2009 was a big year for Jemina Pearl.
In January, the Scene's music blog Nashville Cream reported that the Nashville-born former Be Your Own Pet frontwoman had resurfaced in Brooklyn, playing shows with her new band. Months later, shortly after her performance at Next Big Nashville in September, she sent another ripple through the blogosphere by allegedly beating up a cigarette-flicking heckler mid-show in Detroit. Then in October, Pearl released her first solo album, Break It Up–a surfy, summery punk record that calls to mind early Blondie, co-written by former BYOP drummer, current bandmate and boyfriend John Eatherly. The album features a cameo by none other than punk legend Iggy Pop — on the breezy "I Hate People" — and the video costars Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore (another album contributor) as a feckless line cook. Pitchfork had mostly lovely things to say about the erstwhile Nashvillian's first solo effort.
Then again, they would.
Speaking over the phone while nursing a broken toe she suffered DJing a party in Nashville, Pearl hints at some incredibly huge things on the horizon for the new year. These things are so incredibly huge, in fact, that she can't divulge details about any of them, due to alleged legal complications. So we talk about a bunch of other things instead. For instance, we talk about Nashville. (Of course we talk about Nashville.)
"Nashville is very in love with itself," Pearl replies, when I suggest that's what we, in fact, should talk about. She admits having a love/hate relationship with Music City. The hate has shown itself in onstage comments like, "Fuck you, Nashville."
On the other hand, that hostility conflicts with the sentiments reflected in songs like the nostalgic "Nashville Shores." ("It's not a lot / It's all we've got, it's all we've got.") The love obviously comes from her roots here, whereas the hate stems from ... well, her roots here. It seems Pearl still harbors some resentment toward the press and other local naysayers. "I've always felt like Nashville hasn't been very kind to me. Seems like they've been really kind to my bandmates from Be Your Own Pet, but not me ... and I'm never sure exactly why that is. I mean, we're both doing the same thing."
For anyone who lives in Nashville, it's no secret that the local hipsterati are quick to turn their backs on and noses up at local success stories–hell hath no fury like a blog commenter's scorn for a local band that plays most of its shows out of town. This ill will, whether real or perceived, may or may not have worsened since she skipped Music City for the Big Apple. Pearl — whether she's doing "the same thing" as her former bandmates or not — isn't doing it here. It probably didn't help relations when, soon after alighting in Brooklyn, Pearl told Pitchfork: "Nashville's an interesting city, but it's one of those places that's better to visit. I'm sure everyone in Nashville's going to be like, 'fuck you,' but I'll say 'fuck you' right back to them."
Regardless of Nashville's opinion of her, the rest of the country seems to understand that Pearl is a pretty tough chick who put out a decent punk record, sings about hating people and is prone to putting the smack-down on an audience member or two. On paper, that could just as easily describe late shock-rock guru G.G. Allin. But, when asked about recent controversies surrounding much-blogged-about acts of onstage violence, Pearl attributes it all to an aggressive feminist reaction to the way she and other female performers are treated when onstage.
"I think girls take a lot of shit," she says. "People say just disgusting-ass things to you, and it's just shocking. You wouldn't say that to my face if I was like, not on the stage. So why do you think it's OK to say it to me because I'm onstage?" And that's when the comeuppance ensues.
From a distance, it's just as easy to blame this dark side on the symptoms of fame — another child star gone bad. Only Pearl was never that famous, and she really isn't all that bad. After all, how could you not grow up tough after spending your teen years on tour in a rock band instead of at soccer practice?
"Being a girl ... being 17 on the road, you learn a lot of stuff really quickly about how to take care of yourself," she says. She likens her years with Be Your Own Pet as the equivalent of high school and college, and with equal parts affection and astonishment. Reflecting on stories from that time, she wonders, "How did we all come out alive ... with no illegitimate children and no drug problems?" Things have calmed down between the former bandmates, but she meets any suggestion of a potential BYOP reunion somewhere down the road with a resounding "no."
"Maybe when I'm, like, way older and almost broke, and the only way to make money is a reunion tour," she says. "But I hope I don't have to do that."
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