Purr blood

Cat Jelly

From left, Maisie Barnes, Devon Miller and Kaelie Huff make up Cat Jelly.

From left, Maisie Barnes, Devon Miller and Kaelie Huff make up Cat Jelly.

Photo By Brad Bynum

Cat Jelly performs at the Holland Project, 140 Vesta St., on Feb. 1 with Last to Leave, Fighting the Future and Failing Plan B. For more information, visit catjelly.bandcamp.com.

The band Cat Jelly often starts its sets with the song “Puppy Smash,” an angry, screaming, stomping, aggressive, atonal, nearly structure-less song that sounds nothing like the rest of their tunes. Puppy Smash is also the name of their imaginary “arch-nemesis band,” and the band members like to start their sets by briefly inhabiting the roles of their own villains. Intentionally making the wrong first impression is just the kind of playful move this band loves, and, according to singer and bassist Maisie Barnes, opening with “Puppy Smash” makes the rest of the songs “sound better than they are.”

Most of their songs draw on Nuggets-style garage rock, classic girl group pop, and the post-punk dance music of Le Tigre or LCD Soundsystem. In other words, it’s mostly upbeat, youthful rock music. Barnes’ bass playing provides a steady, pulsing center. Drummer Devon Miller rocks with whoa-what-did-he-just-do? speed. And guitarist Kaelie Huff reels out melodic, occasionally spooky guitar lines over the top.

The music has an energy and verve that teeters close to chaos, but there’s also an introspective honesty and integrity that often gets lost in music played by older, more jaded and cynical musicians. That isn’t to say that Cat Jelly’s music is naïve. There’s appealing darkness around the edges.

“I Wish You Were a Vegetable” is a song about wishing someone was in a coma. When Huff starts to name the song’s targeted subject, Barnes cuts her short: “Stop telling band secrets!”

But other songs show off more of the band members’ sense of humor. In “Cat Sex,” over a driving beat and chromatic guitar riffs, the band members purr an escalating series of meows.

All three members sing, with Barnes usually taking the lead. Until recently, the group had another lead vocalist, Olivia Hollen, but even then, Barnes wrote the majority of the lyrics and vocal lines. Her lyrics, she says, are “about people, mostly.”

Huff sums up the lyrical content even more succinctly: “Nouns.”

Of course, perhaps the most intriguing part of Barnes’ description is the “mostly.” Some of the songs are about things other than people. She seems to especially have an interest in writing about animals, as evident in the band name

“I take a lot of naps, and during one of those naps, I had a vision of a cat extending its paw to me, and the paw was covered in jelly,” she says of the origin of the name. Cat Jelly also had the most important quality of a contemporary band name: It wasn’t being used by anyone else.

Though all three band members are teenagers, and their youthful, unpretentious energy is part of the group’s appeal, they disdain being classified in terms of their age—“You’re pretty good for a high school band” being an oft encountered and much loathed backhanded compliment.

“We’re not a high school band—that’s not what I do,” says Barnes. That’s not the sum total or even an important factor of the band members’ identities (and, in fact, Barnes is the only one still in high school).

However, the group does cite as one of the most memorable gigs an appearance at a Reno High School talent show that got shut down during their chaotic set—like something out of a music video—lights getting cut, panicked teachers running onstage, clueless square kids standing in comical confusion.

The band members seem especially pleased to repeat something a friend overheard another student saying after the set: “Are they trying to bring punk back?”