Jemina Pearl of Be Your Own Pet has spoken to NME about getting the band back together again after 13 years apart, the real reasons behind their split, and the downside of indie rock’s heydey.
Last week, the indie-garage punks announced they’d be playing two gigs, opening for Jack White’s ‘The Supply Chain Issue Tour’. It will be the first time the Nashville quartet takes the stage together since their split in 2008.
“If Jack White offers for you to open for him, you don’t really say no to that,” Pearl told NME. “To have a second chance right now feels amazing and I’m so ready to do it. I’m ready to be back on stage.”
Thanks to their two studio albums – 2006’s self-titled debut and its 2008’s follow-up ‘Get Awkward’ – the band made a rapid leap from the DIY scene to the cover of major magazines in the mid-’00s.
Pearl, guitarist Jonas Stein, bassist Nathan Vasquez, and drummers Jamin Orrall and John Eatherly, were all in their teens when they started making music together, and that “youthful energy” came through during their voracious live shows.
However, as the vocalist told us, youth may not only have been one of the reasons for their success, but partially to blame for their demise.
“We were 15 when we started,” Pearl said. “Then we were 16 or 17 when we started to travel and tour which is wild to think about. I have a daughter who’s about to be nine and I think, ‘when she’s a teenager would let her do that?’ I’m like ‘no way in hell.’”
She continued: “I’m in a really good place now, but there are complicated emotions that came with being so young and doing what we did at that time. Over the past few years, I’ve really made peace with a lot of that stuff. Now the joy is what’s leftover.”
Pearl’s husband, Ben Swank (who happens to co-own White’s Third Man Records label and record store empire) had stayed in contact with her ex-bandmate Stein, and helped them find a path to being friends again.
“When we all hung out, we definitely had some heart to heart conversations and apologised for past behaviours on everybody’s side,” Pearl said. “We were so young. You’re not aware of how your actions affect other people when you’re 19-years-old. I think it’s pretty easy for us to all let things go.”
It was the combination of rekindled friendship, hard conversations, and the recent revival of their genre that got them in the same room again last summer. At the time, Pearl had been talking to her former bandmate about the resurgence of artists who represented the messy party culture of early 2000s indie rock.
She continued: “I guess everybody’s calling it ‘indie sleaze’, now. A few years ago, it didn’t have that name yet. Bands from that scene kept playing festivals and I was like ‘I wonder if we could do that?’ So basically, me and Jonas were like, ‘Do you think we could get back together?’ We started talking about it, and we got, John, our second drummer and Nathan to all hang out. [It was the first time] the four of us got together since we left the airport of like our last show.”
Their founding drummer, Orrall gave them the blessing to reunite without him, and without any goal in mind other than to enjoy themselves they started playing together again. Though they’d only practised a “handful of times”, when White asked them to join him in Atlanta and their shared hometown of Nashville, it was an easy yes.
“The White Stripes were such a huge band for us growing up,” Pearl told us. “Now we’re putting it in perspective of what else we are gonna maybe do? I don’t know. Right now we just have these shows with Jack planned.”
Speaking on the nostalgia currently taking over festival line-ups and tour announcements, Pearl told us she has mixed feelings.
“I can see why people would love looking at old photos from The Cobra Snake when we’ve been locked up in our houses for the past two years,” she said. “In some sense, it seemed like it was a much freer time. But, it was a complicated time for me. There was so much more misogyny and people not being aware.”
Pearl added: “Ben just sent me the Reading Festival line-up from 2004 and there’s maybe five women on it, on the entire festival. It wasn’t all just Cobra Snake Bacchanalia. There was definitely a lot of sexism during that time.”
Some of that sexism was present in how the band was described in the press, so much so that when people started reaching out after the recent tour announcement the singer found herself getting “nervous” about being interviewed again.
“I’ve had horrible things written about me and didn’t feel in control of the narrative,” she said. “I felt overly sexualized often or demeaned because, being a woman, your creative output is always diminished.”
Pearl continued: “I was kind of traumatized by the press so going back and doing it again… I’m not in the same place that I was then. I’ve obviously done a lot of healing around all of that. It’s not normal when you’re a teenage girl to have people writing about you and talking about your body and the way you look and turning it into something very sexual.
“I saw this record review, and I can’t remember where it was, but it was like ‘and the slutty Jemina Pearl.’ It’s like, what? I’m 18-years-old.”
Pearl hopes that the industry has changed for the better, and appreciates how Be Your Own Pet’s influence has made its way to a new crop of indie bands.
“I’ve had so many people tell me ‘I started my first band because of you guys or you guys were my first punk show,’ which is amazing,” she said.
She gave us her own list of new acts that she’s a fan of. “I love Amyl and the Sniffers,” she said. “I think they’re amazing, they’re such a great band. Big Joanie are another band I absolutely love. I think they’re amazing and their message is so needed.”
Lots of talk around the band’s return focuses on nostalgia, but according to The Guardian, 50 per cent of the band’s listeners are new fans, aged 18-22.
“I feel like what we were doing at the time was really just for ourselves in a lot of ways,” Pearl said. “It was our creative expression as teenagers and being frustrated. We also just wanted to be a voice for other teenagers and show them ‘we’re doing this, you can do it.’ So, maybe new fans can also be inspired by that kind of that vibe. Do it for yourself. Everybody start a band.”
When asked if they have any music releases set for the near future, Pearl responded that they “don’t have any specific plans right now.”
“We have to get through these shows first,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll actually do a good job. I think all of us are having a lot of fun together, so we’re optimistic about what else we could do.”
You can purchase tickets to Be Your Own Pet’s April 28 show at The Tabernacle in Atlanta and April 30 show at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheatre here.