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Interview: Be Your Own Pet

17th November 2008

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Punk rock brats Be Your Own Pet laid waste to venues around the UK in April promoting their stellar second album Get Awkward. Phil Dixon caught up with front-woman Jemina Pearl on the last night of the tour to talk about the bands manic live shows, US song cuts and the pit-falls of growing up...

Be Your Own PetOn first listen of Be Your Own Pet’s sophomore album, Get Awkward, you’d be forgiven for expecting more of the same gale-force garage punk from the Nashville teens, but you’d also be missing the bigger picture. While many of the same elements are in there - breakneck tunes about boredom and trashy movies, full of adolescent attitude, barely touching the three minute mark - closer inspection reveals a lot more going on below the surface.

Album opener Super Soaked is a prime example. Blasting off the blocks like an unapologetic kick to the face in true Pet style, one soon realises there’s more to it than that. Written on dynamic front-woman Jemina (pronounced Je-mee-na, faux-pas fans!) Pearl’s twentieth birthday, it’s a point blank refusal to grow old: “Just nineteen when I lost my dignity/ Today’s my birthday and now that I’m twenty/ I don’t want that responsibility/ I don’t want to be a part of society,” she screams. It all smacks of a self-conscious realisation that the fun times won’t last forever. The band aren’t teenagers any more, and gone are juvenile tales of bicycles or adventuring, in favour of a more mature approach.

“I feel like we all kinda knew more, like, what we were doing than on the first album,” says Pearl. “We were more aware of ourselves and what we were trying to accomplish. And this time I took over writing all the lyrics so that was like a fun and exciting challenge.”

It’s a decision that’s added a new dimension to the band’s output. On top of the musical progression - exploring different tempos and styles: surf guitar, the classic girl group sound, gang vocals, and refining their knack for a good hook - Pearl’s lyrics contain the same humour and glib attitude to violence as before, but writing on her own she brings more personal, autobiographical themes and reveals a vulnerability beneath the bravado. Carefree songs about boredom and food fights sit alongside songs of heartbreak (‘You’re a Waste’), outgrowing your home life (‘Creepy Crawl’) and betrayal by a best friend (‘Becky’). And never was a theme grander nor a setting more dramatic than in high school.

JP: I think it’s real fun to write kinda teenage lyrics. It’s fun to act real bratty and stuff, like the songs are just an exaggerated version of myself.

TNS: The bulk of the lyrics seem much more personal than before. Did you set out to include experiences from your own life?

JP: I dunno, I guess when I was thinking about writing songs, it’s like I’m gonna write about things that I know about. I’m not gonna try to write a bunch of political anthems or something like that. I guess I’m just like an honest person so like lyrics kinda like, I dunno… It’s personal, I guess. (laughs)

TNS: And there’s been controversy over the US release of the album after Universal pulled three of the songs from it for their “violent lyrical content” (‘Black Hole’, ‘Becky’ and ‘Blow Yr Mind’). That being your lyrical content, what was your initial reaction?

JP: Heartbreak. I don’t even think of it as the album at all. They said we either could change the lyrics and re-record my vocals or we had to take ‘em off, and I was like ‘well I don’t wanna change the lyrics, there’s nothing wrong with the lyrics,’ so we just took ‘em off. So we’re gonna release them, I think in May, a three-song EP called The Other Songs, through XL.

TNS: Yeah, damn The Man. So what about recording the album? The video blogs made the recording process look like a lot of fun - a lot of high-kicking, a lot of bike-riding - how much of it was actual work and how much was just play?

JP: I felt like I worked pretty hard. I was there every day, like all day long. It’s fun work! But it’s definitely an intense process. There was no TV in there, no internet, so basically all there was to do was play instruments and listen to music and work on what we were doing. Or go ride a bike. So when you were there it’s like… you can’t really think about anything but music.

TNS: Speaking of intense, now that the album’s all recorded and released you’ve got a pretty hectic tour schedule planned to support it.

JP: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. It runs ‘til the end of the year! We’re on tour for two months in the States, and then back, I don’t even know when, doing festivals then going to Australia, which is pretty hot, so yeah, it’s pretty non-stop. We can’t get too sick of each other yet!

TNS: So is there a significant difference between crowds across the world? Obviously you broke in the UK first; are they more into it here than anywhere else?

JP: Yeah, I would say so. There’s certain shows we do in Europe and America that people get super into it, but it’s never like… It’s so constant and steady here, people like dancing and having fun.

TNS: And you get pretty fucked off if the crowd aren’t really getting into it…

JP: It depends on our mood. That’s just how many shows are, like I feel like a lotta bands can be not attached to it, but for me, and I think probably everybody else in the band, I get creative passion about the show. So if you’re giving all of yourself to people and they don’t give a fuck then it kinda tends to piss me off.

TNS: So is it hard to kind of feed off that crowd energy if they’re not getting into it as much?

JP: Sometimes, but that’s when you really have to work on what you’re doing yourself. Playing those kinds of shows makes you a better performer because you have to work a lot harder to get people to like you there and that’s good exercise, I guess.

TNS: And you guys do go pretty crazy on stage, all of you flailing around throwing your whole bodies into it…

JP: We try to! I always feel like you should either do something a hundred per cent or like not do it at all.

TNS: So with all that constant movement - guitars swinging everywhere, jumping into drum kits and jumping on each other - have you ever had any injuries?

JP: If I had shorts on you could see my legs are completely covered in like scabs in places. I’ve got a bruise right here (Nose), I’ve got like something weird right here (Chin); I had a black eye at the beginning of this tour, I always have busted lips. I’m in like a constant state of achy-ness. We haven’t had anything too serious, like no broken limbs yet… You know, if you’re not broken up by the end of a show you probably didn’t do a good enough job.

TNS: So the morning after, you wake up with…?

JP: I can’t like sleep on this side ‘cause my leg’s all covered in bruises… Last night I crowd-surfed and the audience dropped me really hard and my thigh hit the barricade and I smacked my face on the monitor. The bouncer had to protect me.

TNS: So with a laundry list of injuries and such a long tour schedule, how do you keep up that signature energy night after night?

JP: A lotta drugs! No I’m just kidding… It only gets hard when you’re homesick. But right now we haven’t been touring very much so it’s kinda exciting to be on the road.

TNS: And you’ve had several food fight gigs on the road now to add to the chaos even more - where did that idea come from?

JP: I know The Germs would just throw food on the audience and cover them with like sugar and stuff, and we were playing some show in Tallahassee, I think and they gave us all this salsa and nasty stuff and we were like “let’s have a food fight!” This was before we’d written the song, and I think that inspired us to write it.

TNS: Isn’t that just asking for trouble, though?

JP: Yeah! It’s fun to ask for trouble, though!

TNS: And what about the fact that you’re still not old enough to legally drink in America - being in a band you must have been doing it for ages now. Has the novelty worn off or is it kind of still exciting kind of doing things illegally?

JP: It’s definitely way more inconvenient. If we’re playing a club in America we usually have to drink in our van or somehow sneak alcohol. A couple of us have fake IDs so we’ll like get a bunch of alcohol at a gas station and take it to the van and just hang out in there for like an hour then go back inside, right before we have to play. Um, some places are like cool about it, and they’re small enough where it doesn’t really matter that much. Anything that’s illegal’s always more fun. Just as long as you don’t get caught…

TNS: Speaking of which, there’s been a rash recently of teen pop starlets growing up in the public eye and going off the rails. You started in the music business quite young yourselves - will you be shaving your head any time soon?

JP: There’s pressure, but it’s more like pressure you put on yourself than pressure from other people. I don’t really care too much about what other people think.
I dunno, I think we’ve all had crazy stuff that happened before we were in this band that would much more make us not prepared for real life, so I feel like this band most of the time saves me from myself. Maybe if I wasn’t making music I could be crazy, but as long as I have some creative outlet, I think I’m cool.

She most certainly is, and she’s shown that while they may be growing up, Be Your Own Pet are definitely not growing old. Now that they’re past that awkward stage, their next album is sure to be something spectacular while still retaining that essential element. The last line of ‘Super Soaked’ says it best: “Next year I’ll be twenty one / So look out world ‘cause I wanna have fun.” Look out indeed. It could get messy.

Be Your Own Pet play Reading/Leeds Festival this summer, look out for other dates.

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