If you're into the more extreme/aggressive side of underground music, then Justin Pearson is a name you're likely to be familiar with. Everything Justin Pearson is involved with comes out as punk/noise gold, whether that's fronting post-hardcore cult favourites Swing Kids in the 90s, being bassist/vocalist in bug costumed grindcore maniacs The Locust, or getting stompy with dance music terrorists All Leather. His current main band, socio-political punks Retox, came and played a crazed and energetic show in Leeds, but before the show we were lucky enough to sit down with Pearson and talk about Retox's sound, life on tour and his other projects.
Contactmusic: Your newest album 'Beneath California' came out a few months ago. How's the reaction to it been?
Justin Pearson: I think good. I try not to really pay attention to that stuff. I'm always flattered and appreciative of positive responses but I try to avoid it completely just because the negative stuff's kind of weird. I mean, I also really appreciate that too, I think it's really good publicity, it's usually somewhat amusing but it can also start to wear on you after a while.
CM: In your own opinion, what is it that sets Retox apart from other bands?
JP: That's a good question. The answer's weird because I think everyone should just try and set themselves apart from everything, period. So with that kind of mind-set, it's hard to answer accurately because we have drums, we have singing, we have guitar, we have those things so we're like bands. But as far as other bands are concerned, there's bands we feel a connection to and we feel akin to, sometimes I would consider a band to be our comrades, but I also don't think that that means we're like them necessarily. So I avoided your question, that's my answer.
CM: Retox has a pretty bleak sound and politically charged lyrics. Is singing about certain issues something that comes naturally to the band, or do you set out with a certain agenda?
JP: The politically charged lyrics is not anything new and a lot of bands do that and, honestly, I don't think enough bands do it. I feel with most art when you're creating it, it should have some sort of reflection to the world that you live in, therefore it'd be hard for me to sing about getting wasted and going out to the club or something because I don't do that. Because I pay attention to what's happening and I see certain elements of the world that we live in or humanity or whatever the bigger picture, so those would be the things that I would want to write about. But I also feel like a lot of it is me striving to find areas that are kind of metaphorically driven, so it's sort of open and vague and has more of an artistic spin on it, it's not just overtly political. And even the sound, none of it is like, "let's do this", that's just what happens. So I feel maybe it's because of the people that are in the band, that's how we create it.
CM: So you think more bands need to write songs about social issues?
JP: It's not my place to say what bands should or shouldn't do. A lot of the time you have political bands like Refused, for instance (he points at my Refused shirt), who I don't really think are political at all, you know I think it's sort of a joke. There's stuff like that. It doesn't really do it justice I suppose. What it all comes down to, even Refused or Retox or Infest or whatever band, it's just music; it's just a band and it's not like we're out there actually changing things first hand. We're not fighting a revolutionary war per se, I mean we are in some sense; we're identifying with these social politics and we're fighting this sort of subcultural aspect, I suppose; but again, it's just music. I think what's political for a band is how they function as a band and as a business and their ethics, that's what really comes down to the politics of a band. I think that's way more important than even the lyrics at times. If you're talking about democracy or socialism or anarchy, but you're a f***ing a**hole and you're a capitalist, a hypocrite, you exploit other oppressed facets of the world, then you're really not political you're just sucking.
CM: You guys are pretty crazy live. Is that also something that just comes naturally?
JP: Yeah, but it's also something that comes naturally with the energy that's presented at the show. We did a tour with OFF!, and I love OFF! and I think they're a great band, but I feel like a lot of their fans, unfortunately, just wanted Keith Morris and Black Flag. I think they wanted punk rock, so we would play and it wasn't necessarily that they didn't like us, I don't think, it was more shock. They were like, 'What in the f*** is this?' People are always tripping out on certain elements of things that we do, but it's like if there's energy from the crowd and you're connecting in these ways telepathically from whatever is being shared amongst the band and the audience, that's one thing, but if there's not that kind of energy, you have to create your own, you have to redefine it. I think it just really depends on the event and it's not something that we would set out to do, but in the midst of it happening you have to figure out naturally what would be the right thing to do and it just happens.
CM: You've previously talked about how, as a band, it's hard to make ends meet as well as how much it disrupts life at home. Do you still stand by that and do you think it's important for new bands to be aware of this when starting out?
JP: You can make money doing whatever you want. There's a lot of bands that are called punk bands that make a f*** load of money and, unfortunately for me, I'm not one of them. But I'm also not bitter about it. I have a job at home, I work at a club, I clean up vomit and cigarettes and I make dudes quit jerking off - it's a gay club. It's very humbling and I pay my mortgage and I take my dog to the vet and they let me go on tour. I mean, it's cool. I've found my place and I appreciate what I'm able to do. Would I like to play Coachella for $500,000? Yeah! But that's not an offer. I'll go back home and visit my grandmother and my cousins will be there and they have these careers and these families and all this structure, I'm sure it's similar here in the UK. You have this obvious basic structure and I'm like, 'what the f*** am I doing?', and it's funny because I kind of trip out. I feel, 'Oh they're looking at me, like I'm a loser', but they're not. They're looking at me like I'm a little bit insane and they also don't fully understand what I do. They think, 'Oh, you're in a band!' and they have the concept of MTV or something still and they think, 'Oh my god, you're this and that'. It's nice, but it's not very accurate for what we do.
CM: In what ways does being in a band disrupt you life at home?
JP: Our guitar player Mike said he's losing his job because of this tour, and that sucks because he's gonna go home and have to find a job. So he could've stayed home and had this job; I don't think it's a very good job, I'm not gonna say what it is but he doesn't get paid very much. I feel like this isn't the raddest tour ever, but we're still living life and we're still playing music and sharing our art and connecting with people, and it is rad, it's tough, but it's rad. It's that whole concept of mediocrity and not really taking risks, so in a sense you do have to ruin your life. I was in college and I kept dropping out because I was gonna go on tour every time and it's like "How many f***ing times am I going to drop out, because it's going to affect me." I have to drop out at a certain point to get my money back, and then I would just be like "F***, I'm just never gonna go back".
CM: Is touring more exciting than regular life?
JP: It's more interesting. There's never a dull moment. I mean, I slept on some dude's couch last night, and froze my ass off, and it was interesting.
CM: You've brought Warsawwasraw out with you for this tour and last time you were here you brought Zeus! Both are Three One G artists - is it important to give bands on the label as much help as you can?
JP: Well sure, but really ultimately what it comes down to is they're my friends and I love their bands. That's the main focus. It's funny with those two bands. Conveniently they're just two people and they're really easy to shove in the van with us and go tour and that's great. I think there's strength in numbers, it makes for a community. We're all part of this thing, it falls under Three One G umbrella, it's all family and that's cool in a sense, but then there's also just that I like playing with rad bands. We played with Opium Lord last night and those are my friends too, they're not a Three One G band, but we asked for them to play, so it's sort of the same thing I suppose. It just so happens Zeus! and Warsawwasraw are on Three One G.
CM: Are there any other bands at the moment currently catching your attention?
JP: Everything on Three One G is something that's catching my ear or my eye: Hot Nerds, Doomsday Student, Wet Lungs, there's always really awesome stuff. It's kind of like this incestuous thing, but it's also just a community that we can build upon. There's always amazing bands everywhere, Dillinger Escape Plan, those guys are f***ing fantastic too. Drive Like Jehu are playing again.
CM: Speaking of The Dillinger Escape Plan, your recent video for the song 'Let's Not Keep In Touch' mainly features Greg from the band chasing guitarist Michael with a baseball bat. Very entertaining, but is there any deeper meaning to it you can tell us about?
JP: There's a very specific meaning to the song that I don't care to expose. It's about a certain person and it's about a certain thing I was involved with, but it's not anything to do with Greg specifically. I think he's a badass, apparently he's a great actor and again it was like, 'Let's have one of our friends do this part' and in a weird way without even us realising, it tied into their record, because of their recent record 'One Of Us Is The Killer', insinuating that maybe he's the killer. The video is separate from the song itself, it has a very different meaning.
CM: You've got other bands/projects on the go like All Leather and Head Wound City, is there any plans coming up with those bands?
JP: Yes. With Head Wound City, we've just recorded an album, it's being mixed right now and then we're going to do some touring in the US and then once the album comes out we're gonna do proper touring with the band. All Leather, we're gonna be doing a new record eventually. It's very part time because Nathan Joyner the other main person in All Leather is in Hot Nerds, so we're both obviously really busy with other things, but we discuss here and there about getting other things taken care of.
CM: What's next for Retox after this tour?
JP: We just have a couple of shows here and there and then I think we're gonna start writing new material, and go from there.
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