At midnight on my 21st birthday, I was painfully sober, driving my unequivocally drunk friends from a party in Clifton to a party in West Chester. Somehow, over the sound of my own drink-less rage, Ladytron's "Seventeen" was rattling the factory speakers of my Corolla, almost mocking me with the repetitive, "They only want you when you're 17/ When you're 21, you're no fun." I have reserved a special dark place in my heart for that song; not only was it no fun at 21, but nobody had wanted me at 17 either.
Some people have all the luck, like Jemima Pearl from the smash Punk quartet Be Your Own Pet. She has the luxury of having been both wanted and fun between the abyssal void of teen and twentysomething, a time when most of us don't have anything to celebrate but our awkward stages.
Pearl is the band's squealing matriarch, the self-proclaimed glue that holds the band together. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore discovered the band when Pearl was just 17. Be Your Own Pet soon released its first album, Be Your Own Pet (XL/ Ecstatic Peace), and was thrust upon the national stage. She obviously isn't phased by age.
"Being in a band definitely forces you to grow and it also let's you be a kid forever in a lot of ways," Pearl says.
Being in a band full of teenagers, however, isn't all fun and games. There is a wealth of responsibility for youngsters in a Rock band. The dynamic is similar to a typical household, but instead of parents, a record label in is charge.
As professional, albeit young, musicians, BYOP must write, rehearse and record albums on a semi-regular basis. They must be on time for interviews. And, of course, they must tour as well.
"There's a lot more thought behind what we're doing than people realize," Pearl says.
The dynamic of the band is unusual, BYOP is the Holden Caulfield of the working musical acts today, not wanting to grow up while actively participating in adult tasks.
The band's second effort, Get Awkward, is deliberately ironic in nature. The release of the album was one of the most edifying and mature experiences for the band thus far, considering three songs from the album were cut at the insistence of Universal Records. The delightful, carefree awkwardness that the title suggests might be a complete misnomer.
"It's been pretty heartbreaking and frustrating to have the album, in the country we live in, not actually be our album," Pearl says.
Universal insisted the band remove three songs from the U.S. release of the album due violent content. In Europe, the album out is the album BYOP wanted out.
"(Universal) said if we could change the lyrics they'd put them out, but of course we're not gonna do that because there's nothing wrong with the songs," Pearl says.
"Becky," a song Pearl describes as a '60s-sounding girl-group murder ballad, was one of those cut from the record. The song is an amalgamation of the bad experiences Pearl had with female friends throughout her high school career. The song is about a friend who betrays her current best friend by getting a new best friend. The new best friend is then killed by the pleasantly homicidal former best friend in a playful show of affection for the friend that ditched her.
One of the offensive lyrics was "We'll wait with knives after class."
"I guess they're scared somebody's going to listen to the song 'Becky' and try to knife someone at school, which is completely ridiculous," Pearl says. "I don't really understand why ... it's definitely dark humor, but that's no different from rappers singing about killing people. I don't see how one is better of worse than the other."
Interestingly, one of BYOP's neighbors on Universal Records is Enimem, the routinely lambasted rapper who often offends ears everywhere with his questionable lyrics and personality. Eminem's song "97 Bonnie and Clyde" is about killing his spouse and using their daughter as an accomplice to dispose of the body.
Nonetheless, the songs that did make the cut on Get Awkward represent the riotously exuberant crux the quartet is renowned for. The opening track, "Super Soaked," is testament to Pearl's vocal prowess. Recorded on her 20th birthday, Pearl attacks her lyrics on this track like they're trying to steal her purse, each scream more deafening and superb than the first. Throughout she wails, "I just want to run around!/ I just want to party DOWN!" at volumes that could shatter windshields.
If you sandwiched the sex and anguish of Patti Smith's whine between a slice of Exene Cervenka's sharp Punk cry (making sure to cut off the crust), you'd have an open-faced Jemima.
Like BYOP's previous record, Get Awkward is mostly fraught with quick, three- to four-minute Post Punk power tracks, so brief it's possible the band upped the tempo purposely because one of them had to pee. Yet if you look closely between the deliberately sophomoric lyrics, aggressive power chords and the amalgamated temper-tantrum of their live shows, you'll find a maturity that is often overlooked. BYOP is actually a very savvy group that knows their sound is playful yet powerful.
To retool their youthful sonic formula, as they age could mean disaster, and Pearl knows it.
"With the lyrics I write or the way that I act, I don't think people realize I'm doing it on purpose and it's, like, calculated," Pearl says.
BE YOUR OWN PET plays Bogart's Monday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.