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Since at least 1976, when the Ramones' first album championed beating on brats with baseball bats, major record labels have regularly allowed punk-rockers to caterwaul about anti-social behavior. But those days have apparently passed, as Be Your Own Pet lead singer Jemina Pearl Abegg knows from personal experience. Universal recently released Get Awkward, the band's latest disc, sans three tunes judged to be lyrically problematic, including "Becky," a mean-girls ode that contains the couplet "Me and her, we'll kick your ass/We'll wait with knives after class."
"These mysterious, dark-figured lawyers looked at the lyrics and said no — and I don't understand it," Abegg confesses. "I think corporate America's so scared."
On the surface, Abegg, twenty, is far from frightening. The daughter of Jimmy Abegg, a Nashville guitarist and photographer who's spent much of his career in the Christian-music end of the industry, she grew up "having to listen to, like, Leonard Cohen every single day of my life," she remembers. That's enough to drive any kid toward punk rock, and by the time she was in her middle teens, Abegg was making a righteous racket in the company of other music-biz kids, including former bandmates Jamin and Jake Orrall, sons of singer-songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall, and current cohorts such as guitarist Jonas Stein, whose artist-manager dad has represented the likes of Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil.
Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore liked what he heard, signing BYOP to his Ecstatic Peace imprint and co-releasing the act's self-titled debut with Universal in 2006. The words on that disc aren't exactly Hannah Montana-ready, either: "Let's Get Sandy (Big Problem)" features lines like "You can take a twelve-year old/And break his arms twice." Still, the group's approach is described more succinctly by the title of another tune, "Fuuuuuun." As Abegg puts it, "We want people to come to our shows and have a really good time — listen to our music and relate to it and start their own bands."
Instead, Abegg finds herself at the center of a censorship debate that seems completely disconnected from her band's songs. On "Becky," for instance, "I was taking bad experiences I had with girls, and being friends with girls, and trying to turn it into a funny narrative song. Not like killing people's hilarious, but dark comedy is definitely my favorite genre." Moreover, she feels that such tunes can actually have a positive effect. "I've always hit people, ever since I was a kid," she admits, but "being in this band has helped me deal with my temper."
At least until the lawyers got involved.
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with Be Your Own Pet's Jemina Pearl Abegg.