To find her own voice,
the Be Your Own Pet frontwoman first had to break up her band.
BY A.D. AMOROSI
The last time this-here-writer ran into Jemina Pearl, she
was talking to a drag queen in Philadelphia who kept mispronouncing her name-perhaps
on purpose-and telling people she had abandoned her old band, Be Your Own Pet,
for a group of misfits who could best handle her more personal lyrics and
multitude of voices.
“It’s not like I found them on Craigslist or anything like that
but they’re a funny bunch,” says Pearl, of the
band alongside her on a jaunt across America to play her solo debut, Break It Up.
There’s an ex-member of The Virgins who she happens to be
friends with, her former drummer in the Pets (Jamin Orrall, now playing guitar
and writing songs with Pearl) and that Nashville band’s old
merchandise guy, Max. “I didn’t just want to hire musicians and become a pop
band,” she says. “This was personal.”
That’s how Break It Up started-from Pearl’s
desire to express her self lyrically and vocally beyond the cock-of-the-walk
tall-tale-telling of Be Your Own Pet and its two CDs for Thurston Moore’s
Ecstatic Peace label. Their eponymous debut of 2006 and 2008’s Get Awkward were hyper-speed punk
records of the very best kind. But Pearl
wanted more and less, something slower, more swaying and girl-group-y with
words that reflected her growth.
Actually a big part of how Break It Up came to be was courtesy the breakup of Be Your Own Pet.
and Orrall knew that BYOP’s other members wanted to do other things and other
projects. They felt like it was time to move on. “I was caught a little bit off
guard, but I didn’t… but it’s all fine,” says Pearl, with a slight halt in her voice. “I
knew that I would keep performing anyway, I would keep writing ‘cause it’s my
life. It seemed surprising that I felt so okay with it, actually.”
The bust-apart of BYOP wasn’t fraught with sorrow even though she grew up with
several of its members in Nashville,
went to school at that city’s famed School of the Arts and was part of its
all-ages scene at places like Guido’s Pizza and Bongo Java.
Not to sound cornball about it, but there was more
excitement that being scared of failing, more anxiousness at the great unknown
than there was sadness. “I was a little bit nervous and excited trying new
stuff,” says Pearl.
“But I gotta try to kill those thoughts. They don’t really mean anything good
Besides, she’d had a bunch of lyrics that she’d had written
over the past few years that didn’t really work with Be Your Own Pet (“When
you’re in a band, you have to think about how you’re projecting like one voice,
and kind of want everyone to agree with”), and Orrall had been writing music.
And though they each needed to convince the other to let them use what they
other had made on their own, they eventually grew to love the mutual respect
and desire. “There really was this thing for a minute where it was, ‘How can we
get the other one to do this?’ I don’t know, I think we were both excited to
just be working with each other. We’ve always been really close, ever since we
joined the band.”
So they packed up the truck and moved from Nashville
to Brooklyn as a first bit of purging. That,
in and of itself had to be rough, as the young Pets had lived in the city of
twinkling lights and Nudie suits forever. Then again, according to Pearl, Be Your Own Pet was always kind of the reason she
stayed in Nashville.
“When the band broke up, I kind of felt like, now it’s time for a change, like
scenery, and try to go somewhere else, and have a new experience. Nashville’s really
slow-paced, which is one of the things I think is good about it, I guess, for
certain people, but for me, I kind of like somewhere a little more full-on fast.”
That’s where Break It
Up comes in.
After you get past the old guys that helped her-label boss
Moore, John Agnello (who produced the solo album), Redd Kross’ Steve McDonald
(who produced the Pets) and Iggy Pop, who guests on Break It Up-it’s nothing but zeal. She laughs when I mention her
elders and is quick to say how they’re “a bunch of uncles that kind-of help and
look out for me.”
Iggy’s vocal on the Ramones-ish “I Hate People,” her first
ever long song, and an oddball one at that, adds baritone bluster to her Break. After that, this solo affair is
prettier if not pinker; intense relationship cuts like “Retrograde,” and lyrics
about life on the road that are so sensual you can taste them.
“I just added that line after eating lunch at my sister’s,
and I was like, “Oh, my hand smells like cheeseburgers and cigarettes,” says Pearl of lightening up the
mood of that song. There are danceable moments like “Looking for Trouble” and
“Ecstatic Appeal” the later of which she credits Giorgio Moroder with its
inspiration. There’s also the Buzzcocks-ian spunk of “Undesirable.” But mostly,
there’s the influence of Phil Spector, Shadow Morton and the girl group sound
of the Ronettes and Shangri-Las that invest the majority of Break It Up with an inventive spirit
most contemporary power pop groups lack.
“Me and my sisters-I have two older sisters-used to work out
dance routines like the Supremes or like the Shangri-Las. That’s kind of always
been one of my passions. I have always liked girl group music, so I think that
once we became more of a thing, became prevalent. Not all of the guys in the
band would be real thrilled about it. But Jamin [Orrall] has a real deep
passion for girl group music and texture, so exploring that more became fun.
It’s just solid pop music and it’s always fun to kind of be inspired by that
and have someone you like like the same thing too.”
Maybe Jemina Pearl isn’t so alone after all.