Monday, 24 March 2008

Be Your Own Pet Interview

It’s been two years since Be Your Own Pet unleashed themselves on the world with the furious punk-angst of their eponymous debut album. Now back in the UK to announce its sequel, ‘Get Awkward’, it still seems impossible to imagine these state-side kids as fully grown. With an average age of barely twenty and more energy than an ADHD kid on blue smarties, the Nashville foursome show little signs of slowing things down. Gigwise caught up with guitarist Jonas Stein to find out about being a teenager on the road, coping with the British rain, and the future for a band whose music seems more rampantly teenage than ever…

Despite the name of their new album, there was nothing awkward about Jonas Stein last week. You could almost see him slumped in a hotel room chair from the laid-back drawl emanating from the phone, playing the introverted skater kid behind his long rocker-boy hair. Be Your Own Pet had landed in Glasgow just a few hours beforehand, Jonas explained, and he’d managed to escape to the hotel room to get some shut-eye before their Scottish debut that night, elaborating of life on the road: “there isn’t too much middle ground, it’s like really fucking fun or really shitty.”

In keeping with the adolescent theme on ‘Get Awkward’, that addresses everything pubescent from playground feuds to high-school heartbreak, Jonas seemed to have plenty to moan about, particularly “lack of sleep, and waiting around. We had to catch a ferry to get over here, and it was really tiring, just trying to find a comfortable position to get some sleep. Another big problem is jet-lag. It usually takes the first two weeks to adjust to that, so the first two weeks are tiring because of jet-lag.”

The troubles don’t end with the jet-lag, either. “One thing I have trouble with is the weather, I’m very weather-sensitive. It’s just pretty grey and wet and cold, so I have to deal with that.” And then, just as Jonas began to risk descending into proper teenage paroxysms, he rescued his rant with: “Aside from that I like it.”

Be Your Own Pet have a special brand of nu-punk, one that blends the heavy guitar riffs of eighties Buzzcocks with the musical fun of Blondie. Like Karen O stripped of her maturity, but still smarting from the fight, vocalist Jemina Pearl is capable of terrifying lyrical rage, transforming the juvenile in “I don’t wanna do what you tell me to/I don’t have to listen to you,” into to the genuinely fearsome. When asked about the different reception the band get here, the birthplace of punk, compared to stateside, Jonas began to sound a bit more cheerful: “I feel like everyone’s a lot more up for it over here. There are always a lot more fans over here. I wouldn’t call us mainstream, but I think we’re more mainstream here than in the states.”

Pressed to say why that might be the case, he elaborated, “I think the UK is exposed to better music, the radio’s a lot more diverse. There’s a bigger population in a smaller square number of miles. Half of the people in America never hear anything other than rap songs and pop songs.” But being so young, there are a few perks to still being pretty unknown in the states, as Jonas explained, “Home’s kind of tame. It’s the one thing that’s stayed the same for us, which I like. Everything stays normal back home, and I hope that it stays that way.”

Be Your Own Pet’s success is accumulative rather than explosive, but they’ve still managed to grab an impressive amount of attention over the last couple of years. Playing in a band seems to come naturally to Jonas, who explains that he started his first at the age of twelve and has been playing ever since, even though he never expected things to take off quite as they have, saying, “My original plan was to take some time off from school and travel. I wanted to travel and check out Costa Rica. That was the plan in my early days of high-school. But in the middle of high-school we started the band and started surprisingly quickly getting love for it.”

So there’s nothing he feels he’s missed out on?

“I used to wish I could go to college, but I think I got enough of that going to visit friends and hanging out for a couple of weeks. I think I just like the idea of getting to meet a group of people. People always say in the long-run that college is the best part of your life, and the reason for that is because it means moving away from your parents, partying, meeting new people, having a good time, and learning things, and we’re kind of getting that same thing, just in a whole other unique sort of way. So I feel just as satisfied.”

It’s striking that ‘Get Awkward’ seems more self-consciously angst-ridden than ever. Where the first album managed all-out rage, this time around there’s a playfulness to Be Your Own Pet. It’s still feisty, but there’s a now a slightly tongue-in-cheek edge to the song writing. Jonas explained that the fun side of their second album “just kind of happened. We’re all just a little bit older and have a little bit more experience, our musical tastes have broadened. We were just ready to make a record that still had a humourous side but at the same time had some depth to it. Some of the songs are a bit more poppy and accessible, but still maintaining the energetic side.”

Where the music has matured, the lyrics have only grown more defiantly teenage. Of song-writing, each of them has a different part to play in the process, but ultimately, Jonas says, “We all sort of do it together, it’s all kind of random, you know, me, John and Nathan will knock up some riffs, we’ll put it together. For this album Jemina did pretty much most of the lyrics compared to the last record when we all contributed a little. But I think it’s almost better this way.”

So Jemina is the one still suffering from teenage tantrums? “Jemina’s good at doing the whole teenage angst thing. She genuinely has a lot of teenage angst from when she was younger. So it’s very genuine.” The peroxide vocalist certainly packs a few punches in ‘Get Awkward’. Jonas’ favourite track from the album, ‘Becky’, sees Jemina in full high-school feud mode, promising to “wait with knives after class” for an ex-best friend.

But Gigwise wonders how they long they can keep it up. Surely one day this impressively aggressive punk act will have to grow up and move on from the frenzied fury of their teenage years? Jonas doesn’t see it happening anytime soon:
“I guess right now we want to hang on to that temporarily because we will, eventually, grow up. But Steve McDonald [their producer] is forty years old and still acts like a teenager. A lot of the people we worked with are like fifty years old and they still act like teenagers so who knows? Maybe we’ll be like teenagers for the rest of our lives. I think we’ll just take it as it comes for now and see what happens.”

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