Justin Pearson makes us all look like slackers. The 40-something bassist/frontman/conceptualist has done more to mutate strains out of the hardcore movement than anybody in recent history. From his days fronting Swing Kids, fomenting electronic grind calculus maniacs the Locust (who have ended their hiatus with an appearance at the Desert Daze Festival this month), shearing his throat lining in Retox and Deaf Club and holding down the low end alongside Dave Lombardo and Mike Patton in Dead Cross, Pearson is a lifer. There’s no way this dude is going to sit in a cubicle for eight hours a day.
But the hustling grind is the way he likes it. By keeping in perpetual motion, Pearson has been able to navigate his personal tastes while still laughing at the lines of demarcation set up by genre purists and mainstream listeners. He didn’t come up with the line “Art imitates life,” but he tends to follow that dictum constantly.
He spoke with Altpress about the things he’s got going on his schedule, the end of Retox and the rise of Deaf Club, where he finds the time and why running on a treadmill with several part-time bands is actually a bigger blessing than we might think.
Is there ever a time when you’re not busy? Or did you dedicate your life to the assumption that if you were going to go full into music, you were going to go full-on 24/7, 365?
JUSTIN PEARSON: It’s a little insane right now, to be honest, but I’m in four part-time bands. I would be psyched if I was just in one full-time one. It might be a lot easier. But I know the part-time part isn’t my choice. So I have to roll with what I’ve been given.
If somebody calls up and says, “Hey, I’m free. Let’s do this,” you’re ready to commit?
It’s like, “This is happening this month, and this will be happening next month,” and however things pan out, they pan out. And I’m usually down for whatever and at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, as far as taking a break or stopping or whatever.
It is a little crazy right now because usually things do intersect for whatever reason. Like right now, there’s a bunch of stuff intersecting, and it’s [a] little crazy. Last week, I had a bunch of Deaf Club stuff, and then now it’s Locust stuff. And then before I [had] some Planet B stuff, and I’m also working on demos for the new Dead Cross record. So it’s just like, “What the fuck? How did all of it come together at once?” And then Martin Atkins wants me to work on some Pigface stuff with him. And I’m not gonna pass that up. But I’m also like, “Holy shit, why do I want to agree to work on someone else’s band?” [Laughs.]
Because you know that the work is sometimes its own reward.
Stress is a bummer, but I’m also psyched that I have the opportunity to do all the stuff I do. I would rather be stressed about having a lot of rad shit to work on and rad people to play with than no one giving a shit about what I do. It’s like my efforts aren’t going unnoticed or whatever that would be. That would be a drag, for sure.
Your schedule doesn’t allow you to have a working stiff job. You do publicity and promotional work with your company, the Chain.
The Chain is like my nonmusical income. But there’s so much shit that I do that it’s random, just hustling and things just to make ends meet and to be able to function.
I worked at this gay club for almost a decade, and it was a really great place to work because I thought the gay community was interesting, and they were pretty open to what I did—obviously, accepting to me being totally weird and shit. And so it was great. But I remember turning 40 [and thinking], “I’m not sure I can handle cleaning up a 21-year-old’s vomit anymore.” Like I’m 40 years old, and it’s not that I’m saying I’m better than that. No one has ever had to clean up my vomit, except my mom. I just figured I was going to do it on my own.
It’s been four years so far. I’ve been doing PR for bands and stuff. It’s still in the musical realm, and it kind of all fits into the other things that I do. But then I’ll just do like some weird research study where I’m a guinea pig, or I’ll do some sort of manual labor helping someone build a part of a studio or something—like whatever comes up, you know? I’m not dead yet. [Laughs.]
Considering the art that you create, I would not use the c-word to describe it.
[Laughs.] What c-word are we talking about?
Commercial. In fact, your work is blindingly uncommercial. It’s a type of pin-pointed art that’s only going to resonate with select people who understand that and react to the stuff coming out of the speakers. When you have to hustle, does it affect the art in some way?
I think I’m the kind of person that’s like, [after] any show that I play, I’m like, “That fucking sucked. We fucked up,” or “I fucked up.” That was not good. And I’ve never [been] like, “This is awesome. We’re awesome. Like, we’re fucking kicking ass.” It’s always like, “I think it could always be better.” I don’t know. I always cringe at everything once it’s done. Like any record that comes out, I’m like, “Yeah, we could have done this or that, or this could have been better.”
I think the life that I live ties in with the art. I mean, it’s like when people say, “What are your influences?” And they’re looking for you to, you know, ramble off like five or 10 bands. That’s relevant and important.
But then there’s [the comments of], “Why do you like that shit?” Well, I like all this weird-ass stuff because my life is like this. and I’m influenced by these other things in life, not a band that influenced me. It’s like this life, event, personal struggle or some sort of conflict, social injustice or whatever you want that makes you go, “I want to listen to Septic Death.”
I remember being a little kid and my parents were like, “Why are you listening to this stuff?” And I’m like, “Well, because you’re both alcoholics, and you beat each other up, and this makes sense.” Like, I’m getting beat up at school, and everyone is calling me “a fag.” So I like totally insane shit, you know? I think that even in your daily life, whatever you’re doing, it all impacts where your artistic output is. I just like this self-described “anarchy of life.” It all filters out through the some sort of product.
And your output is all over the place. After a long respite, the Locust are finally back. How’d that happen?
Not to set myself apart from everybody else, but I was always like [to the other members], “I’m down for whatever, whenever. Just [so] you guys know, you know, let me know.” And then by chance, a booking agent that’s been booking for Deaf Club and Planet B was like, “These are the people hitting me up about the Locust.” It seemed appealing.
We were already into having this idea that we were going to casually jam and write a record, record and then have a record done, and no one would even know that it happened. But that got fucked up in a good way. Like, “Hey, you want to do this show? And we’re like, “Shit, that sounds cool. We want to play with Devo at Desert Daze. That sounds interesting.” I don’t think that the whole band isn’t able to or willing to be a full-time guest touring act. So we have to be selective about the stuff we do.
You’re still working with Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo in Dead Cross.
Yes! We’re going to be recording, I think, before the end of the year. I just was in L.A. yesterday with those guys rehearsing or writing.
Is Michael Crain involved?
He is. It’s the same kind of band that the Locust is. I don’t think anybody can really be replaced.
He did have a cancer diagnosis.
I definitely understand where he’s coming from. I can’t say that I can completely relate, but I understand where he’s coming from, where like he is full force. Like, “I need this to help me survive” or whatever. And so everyone’s like, “Fuck, yeah.” I think having that in his life will help get through this crazy shit that he’s facing. think it’s good for him, and I think it’ll be good for our band.
Which is why he was no longer interested in doing Retox any longer.
It just became a lot of extra work for him and for me. I would kind of chime in after material was written. They would write the songs, and then I would kind of step in and write lyrics to it, and then we’d arrange things if needed, you know? I think that he had a lot of shit going on, and we just figured we’d give it a break.
Is Planet B, your electronic hip-hop collaboration with Luke Henshaw, is still active?
Yes! Luke and I have been working on this film score for this skate movie called Skate Face that’s coming out. It’s a documentary about skateboard art. We’re also working on a more complicated lineup [by] adding a second drummer.
What will you be doing with Pigface next month?
[I’m] one of the many bass players. Martin hit me up about a lineup of three bass players and seven drummers. It’s funny: I’m like, “Hey, real quick, before we dive into this, what are the tracks that I should learn? When are we going to rehearse?” And his answer was like, “Rehearse? Ha ha!” That was it. I’m like, “OK, I don’t know what songs I’m supposed to know. I don’t know when.” I mean, I know when the first show is. I don’t know how I’m getting there. It’s interesting, though, nonetheless.
Why did you start Deaf Club? Was it, in a sense, replacing Retox?
Nick Zinner [Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist and Pearson’s bandmate in Head Wound City] and I did this thing called More Pain, which was for part of a film score that he was working on. The movie was about surfing witches or something, so he wanted me to do some thrash stuff, so we did these three tracks. And then the movie never came out. So Three One G released the three songs on a flexi. At one point when the record came out, there was a lot of attention, and people were like, “Wow, this new band.” And I’m like, “It’s not a band. It’s only Nick and I.” And it’s only, I think, maybe a minute-and-a-half of music—one of the songs is 15 seconds. I started to try to piece some stuff together, and it just didn’t seem feasible. I wasn’t really that interested in putting a lot of effort into maybe just playing one show or something. So the band that I was trying to piece together ended up becoming what Deaf Club is. We already started working on an LP, and I think it’s gonna be like a normal, normal real band.
“Normal” for you is something completely different to the rest of the world. Deaf Club sounds like you’re trying to reach a new land speed record. Do you still have a love/hate relationship with hardcore?
I do. [Laughs.] And it’s funny because in Deaf Club, it’s the first time I think I’ve ever had the opportunity to sing over D-beat parts. And I’m pretty psyched on that because it seems like your traditional hardcore and it’s not asshole hardcore.
I do cringe at elements of [hardcore]. But I also think the last time I explained my distaste for hardcore, the world’s changed a bit and lightened up. That weird masculinity aspect is gone. It seems a bit cooler, more androgynous and not as macho or something along those lines. I guess I’m less irritated by hardcore these days. [Laughs.]