Pretty Popular Poison This Local Band Has A Hit And Leaders Not Shy About Singing Its Praises

Posted: November 23, 1987

While walking through a Midwest airport recently, musician Whey Cooler passed a squad of cheerleaders. One of them asked if he was in a band (it must have been his bleached and ratted hair). He not only told them who he was - a member of Philadelphia's Pretty Poison - but also burst out singing the group's current hit, "Catch Me I'm Falling."

When you're a young band on the rise, it doesn't pay to be shy.

"You have to say: 'Here I am! This is me!' " Whey declares.

Pretty Poison's lead singer, Jade Starling, is just as assertive. Twig thin, her hair dyed the color of a dogwood in autumn, she says things like, ''We will do an album; it will be a killer" and "We'll do Carson, we will," and, referring to their 12-inch single, "There are more hits where that came from."

Never reticent about promoting the cause, which is themselves, Jade and Whey, both 25, will chat up absolutely anyone: cabdrivers, shoppers, waitresses. Says their manager, Bill Eib, "They'll walk through a wall, over a wall, over someone. They don't have a sense of destiny, but of mission."

Who are these bashful people?

Camden's own Jade and Whey are the founding members of the young dance-rock quintet whose March release, the catchy "Catch Me," unexpectedly propelled it this fall to the top of Billboard's dance-music chart, and now, to 17 on the pop chart. It is a tune with the kind of melody that drills into the brain.

Lately, dancing on the skinniest ledge of stardom, the band has spun itself into somewhat of a promotional frenzy - trying to capitalize on this one hit song.

It has hired a big New York-Los Angeles public relations outfit, Norman Winter Associates, costing thousands of dollars a month. The firm and the band's new label, Virgin Records, lined up countless radio station visits, photo-signings, track dates (where the band lip-syncs to a tape) and record store appearances all over the country. There were limousines, flowers and food. "They were treated like they were famous people coming to town," says Eib.

During a recent 10-day Los Angeles blitz - interrupted by a quick hop to Atlanta - Pretty Poison was pushing itself from morning till night.

While in L. A., members were interviewed by Hits magazine, the R & B Report, and generally made the rounds of radio and TV: American Top 40, Radioscope, American Bandstand, Top of the Pops, Solid Gold, The Late Show. For a forthcoming television appearance on Fan Club, hosted by former Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, they were interviewed while riding atop the doubledecker Wonder Bus, so called because it looks like a loaf of Wonder Bread. "Whatever they want us to do, we'll do," says their manager.

Though no one's asked them yet, Jade and Whey would welcome commercial endorsements. "They are commercially minded people, but they're not crass, they're not crude," Eib, 42, says. "They're children of television - they see no difference between TV ads and the show."

Jade and Whey met 10 years ago while she was studying hairdressing and he was studying electronics at Camden County Vocational and Technical School in Pennsauken.

"I used to traipse around after her like a fool," Whey says. Jade would stop for a drink at the water fountain and he'd be there to turn the water on.

She wore outlandish clothes and hairstyles (her naturally auburn locks have been pink, purple, black and blond over the years). He was, she says, a nerd until he grew his hair. They lived to attend concerts.

"I was a total groupie," Jade says. She was one of those starstruck girls up front, "squished, right against the stage, up on somebody's shoulders. I would do anything to get backstage at concerts. I've met many, many, many rock stars over the years." David Bowie, Peter Frampton, Stevie Nicks - she reels off their names.

Her aspirations were bigger than Whey's: She claims she knew, from the time she was crowned Miss Randolph Street at age 3, that she was destined for great things. He knew - hold on for the melodrama - he was destined for her.

"I recognized her ambition," Whey says now, "but I was more about her being with me. I don't know if I would have done this if it hadn't been for her. I did it because I wanted to be with her and I saw it as a lifelong thing."

Each named the other. Whey (previously known as Venom) was "way cooler" than the rest. And in their teenage dreams of stardom she was "Jade Starling, Hollywood's Little Darling." "And now I truly am," she intones.

For years they were boyfriend and girlfriend, but is their romance in past or present tense? "It's tense, it's tense," Jade parries.

"I really don't know, I don't know what you would call what we are," Whey replies. "We're brother and sister, husband and wife," Jade explains, although she is now involved with someone else. Each lives at home with parents: she in Pennsauken, he in Merchantville.

Theirs is a collaboration, more than anything. Jade writes the lyrics and melody line, and does Whey's hair. Whey, a keyboardist, writes the music.

In the beginning, Pretty Poison found a strong local following and college radio air-play with new-wave-ish music that, in early 1983, one critic called ''quirky, uneven, intriguing."

"We were more rebellious in those days as far as music is concerned," Jade says."I don't think we really had a concept of how to write a pop hit song."

When Pretty Poison first caught Eib's interest, his friends thought that the band was terrible and that he was nuts. But Eib, who took on the group 3 1/2 years ago and considers crazy artists his stock-in-trade, knew he'd found the real item with Jade and Whey. "I just saw something in their eyes," he says. "They're both way out there."

Before the band's recent signing with the British-based Virgin, "Catch Me I'm Falling" had been released on the Svengali label, a company created by Whey, his mother and his older brother Joseph (in his mother's kitchen) exclusively to promote Pretty Poison.

During the last three years, Svengali has released three Pretty Poison singles and a four-song EP. In 1984, one of the 12-inch singles made it onto Billboard's dance chart (No. 13). "Nighttime," says Jade of that first dance hit, "was an experiment that worked and altered the course of the group."

The band - which also includes Warminster guitarist Lou Franco, Camden bassist Tony Romeo and Cherry Hill drummer Bobby Corea, who is Whey's younger brother - plans to release a second single next month, and between promotional outings, is working to finish up an album. In the meantime, "Catch Me's" natural lifespan has been prolonged with its inclusion on the sound track for the teen movie Hiding Out and the release of a music video.

Now the pressure is on to produce another hit, to prove Pretty Poison is no momentary flash. "The fear we have is that peoples' attention spans are very short and they're always seeming to move on to the next thing," Jade says.

More than a recording band, Pretty Poison is a performing band - although recently it hasn't had much time for concert dates. At Kutztown University's Keystone Hall this month, Jade donned her shiny black tutu and black bolero and took to the stage. It required some effort, but she coaxed those students right out of their seats.

"Success has a way of creating an aura of confidence when you come out, and I grab them," she says. "I just grab an audience and I've got them in the palm of my hand and I keep them there and it just seems to work."

Nothing is like being onstage.

"It feels incredible. It's indescribable - it's something you'd have to do," says Jade. "I guess it feels powerful."

It's just as she wrote a few years ago in "I'm in Control":

I feel the power burn inside of me.

I am woman, I know that I'm strong.

Leaving the doubts behind,

I will succeed.

I know where I finally belong.

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