Pearl packs punch — on solo de­but, vs. show heck­lers

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr

mehr@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

Jem­ina Pearl is no shrink­ing vi­o­lent. Though at a glance, she won’t strike fear into any­one, the for­mer Be Your Own Pet Singer and cur­rent solo artist has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as some­one not to be tri­fled with.

Just last week, dur­ing a con­cert in Detroit, she re­sponded to a vi­o­lent front-row heck­ler with a lit­tle bit of rock and roll jus­tice. Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral pub­lished re­ports, Pearl gave the much-big­ger man an old-fash­ioned beat down while her back­ing band played on.

“I’m fine with the au­di­ence be­ing part of the show. I’m just not OK with peo­ple try­ing to phys­i­cally harm me or in­sult my band,” says Pearl.

“The dude was flick­ing lit cigarettes at me and (an­noy­ing) my band­mates. That’s dif­fer­ent. I’ve been do­ing this since I was 15, so some light heck­ling and fun, I know what that’s about. I heckle bands too; I get it, that’s part of the show. But when things get per­sonal or they ac­tu­ally try to harm you that changes things.”

For­tu­nately for Pearl, the rest of the gigs on her first solo tour haven’t been fraught with as much drama. On Thurs­day she’ll ap­pear at Mid­town’s Hi-Tone Café, part of a bill head­lined by Cana­dian in­die rock­ers Is­lands.

Pearl’s cur­rently out in sup­port of her solo de­but, Break It Up, re­leased on Sonic Youth leader Thurston Moore’s Ec­static Peace la­bel.

While the disc has been winning plenty of crit­i­cal raves, for Pearl, the al­bum rep­re­sents a fresh start per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, fol­low­ing the rather abrupt and un­ex­pected end of her fast-ris­ing Nashville band Be You Own Pet last sum­mer.

On the heels of the band’s split, Pearl wasn’t sure the di­rec­tion she was go­ing to take with her ca­reer. The sit­u­a­tion solved it­self when she hooked up with Be Your Own Pet gui­tarist John Eatherly. “John was work­ing on demos for his own project, and I was just writ­ing lyrics. Around this time last year we kinda got to­gether and started to write a bunch of songs,” she says.

Shortly af­ter, Eatherly and Pearl, a life­long Nashville res­i­dent — her fa­ther Jimmy Abegg is a noted Mu­sic City artist and pho­tog­ra­pher — de­cided to pull up stakes and head for New York City.

“I re­ally wanted to leave Nashville be­cause I’d lived there my whole life and I think it’s good for peo­ple to move around and ex­pe­ri­ence new cities,” says Pearl. “Go­ing out on my own and mov­ing to a dif­fer­ent place def­i­nitely pushed me out of my com­fort zone in a lot of ways. And that was re­flected in the mu­sic as well, as far as try­ing new things.”

Pearl’s solo ef­fort, pro­duced by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Di­nosaur Jr), pro­vided the 22-year-old mu­sic vet­eran fresh creative op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“John (Eatherly) and I were on the same page in that we kinda wanted to break away from what Be Your Own Pet had been do­ing — not be­cause we didn’t like it, but be­cause we had been do­ing it so long, we were just want­ing to try some­thing dif­fer­ent and new.”

While BYOP’s mu­sic fit neatly into a snotty garage punk mold, Pearl’s solo de­but mar­shals a wider and more am­bi­tious range of in­flu­ences — melod­i­cally and aes­thet­i­cally. “John and I both had the free­dom to be in­spired by things that wouldn’t nor­mally work for Be Your Own Pet,” says Pearl. “Stuff like ’60s pop, girl-groups, ’70s glam sound­ing stuff. Re­ally ex­trav­a­gant records like David Bowie’s Di­a­mond Dogs, things like that were an in­flu­ence.”

Among the al­bum’s high­lights is the punchy pop an­them “I Hate Peo­ple.” Pearl had been fan­ta­siz­ing about get­ting punk leg­end Iggy Pop to sing on it. Her la­bel head Thurston Moore man­aged to get a copy of the track to him and “it turned out that he re­ally liked it and he wanted to sing on it,” says Pearl of Pop, who added his dead­pan vo­cals to the tune’s catchy cho­rus.

With her al­bum re­leased ear­lier this month, Pearl and her band — which in­cludes lead gui­tarist Eatherly, Maxwell Pee­bles on rhythm gui­tar, Ben Pear­son on bass, and Erik Ratensperger on drums — will be on the road un­til the hol­i­days be­fore tak­ing a break. Af­ter­wards they’ll re­turn to the road hit­ting Europe next year and then back through the U.S.

For Pearl, the shift from be­ing a band front woman to solo artist hasn’t been as dif­fi­cult as some might ex­pect. “It does feels weird to see posters with just me and my name out there. But on­stage it re­ally feels like a band and that what every­one is do­ing is im­por­tant,” she says. “So it doesn’t ever feel like it’s the Jem­ina Pearl show.”

Fair enough, though at least one very sore Detroi­ter might dis­agree.

For Jem­ina Pearl, the shift from band front to solo artist has been fairly smooth — cer­tainly not as dra­matic as a beat down with a front-row rowdy at a Detroit con­cert.

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