Rocking all over America since age seventeen, contentious bad-ass punk diva, Jemina Pearl, hit the ground running in the now-defunct Be Your Own Pet before hijacking their drummer to co-compose a few tunes as lead guitarist in a solo venture she only hoped would satisfy loyal minions. The oldest daughter of churchgoing Jesus-worshipping hippies whose father played in a local rock and roll band, Pearl’s cutesy snot-nosed tomboy image and volatile onstage disposition proceed her.
Drawing listeners in with prudently smoothed-up pop gloss while saving her best stripped-down punk gunk for closure, Pearl’s wide spectrum of songs show off a versatility only hinted at in her former band. Using glam-rockers Lou Reed, David Bowie and Suzi Quatro as well as ‘60s girl group pioneers, the Shangri-La’s, for inspiration, her impressive debut, Break It Up, gains mainstream viability due to Iggy Pop vocal collaboration, “I Hate People,” a combative snip circumventing novelty status thanks to Pearl’s vicious misanthropic sneer.
Piss and vinegar run through Pearl’s coarse veins on pissy fuck-offs such as “Undesirable” and loose-y goosey glam slam, “Selfish Heart.” Similarly, ‘black tears’ stain her pale face on the guitar-rumbled “No Good.” On the more sensitive side, innocent love trinket “Heartbeats,” melodic pop charmer “Band On The Run,” and leathery black-hearted Joan Jett-enticed decree “Looking For Trouble” manage to ‘cut a little deeper.’ Meanwhile, “Ecstatic Appeal” could easily pass for a coquettish Go-Go’s new wave knockoff.
But it’d be unfair not to mention co-composing multi-instrumentalist John Eatherly, whose resourceful musical designs bolster Pearl’s venomous words of wisdom. As Be Your Own Pet’s mightily frenzied stick-handler, Eatherly provided raucous bottom end to Pearl’s rascally rampaging raunch. For Break it Up, he brought in fully formed song ideas perfectly suited for possible paramour, Pearl. Look at it this way. She’s sly seductress Mae West on a bender and he’s the guy willing to serve toxic potions to his bold gal pal. So come out and see ‘em some time.
It seems as if you put the most conventional tracks up-front for greater accessibility while the greasy punk-snarled fury Be Your Own Pet dwelled in reinforce the albums’ backend.
JEMINA: We just tried to figure out a good flow.
JOHN: That way the kids will keep on listening. It may be more accessible. We were listening to a lot of ‘60s pop, getting into Classic ‘60s pop formulas for structure and hooks. That, in itself, was somewhat mainstream.
JEMINA: We’re really happy with it. We’re not necessarily gunning for a bigger audience.
Fervent confessional opener, “Heartbeats,” relies on ‘60s-styled drum rolls and conventional love song etiquette.
JEMINA: I feel that’s more ‘70s-oriented. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile and she hadn’t seen me play since Be Your Own Pet and saw us play and said, ‘Dude, it’s really awesome. You finally got to do all the stuff you love that you couldn’t do with them. It totally sounds like glammy ‘70s rock.’ That’s what it sounds like to me more than ‘60s pop. Maybe it’s a combination of ‘60s pop structure and orchestration with glittery David Bowie/ Suzie Quatro affectations.
Your latest songs seem more heartfelt, sensitive, and mature. Are you more in touch with your inner feelings?
JEMINA: Last year was really gnarly. The best way to deal with fucked up shit is to write about it so the lyrics dealt with messy situations I was in. Maybe it’s more heartfelt. But I wouldn’t say it’s prissy shit.
You got label colleague Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth’s guitarist, to lay down some licks for “Band On The Run.”
JEMINA: Thurston played noisy backup guitar. He broke a string on that song and I said ‘Go get yourself another string.’ He said, ‘Why? I’ve got five more.’ He played the guitar up and down without the broken string. There’s not a lot of Thurston soloing. It’s like his version of a solo.
JOHN: He’s wandering around surfing the guitar.
How does John Agnello’s production on this solo project differ from what Steve Mc Donald (of Redd Kross) did for the Pet records?
JEMINA: Steve jump-started me to work on this record. After Be Your Own Pet broke up, he told me not to sit on my ass and to start writing. We grew up with Steve, but working with John was nice. We started at square one. He let us do what we wanted to do but tried to rein us in whenever it got too… He tried to keep us in check.
There’s a sassy contentiousness that seems to follow you wherever you go. You project black-hearted drama onstage.
JEMINA: I don’t know if I love controversy. I’m trying to be true to myself. I stick to my guns and don’t let people fuck me over. Like the time at Mercury Lounge (fronting Be Your Own Pet), that guy was heckling me, being mean, and came up onstage and I said, ‘What’ve you got to say to me now?’ He’s like, ‘I love you.’ He leaned in to kiss me and I said, ‘No!’ I slapped him across the face and then he proceeded to grab me. Immediately, the boys used their instruments as weapons. The club didn’t throw him out though. I have a tough girl image from growing up in a rough neighborhood. It’s not the same now. But drive-by shootings, transvestite hookers, and crackheads burning down houses were my favorite hits. But I’d rather not paint a sob story.
Does “Nashville Shores” touch upon your old neighborhood?
JEMINA: No. It’s closer to the airport in South Nashville with an amusement park and water park on a sandy lake. It’s really white trashy. Our bassist used to work at Nashville Shores as an alligator mascot one summer. It’s a joke to write a song about accepting the fact of where you grew up. You grow up hating where you live and just want to get out of there. Once I actually left, I thought Nashville wasn’t so bad.
Why’d you move to Brooklyn like a large percentage of well-known underground musicians recently have?
JEMINA: I always loved New York.
JOHN: We already had a bunch of friends here. It’s amazing. It made the most sense. There’s always something going on and I like that I don’t have to park. Everyone I work for is up here.
“So Sick” is a virulent snipe I thought may’ve been a delectable Pet leftover.JEMINA: We were listening to the Plasmatics one night and thought it’d be fun to write a song like that. Also, I fucking hate having to have a computer to check e-mails. Now, everyone wants me to do a blog and twitter. Everything sucks! YouTube stars and modern life is gross and nasty. When we play shows, everybody’s so busy taking pictures with digital cameras instead of actually having fun enjoying the show. There’s so many great pix of ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s artists. But now it’s a clusterfuck of immature people who buy cameras and think they’re a photographer. That’s my mini-tirade. It’s great that MySpace made music so accessible. But there’s also such a downside. It clutters up the atmosphere – not to sound elitist and snobby. It takes away the mystery.
“Selfish Heart” is a two-minute punk slammer that seems totally impromptu.
JEMINA: It was pretty much written in two seconds. John had a guitar part reminiscent of Devo and I started to come up with a melody quickly about a dude I was dating. Those songs are usually my best.
Did you get to meet Iggy Pop after he added vocals to “I Hate People” in a separate Miami studio?
JEMINA: I met him in 2006 at an All Tomorrows Party festival Thurston curated. He was really friendly and said he saw me in Spin. He knew about Be Your Own Pet – which totally blew my mind that my hero knew me. I was more than a blip on the radar. He was my dream guy to work with. Then Thurston and Kim sent him the song and he sang on it. We didn’t sing together, which was bittersweet, because I didn’t get to sing in front of my idol on the same room.
In general, how do the arrangements differ from Be Your Own Pet?
JEMINA: We have more freedom. There was a strict sense of formula. Sometimes when one person stepped outside the line in Be Your Own Pet, someone would be ‘What was that?’ We wanted a wider variety. Now, there’s only two heads.
JOHN: I wrote a lot on tour with them, accumulating a bank of songs. Musically, I had all these new ideas figured out and Jemina wanted to use them.