Justin Pearson knows a thing or two about noise. Since the mid-nineties he's played music in celebrated underground bands such as Swing Kids, Some Girls, the Crimson Curse and, most notably, the Locust. Pearson's latest musical project, RETOX, just released their second album YPLL which features 12 songs which are fast and short but also illustrate an evolved sense of songwriting and stellar production. We caught up with Pearson to discuss the new record, the genesis of the band and where he think technology is leading all of us.
RETOX recently signed to Epitaph. How did that come about?
We've had a longstanding relationship with [label owner] Brett [Gurewitz] because they did two Locust records and a record for my previous band, Some Girls, so I think it just naturally came up in conversation. Brett really liked the album and he was really open with me. He was like, "This is kind of a credibility signing" and I find that is a compliment, you know? I think it was something that he really liked musically and we have a good friendship, so it it seemed like an obvious transition.
What was your musical vision for RETOX?
I think when you sit out to do something specific, you're going to fail or you're not going to be sincere about it. So with all of my projects including RETOX all of the members let it be more organic and see where things fall. We started out with a certain direction by default with RETOX and I think that if you listen to the first record, or even the EP, it's crude. And I don't mean any disrespect to ourselves, but I think the songs are basically two or three riffs really fast and kind of thrown together. With this new record, we realized that we have strong points we should focus on whether that's the melodies and riffs Mike Crane plays on guitar or the fact we had the ability to work with a producer [Chris Rakestraw] that pushed me vocally and made me work towards having it be a little more melodic then the way I typically write them, which would be more percussive.
Speaking of which, how did you approach the lyrics for this album?
Well, I think there's two elements that come into play with this question. For one, I think by default I've always written thematically and revisited certain words or metaphors that I feel are strong. I remember being younger and reading the lyrics to Nation Of Ulysses records and seeing how themes fit throughout some of the albums and that stuck with me as kind of cool. It paints a bigger picture than here's this one song then here's this other one song. With this new album I got very interested in having it be thematic with the title and the artwork and having this well-rounded overall piece of art, I suppose. There's all these different messages and topics but for the most part it all comes back thematically and there's a relationship between each song and element.
Do you think because of the genre your bands have been in it's harder to recognize how much effort and arranging goes into the music?
Sure, but I mean it's like me hearing something and being like, "Oh my God. that's garbage." It's just people's people's uneducated opinions on how we sound and our uneducated opinion on how other things are. I read so many times in reviews for the Locust, "I love the keyboards" when it's actually the bass or guitar. That's not the listeners' fault or necessarily a criticism because even with RETOX it's not as obvious as a song with structure from, say, the Ramones. When the Locust released Plague Soundscapes and we kind of blew up a bit people were like, "I can do this with one hand, that's garbage." I wanted to respond, "I'd like to see you try to do that with one hand, that would be pretty outstanding!" [Laughs.] You just have to laugh at it.
Having played in underground bands for two decades, what do you think of the current state of technology and how it's influencing music right now?
Right now, with the internet and oversaturation of every single social networking forum, there's an abundance of crap. So I feel like when it comes to music, everyone is kind of lost in this sea of shit—there's a million things happening and for everyone to get a glimpse of it is pretty rare because how are you going to find out about these cool things that are happening with so much going on? So basically, my answer in a nutshell is let's reassess this question in five or 10 years. I feel like there's this constant moving plane, so we're at this one level right now and we're going to get somewhere else eventually because of the things we're experiencing. We have to go through point A to get to point B, so right now I don't really have a straight answer.
Okay, we'll check back with you in 2018 and we can see where we're at.
If we make it that far! But seriously we could look back at it and go, "Oh, that thing made us get to this thing!" It's an interesting thing to ponder.