It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that the Nashville punk band Be Your Own Pet was the only band I listened to in 2008 – the log from iTunes for what’s played on my iPod confirm they were certainly the band I listened to the most last year. Their album, Get Awkward, was a blast of youthful energy from a band that sounded like they were getting in trouble when they weren’t rocking. The best part of the band, though, was their lead singer Jemina Pearl, who is every bit the badass Avril Lavigne pretends to be.
Be Your Own Pet broke up in the summer of 2008 and Pearl and BYOP guitarist John Eatherly moved to New York and recorded a fantastic and edgy pop record called Break it Up, which was just released last week. The album boasts an impressive roster of artists with appearances by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth (who has long been a supporter of BYOP) and Iggy Pop and was produced by Dave Sitek, an in-demand producer and member of TV on the Radio.
Jemina Pearl is currently touring the US while opening for Canadian indie rock band Islands. This tour includes a stop at Chop Suey on Monday, October 19. I spoke with Pearl by phone about a week into the tour and thought she was very friendly and easy to talk to.
This record, Break it Up, is a lot more personal than the albums by Be Your Own Pet, what made you want to go in that direction?
It was just a chance to kind of change things up a bit. I never made it too personal (in BYOP) because I was representing four different people; some of the lyrics weren’t appropriate to sing for a bunch of boys. Also, we had a shtick-y thing that we did, so it was kind of nice to break away from that and try something new.
Were those songs that you had been writing during your time in BYOP or did you have most of the songs written after you left the band and moved to New York?
I guess some of the lyrics I had written when I was in the band but the majority of them came after we broke up that summer (2008) and I immersed myself in the writing. John (Eatherly) ended up writing all of this music and he plays every instrument, so we had a lot of demos that were pretty much whole songs just without anyone singing on them. He played some of those for me and I let him hear some of my lyrics and we convinced each other to write the songs together and then it just worked out that way.
How did you meet up with Iggy Pop and convince him to sing with you on “I Hate People”?
I guess it was one of those things where you’re asked “who would you work with if you could work with anyone?” and he would have been my number one choice, a dream come true. Luckily Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon (from Sonic Youth) have a relationship with Iggy. They had reached out to him and his people and we sent him the song “I Hate People” and it turned out that he really liked it and wanted to sing on it.
We didn’t end up singing it in the same place because he doesn’t like to leave Miami, so we sent him the song and he sang on it down there and sent it back up. That he liked it was really awesome.
Have you gotten to meet him since the song was recorded?
I had actually met him before we recorded the song, at an ATP Festival that Thurston curated. He was really charming and I was really lucky that I had gotten to meet (Stooges guitarist) Ron Asheton and (Stooges drummer) Scott Asheton as well, so that was really unbelievable. I haven’t seen him since, so maybe when we go down to Florida I’ll get the chance to hang out with him.
What made you decide to leave Nashville for New York after BYOP broke up last year?
I always loved New York and always wanted to live there for awhile. When the band broke up, there wasn’t any reason for me to stay in Nashville. I grew up there and lived there for my entire life. I just wanted a change of scenery but I really love living in New York.
You mentioned Thurston and Kim from Sonic Youth earlier and they’ve always been really supportive of BYOP. How did you meet up with them?
When our old drummer was in the band, he had this little label and we recorded this little CD-R and Thurston ordered it online and we had a manager who used to run Sonic Youth’s fan club back in the 1980s, so he knew about us and had the chance to make Ecstatic Peace an imprint on Universal and thought Be Your Own Pet would be a good band (for the label). He came down to Nashville really unexpectedly and saw a show and we all really hit it off. It’s really hard to turn him down for a record deal.
He’s been a really great friend and a great supporter of me. It’s been awesome.
You had mentioned that John played every instrument on the recording of Break it Up, on this tour do you have a full band filling out the other roles?
We have a full band. Our drummer, Eric (Ratensperger), our bass player is Ben (Pearson) and our friend Max (Peebles), who used to sell merch for Be Your Own Pet and is one of our best friends, is playing guitar and John is playing guitar as well, so it’s not just the two of us or anything.
How is this tour going?
It’s going really well. We’re about a week and someone throwing a rock through our window in Columbus, Ohio and that sucks and is lame but other than that, it’s been great. We just played in Nashville, so we got to see a bunch of family and friends, so that was really cool.
I just read on your blog that you had seen Turbo Fruits, another BYOP spinoff band, in the movie Whip It. Was it exciting to see them in a movie?
Yeah, I mean John and Max are in my band now and they aren’t in Turbo Fruits any more but it was pretty funny watching them up on the big screen while I was sitting next to them. I just tried to make them feel as uncomfortable as possible the entire time. (laughs) But yeah, it was funny. I like to tease them a lot but it was cool to see them act in the movie. They didn’t have any lines but they had to pretend that they were playing. Jonas (Stein, ex-BYOP guitarist) does have a couple of lines. It was really cute just seeing them in that movie.
What has been the reaction that you’ve gotten to this record? It has barely been out for a week (from the time of this interview).
I don’t know that many people that have said anything about it, other than my friends and they all really like it, but I think we’ve been getting a good reaction from audiences. I’m sure people will come in to see it because they’re curious and I hope they leave liking it as much as Be Your Own Pet.
I definitely enjoyed it a lot. I thought the songs are catchier and poppier than Be Your Own Pet’s songs were.
I was listening to a lot of girl groups and John has always listened to a stream of 1960s pop music and we were listening to a lot of Sparks and Lou Reed’s Transformer, so we had a lot more poppy influences this time around than we did with Be Your Own Pet.
But now we’ve moved on to different inspirations while we’re writing new songs for the next record.
Oh wow; Break it Up hasn’t even been out for a week. How many new songs do you have?
None of them are finished and we kind of write in a weird way because John plays every instrument on demos and recordings, so we have to keep all of the songs together for me to really hear it. There are a couple of beginnings of a few songs, maybe four or five total, but nothing’s finished. Maybe in December we’ll finish some of the songs and record some demos.
Even though this record is literally brand new, is there any timeline for a follow-up?
We’re going to hopefully be on the road as much as possible, for the next year-ish – which would be great. I really miss touring, so I hope we’re on the road a lot supporting Break it Up and then once it’s done, get in the studio and make another record right away. I won’t be on Universal anymore, so that will be interesting because I’ll get to be on a different label. That’ll be really exciting.
When we broke up, we still owed them one record and my solo record is fulfilling that contract and they had the first rights to whatever I did. I finished with Be Your Own Pet and now it’s done.
That should be a really good change because Universal arbitrarily removed three songs from Get Awkward at the last minute (“Becky”, “Blow Yr Mind” and “Black Hole”).
That was really weird. I feel like I work really hard for my label and they don’t always work really hard for me. But there are a lot of really awesome people that I liked working with there but it’s a huge corporation and there’s always weird things going on.