The Locust, Some Girls, Holy Molar, Swing Kids, Head Wound City...these are just a few of the bands that Justin Pearson has been affiliated with over his musical career, which began at age 15 with his first outfit Struggle. From founding the independent record label Three One G (the roster for which includes almost all of the groups he has been involved with) in 1994, to penning books which serve as a collection of short stories taken from his own life, Justin Pearson has become a formidable presence and influence in hardcore music, not just as a musician, but in all aspects of the industry.

Originally founded alongside Gabe Serbian (drummer for The Locust and Head Wound City), Retox is one of Justin’s recent projects, and it is the most blisteringly aggressive and raw sounding material he has had a hand in creating to-date.

On November 25th Retox played the last show of their European tour at The CAMP Basement in London. Justin spent some time with The 405 post-gig to talk tour, projects, politics and the revolution.

So tonight was the last show of this European tour. How has it been for you?

It’s been pretty good. I mean we’re new, so it’s been a bit slower or whatever, but there’s been a good response and it’s been a lot of fun. I think that, for obvious reasons, some of the highlights tend to be places where some of our friends are. We toured around Italy and did a bunch of shows with Zeus! and it was really awesome and special to play with those guys, and there were some DJ’s up there that I’ve worked with so that was really cool, also seeing Warsawwasraw in France and stuff like that. London is always fantastic, we have a lot of friends here and it’s a lot of fun to play in this city. So yeah, those are the high spots of the tour.

 

Describe the birth of Retox, if you can. How did you guys come together?

The birth of the band came from Gabe and I talking about how we wished Head Wound City did and would do more. I think we were both looking to do something that was a bit more crude and brutal sounding. Maybe straight forward compared to what we were used to doing together. After carefully putting together a line up, we were set.

 

You and Gabe have played together in numerous other projects including The Locust. How and why does Retox differ from them?

I suppose musically it’s stripped down, and a bit more minimal. Where The Locust or say Holy Molar was maxing out options to create different sounds and textures, Retox just takes the direction of a regular four piece.

 

I won’t use the word “front man” because it seems a little inaccurate in terms of how you guys work, but how do you consider your role in Retox in comparison to your role within other projects?

Compared to say, All Leather, it’s much different. One thing with Retox is, the band is up in L.A. so my involvement is limited and usually I get demos via the internet and work on lyrics and go from there. I have noticed that with All Leather, where I would be more present physically for rehearsals, I could put in my two cents and influence more of what the outcome would be. Where with Retox, it is sort of done by the time I get exposed to it. However, with the new line up, and the fact that he band has started to fit into its skin, I have been able to have more of an influence in parts and the overall outcome of the material.

 

To what extent to you see music as a platform for political activism?

Questions like that are fantastic, but they’re so massive. I’ll just say this: I think that music is really the only form of effective communication because it crosses all boundaries of gender and class and race, you know. It goes beyond words, so that’s really important. It doesn’t even have to be like this specific political agenda in a song, it can involve the whole spectrum of emotion, positive or negative and I think that’s really important too. One other thing that I’d like to say on that is that a lot of people think that the opposite of love is hate, and – I mean the kind of music that we play is pretty aggressive and negative, but I don’t think that we’re hateful at all –I think that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy. I think that there have been a lot of artists that could be saying something but instead they go for the lowest common denominator, you know, like a Juggalo or something. It’s just bullshit.

 

What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street?

I mean we’re obviously in support of that, it’s a fantastic movement and it’s great because it started whilst we’ve been on tour so we’ve seen it all over the world. I think it’s really impressive that we’ve seen that stuff everywhere. There was graffiti that I saw, on the BBC news I think, and it said “this is stage one of the revolution”, and it gave me chills because I’m like, fuck man, maybe in my lifetime there could be a real revolution...because we need one.

If you could meet John Pike, the officer that pepper sprayed UC Davis students during a peaceful protest, what would you say to him?

It’s weird because I’m not necessarily a pacifist, but I really do admire those students and I feel like the only thing I’d want to say is – and I don’t necessarily believe in good or bad karma per se – but I would say that karma is going to get that guy. He’s already lived a fucking shady life, he’s already a piece of shit, and if he’s the kind of person that’s going to execute someone like that.... I mean, a lot of people argue that that was his order, that was his job, but you know what, if I was a fucking cop and someone said “go over there and pepper spray those people” I’d quit. Fuck that. That guy’s a scumbag and, like I said, the universe will deal him his cards, simple as that. It’ll happen, just like it’s going to happen to all these CEO’s, you know, they’re all going to get it too because, believe it or not, those scumbags have a fucking conscience.

Your new book ‘How to Lose Friends and Irritate People’ is out now - this is your second “autobiography”. Was there a particular reason you chose to write them, or was it something that just happened naturally?

I wouldn’t really call either autobiographical, but the choice in writing them came from my interest in writing for myself and with support from people whom I shared my writing with. I put the work into potential book formats and it kind of went from there. When I first started writing, and even to this day, I still am a bit shocked that I pulled off publishing anything, let alone hearing that people enjoy the stuff.

 

Your lyrics for Retox read almost like poems, in a warped, telling-of-ugly-truths William S. Burroughs kind of way. Do you approach writing books in the same way you approach writing lyrics?

Damn, thanks for the compliment here! I’m flattered.  As for writing lyrics compared to books, I don’t know that they are similar. For one, with lyrics I write the material is time sensitive. There is only so much text one can place in a song that I am part of. This is apparent as well with titles for songs, as it’s one more chance to say something else that pertains to the body of lyrics, but I do see my first book a bit like, say, a Locust album. It’s all short pieces, all a bit dense and sometimes absurd. But with my second attempt at writing a book, I think I have developed a bit more “skill” where it comes off more fluid in some respects. Nonetheless, I am still learning how to write on all accounts, songs, books, etc.

 

You’ve been running Three One G for over 15 years now. Is there a particular band or release that you’re most excited about at the moment?

I am excited about everything we do. Of course things have slowed down a bit in recent years, but the latest bunch of stuff is amazing. I love Warsawwasraw and Secret Fun Club. Both bands are family and create amazing art in my opinion. Of course there are other artists whom I wish I could work with and even things that I wish I could afford to put out on Three One G, but we are fairly limited financially at times.

 

How old were you when you first heard Joy Division and how much of an influence do you think they’ve had on you musically?

I discovered Joy Division when I was about thirteen. Originally I was not all that into them. I think at that point I was sold on bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Septic Death, and harder stuff. But later on, I really took a liking to the band and eventually Swing Kids covered 'Warsaw' on our EP. Now in retrospect, it’s obvious they have had a huge impact on music and art, both the sound and the image of the band.

 

In your Three One G bio you describe Western culture as “stagnant and boring”. Do you feel the same about the current state of the music industry as a whole? As an inevitable part of Western culture, how do you, or don’t you fit into your own perception of it?

I’m not sure I can say what I feel about the current state of music in one statement. Where it has its obvious criticisms, I think things run in cycles. But Western culture does prescribe to the sort of lowest common denominator, with music and a lot of other things.

 

What did you want to achieve or express with Retox that you haven’t done so with other projects? 

I’m not exactly sure. I feel that if a band sets out with an agenda, it can easily limit you. But I could easily say that we just want to create honest art and have it be the best as we can make it. That goes for anything we all do.

Are you and Gabe still married?

Oh we never were married. We tried to get married as a joke, and there was a lot of homophobia at the time and a lot of people were being really outwardly homophobic against The Locust so we were like, let’s get married in Hawaii but it wasn’t legal...but uh...he’s married to a really awesome woman! Gabe and I never hooked up.

Retox’s ‘Ugly Animals’ is out now on Three One G/Ipecac


Justin Pearson’s latest book ‘How To Lose Friends and Irritate People’ is available for purchase via Three One G.