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