Yes, Bonnie McKee confesses, it was a total no-brainer dubbing her Reprise Records debut, Trouble. Because for most of her early teens, that’s exactly what this hard-partying truant was in: Trouble of the worst, most folks-frightening kind. Now 19, she still looks like quite the firecracker—lounging on a couch in her Burbank label offices in pink leather miniskirt, rainbow-hued tank top and gold lamé high heels, her hair dyed a striking shade of strawberry red. But she was so wild in those earlier days, she says, even her pet hamster of four years gnawed free from its cage and disappeared, just to get away from her. “And we’re still looking for his little body,” she frowns.
Was McKee—who started off all prim-and-proper in the Seattle Girls’ Choir—really that difficult? You have no idea, she murmurs. Raised by a new-age mom who taught transcendental meditation, she spiraled from choir and musical theatre straight into the rave scene by 13, where she regularly dropped acid and ecstasy, unbeknownst to her parents. Soon she was hooked on crystal meth and was plagued by the wickedly debilitating drug’s attendant paranoia. Naturally, her grades suffered, and she was booted out of high school in her freshman year. Her meth abuse continued.
“You hear all about cocaine and heroin, but nobody ever warns you about speed,” McKee shudders. “And the danger with speed is, you can live a perfectly normal life and still be a meth addict. Because after I got kicked out of school, I tried community college for a while, then an alternative school. And my grades were better than ever, my room was clean, I was really thin and active and stoked. So everybody thought everything was okay, and my parents had no clue—you just pretend to eat at dinner, wad it up in your napkin and throw it away.”
And it took even more drugs for McKee to shake her habit. Her speed-induced psychotic delusions called for anti-psychotic prescriptions, meds she weaned herself from over a year ago. McKee did just about everything underage, including getting three star tattoos on her right wrist and—at the tender age of 14—entering a yearlong relationship with a 30-year-old man. Trouble’s Madonna-ish techno-ballad “January” details that romance’s demise. By 16, McKee had inked an album deal and moved to Los Angeles to follow her dream.
But here’s the most remarkable aspect of this naïf’s topsy-turvy teendom: The Rob Cavallo-produced Trouble is a great little folk-pop-punk album, bubbling with wise-beyond-her-years anthems like “Honey,” the faux-flamenco title track, and the no-holds-barred “Confessions Of A Teenage Girl.” The album’s centerpiece is a gossamer twist on rafter-raising gospel, “A Voice That Carries,” which is a testimony to McKee’s unflagging belief in her own talent during those troubled times, when friends and teachers alike had written her off as a real nowhere burnout. Because she does, indeed, have a voice that carries.