Be Your Own Pet: The Kids Are Alright

The Social, Nottingham on Saturday 28 January 2006

Punk bands come and go faster than penile traffic in and out of Jodie Marsh’s tango-splattered twat, it’s this circle of constant cataclysm and counter-creation that keeps the genre feeling fresh (although, much like Marsh, the smell of sweat always seems to linger). With the modern punk scene operating at a faster turnover rate than ever, the staple genre of teenage rebellion has coughed up few bands to truly capture the imagination of the wider public, as innovation-free outfits kick up a racket that only makes an impact to youths who are not old enough to have heard it before.

Thankfully this is about to change, as Be Your Own Pet are set on the brink of reclaiming punk’s place in our minds and hearts. Four Nashville teens, out to cause havoc and have a good time, have won the support of almost all who witness them, but how they’ve ended up so popular, no one’s quite sure – least of all them. Speaking with them in Nottingham in the midst of their first UK headline tour, there’s no deep philosophising on life or music, no real insight or bold statements made, they’re just a gang of friends that have been whipped out of their garage and are being carted round the world on a big adventure. They seem to love it.

“We’re having lots of fun, there’s loads of energy” is the verdict of the bands unofficial leader, Jonas, when asked how the tours been going so far. He’s like any other American teen – spotty, longhaired and passively benevolent. When probed as to what it’s like being a member of Be Your Own Pet, understated responses of “I dunno” and “It’s just like being any other kid, except playing music” are an innocent charm.

Throughout the interview the band don’t say much, answering with the barest minimum. They’ve been together since the fall of 2003, “but there was a previous incarnation” and when Jonas informs that this is their fifth visit to the UK, power-pill blonde Jemina, the band’s explosive lead singer seems positively impressed, “Wow! Is it really?”

We talk about the smalls and specifics of this tour and previous ones, but with all the number responses and ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers, the transcript reads more like computer programming than an interview. Eventually discussion turns to the band name itself – Is it a euphemism for masturbation? Jemina looks to the ground and sighs, it’s clear she’s being asked a question that a lot of smart-alecs have asked her before, “no, it isn’t, a lot of people think that, I guess you all have dirty minds. It’s Jamin’s dad - he wrote a song called Be Your Own Pet.”

Bass player Jamin is a vacant but well-meaning, afro-clad stoner, the one you suspect the other’s gently rib for trying to get all deep on them after too many hits from the bong. “He suggested that we used it as a band name. At first we were all indifferent to it but we came round” is his vague justification. Maybe it would have been wise to probe further, but they don’t seem to be hiding anything and to do so would probably only generate a response of “urrr, I dunno?”.

They’re playing in town on the same night as Test Icicles, the UK’s own riotous fission rockers, and they’re keen to catch up after the show, having played with them before. “We played with them the first time we ever came here, at a club called Infinity in London,” says Jonas, whilst Jemina chips in with the token “They’re great guys”, as if I’m on the brink of trying to start up some inter-band rivalry which she’s trying to prevent.

But whilst both wild, visceral and a joy to witness, where Test Icicles excel in ridiculous cross-genre dabbling and wide cultural knowledge, Be Your Own Pet lack. Whilst Jemina proudly tells me, “I can bake cookies and cupcakes really well. I know how to knit, I made a sweater,” the other band members are stumped when I ask them if they’ve got any hobbies or talents outside of music. “I’m REALLY, REALLY good at smoking weed”, pips Jonas. That’s, like, totally rad man.

But they are a sincerely loveable lot, and are clearly fuelled on good intentions. Jemina is the brightest spark, throwing in sound bites - “We’re all experts in the field of partying” - as if she knows every journo is simply looking for a good tag line. They love the English crowds – “They dance a lot, they’re really fun. They get really into it, it’s really exciting,” she continues, whilst Jonas adds, “They’re a lot more receptive over here than they are back in the states.”

Is it hard to gain awareness of your band in America because it’s so much bigger. Do you take a different approach to picking up fans? Jemina tackles this question: “Yea, it’s a much bigger place and the radio is totally different. Here (in the UK) the radio stations play what people want to hear, but over there they play what will make them the most money for commercial air time. So, it’s the most mediocre stuff possible so that people won’t change the station.”

Following this I ask her if, being the rarity of young girl working in a predominately male field, does she ever find that she gets sleazy old men making passes at her. The scowl returns and she curtly responds, “Oh yea, totally. I think it’s kind of weird and it’s annoying but there’s not much I can do about it so I just try and ignore it.” Does she think it has made her less tolerant of people? “I’m not a very tolerant person to begin with,” she says in a manner to suggest that if I probe her any more I might have to face the wrath of this intolerance first hand.

The punk ethos of not having a fucking clue what’s going is kept in tact when asked of their long term plans for the band. Jonas aims to, “Just fuck shit up,” Jemina’s here to “have fun”. Jamin’s trying punk rock as an anti-ageing device, as he plans to “not get old” and, failing that, to “die”.

Building up to the final question of “where does Be Your Own Pet fit in with the grand scheme of everything?” it’s become apparent maybe some of the questions were aiming a little too high. Perhaps asking about their favourite TV shows or whether they were into skateboarding would have inspired great chat, as when I do eventually ask them my final gambit, I’m greeted with a long, confused silence.

“Uhhhh... on the outskirts, maybe?” offers the modest Jamin.

The silence continues and it’s left to Jemina to sum up the point that’s been elusive in the conversation so far – “I just get to hang out with my three best friends and play shows and travel round the world – It’s pretty fucking awesome.”

And you can’t really argue with that, can you?

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article by: Alex Hoban

published: 05/02/2006 13:27