It almost feels wrong to be doing this, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the self-titled debut of Nashville teen punks Be Your Own Pet. The band flamed out less than three years after their debut came out, and in some ways, the band ran its perfect course; you couldn’t expect them to be singing songs about riding bikes when they were 23. They came, they released two albums, sparked a mini controversy when the label that distributed every Eminem album decided a couple songs by a teen girl about killing mean teen girls was too violent, and they broke up, their members going on to a variety of splinter cells. They died young and left a beautiful corpse.
But the principle reason to be doing this is what made Be Your Own Pet so special when they dropped their debut: how little Be Your Own Pet sounds like anything else that was happening in music in 2006, and how little sounds like it 2016. Granted, thanks to lead singer Jemina Pearl they’ll always be compared to early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and to Pretty Girls Make Graves and to Riot Grrrl, but in terms of a band being distributed by a major label, there hasn’t been anything remotely like Be Your Own Pet since (with the exception of Paramore, who took the same punk and classic rock influences to the mall. Which is not an insult; Paramore rule too). They were too weird for punk—plus they confessed to a love of classic rock; one of their songs was called “Stairway to Heaven,” as an homage, not as an ironic mocking—and too punk to fit in with the rest of the class of 2006’s blog hypes.
They hit the hype machine in that magic year of 2006, which means they were simultaneously over-covered and underrated. They got coverage on every site via the millions of blogs copied whatever was on Hype Machine that day, but it also came at a time when basically every new band was put into that feeder system of over coverage. It’s how Birdmonster, Voxtrot, and Cold War Kids could tour the U.S. before they could sell out a venue in their own city. So while a 17-year-old can look back at P4K coverage and think Be Your Own Pet were adequately appreciated, they are in some ways as forgotten as Tapes N Tapes. After all, their website redirects to a plumbing website.
But they deserve more. Their debut LP came out on a perfect date for a punk album; 6/6/06, the mark of the beast, the devil’s number, you know the one. It sounds like a group of teenage delinquents eating a case of Pixy Stix each, before they kill each other in a light tube fight. It sounds like the music that guitar-playing dude in Fury Road played as a teenager. It sounds like punching a giraffe to death on a vacation safari while you’re blacked out on Henry’s Hard Orange soda. Be Your Own Pet is like Being John Malkovich-ing into the volatile psyche of a teenager. There are songs about adventures (“Adventures”), songs that reference the new poem they just read (“Thresher Flail”/Coleridge’s Kubla Khan), songs comparing a partner to an umbrella (“We Will Vacation, You Can Be My Parasol”), and songs about burning down places that won’t let teens hang out (“Let’s Get Sandy (Big Problem)”). The closest thing this has to a ballad, “October, First Account,” has a chorus about ammo and cutting yourself. The whole thing is so combustible it’s a miracle this ever made it to tape, not to mention XL and Ecstatic Peace.
A lot of the writing around the band when they first started catching hype was whether or not it was deserved; that was the second wave of Thinkpieces around buzz bands in 2006. Were the bands we were hyping worth the hype? But Pearl was too much of a force to be reckoned with for that conversation to be very deep; after all, no other band in 2006 had a 17-year-old screaming lines like, “My brain is on fire, so piss right in my ear.” She was a magnetic frontwoman, but she wasn’t just screamed obscenities; her writing was more wide eyed and searching than she often got credit for. Plus, Jonas Stein, Be Your Own Pet’s machinegun guitarist, was the group’s super raw power; his riffs here are explosive, big, and cut through the onward thrust of all the songs like a giant neon lightning bolt.
When you celebrate a landmark anniversary for an album, usually you end up saying how much it changed the world, or how it made this huge impact, but in this case, Be Your Own Pet made the dent it needed to before the band dissolved. There’s certainly a part of every person holding a candle for a Be Your Own Pet reunion tour that wishes they were hugely revered and that every home came with at least a 7-inch of “Damn Damn Leash.” But that anyone is taking the time to remember them on the 10th anniversary of their debut is maybe even more than you could have predicted when the band first stepped out of Nashville.
Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced the VMP Anthology The Story of Vanguard. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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