JUSTIN PEARSON: RETOX
Justin Pearson is screaming his head off, and he wants you to hear it! After twenty years and almost the same number of bands, Pearson and his new band, Retox, have an album out and tours lined up to spread the word. Ipecac Recordings released the band’s debut album, Ugly Animals, in August of last year, and it is just the latest chapter of a punk rock book that Pearson has been writing all of his life. With songs full of protest, distrust, and disgust, Ugly Animals finds Justin playing from his comfort zone.
While Retox is his latest incarnation, Pearson established his roots in the early ‘90s bands Struggle and The Swing Kids, though it was his work with hardcore act The Locust that saw Justin breakthrough beyond punk’s natural borders. The San Diego native is a punk rock lifer and is every bit the social and political activist. Much like indie legends Fugazi, he routinely plays concerts that benefit local causes and is steadfast in his support of all-ages shows.
Not just content with playing the game, Pearson wanted a say in its rules too, so in 1994 (as a then nineteen-year-old) he founded Three One G Records. Over the ensuing eighteen years, Three One G has become a sort of hothouse for burgeoning punk and hardcore acts. His label has been a haven for the musicians he likes to collaborate with, and a helping hand to those just finding their voice.
On the verge of starting yet another tour, chorusVERSEchorus caught up with Justin Pearson to talk of a life in hardcore.
You have been in numerous bands, run your own record label, authored a book, and are very socially and politically active. Your motivation and drive seem tireless, what fuels them?
Justin Pearson: I think my motivation comes subconsciously. I don't feel like I am aware of the overall picture when starting a project. As cheesy as it may sound, it just comes naturally. Like something I have to do.
Generally speaking, the bands that you have performed with would fall into the category of Punk/ Hardcore. Is there music that you want to create that would reach beyond that genre?
JP: I wish I wasn't artistically limited. There is a lot I would love to do, but it's just not part of my DNA I suppose. However, I feel I am influenced or interested in a wide variety of stuff, which all steers me in certain directions. So the outcome of what I do tends to be a bit out of line in some respects. I suppose the stuff I do is classifiable to some people, but I feel it never fits any genre's guidelines.
Does Retox approach or make music differently than any of your previous bands?
JP: Sure, it all depends on who is part of each given project. Whatever the players bring to the table has the outcome of the collective.
Having been in so many bands through the years and having dealt with all the headaches/ heartbreaks that comes with it, what do you find is the single most frustrating aspect of life in a band?
JP: Well there are certainly negative aspects of each project, but I think even those aspects create a positive outcome in some way. I certainly learn from mistakes or even figure out more applicable ways to execute future things that I will take on.
In turn, what is the most rewarding aspect?
JP: There are so many rewarding aspects, such as traveling, meeting interesting people, creating stuff that I enjoy with people who are like-minded and also inspiring to me, as well as trying to take a productive approach to social politics and collaborating with organizations and groups.
As mentioned earlier, you are a musician, author, label head honcho, etc... Looking forward, do you see yourself focusing more on one specific aspect of these, or are you happy doing many creative things?
JP: Sometimes there is more emphasis on certain things that I am involved in, which all shifts from time to time. I was starting to work on a new book, but completely put that on hold and dove into the new Retox LP. But I will get back to each aspect that I am involved in when the time is right. All of the stuff I have on my plate are not necessarily things that consume all of my time. Some of the stuff is very part time and can be worked on at my leisure.
You are playing some shows with Melvins, and in the past you have cited them as an influence. Is there another band or two that, as a fan, you would like to share a stage with?
JP: I have been lucky to have toured with some amazing bands in the past. I am looking forward to the dates with Melvins. As far as other bands who I have not toured with, there are quite a few. I really dig Pissed Jeans, Antony and the Johnsons, MIA, Tom Waits, Nouvelle Vague, Pre, Sonido Lasser Drakar… all artists who I would love to tour with.
You seem to have played a very prominent role in San Diego's music scene. Have you found it to be receptive to the music you make?
JP: Thanks for the compliment. As far as the San Diego scene, I think it has been constantly changing in good and bad ways over the years. But the term "scene" is skewed in my opinion. Growing up in San Diego, I realized that you don't have to follow the typical guidelines. I grew up seeing acts like Tijuana No and Amenity play together. Or a little later on, seeing a show that's bill was Unbroken, Clikitat Ikatowi, Undertow, and Slant 6. and it made sense and worked for everyone involved. So I think it was aspects like this which influenced how I see the musical community of San Diego, and even some of those abroad.
Finally, Retox put out an album last year and you are still playing shows supporting it, so I figure that will take up the majority of your time this year, but what else is in the cards for the near future?
JP: We actually just started working on a new album called "YPLL" which is just about finished. So that has been consuming most of my time lately. I do intend to get back to my third book, and I am sure things will come up here and there which I will take on.