Get Awkward is the sophomore full-length from Nashville foursome Be Your Own Pet. Making it presented new challenges for Jonas, Jemina, Nathan, and John, and yielded some surprises. The songs remain fast and loud, totally wired and tantalizingly brief. Applying the dubious word "mature" is open for heated debate string arrangements and soppy ballads are blessedly absent but the music definitely reflects a sharp increase in experience.
"I was nervous, because it was our first second record," confides guitarist Jonas Stein. Stop squirming that syntax does make sense. "Before we recorded our first album, we'd had those songs for God knows how long, before we'd gotten attention from anyone but ourselves." (Since 2003, to be precise.) And following that gestation period, the ditties featured on their self-titled debut and assorted EPs and singles enjoyed months of refinement on the road. "After all that, it was like, 'Okay, time to write a new record starting from scratch.' It was the first time we'd ever done anything like that."
"The first time we were recording was scary," singer Jemina Pearl recalls of making Be Your Own Pet. The band was reluctant to tamper with proven formulae. Dead set against it, actually. "Try a slow song? No way. That's not what we do!" This is where the aforementioned experience creeps in. "You realize, doing other things doesn't make you less true to yourself," she concedes. "So this time, we were trying to mix it up, have more variety, rather than just attack-attack-attack, the whole way through." Adds Nathan: "We knew what sounds we wanted to make with our instruments more easily, and could have more interesting parts, and more interaction."
Consequently, now there are shifts in tempo and dynamics: the rolling backbeat of "Becky," the abrupt time changes that punctuate "Twisted Nerve." You also get nihilism with pepperoni and extra cheese ("Black Hole"), and a stadium chant that unravels into white noise cacophony ("The Beast Within"). "There are songs you can listen to that make your heart feel a little soft," says Jonas, "and others that make you want to break something." Or, in the case of "Zombie Graveyard Party," eat some brains.
Why the change in attitude? "When you're younger, you have this specific idea of punk," observes Jemina who celebrated her 20 th birthday recording "Super Soaked," shrieking about her reluctance to grow up. "If you don't do this, or look like that, then you're not punk." Screw that. The Stooges featured sax improvisation. The Ramones sang love songs. There are no rules. "But sometimes you forget that, because you're trying to fit into the mold you think you're supposed to," she admits. "This time, we broke out and did what came more naturally."
Although the writing process was fundamentally the same, i.e. completely off-the-cuff, there were a few structural changes. For one, the installation of John Eatherly on drums which was only kinda-sorta new, since he and bassist Nathan Vasquez already played together in another band. And Jemina assumed responsibility for the majority of the lyrics. It was she who picked up on the head-shaking, pill-popping, freak out groove of "The Kelly Affair" and grafted on a narrative lifted from one of her favorite movies, Russ Meyer's decadent 1970 debacle Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Likewise, she took all-too-typical feelings of adolescent alienation and betrayal, stuck them under the broiler, and pulled out the murderous revenge fantasy "Becky."
Working once again with producer and Redd Kross veteran Steve McDonald, the quartet savored the recording experience more on the second pass; overdubs and screaming matches were in shorter supply. "Being in the studio really magnified the songs, so you could see and hear details a lot closer," admits John. Not that they hunched over the mixing desk like tech nerds all day; in between takes, Nathan and Jemina still made time for bike rides.
As for the title"We called it Get Awkward for a reason," concludes Nathan. "There has been some definite awkwardness in learning what being in a band is about." Graduating from basement parties to touring with Arctic Monkeys, or dividing press time between homemade fanzines, Rolling Stone, and a bazillion blogs. Where the music is concerned, though, any growing pains have only served Be Your Own Pet well. That first third album can't come fast enough.