Essay

Be Your Own Pet, Unleashing a Howl

Performing is a hair-raising event for Jemina Pearl of Be Your Own Pet last month at the 9:30 club, where the garage-punk quartet from Nashville opened for Sonic Youth.
Performing is a hair-raising event for Jemina Pearl of Be Your Own Pet last month at the 9:30 club, where the garage-punk quartet from Nashville opened for Sonic Youth. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 2, 2006

Want to know what Be Your Own Pet's 17-year-old bass player, Nathan Vasquez, thinks of the Vans Warped Tour? You know, the annual summer rock-and-roll road show and marketing extravaganza that currently favors the high-strung and highly popular strain of music known as emo?

Burp.

That's what.

"It's not really our thing," Vasquez -- he of the peach fuzz moustache and rack of braces -- says with a shrug after having belched loudly and spontaneously.

Punk rock, baby!

On the same day the Warped Tour ("Presented by Cingular Wireless") is kicking off up the interstate at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Vasquez and Be Your Own Pet's 18-year-old guitarist, Jonas Stein, are sitting backstage at the 9:30 club, explaining why their barely legal Nashville garage-punk quartet spurned overtures to join the touring celebration of consumable youth culture.

"We didn't want to be with all those other bands that are playing," Stein says. Nothing personal against AFI, Senses Fail, Against Me! and the rest of the Warped acts, he says, but -- okay, maybe something personal: "All this emo-screamo stuff seems so overdone and pretentious and not real."

Instead of throwing down with thousands of their fellow teens, then, the pups in Be Your Own Pet are preparing to sprint through two spiky, snarling sets of high-volume, high-velocity music in front of a couple hundred comparative elders. Inasmuch as gnawing on Pop Tarts, slurping Coke and debating the culinary merits of Ben's Chili Bowl constitute pre-show preparation, anyway.

The young punks -- and we mean that in the nicest possible way -- are the opening act for veteran noise-rockers Sonic Youth, a band that formed a half-dozen years before the birth of Be Your Own Pet's oldest member, the hyperkinetic platinum blond bombshell of a singer Jemina Pearl. (A forceful presence blessed with Debbie Harry's looks and Karen O's vocal timbre and tendency to spasmodic twitching onstage, Pearl turned 19 two weeks ago.)

"Any rock band of 17-, 18-year-olds would love to do the Warped Tour," says Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, whose Ecstatic Peace record label released BYOP's eponymous debut album last month. "But they were like: No. Way. They see it as fabricated, moronic music and a propagation of dumbed-down youth culture, and it's who they tried to set themselves apart from in high school."

The band is not made up of wannabe child stars desperate to crack into the big time, Moore says. Though all four musicians have parents in the music business -- Stein's father, for instance, manages rock star Vince Neill, while drummer Jamin Orrall's father co-wrote Shenandoah's 1990 country hit, "Next to You, Next to Me" -- there are, Moore says, "no annoying ambitious tics" in the band. Just four former classmates from the Nashville School of the Arts with an affinity for loud, marginalized music and thrashing out together onstage like the love children of Bikini Kill and the Stooges.

"They just want to be in the van playing doughnut shops across America with their friends," Moore says. "They know that right now, that's the coolest thing they can do."


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