of love and easily the best Dance album of 2014, Captive took close to two years to complete.

Captive's first single, “Insomniak,” entered the Top 30 Billboard Dance Chart; the followup, “Think About U,” was released on July 18. As soon as the first notes of these or any other song on Captive meet your ears, it will be obvious to you that Starling is making music that is relevant today.

I think the Captive LP really runs the gamut of sounding new,” she explains. “I guess you could classify it more in the EDM genre, but there is a lot of ear candy on there; there's a lot of great hooks and great songs. Some are about love, some are about breaking up and some are about frustrations and – after so many months of making the album – just wanting to get away.”

The theme of “getting away” is especially evident on the “Place In The Sun,” which was written during one of the coldest east coast winters in history.

It just got to the point when I wrote that song, I was feeling like I needed a vacation really bad,” she shares. “I just needed to see the sun; I hadn't seen it in months.”

Starling conceptualized another Captive highlight, “Love Of A Lifetime,” after witnessing what some friends who had loved ones serving overseas were going through.

Love is such a universal thing,” she observes. “I think for anybody who has had to deal with a loved one going away for any great length of time – not necessarily [with the] military, but whatever the case will be – “Love Of A Lifetime” will really touch [you] and tug at your heartstrings. It's a very beautiful song.”

Love takes a darker turn on “Every Lil Beat,” which finds Starling channeling the painful side of romance.

'Every Lil Beat' is about loving someone so much that it's like an addiction,” she says. “As you know, addiction can be detrimental. It's like any drug; if you're craving love from this person all the time, it becomes almost like an obsession. [The song] was about just the pain that you feel when you love someone so much, but you know it's not good for you.

I think being hurt and having your heart broken are necessary in life, because it opens you up and makes you more aware,” she adds. “Some people are afraid to feel pain or any type of emotion. I think feeling pain, feeling hurt and feeling love and any kind of emotion has made me a much better songwriter. I think when you dip into the deep-rooted emotions, that's what touches people and what makes them feel what you're feeling when you're singing it.”

On a much lighter note, “Better And Better” is about pure animal attraction to another person – and the hunt that ensues.

That's a sexy song,” Starling says. “If you go to a club or a concert or whatever, you see somebody and just put your sights on them and want them so bad.”

Although Starling and Cooler already had a proven track record under the Pretty Poison moniker, they decided to release Captive as a Jade Starling solo album.

[Cooler] felt strongly about putting this record out as my solo record,” she recalls. “He is as equally a part of it as any Pretty Poison record – he's a co-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist on this record – but in order to get this out to a newer audience and have it be successful internationally, he felt it was best to put it out under my name. Since we're working with outside international DJs, remixes and producers, it has a much more international sound to it. I don't think the hardcore Pretty Poison fans will be disappointed at all, but I believe there is a new audience out there too that is totally ready for this record.”

It would be a mistake to refer to Captive as Starling's “comeback,” as she never really went away. For the past several years, she has performed (often as “Pretty Poison” or “Pretty Poison Featuring Jade Starling”) as part of the Freestyle Explosion Tour, an ongoing arena package that also boasts regular appearances by the likes of Lisa Lisa, Expose and Stevie B. The events draw crowds in the thousands.

There's a hardcore following for Freestyle music; there always has been,” offers Starling, who is currently the only artist on the tour to have new music available. “Now, those kids who followed us in the late '80s through the '90s until now are bringing their kids to the show. There's another generation that's into it. It's so phenomenal to see these people just screaming and dancing, and they know all the words. It's an amazing feeling [to] play on a stage for a crowd that large.”

photo by Gretchen Johnson Photography

Captive is the latest chapter in an intriguing career that has seen Starling and Cooler explore a variety of genres. Much closer to Siouxsie And The Banshees than to Stacey Q, the earliest incarnation of Pretty Poison was a Goth-tinged New Wave act that offered arresting originals (“Kill You”) in addition to an amazing cover of “No Tears” by San Francisco/European cult act Tuxedomoon.

I just liked the darkness of that song,” says Starling of the track. “It was dark, hypnotic and had a really good dance beat to it, too. Our music's always been danceable, but in those days, it was definitely darker and more mysterious and underground. We just thought we were too cool for school back then. (laughs)”

By 1987, the band evolved into the unbeatable Dance Pop act that spawned one of the '80s greatest tunes. In hindsight, “Catch Me (I'm Falling)” had a far greater impact on American culture than simply being undeniably catchy.

We were one of a handful of white artists to perform on Soul Train with Don Cornelius,” remembers Starling. “'Catch Me (I'm Falling)' really did break down the color barriers because it was #13 on the R&B chart, and that was unheard of for a white group. From there, we did The Arsenio Hall Show twice. We were very accepted in R&B and Pop. There weren't that many groups back then that could honestly say they were accepted in so many genes.”

Those were heady times for Starling and the rest of the group, with highlights including sharing a limo with Paula Abdul (who choreographed Pretty Poison's “Nighttime” video) to the Soul Train Awards and working with video director Bob Giraldi (Michael Jackson's “Beat It”) on the “Catch Me (I'm Falling)” clip.

It's pretty amazing to look back at the body of work that we've done, and the accomplishments,” she says. “I feel very blessed to actually still be able to do what I do, and that people still like it. When I hear 'Catch Me (I'm Falling)' on the radio, I still get a thrill. It's still exciting to me.”

Before making a live return to Pretty Poison in the late '90s, Starling pursued a decidedly different musical direction with Sex In Violets (S.I.V.), her Alternative Rock-fueled project with Cooler. Sex In Violets issued a CD circa 1994 called Deflowered that soon caught the attention of the Skater Kid contingent. It was Starling's chance to experience playing music to a completely different audience.

A lot of people weren't putting the two [groups] together, and I wasn't bringing it to their attention,” she recalls. “I was just trying to gauge it just by their reaction, and they were really loving it. But what happened was, in '97, we got called to do a tour with Pretty Poison.”

Pretty Poison's return the spotlight saw the classic track “Let Freedom Ring” become a smash Dance hit and a powerful anthem within the LGTB community. This left little room for S.I.V. to continue.

We kind of did an about face with the Rock thing,” Starling says. “We had written over 100 Rock songs, and I had to abandon the group because people were calling for Pretty Poison. That was our first big introduction to the industry – no way were we going to turn our back on that opportunity.”

With a powerful new album and legions of fans around the world, Jade Starling is ready to embrace the future. Naturally, that includes more work with Whey Cooler, who completes a truly special musical duo that has endured for decades.

Creatively speaking, he is the Lennon to my McCartney,” she says. “Sometimes, he can say 'black' and I can say 'white,' and then we put it together and it's gray and fantastic. I think great minds think alike, and we compliment each other. We have always just had a real talent to be able to make music and be creative together. I'm so happy that the relationship has lasted this long. Don't get me wrong; we do have our differences and we do fight and argue about stuff. I will argue a point 'til I'm blue in the face, but I respect him as a producer and songwriter. If he tells me I've got to sing it again or makes a suggestion, I will always give him the benefit of the doubt and try it. Sometimes, I end up liking [his idea] better. Sometimes, you really need somebody who's not going to 'yes' you, and I have to be thankful that he has been constructive in his criticisms. When I do something really good, [and] he praises it and says how great it is, I know that he really means it.”

Jade Starling will perform live August 9 at the 2014 EDM Showcase at the Cutting Room in New York and August 11 at DJ Expo 2014 in Atlantic City. Following a wildly successful appearance before 15,000 people on the Los Angeles stop in June, two more dates have been added for her on Live Nation’s Super Freestyle Explosion Tour in Orlando (Sept. 12) and Tampa (Sept. 13).

Jade Starling on the Web:

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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