The music industry is full of horror stories that typically include shitty deals, artistic suppression and dramatic flameouts. And in some ways, a band like Nashville's Be Your Own Pet seem ripe for exploitation: They're young, they're fronted by a beautiful firecracker blonde, and they come with a ready-made feature story angle i.e. Nashville teens with industry parents play punk music.
But in truth, Be Your Own Pet's savvy decision-making and protracted genesis make it impossible to dismiss them as some sort of fleeting fad. In fact, it's ironic just how much bands could learn from this bunch of teenagers, whose age and origin have made them media darlings while their rambunctious, precocious rock revelry has established them as critical favorites. Not only are the members a prolific bunch with a handful of side projects going simultaneously but they've managed to guide their own careers, shrewdly choosing a smaller label that allowed them the rare combination of control and resources.
"We've all been playing music with each other for such a long time," says baby-faced new drummer John Eatherly, who replaced the recently departed Jamin Orrall. "I've only been in this band for like, maybe, two months"
"Three months," interjects Jemina Pearl, who's wedged in the corner of a cramped, graffiti-covered backstage room at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia, one knee pulled up to her chest.
"Three months now," Eatherly continues. "But, I mean, I had a band with Jonas [Stein, guitarist, called Turbofruits] that we still do right now, and I have a band with Nathan [Vasquez, bassist, Deluxin'] that we're currently doing right now. I mean, we're all just friends that play music."
Be Your Own Pet emerged from a cluster of acts (including Jimmy Cushman? and the Sex) that had been messing around since as early as 2002. If this band were to end tomorrow, it seems the members would be content to go back to their side projects and basement recordings, back to playing house parties and tiny clubs.
They released their first single, "Damn Damn Leash" on Infinity Cat (a boutique label started in 2002 by original BYOP members Jake and Jamin Orrall and their father, songwriter Bob Orrall) and watched as the MP3 shot across the Atlantic and onto BBC Radio 1. XL Recordings released the band's debut EP.
And suddenly they were riding the buzz especially after standout performances at CMJ and SXSW and courting offers from majors and indies alike. But they chose Ecstatic Peace, a niche label specializing in fringe underground noise projects run by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. Translation: instant cred.
The band's eponymous full-length debut (released stateside in June) is filled with quirky, vintage punk songs that bulge with jagged energy and delightfully fun, idiosyncratic moments. Take "Bicycle, Bicycle, You are My Bicycle," which opens with an overtly simplistic drumbeat. It manages, in a hair over two minutes, to capture both the silliness and paramount importance of simply being badass, with a lurching, escalating bridge that's infectious as hell. And just try keeping the seductive caterwaul riff on "Wildcat" from getting lodged in your head for days.
Ecstatic Peace doesn't just have the prestige of being associated with Moore it also has a distribution deal with Universal. This puts the band in the enviable situation of having their cake and eating it too: being on an indie with major-label muscle. "We deal with Universal a little," Nathan Vasquez says. "They'll have guys come to the shows and put posters up for us and stuff."
"But when we have to talk to the label on the phone, we deal with mostly [Ecstatic Peace general manager] Andrew Kesin," Pearl says. "They kind of just let us do whatever we want with our videos. And they haven't really given us that many opinions on what our artwork should be or anything like that they just let us do what we want."
Doing what they want includes making videos like the one for "Adventure," which has the band hunting and feasting on a guy in a bunny costume that's reminiscent of the same aesthetic they've always employed in their self-made videos. They also appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien as pranksters, with half of their faces covered in shaving cream.
But not everything is unorthodox about BYOP. The quartet has focused on winning fans the old-fashioned way: hitting the road hard with its kinetic live show (which meant ditching school in the process). "Well, we all worked on getting out of school, whether it was finishing early, just leaving or finishing up on the Internet," says Jonas Stein. "Halfway through 2005, we started seriously touring, and we've just been doing that ever since."
And, like most bands making a living without MTV or mainstream radio, shows are uneven. "Baltimore was one of the worst crowds ever," Pearl says.
"Yeah, but that was a fun gig to play, because you've really got to win them over sometimes," Vasquez adds.
Everything about BYOP, from the skinny jeans to the onstage WWF-style takedowns, to Pearl's spaz-punk dance moves, is simultaneously earnest and adopted. Understanding all the inevitable connotations associated with being a young punk band, the bandmates indulge and defy expectations with a beyond-their-years blend of irony and fervor.
And as a result, they've had an exciting couple of years. Since releasing their debut and a few EPs, they've played major festivals (Lollapalooza, Reading, Leeds, Lowlands in the Netherlands), toured with the Raconteurs, accrued a slew of mainstream and international acclaim in music pubs, and lost a drummer all the while controlling their fates.
When Pearl sings deliciously subversive lines like, "I'm an independent motherfucker/And I'm here to take your money/ I'm wicked rad/And I'm here to steal away your virginity," full of sinew and snarl, it's easy to believe her.