Don't mess with Jemina Pearl
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Be Your Own Pet's 2008 breakup came as a surprise to many, including its lead singer, Jemina Pearl. After signing with Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label two years earlier, the Nashville band won over critics with bratty charm and rambunctious punk odes to exploring, bike-riding, and horror movies (totally apropos, since they were teenagers at the time). But the band split up, and someone had to honor that distribution contract with Universal. Writing songs with BYOP drummer John Eatherly, plus power-pop power couple Anna Waronker (That Dog) and Steve McDonald (Redd Kross), Pearl pieced together Break It Up, a solo debut that raises hell and pays homage to '60s girl groups, often simultaneously. The A.V. Club caught up with Pearl at the beginning of her current tour, which hits the Triple Rock on Thursday, Feb. 4, to talk about getting Iggy Pop on her album, being the wrong kind of Barbie, and her reputation for violence.
The A.V. Club: How soon after Be Your Own Pet broke up did you start writing new songs?
Jemina Pearl: Immediately, pretty much. When we broke up, I kind of threw myself into writing because I didn't know what to do with myself. I wasn't expecting us to break up. I just had to keep myself busy. Some of the stuff, like song ideas and lyric ideas, were meant to be new songs for Be Your Own Pet.
AVC: Were there things you got to do with this record that you felt you couldn't with the band?
JP: [There were] different influences and things I'd always really liked that I didn't get to do in Be Your Own Pet because that band was kind of a democracy. We all had an equal say in things. But I definitely wanted to get inspiration from girl group bands and '60s pop music. I started listening to a lot of Patti Smith and Richard Hell, and I was getting inspired by their lyrics. Especially Patti Smith, she's such a poet. I had higher aspirations to push myself to do something different. I'm trying not to sing songs about pizza all the time, even though pizza is really great. I just wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and become a better artist.
AVC: How did you start working with Anna Waronker and Steve McDonald?
JP: Steve and Anna are kind of like my surrogate family. Steve produced both Be Your Own Pet records, so I've known him since I was 17, and when the band quit he was one of the first people I called. I think I might have called him before I called my parents. So when I was like, "I don't know what the fuck to do with myself," I was staying with Steve and Anna, and they were like, "Let's just write songs." So the beginning of a lot of those songs started with being with Steve and Anna. They're both amazing human beings and incredibly talented.
AVC: Did you write "I Hate People" with Iggy Pop in mind?
JP: No, not at all. When people were like, "It's your solo record! Who is it your dream to work with?" the only person I could really think of was Iggy Pop, but I just threw that out there on a lark. ... So Thurston sent his manager and Iggy the song, and we waited a while to see if he'd want to do it or not. And then he said yes, and I was totally shocked and amazed.
AVC: Speaking of people known for their stage antics, there was a story going around a few months ago that you beat up some dude at one of your shows.
JP: This was just the first time someone wrote a story about me beating somebody up. It's funny that every interview I've done since has been like, "You beat somebody up?" Eh, that's old news. I actually got in another fight during that tour but it wasn't onstage, it was at a bar. That one didn't get written about.
AVC: What do you think the fact that you keep getting in fistfights says about you?
JP: I think sometimes people come after me, whether they know I'm in a band or not. It used to happen a lot in Nashville. ... They try to provoke me and I've always been the kind of person where—I have a very low tolerance for derogatory terms toward females, so I guess that would be part of the reason I get in fights. And I know a lot of girls who take a lot of shit from dudes and don't do anything about it, and I've never wanted to be that way. But I don't necessarily think it's a good thing that I get in physical fights, it's just sort of a gut reaction when someone calls me a cunt.
AVC: When it comes to artists who start out young, it seems like there's more scrutiny for women because there's this lecherous interest in charting their maturity. Have you found that to be the case?
JP: Being a female in this industry, it's hard. There are so many double standards for things. I read this one thing and it was like, "It seems like she can't figure out if she wants to be sexy bad girl or cutesy good girl." Yeah, because everyone's either one thing or the other. You're either Homecoming Queen Skipper or Delinquent Cop-Out Barbie. And you can't be anything in between the two. That's not how human beings are.