Beautiful like you: JoyDrop's soul-searching joyride
June 25, 1999
Reporting for CNN Interactive
(CNN) -- When you sing a song in which you plaintively assert you were beautiful, people generally assume you're not. And when you're the attractive lead singer of JoyDrop -- a Canadian band with a single, "Beautiful," getting heavy radio play -- you can expect a certain amount of confusion about what the song means.
"The lyrics are so straightforward," says the band's diminutive, black-haired singer Tara Slone. "I can't believe people misinterpret that song. I've heard the song is conceited. Everybody has a mind that works in a different way, but I thought it was very clear."
Slone, whose intense singing voice belies her size, recalls meeting a DJ once -- he told her he expected her "to be homely and unable to sing."
"'Beautiful' was on our demo and our label (Tommy Boy) liked it right away," she says. "And I think the universality of the sentiment was why everyone liked it for a first single. What we're trying to say is that you need to believe in yourself. You can be the most exquisite Barbie doll in the world, but you may hate yourself."
No Barbie herself, Slone is pretty in the same irresistible "just crawled out of bed and threw on this old T-shirt" way perfected by Australian crooner Natalie Imbruglia.
Vocally, she's like a cross between outspoken Garbage siren Shirley Manson and whimsical Cranberries crooner Dolores O'Riordan. In JoyDrop's much-played single "Beautiful," she muses "If I was beautiful like you / I'd never be at fault / but I'm not beautiful like you, / I'm beautiful like me."
In "Spiders," she shrieks about sexual relationships. And in "Cocoon," a song inspired by Buddhist Shambhala teachings, Slone sings about coping with life's problems.
But the band's heavy lyrics and thickly textured, soaring melodies are a double-edged sword. "It's the reason people play us, but it's also the reason some stations won't," says Slone.
JoyDrop is not your average get-wasted-party-and-puke rock band. If anything, both in interviews and in lyrics, it sounds New Age and cerebral.
Slone says she was raised a Tibetan Buddhist. Drummer Tony Rabalao meditates. Guitarist Thomas Payne has explored the works of Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, James Joyce and others. They titled their debut album "Metasexual" after a term in the teachings of erotic writer Marco Vassi. (His "Vassi Collection" of books, beginning with "The Stoned Apocalypse," was published in 1993 by Permanent Press.)
The band's name is meant to refer to a feeling you get when moved by something beautiful.
"We're very song-driven," Slone says. "Although our tastes are different, our aesthetics work. We just appreciate a good song. We're a democratic operation."
Slone cut her teeth in opera and theater. Payne studied musical composition and philosophy. Bassist Tom McKay performed and worked with a variety of bands in the United Kingdom. Rabalao studied composition and jazz.
McKay and Rabalao met while playing in various local Toronto bands, and asked Payne to join them. Slone answered their ad in the paper. She auditioned, the chemistry was right, and she signed on.
The band developed a demo, signed with Tommy Boy -- a label focused largely on hip-hop acts such as Everlast -- and went to work on a debut album.
"It seemed like we'd be a priority with Tommy Boy. They're small enough that we wouldn't get lost in the shuffle, but they're big enough to be a contender," says Slone.
During six weeks in a secluded studio outside Boston, JoyDrop enlisted the help of veteran producer and mixer Ron St. Germain (Creed, 311, Soundgarden, Tool, Bad Brains), who helped the band hone its rock edge. "Metasexual" was released earlier this year, to generally positive reviews.
"JoyDrop is the sort of band that can create an impressive sound even when its lyrics are impenetrable," wrote Mike Joyce of the Washington Post.
For Slone, such recognition is the payoff for years of hard work.
"We've been together for two and a half years, we worked really hard from Day One -- I mean, really hard -- so for us, it doesn't feel like it happened quickly," says Slone. "The whole record industry is so fickle and strange that I feel like I'm going with the flow. I don't know what to expect, but I hope people like it."
Unlike fellow Canadians Shania Twain, Celine Dion and the Barenaked Ladies, JoyDrop isn't huge at home. In this case, home may be where the heart is, but sheer economics are steering the careers.
"We really haven't spent that much time pursuing Canada as a market, and it's unfortunate for us, because it's our home," says Slone. "But in the financial grand scheme of things, it's a small market."
Small it may be, but it's also her haven, and that's pretty appealing to Slone right now, as she and her band tour the U.S. to promote their album.
Slone says her studies help her deal with the capricious nature of fame and fans' growing demands on her time. But being tight with the rest of the band helps, too.
"You spend that much time with anybody, and you need a little space. We all miss having our own space. Being JoyDrop all day is a little overwhelming. Touring is a grueling thing, and it's nice to come home."
"It's nice to be appreciated," Tara Slone says. "But I still feel very much like me."
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