Chelsea Jade has always felt like an outsider in the music industry. Even after making the voyage to Los Angeles from her isolating home country of New Zealand, Jade’s journey in music has always seemed like something that happened despite her plan, not because of it. She went to art school and dropped out after a year to pursue music. She didn’t quite fit in between the lines of dense art history textbooks, but never really felt at home in the star-studded hustle and bustle of Hollywood. In fact, Jade’s life has been full of paradoxes, and her music makes no exception. Her latest record, Soft Spot (out April 29 on Carpark Records), is a collection of songs that contain both the effervesce of a summer day and the nihilism of Nietzsche. Her ability to weave dark metaphors and prosaic story telling into the tight confines of ABAB pop song structure is nothing short of genius, and result is, simply put, a record full of bops.
“Frankly, I appreciate the parameters that pop [music] provides,” says Jade. Once the barriers are in place, you can just bounce around inside so freely.” Take her song “Optimist.” At first glance, it sounds like a lovesick infatuation anthem – “I became an optimist the minute that we touched/I’m positive it’s love/I don’t believe in much/It’s looking up/‘Cuz I became an optimist the minute that we touched.” But if you listen closely, Jade’s lyrics carry a heavier weight. “It’s about manipulating someone with sex,” explains Jade, “or using them as a salve when you feel affection for them but you don’t know how to maneuver through that honestly, because you have no self-esteem. Does that make sense?” Why, yes, yes it does.
Through this lens, Jade’s record unfolds in a type of dark love story – the kind that paints your whole world blood red and doesn’t give you a moment to breathe until you’re out the other end. The kind that might actually just be obsession, or lust, or just blatant distraction. In “Good Taste,” Jade elaborates on the idea of sex as a band-aid for any unpleasant emotions. “It’s like a miracle/Feeling your charisma getting physical/And yet I’m miserable/But oooh, it’s such a mood getting sexual.” But, as nature has proven, the fruit is always the sweetest before it decays.
Jade points out that the thesis of the record lies in the first phrase of the title track, “Soft Spot” – “I’m gonna love you from the soft spot where the fruit begins to rot.” It’s a nod to the sickly-sweet decadence that characterizes impulsive love affairs, escapist bouts of romance, or a fling that has run its course. Ironically, the title track is stripped of all the embellishments and lushness present in the rest of the record’s eight tracks, and plays out like an intimate soliloquy.
“This is the art school in me I couldn’t resist,” Jade says of the song’s stripped down production style. “It felt like a good opportunity not to abandon context. Which is a new thing for me.” She explains that as she adds production to her practice, she’s not afraid to add crunchiness or texture to the music she makes. On top of that, she’s not afraid to let what feels natural supersede what anything “should” sound like, especially when it comes to pop music. “The person who’s playing the piano [in “Soft Spot”] is not in the music industry or anything, it’s just my friend who has a piano in his house and we were just playing around after dinner, which is nice too.”
These subversive nods exist throughout the record, whether it’s the dark, repetitious bassline in “Optimist” or the bright twinkling bells set against the foreboding metaphor for relationship-induced isolation in “Real Pearl.” Soft Spot finds its home in the spaces between – between self-awareness and escapism, love and hate, indulgence and sagacity. If Chelsea Jade is an outsider, then we are lucky to get a glimpse inside her enigmatic mind.