Saturday 27 July 2013

Justin Pearson, RETOX // Exclusive Interview & Live Review

From Locust to Swing Kids and now Retox, Justin Pearson has been a prolific part of the punk scene for nearly a decade. 
Est.1987 headed down to Leeds to check out Retox’s headline show and Justin took time out before the show to chat with us about his musical endeavours, changes in the punk scene and why Christina Aguilera is a “punk ass motherf****r”

The tour started in mainland Europe before coming over to the UK- how have the shows been going so far?
All the stuff in the UK has been fantastic. Europe is quite different, obvious things like the language barrier and stuff like that it makes it a little bit more taxing.

You’ve got a tour documentary as well…
We weren’t really sure what it was going to be, but when it was done it presented itself as a bigger picture, and I don’t want to sound cheesy, but the meaning of life pertaining to punk ethics.  It’s not even necessarily about Retox; you can watch it and not even apply it to music at all. It’s like an underlying force that is presented where you have to do what you do and that draws this line; sincerity for the sake because it’s in your heart, or why you would do something to make money or be cool.

You’ve published two books, run your own label, as well as touring with Retox; I guess you like to keep yourself busy?  
Sort of. It’s an interesting question because I feel like I don’t really consider myself an anarchist, but I do want to be able to control every aspect of my life so I don’t have to go to work for someone. I actually do have a job at home that funds my life so I can do this stuff. It kind of ties into the documentary as well; this full circle reasoning, why I have to do what I do. Even the books that I’ve written, I’m not a writer, but I had a lot of time in a van on tour and thought I’m going to write something and it manifested into books.

In terms of the books, were you writing along the way?
Yeah, I did a tour diary for an online publication and shared it with a bunch of friends. And one of them who I’ve worked with on some films suggested that I write a book and he challenged me to write a short story and see where it went. I’m working on a third one too. It’s a series of nearly seventy interviews of people who I’ve worked with for Three One G.

How do you find being the interviewer for a change?
I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. First of all I think in-person interviews are better because you create a dialogue, and unfortunately the people I have interviewed are spread over the world so it’s all email interviews. But what I do is just send one or two questions at a time, then we feed off each other. But it’s kind of a trip because the book is about Three One G and each chapter is about each release so I would write a chunk of text about the aspects and then followed by the interview.

The latest album “YPPL”, you worked with Chris Rakestraw - how was that experience?
Yeah, the guy’s insane [laughing]. He’s hilarious; he challenged the s**t out of me and I think what came out was fantastic, I think he’s great.

And the title; “Years of Potential Life Lost” Quite an interesting and sad thought, why that title?
Well it is sad in some respects and I think a lot of the music we play and the perception of it seems to be negative. But there’s this thing where I feel the opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy. So for us to be musically aggressive it’s coming from a place of love. Even to bring up something as negative as the years of potential life lost living in the world that we live in that could be depressing but it’s also like let’s be aware of what’s happening and then let’s progress from there yet.

For many people Punk is a less approachable music genre, I guess it’s always had a scene going on but people often underestimate everything that has gone in to it. What are your thoughts on the genre today?
That’s a great question because I think there’s aspects of punk that are becoming more acceptable and sort of diluted, so I think there’s a differentiation between punk and punk-rock. And I think I would choose to identify with punk because I feel like with punk-rock it’s very formulaic; it’s two chords, play fast and wear a leather jacket. I think there’s a lot more to it when you take the rock away. I think throughout most of my musical endeavors there’s always been criticism saying “I can do that with one hand” and it’s like “yeah, f*****g try it” [laughing]. And not that I’m hurt, but I feel like we do know our instruments and song writing and creative method. For people to write it off it’s just them being uneducated musically. There’s times where I’m like, “I hate that mainstream stuff”, in pop there’s a scientific formula for how a song should be written. But then you think of songs like Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” where it’s very soft but then she has these transvestites making out. So, musically maybe it was written in a pop song structure but aesthetically she’s a punk ass motherf****r. That’s in a sense what you have to consider; everyone’s a critic. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Take that and you can either be one or not I guess.

As well as producing incredible music and uniting people, punk also has negative sides. Being a part of the punk scene for so long, how do you feel it’s changed?
Sure, there’s that whole nihilistic aspect of punk rock and for me I would rather identify with the Johnny Rotten than the Sid Vicious, because I feel like it was very calculated and emotionally driven, not just nihilistic teen angst. That’s where I think hardcore comes in to the picture; there was punk-rock and all of a sudden hardcore bands like “Minor Threat” and “Black Flag” who had a more social-political method; we don’t need this nihilistic attitude. It’s funny when you think of mainstream music now and that’s the nihilistic crap.

I interviewed punk band Ceremony and they have isolated all social media- they have their one official website and that’s it.
Lucky them [laughing]

What’s your take on exploiting social media in this day and age for punk bands?
Well, I’ll say this; I really do envy that but I will go broke without that s**t, unfortunately. It consumes way too much of my time but it’s a free medium of advertisement. It’s so funny because pre-Facebook I was so against MySpace and people were telling me that there was an account made about my band at the time [Locust] and they were talking all this s**t to girls, to promoters so we had to contact MySpace to get them to seize the account and give it to us. Then we had to go through everything and apologise to everyone, so we were forced into using it. There will be someone trying to create a problem, even with Facebook now there was a fake profile for me so then I had to join; great. I try to limit myself so it’s personable but it only been a platform for me to put up about things I’m doing, not “hey this is my mom, now all of you guys can go f**k with her”.

And finally, what’s next for you guys?
We have a Mexico tour and a couple of US things and we’re going to be working on a split 7 inch with our friends in Narrows and pushing forward from there. The book will take forever, literally forever [laughing]. 

And here's what happened when Retox took to the stage...

The stage is ignored, the band’s set up is down on the floor, right on a level with the crowd; tonight is all about getting up close and personal, no pretence, no divide, just a pure punk show. The stifling heat inside Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club is only increased once Retox take to the stage. No polite introductions; instead they burst straight in to “Modern Balls” (also the opener on latest album “YPPL”), they more than mean business. The rest of the set follows in the same vein; ferocious, unrelenting hardcore punk that is undeniably mesmerising to watch.  A band borne out of the four-piece’s previous projects, yet Retox is something different from what has come before it. Going beyond the music and a reaction to the modern world we live in, from beginning to end Retox , with a wild passion blitz through “Modern Science” (with it’s distinctive bass line) and the epic and climactic “Thirty Cents Shy Of A Quarter”. 

The crowd tightly pack around the band and their array of equipment and it is an intimate affair as Justin Pearson, a man of many bands, leads proceedings this evening. However each member of the band is worth their weight in punk gold, having appeared in various prolific bands across the years. Songs such as the thrashing “Greasy Psalms” are effortless, the band’s musical prowess confidently  controls the set; they may appear raw and spontaneous but we are safe in their hands tonight.

“No, it probably won’t be ok. I said it probably won’t be ok. F**k, it’s probably not going to be ok” bellows Justin on “The Art Of Really Really Sucking”. Retox aren’t deluded about the state of punk, the industry or the wider world. Having been a part of the scene for the majority of their lives they play a refreshingly honest blend of punk, hardcore and thrash. Retox’s modern punk soundtrack pulls you in and, as the final song “Consider The Scab Already Picked” comes to a blunt end, the San Diego four-piece leave the audience in a state of exhilaration. The set tonight is fast paced, high octane and perfectly compact; a punchy onslaught of modern punk from a band who have many more stories to share. 9/10