Read our Noise Magazine cover story written by Lexi Khan.
February 2, 1999
With each new incarnation of Boy Wonder, singer/guitarist Paula Kelley gets closer to her true calling as a displaced '60s popster. In a previous life she would have been hanging out at the Troubadour on Sunset Strip, sharing a table with the Turtles and the Association. Instead, she's devoted herself to channeling the sound and spirit of that era, and the new Boy Wonder EP -- Break the Spell, Etc (Jackass), featuring an overhauled band lineup -- is her purest excursion into classic pop. But as usually happens when songwriters get closer to what's in their hearts, it also comes across as her most personal effort. To these ears, "Break the Spell" (which first appeared on last year's Twisted Rico compilation) is her breakthrough song. Its mix of bubbly hook and sad overtone is what she's always done, but she's never brought it off this touchingly before.
"That was one of those old 'write it in 20 minutes and not know where the hell it came from'-type songs," she noted in a phone chat last week. "It's a real personal song lyrically, but if I try to explain it, it's going to sound like drivel and I'll be embarrassed." Asked to give it a shot anyway, she volunteers, "It's another variation on my self-loathing. But there's always a glimmer of hope, because I can loathe others as I loathe myself."
One doesn't think of Kelley as the self-loathing type, but there evidently was a crisis of confidence about the current EP: at first she wasn't sure if she wanted to include all of the available songs, so it was originally mastered in both a six- and a seven-song version. Then she decided to release only five, so it had to be remastered yet again. My advance copy includes one of the rejected tunes -- a perfectly good ballad, "Left & Right" -- but the finished EP finds her sharing the spotlight more, singing lead on only three tracks (bassist Josh Arakelian handles the cover tune, the Turtles' fab "Elenore"). "I like the idea of everyone in the band being interesting, instead of just me -- though of course it's debatable whether we're interesting or not," she said. "No offense to any of the former members, but these are the people I always wanted in the band, and it took three frigging years to find them."
Given her musical taste, it's surprising that Kelley first appeared locally as a member of the grunge-inspired Drop Nineteens ("You gotta start somewhere," she now says). One could never imagine that band doing something like the new EP's "Over Your Head," on which Kelley realizes a long-time ambition: to write her own Bee Gees ballad. That unfashionable group has always figured prominently in her world -- when we spoke last year she opened up about her long-standing crush on Robin Gibb. And she's lately joined with some other local popsters -- Permafrost's Ad Frank among them -- to form the Boy Joys, Boston's first, best, and only Bee Gees cover band (the next show is March 18 at the Lizard Lounge). So far it's strictly pre-disco, heavily slanted toward early album tracks. "Though we do a few hits to please the kids. We're stealing 'To Love Somebody' back from Michael Bolton. I'm sure what's going to happen -- it's going to be way bigger than our regular bands combined." Meanwhile, Boy Wonder have their CD-release party this Saturday at T.T. the Bear's Place.
by Brett Milano
September 25, 1997
Paula Kelley reveals her inner pop child
by Brett Milano
Paula Kelley has a confession to make: she used to have a crush on one of the Bee Gees. "I always was a total pop girl, but I've been afraid to admit it," she notes. "In third grade my favorites were the Beatles and the Bee Gees. But it was right at the end of the 'disco sucks' era, so I had to tell everyone I hated the Bee Gees. Then I'd go home and apologize to the album cover, because I was in love with Robin Gibb."
That's as good a metaphor as any for Kelley's musical development over the years. She did her time with alternative rock four years ago when she played in Drop Nineteens, a BU-spawned band who were loved in England because they sounded like My Bloody Valentine -- and hated in Boston because they were loved in England. Dour, non-pop, and badly dressed, they were pretty much the opposite of what Kelley's doing now. With her current band, Boy Wonder, she shows her true colors, and they're bright and flashy.
The sound of Wonder Wear (out this week on CherryDisc) is so relentlessly poppy that it would be bubblegum if not for the flashes of nastiness in the lyrics (Kelley writes a lot of "You broke my heart and I'm getting even" songs, of which "Mission To Destroy" is the best) and a few left turns in the arrangements. There's an appealing giddiness to her style, but it's a little less cute and more dark-edged than it first appears. She's also outgrowing her vocal resemblance to Juliana Hatfield, though a few songs on the new album do suggest Fuzzy, thanks in part to a similarly bright production job by Tim O'Heir. And she's found a capable songwriting match in co-singer/guitarist Jake Zavracky, whose four songs are more overtly '60s-ish than Kelley's (his best contribution, "Liar Baby," has an intro that crosses "Get Off My Cloud" with "My Sharona"). It's surprising, however, that the two singers don't collaborate or harmonize more often -- definitely something they should work on in the future.
When we meet at the Middle East, Kelley is dressed in her familiar '30s vamp style ("I used to have hippie hair and wear bandanas, and it just wasn't fun") and ready to discuss her musical goals. "I want to write songs for Mariah Carey," she claims without irony. "I think about the early '60s, when you had singers and songwriters, that Brill Building era. It didn't seem that any shitty songs surfaced back then. Maybe some of the words were trite, but a Bacharach chord change or a Carole King song -- those are the ones that give you shivers. Not that every one of my songs is a masterpiece, but that's what I aspire to. And I have to hone it and pay attention to what I do. Believe me, my trashcans are full of songs that didn't make it." Her current direction began appearing in her post-Drop Nineteens group, Hot Rod. "My song sensor is a little more active now, though. God, if I haven't improved in four years, I better give it up."
She has some bad memories of Hot Rod, especially in the later period, after guitarist John Dragonetti left to form Jack Drag. Hot Rod's one album, Speed Danger Death (now appearing in a cutout bin near you), wasn't bad, but Caroline released it about a month before it released the reshuffled Drop Nineteens' second album; both wound up sinking. Kelley even moved to England for a time in hopes of drawing on Drop Nineteens' following for a record deal; she wound up waiting on tables and not playing a single gig. So in '95 she returned to Boston, finished her BU degree in history, and got her life and Boy Wonder together. "Nothing against England, but it made me appreciate this country; I prefer the assholes at home to the assholes over there." She pauses, suddenly upset at something. "Just that I promised my father I wouldn't swear in this interview. But at least I haven't said 'fuck' yet."
Boy Wonder will celebrate the release of Wonder Wear with a show at T.T. the Bear's Place (492-BEAR) on Saturday October 11.
CLICK ABOVE to see what a blast the band had talking to Sheril Stanford from Lollipop last fall! As a special educational bonus, you'll learn the difference between cavassas and casabas!
got a band they listen to when they're feeling down and need a
little boost of unadulterated pop. And if, by chance, you don't
have that band in your life, you have my recommendation to buy
the new Boy Wonder album, "Break the Spell, Etc.," to
toss a little musical sunshine into your grievous life.
For those of you who have not heard about the band, hereís a little background: Boy Wonder was formed in 1996 when siren/songstress Paula Kelley teamed up with Bruce Caporal and a few other local lads, looking to bestow upon Boston their own brand of pop. That is an amalgam of 60s melodic rock, 90s mod, and a smidgen of the part of punk that doesn't take itself too seriously. Kelley had just finished playing in a string of talented but ill-fated bands, including Caroline recording artists the Drop Nineteens and Hot Rod, which also featured John Dragonetti, now with Jack Drag. Boy Wonder has a great ability to couple upbeat tunes with down-in-the-dumps lyrics, making you think that, dammit, breaking up has never felt so good.
Highlights on "Break the Spell, Etc." include "X-Large," a spunky, exuberant tune with rapid fire lyrics, full of 50s style oohs and ahhs. Aaron Tap and Paula Kelley go back and forth, lamenting the dysfunctional relationship, while Bruce Caporal and Josh Arakelian keep the feet a-tappin' and the heads a-bobbin'. On "End of My Line" it becomes apparent that the band is becoming more comfortable in the studio, mixing different textures and vocal harmonies. The CD also features Arakelian taking a stab at lead vocals to do an inspires version of the Turtles classic, "Elenore."
Though only five songs, the new CD confirms that Boy Wonder has more talent than the majority of the bands on ëFNX or WBCN, and are just an intelligent A & R man away from stardom. In the meanwhile, go pick up "Break the Spell, Etc.," and get some happiness in your life. Boy Wonder is hoping to do a short tour of the East Coast in April, then returning home to do some shows before summer.
What does the Boy Wonder live experience have to offer? You can get an idea from the following live reviews, which appeared in various periodicals over the last few years.
LIVE REVIEW - BILL'S BAR - 1/30/98
I cannot possibly be objective when reviewing a show with two bands I'm friends with but I've got something to say. This was theme night -- the theme was "bands who are playing state-of-the-art pop and getting no support from the local scene." I'll try not to rant.
The Gravy are a very odd band. Their music is oblique and progressive, and their hooks can be obscured by the longer forms used. They are playing '90s pop with hints of '70s excess. They have a beautiful song called "Memory" which sounds like ELO (with Roy Wood) doing a Raspberries medley. The music they are making is very complex, and I would expect it to go over the heads of the average listener. To be 100% honest, I don't know what I would think of them if I didn't know them. However, I do know that Todd Spahr knows absolutely everything one can learn about writing ultra-direct pop smashes. For you youngsters out there, Todd was in a band called The Cave Dogs, who helped to invent my ugly ass (and yours too!), and I believe it's naive to think that he doesn't know exactly what he's doing. He's trying to stretch the boundaries of what Boston pop is, and we all need to support that. A lot.
Similarly, (but in a different way), we have my close pals Boy Wonder. I think Paula Kelley is one of the smartest songwriters in this town, yet I don't see her record on any of my esteemed colleague's year-end lists. I'm sure I'm biased, but have they all somehow missed the quality and depth of her songs and the band's performances? Honestly, if we break it down to chords, words, and melodies, Paula is writing some world-class songs. She's got the best nasty lyrics since Elvis Costello sand "I wish you luck with a capital F," and I'm telling you she's going for her George Harrison merit badge with weird chords (like Bb diminished-double flat-lesbian add 9).
I have a theory -- and I hope I'm wrong. I think the fact that Boy Wonder dresses up for their shows so much tends to allow scenesters to dismiss them without giving the music a fair listen. More specifically: I think that in 1998-hipster Boston, there are a lot people who still can't handle the idea of a singer making her sexuality part of her music. That is just as unfair as someone not listening to a band because the singer is bald or fat or ugly. None of it changes the music, just our perception. It's a disservice to Boy Wonder and a discredit to the Boston music scene.
By the way, both bands rocked at Bill's.
(Corin "Always Thinking" Ashley)
NORTH BY NORTHEAST
10pm - 360 Club - 294 Queen
Boy Wonder - Boston MA
I had heard, early on that "Boy Wonder" would be returning to NXNE, and was very much, looking forward to seeing them again. We saw them last year at the Bovine Sex Club, Thurs @ 11pm (4 Hot Dogs). At the time they had a rough R&B sort of sound. I was hoping they would have improved, beyond even their stellar performance from last year. I was also hoping for a CD. Both my wishes were answered!
Paula Kelly, Singer, songwriter, guitarist, and femme extraordinaire, was shockingly different in appearance. Sporting a red pageboy with matching feather cuffs on a crazy 20's style dress. She is still playing her beautiful old maroon hollow body guitar.
New guitarist and keyboardist Josh Arakelian replaces Jake.
Bruce Caporal (drums) and Paul Natale (bass) provide a solid rhythm behind the wonderfully drippy pop sound. Paula's voice is fantastic. She belts out her instantly classic songs in a wonderful fashion that is both unique and ageless. The boys are providing good backing vocals as well.
During a captivating ballad ("My Favorite Idol"?), Paula broke a string. The band was at a bit of a loss, as she attempted to change it. The NXNE clock ticking away. Eventually the bass player (Paul) picked up the other guitar, and played a great version of "I'm Kinda in Love" (their website calls it "Turkey Gravy Stuffing"). I was singing it for days afterwards. The other mishap involved a broken snare drum. Thankfully, Girlpope was able to supply a replacement.
Afterwards Paul as very chatty, and gave me a FREE copy of their CD Wonder-Wear. (It is wonder-ful). I recommended that he see Scratching Post @ 1am. I saw a lot of parallels between their two bands.
Note that "Gone" on the Boy Wonder CD, has the Rolling Stones riffs that I had previously heard. These appear to have left the band with the previous guitar player.
Copyright © 1998
Mark A. Jones
POP CULTURE DETOX
Boy Wonder @ Brownie's in New York City, New York - 19 November 1997
Boy Wonder is a live band.
As brightly-sweet and melodic as the band's wonderpop debut, Wonder-Wear tends to be, Boy Wonder's recent action-packed gig at NYC's hip little rock bar, Brownie's, proved that they can really bring the rock. On songs like "Liar Baby," foxy indie veteran, Paula Kelley swings her big ol' hollowbody Gretsch around like it ain't no thang, even though the axe rivals the size of her own lovely frame.
Although I was never fortunate enough to see either of her former bands play, Drop Nineteens and Hotrod, I have a funny little feeling that Boy Wonder finds Kelley in her best form: years of experience and maturity within the Boston music scene under her belt, and an expanding range of pop influences creeping into her music.
Even though Kelley is quite the center of attention in her band, her shaggable indie-boy bandmates move quite a bit of air as well. Everyone loves a good Pete Townsend-style windmill and a nice air-kick once in a while at a rock show, and bassist Paul Natale gave us plenty of both. I've seen way too many bands that just stand there and smile at theirs shoes. I want to see a little more than four people making noise on a stage in front of me, expecting me to enjoy it. A little rock n' roll abandon goes a long way.
Guitarist Jake Zavracky, singing behind his super-cool shades, fuses a nice harmony with Kelley's sweet, pinched croon, while drummer Bruce Caporal aggressively pounds away, doubled over his kit like the determined rock n' roll trooper he is.
Just like the first time I saw them, Boy Wonder inspired me to form my own blissed-out rock band, because they make it look so damn easy and enjoyable. But that's how the pros work, I guess.
-- Hal Miller
LIVE REVIEW - MIDDLE EAST - 11/21/96
Paula Kelley's Boy Wonder has undergone some personnel changes lately -- namely the addition of Jake Zavracky on guitar and Paul Natale on bass -- while Bruce Caporal remains the drummer. This gig was their first with all four elements in place, but it sure didn't sound like it; either they've been practicing a shitload, or they just have great rapport, because they clicked. Highlights included the single, "Mission to Destroy," definitely the rockingest tune, and "Ladder," which started out Phil Spector-y and '60s-ish, but quickly became '90s pop. Somehow the fusion worked. Boy Wonder is definitely Paula's best project yet -- better than the Drop Nineteens or Hot Rod -- and her songwriting is the foundation of this success. It's fun to see a band flowering.