When the mid-aughts punk phenomenon Be Your Own Pet opened for Jack White in Nashville last spring, it was the first time that Jemina Pearl’s 5- and 10-year-old children, Lula and Elvis, had seen their mother in full rock ’n’ roll glory: split-kneed on the ground in metallic blue pants, singing songs about zombies to a screaming, enraptured crowd.
Be Your Own Pet had just started playing shows again for the first time in 15 years after breaking up in a London airport. A solo record released in 2009 left Pearl disenchanted by the industry, and she hadn’t quite found her way back to the stage since becoming a mother. She sold vintage clothes, got her GED and watched her music influence a generation of primal Southern rockers. But when people asked her what she did for a living, she never knew what to say.
“I felt like I had to compartmentalize those parts of me,” Pearl said one afternoon earlier this month, wearing a Tina Turner T-shirt and sipping a before-noon beer. She and the rest of the band — the drummer John Eatherly, the bassist Nathan Vasquez and the guitarist Jonas Stein — had gathered at Fran’s, a Nashville haunt for cheap drinks and karaoke not far from where they all live. “But I can be both,” she added. “I can be a good mom and nurturing and loving, and also be this wild persona.”
A new Be Your Own Pet album, aptly titled “Mommy” and due in August on White’s Third Man Records, is music that meets her, and the band, at exactly this moment: It’s punk rock made by adults old enough to know better but young enough to forget it all when the music calls for a scream — or a power drill.
On “Goodtime!,” Pearl sings about being annoyed that no one asks her to hang out anymore since she had kids, while “Worship the Whip” is a propulsive ode to the dominatrix. The sound is still loose and wild, the hallmarks of the band’s first two records, but Pearl’s more personalized lyrics provide a fresh urgency, while Eatherly, Stein and Vasquez’s musicianship turns the youthful promise of their early sounds into a more complex and quirkily melodic framework.
“It would be inauthentic if we tried to write songs like teenagers,” Pearl said. “And there aren’t a lot of punk albums about motherhood.”
The band quickly became a juggernaut after it formed in 2004, while the foursome was still in high school (its first drummer, Jamin Orrall, left to join the garage punk duo Jeff the Brotherhood). After gaining steam locally and at festivals like South by Southwest, it became the subject of a label bidding war, signing to Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace.
The whirlwind soon proved overwhelming. Eatherly attended one week of junior year before going on tour, tossing his homework in the trash. The adults around the band, strangers to working with such young kids, didn’t always have their best interests at heart, and Pearl was repeatedly sexualized in the press, to the point where it became almost unbearable. Other older musicians on the Nashville punk scene, annoyed with how fast Be Your Own Pet rose to fame, talked smack.
Toward the end, the band struggled to keep up with expectations for its famously wild stage show. “I’d think, ‘I need to top what I did last time, so I’m going to drink more, do cocaine,” Pearl said. “It wasn’t healthy.”
Stein was the first to declare that he’d had enough, and all the members went their separate ways in 2008. For years, they didn’t talk. Pearl released a solo record that featured Iggy Pop; Stein fronted the band Turbo Fruits and later found a fruitful career as a D.J.; Vasquez and Eatherly formed several projects. All four members struggled to capture the magic they once had together. “We were so young,” Eatherly said, “and there’s a certain chemistry you just can’t recreate.”
It took the band 15 years to find each other again, and the balance they yearned for. In 2021, Third Man Records (co-founded and co-owned by Pearl’s husband, Ben Swank) expressed interest in re-releasing its two LPs for a series that honored “forgotten but important bands.” Pearl floated the idea to Vasquez, who wasn’t interested in living in the past: If the group was going to re-emerge, it was going to have to write new songs.
The spark came back almost immediately, and when White proposed that Be Your Own Pet open for him on tour, Pearl immediately said yes. Its first official show was at the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, a bigger stage and crowd than the band had played in the past. A secret warm-up gig in the East Village billed as “Bring Your Own Poppers” helped the quartet iron out the kinks beforehand — musically, and muscularly.
The did everything they used to before going onstage: rounds of jumping jacks, slapping each other in the face to wake up. “We are all in our 30s, though, and our stamina is not the same,” Stein said. “Nathan looked like Frankenstein the next day, his neck hurt from thrashing around so much.” Back in the day, Be Your Own Pet shows were full of so much kinetic energy and onstage acrobatics, the band often whipped through a whole set in a 30-minute fury.
The first two gigs felt good, though, like that teenage chemistry had never left, so they kept writing. Their musicianship, finely tuned over the years, allowed them to better articulate their ideas, and the wisdom of age helped remove childhood egos from the mix. “We sound like four songwriters giving it their all,” Vasquez said, “instead of a couple dudes trying to come up with rockin’ riffs.”
That energy funneled into perhaps the most punk-rock song about not being punk rock, “Goodtime!” Built around Stein’s guitar, “it’s the ultimate FOMO of being a parent,” Pearl said. She thought it would be funny if she took the model of hardcore bands erupting into a shout-rants, except here she’s shout-ranting about having to pay her mortgage.
“Bad Moon Rising” charts Pearl’s struggle with bipolar disorder, and Stein used a real drill to create the sound of a “lobotomy doctor.” “It’s nice to make light of something that has caused me a lot of pain,” she said.
On “Big Trouble,” the band gets political: “I want wages for housework, I want child care for free, I want on demand abortions, full body autonomy,” Pearl shouts, articulating the anger that bubbled beneath the surface as a teen and then a new mother.
“Nathan said recently that it feels like our second first album,” Stein said, and everybody nodded. The artist Allison Russell, Pearl’s close friend — their daughters have gone to school together since they were 3 — thinks it’s the strongest work of the band’s career. “I’m thrilled for her to be back on her own terms,” Russell said in a phone interview. “This is a classic record that people will grow with. And motherhood doesn’t mean you can’t make the best punk rock of your life.”
At the end of her beer, Pearl was ready to pick up her kids and prepare for her daughter’s impending birthday. “As a mom, I feel forgotten,” Pearl said. “This album is me taking the power back.”
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