Heavy petting

Pub date June 27, 2006
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

The reasons were manifold, many-furred, and multihued, but this much was clear at South by Southwest 2006: The Nashville teen punk sensations Be Your Own Pet were definitely a band to raise your right fist Arsenio-style and woof at, like a member of the Bloodhound Gang at a sports bar. Fronted by the kittenish Courtney of a vocalist Jemina Pearl Abegg and filled out by the impressively fro’d bassist Nathan Vasquez, guitarist Jonas Stein, and drummer Jamin Orrall, and shaking it like Smell-style teenage kicks, Be Your Own Pet gave off the delicious fumes of scruffy Jack Russell terriers hopped up on ’roids, Pop Rocks, and raucous hip-shaking noise punk. They made all the right moves. They were as cute as little pink pills. They threw outrageous parties. They played heavenly bills.
Life in the fast lane. Frankly the entire scene made Orrall want to lose his mind, he said last week, fading in and out on the fiber-optic freeway leading from Texas to Arizona. “I didn’t really like that week,” the asthmatic drummer said — his nose clearly stuffed to hell and back. “We did a lot of shows and a lot of meetings and it was too much stuff with people who aren’t really into music. It felt gross.”
Orrall, who turned 18 last month, and his bandmates must have had some inkling of what would happen — they were born into the business. BYOP’s 2004 single “Damn Damn Leash” initially came out on Infinity Cat, the label run by Orrall, his brother, Jake, and his father, singer-songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall. Stein’s father is said to have managed Vince Neil, Vasquez’s pops is a flamenco guitar player, and Abegg’s dad is a rock photographer.
Helmed by multiple producers, including pater Orrall, Modest Mouse producer Jacquire King, Kings of Leon knob fondler Angelo, and Redd Kross’s Steve McDonald, Be Your Own Pet’s self-titled debut on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace (distributed by Universal) is a spiky, spastic — and yes, adorable — little mutt of a recording, reminiscent of early, primitive Yeah Yeah Yeahs and knuckle-skating riot grrrl, with the odd ode to bicycles, felines, and, urp, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Orrall doesn’t know if their music is “necessarily punk. We’re not really protesting anything,” he wheezed. Nonetheless he and Jake have been writing songs since they were 9 or 10, with few assists from the parental unit. “I wrote a lot of lyrics just in school when I was kind of bored,” he explained.
So isn’t there a bit of a cultural disconnect occurring? The bands that sound like them are still toiling old-school, while Be Your Own Pet’s early single was slipped to Zane Lowe at BBC Radio One before finding its way to XL in England — and the teens have already played massive UK fests like Reading and Leeds and Glastonbury. Orrall likes the idea of their music finding its way into the hands of kids who shop chain stores in Dookieville, Pa. — are such creatures still out there? — but will confess, “It’s, like, pretty strange. We do the same thing, just in a different environment, but it’s hard to connect with the audience because they’re so far away.” (Kimberly Chun)
Be Your Own Pet’s Jamin Orrall’s five current faves
Dirty Projects, New Attitude EP (Marriage)
Thin Lizzy, Jailbreak (Mercury/Universal)
Chocolate Watchband, Inner Mystique (Sundazed)
Deluxin’, Deluxin’ (Stoneham Tapes) “Nathan [Vasquez’s] other band — it’s just like the Sun City Girls but a little more pop-rocky.”
Letho, Wood Ox (Stoneham Tapes) “I listen to my brother’s albums a lot. He’s made five or six records under that name on four-track cassette, but the last one was this six-part epic story of him being raised by oxen on the plains.”