Singing with The Bloody Beetroots might not get you far career-wise. But you will probably have a funny story to tell afterwards
If you’ve ever listened to spazzy American hardcore bands – especially one that wore insectoid, skin-tight, full body nylon suits – then you’ve probably encountered one of Justin Pearson’s many groups.
Having played in acts such as All Leather, Swing Kids, The Crimson Curse, Holy Molar, Head Wound City, and Some Girls, Pearson first began playing with Struggle, a San Diego hardcore group, in 1991. He is also the founder of seminal independent hardcore record label Three One G, an imprint that houses a harsh crew of mean-sounding experimental, weirdo noise-mongers, including Black Dice, The Blood Brothers, Arab on Radar and Black Cat #13 – a group that featured Jesse Keeler before he unleashed his inner-elephant and became one-half of Death From Above 1979.
Pearson has also played bass for The Locust, a band that fused erratic grindcore with bizarre synth interludes. They looked like this:
His art terrorism extends beyond music. Justin once appeared on The Jerry Springer Show as part of an orchestrated a hoax. After smooching one of his band mates, Pearson was beaten up by one of the security guards for “blowing snot on the carpet.” His antics have also managed to piss off some famous people as well.
I grabbed the mic just in time for me to lip sync in front of a bunch of fuck heads
In his latest book/zine/memoir, How to Lose Friends and Irritate People, Pearson goes on an Australian tour with The Bloody Beetroots, where he performs – lip-syncs, rather – in front of thousands of people. It’s half-hilarious, half-depressing, but Pearson is rather adept at telling these stories in a way that’s both mocking and self-deprecating.
“I grabbed the mic just in time for me to lip sync in front of a bunch of fuck heads,” reads one particularly poignant line of the book.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1IrB5CuPqE&w=600]
Pearson’s current band Retox released their second full-length album YPLL in 2013. Tearing through 12 tracks in 22 minutes, the LP is a mixture of chaotic hardcore nihilism, ugly, spewing guitar riffs and Pearson’s own frenzied vocal delivery. The last time the group came through Saskatoon was opening for The Melvins. Now they’re on tour with Dillinger Escape Plan, Trash Talk and The Shining, and will be landing at Louis’ on April 14.
Ominocity recently caught up with Pearson to chat about writing books, writing zines, annoying electro DJ superstars and being embarrassed by the term “legendary.”
Ominocity: So it looks like you are reissuing How To Lose Friends And Irritate People as a proper book instead of the zine format?
Justin Pearson: The initial company that printed it was pushing to make it a novel. And now that Three One G is reprinting it, it just made sense to make it a book.
OM: Was there a point where you felt like you had to make the jump from zines to a proper novel?
JP: I was originally approached by Soundscreen Design, which no longer exists, who were really into making it more absurd – and I don’t mean that in a negative way. So we split it up into two stories and added flexi-disc records. I guess it seems more legit as a proper book, but there were some things I wanted to change up. As a record collector I was always really interested in the subtleties of change when a label would reissue an album.
People ask what are my favourite hardcore bands are and to be honest I don’t listen to much hardcore at all
OM: Obviously a lot of what you write is fairly blunt, especially in terms of a musical world where you don’t feel like you belong. Have you gotten any negative feedback from the people who brought you on The Bloody Beetroots tours you wrote about?
JP: No because I think I already pissed them off before I even wrote the book. I have no idea if they’ve read the book and I’m going to assume that they probably haven’t. Not to be a dick or something but working with those people in specific, their world revolves around a very specific style and I think it is really limiting to what kinds of art they are exposed too. So when I went to meet up with the people who were in this book they had no knowledge about the things that I grew up with or the things that they were referencing without even knowing where the elements originated from artistically, musically or even politically. It was a trip, and I’m not trying to come off as an elitist or something, because I’m not, but when someone would ask what my influences were I would respond that I had grown up in this community and it led me to be into the specific things I’m into. Otherwise, where would I even start to answer that? Those things cross into so many genres where I would draw my artistic and musical inspirations from. And it comes from so many walks of life.
People ask what are my favourite hardcore bands are and to be honest I don’t listen to much hardcore at all. I want to create something without being influenced directly or subconsciously by something in a similar style. So maybe that’s why these people wanted me to scream on their songs. So as soon as the Bloody Beetroots thing happened I started noticing other electronica artists doing that sort of thing.
OM: You’ve written other pieces as well – like the book From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry – any future plans for any other written material?
JP: There are a few things but I’m not really sure where they are headed. I had started working on a book on the label I run, Three One G, and basically what it is so far is that each chapter is based on a release, so I would write this section on each record and then I would interview one of the musicians involved. And what has slowed it down is that not everyone is punctual on doing interviews. I would start by emailing just one or two questions and then I would wait for a response so it was more like a conversation because it’s impossible to interview everyone in person.
I was also approached by Pioneer Press, who did the e-book for How To Lose Friends And Irritate People, on doing a book of collected lyrics. No one really knows who wrote which song for The Locust. It’s a strange thing for me because the way I think would not be a typical approach. For me, those lyrics are already printed with the records. And then there are songs where I helped contribute to, with Some Girls or Struggle, where I would some lines and those would appear as someone else’s lyrics.
OM: In terms of Retox, you’re newest album, YPLL, what kinds of responses have you been getting live?
JP: I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. I hear a lot of positive stuff, which is awesome. And when I hear something like ‘this band sucks’ it’s all just par for the course. It’s the band’s best work and I think it’s one of my best efforts for vocals and lyrics. But I don’t really focus on other people’s opinions. It’s for us and we put it out and then it’s the world’s to do whatever it wants with it. I mean, any kind of reaction, negative or positive, is better than no reaction, but there is a sea of stuff out there right now and with so much music being released a lot of it gets lost by default with the over-saturation. I’m proud of it and I leave it at that.
OM: You come from a world of aggressive music – was there anything specific that motivates you to keep angry with Retox?
JP: I guess that’s a bit of a misunderstanding with this music, is that it’s violent-sounding and therefore has this negative context. Just because it’s aggressive doesn’t mean it comes from an angry or a hateful space. People think the opposite of love is hate and I disagree. I think the opposite of love is apathy. If anything, this all comes from a positive space. There are ideals and we harness an energy and put it into the art we create, at least where Retox is concerned. For us it comes from an educated and positive place.
If anything we’ve probably gotten less angry than we’ve ever been.
OM: People call you ‘legendary’ within certain circles concerning everything you do – playing in bands, running an influential label, etc. – is that an appropriate term or is it just bullshit?
JP:It’s flattering. It’s also embarrassing. If it were up to me I would never use that word. But at the same time I guess I can try and understand it because there aren’t a lot of people who started playing in these bands and making this kind of art when they were 17-years-old and they are still in it for all the right reasons. That’s a reference point because take people like Ian MacKaye who has made a very successful path. But then there are people who are more from my community, like Sam McPheeters of Born Against, these are people who are legendary because they stuck to it and there heart is in the right place. What makes someone legendary anyway? Is it hitting the twenty-year mark? I don’t really know the answer to that.
– All RETOX photos from Flickr user “elawgrrl” – Creative Commons.
– Photo of THE LOCUST from Flickr user “Modern Creature” – Creative Commons.