“I feel like it’s probably not quite as chaotic, but we’re a live band, and we like to put on a good show. But this time around we’re also more about nailing the music part, playing the songs correctly [laughs],” says Jemina Pearl, frontwoman of legendary Nashville garage punk rockers of the mid-aughts, Be Your Own Pet. In my recent “20 CRAZY Concerts in 20 Years in Philthy” piece, I proclaimed, “BYOP’s apocalyptically abrasive and brilliantly haphazard approach to performance is, in my mind, the closest thing my generation will ever experience to The Stooges their first time around.” I tell Pearl this during our recent phone chat, and she quickly responds, “Awww, stop!” audibly blushing.
Between 2006 and 2008, when the band were primarily in their teens, Be Your Own Pet released two brilliant LPs (2006’s self-titled debut and 2008’s Get Awkward) and played half a dozen shows in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, including dates supporting Sonic Youth (at Starlight Ballroom), Arctic Monkeys (at The Factory), and She Wants Revenge (at TLA), in addition to three headlining shows, two at The Church (“We always loved playing The Unitarian Church! Sean Agnew is awesome,” Pearl tells me.) and one at a house venue in South Philthy known as Disgraceland, none of which featured sets that lasted even a half-hour. BYOP became known for avoiding stages, and preferring to play on the floor, where Pearl could literally pull exceptionally enthusiastic teenage fans into the band’s space to add to the chaos, often inadvertently disabling the band’s gear and leading to sets being rendered charmingly short.
“We were so young, so everything was so exciting for us. Everything was a new experience,” Pearl tells me of Be Your Own Pet’s first tenure as a band. When I ask her about some of the highlights of BYOP’s first time around, she goes on to tell me, “We got to travel so much at such a young age: going to Japan and playing Summer Sonic… and getting to meet a lot of heroes, like Thurston Moore and Steven McDonald [Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! released the first two BYOP LPs, which were produced by Steven McDonald.], and Ron Asheton and Iggy Pop [who appears on “I Hate People” off of Pearl’s solo debut, 2009’s Break It Up], who we met at ACL Fest.” However, she does admit that there were certain things about that era that did tend to be more problematic, at least for her: “There’s been a lot of talk about being a woman in music at the time, which was not the best, and I definitely feel like I’m treated better now, although I’m not entirely sure that’s because things are better, or it’s just me.”
After more than a decade of doing their own things, musically and otherwise (Philthy saw guitarist Jonas Stein’s Turbo Fruits, drummer John Eatherly’s Public Access T.V., and Jemina solo – whose band included Eatherly – numerous times over the years, while bassist Nathan Vasquez fronted Deluxin’), Be Your Own Pet came together in a practice space in December of 2021 and immediately felt the urge to literally get the band back together. Shortly after, they were offered a string of spring 2022 shows supporting Jack White (whose business partner and Third Man Records co-founder, Ben Swank, is Pearl’s husband), which she tells me proved to be exceptionally meaningful and inspiring: “When we first got back together and were playing those shows with Jack White, the hometown show at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville was really special, especially getting to play for friends and friends that we’ve made since the band broke up that had never gotten a chance to see us.”
However, from the time that Be Your Own Pet first reunited, they knew that they wouldn’t be content as a simple nostalgia act, so this August they released Mommy (A fitting title, considering that Pearl is now a mother of two.), their first new album in more than a decade and a half, courtesy of White and Swank’s label. “Getting to make the record was a blast, getting to tap into our younger selves. The week that we spent writing together felt like a vacation,” Pearl tells me of the experience of making new music as a band, before going on to clarify, “I mean, we’ve all been in touch over the years, we’ve all patched things up and were on friendly terms… I mean, I’ve known Jonas since we were 12. We’ve gone through a lot together.”
But Jemina does tell me that the songwriting process is a little bit different for the four band members than it was in their teen years: “All of those baby egos you have as a teenager, those have disappeared. Like, no one was really precious about changing something they brought in… Back then Jonas and Nathan were really doing the lion’s share of the writing, but now John and I are bringing just as much in ourselves.” She also adds that the four of them have taken up many of the production responsibilities on Mommy: “We pretty much self-produced it, with our friend Jeremy Ferguson, but we were the ones steering the ship.”
And the critics seem to be loving Mommy. The Guardian says, “The Nashville punks return after 15 years and haven’t aged a day, ratcheting their riotous garage with thumbscrew tension, but Jemina Pearl’s righteous rage exudes experience,” while Rolling Stone proclaims, “Be Your Own Pet reclaim their dominance…they’re back for business after a 15-year silence.” However, Pearl admits to me that she generally avoids what the press is saying: “I try not to read anything, because I feel like it’s not the best for my mental health [laughs], but I did have a mom of a few young kids tell me, ‘This is the first time I feel like myself in years!’ and that was so cool to hear.”
Be Your Own Pet played a number of SXSW showcases earlier this year, in addition to a set at Shaky Knees, and they spent the summer touring Europe, but tonight they kick off their first full-scale US tour since 2008 in Chapel Hill. And this coming Sunday, October 22nd, they’ll be headlining our very own Underground Arts. “We’re really excited to be back!” Pearl tells me of the band’s return to the 215. And while these upcoming dates might not be, “quite as chaotic,” as those shows I experienced during my years at UArts, she says that the shows definitely still get pretty wild: “I’ve been crowdsurfing a bunch in these past few shows! I couldn’t really do that back then, because people were always trying to put their hands up my shirt or something like that.” She also tells me that the shows have gotten quite a bit longer this time around: “We play for like an hour now, which is crazy… I’m in pain like the whole time, but I’m always just like, ‘Don’t stop!’ There’s less yelling, and more singing, so I’m just trying to catch my breath the whole time.”
Jemina says that Mommy and the accompanying headlining tour won’t likely be the last we see or hear from Be Your Own Pet: “I feel like we kind of opened the floodgates when we got back together and started writing… I think after these dates we’ll write some more songs and see where it goes, and probably tour some more in 2024, as well. As long as it feels good, we’re gonna keep going, because it’s not like we have a contract that we have to fulfill or anything.” But she admits that, for the time being, they’re just thrilled to be performing again: “I’m just excited to be playing live again. Any time I’m on the stage, I’m happy… We haven’t toured America in so long, so I don’t know how it’ll go…” And I’m happy to hear that Jemina doesn’t read what the press is saying, because I wouldn’t want the band to feel any added pressure, but I’m guessing this will be the only show of the year that could possibly rival opening night of Le Tigre’s reunion tour this May at Union Transfer, so I would highly recommend getting tickets…
*Get your tickets here.