There’s something at work on New Erections, the new record from San Diego’s resident four piece aural assassins, The Locust. It’s that unidentifiable ‘thing,’ which was always hinted at on past Locust records but not fully realized until now. Its immediate truth bristles with intensity. Its insectile language works on the subconscious as a musical representation of the Burroughs and Gysin cut-up method, a footnote of comparison that bassist/vocalist Justin Pearson acknowledges as an unintended effect of having four principle songwriters in a band.
I’ve never been skeptical of the Locusts intention as a ‘band,’ though I’ve never really thought of them in the traditional sense of the word ‘band.’ They’re much more like a collective. Sure I can’t listen to them every day, sitting in my pre-fab cube, drinking my single serve coffee, working on excel spreadsheets. The work itself is inspiration enough for mass homicide without the sound track of the Locust lending its ferocity to my high blood pressure. No. The Locust are more of an entity, individually they are some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and having an occasional drink with at the Casbah but once they move as a unit their DNA changes. As the Locust, they devour all in their path, using razor sharp musical incisors to decimate the crowds with bombastic sonic annihilation.
The Locust, whose members include drummer Gabe Serbian, bassist/vocalist Justin Pearson, guitarist/vocalist Bobby Bray and keyboardist/sound manipulator/vocalist Joseph Karam, represent a decade’s worth of underground music, record label(s) and side projects surface to blinding brilliance. Their names and accomplishments are not something the average fifty-year-old Guitar Center employee is going to recognize or identify with but their contributions both individually and collectively are worthy of respect. Check out wikipedia for the full rundown of each member’s affiliations. After several rescheduling issues, Pearson confirms our interview will take place at one of San Diego’s local punk rock friendly Mexican food establishments, Pokez.
New Erections is the foursomes latest release on Anti, an imprint of punk mega label, Epitaph. The labels mission statement is; “Real Artists Creating Great Recordings on Their Own Terms.” Being on Anti is a point of pride for Pearson whose respect for label mates Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Merle Haggard has the all black clad, clean shaven bassist beaming and admitting with a mischievous glint in his eye, “we sent the art in for New Erections with only the Anti logo on it and no one said anything.”
Once again the band enlisted the expertise of producer/engineer Alex Newport, whose credits include over fifty of the most amazing underground and just-barely-slipping-a-toe-into-the-cold-mainstream acts for the past decade. Only available via a secret, password protected streaming web page buried on the Epitaph site, New Erections elicits its namesake upon first listen – metaphorically speaking of course. “We didn’t want it to leak on the Internet and we got two weeks away from the release date without any problems. In one way I think it hurt us cause people didn’t have their advance copies but I think it actually helped us cause it built anticipation,” Pearson states just before ordering a vegan grilled tofu burrito.
Like every Locust record, there is always the intent to change and improve on past efforts. New Erections is no exception. Its dynamic and signatory, instantly identifiable as a Locust record with the exception of a few key things: the songs are longer, the vocals are intelligible amidst the cacophony, and it rocks in all the right places. Certainly there will inevitably be detractors out there in that vast and fickle scene that will lambaste the bands newest piece with lazy whispers of sellout-ism or ‘they-don’t-sound-like-they-used-to’ droll.Luckily, Pearson isn’t affected by the possibility. In fact he speaks of his bands newest endeavor with the highest regard. “Most people are embracing it (the new record). The different vocals and the fact that the songs are longer; there is more space and development which make it less dense. Soundscapes was so dense and you never had a chance to breath. It’s interesting, to perform the new stuff live cause a lot of it is actually harder to play than Plague Soundscapes – physically and time signature wise. Plague was much more ‘riff, riff, riff.”
The transition the band went through is apparent. Pearson ruminates on the number of reasons New Erections sounds the way it does; “We took a weird path and I’ve only noticed in retrospect. We did Plague Soundscapes and that was the first record we did as a four piece and we really developed as a band, finally coming into our skin and found exactly who we were. From then until now, we did Safety Second and that was the first time we developed material with space in it and parts that built up. It was weird because we did Safety Second in conjunction with a very short west coast tour right and that was when Dave Stone joined our band for that tour. Dave did sound manipulation.
“He had this Darth Vader vocoder thing he modified to do obscure sounds with. He also had this huge wire hooked up to a contact mic that he put on Gabe’s drums and Gabe would play these patterns and it’d pick it up and he’d manipulate that. He had one of those Thunder Sheets (makes thunder-like sounds). It was more theatrical than musical. We made a 45-minute set with no stops. I think subconsciously it put us in a place where when we were writing for New Erections we aimed for aesthetic, more musical dialogue I suppose, where we could develop things. We’d try and find ways to sustain by detuning and lengthen the song and of course lengthening anything for us is a long fucking time.” He says with a laugh.
New Erections is different than its predecessor for the simple fact that a listener can actually get to know the song. With Plague Soundscapes it was almost too ADD to get a hold of an interesting hook: each song exploded with dozens of great riffs and grooves that would last only a few seconds each. Vocally ,the band has definitely matured, despite Pearsons distaste for the word’s connotations. It’s one of the strongest attributes on New Erections. Pearson eagerly explains, “The other thing I was really excited about while recording New Erections was we started developing more vocally. Out of the three of us I think I had maybe started to develop my vocals starting with Plague Soundscapes but Bobby and Joey really delivered some amazing vocal techniques on the new record. Alex really pushed for us to have our own songs. Each of us did songs where we had written the bulk of the lyrics and the other two members would do backing vocals.”
“We didn’t do preproduction on Plague Soundscapes. Alex did produce the record but we didn’t go over things. He didn’t say ‘you guys really need to work on your vocal delivery.’ Cause a lot of times Bobby would specifically write lyrics where you’d normally have four beats and four syllables but he’d write six syllables to four beats and cram everything in. That’s artistic in it’s own way. Not that we’re supposed to be traditional but here’s Alex saying, ‘You can be weird and abrasive but you can also be musical and do it.’ I hate using the word mature but evolution or something works better,” Pearson says, picking each word out carefully.
Its his meticulous way of explaining just how much thought and passion went into his bands latest piece that brings William S. Burroughs and Brian Gysin’s ‘Cut Up’ method into our conversation. The Locust is as connected to art as they are connected to music and the inevitable occurrence of the two converging is perceptible. “Maybe subconsciously those things [Cut Up method] tie in but it started with Safety Second where we said there is a common theme we need to write about. And it was all based metaphorically on human organs and the human anatomy and that was the first step of us writing together while still writing separately. Something we did again with New Erections. We’d say, ‘okay you write these pieces but keep in mind it has to be thematically based on these things.’ It’s loosely based on an outline. We’re not Pink Floyd or Mars Volta and its definitely not a concept record but we still pay attention to each others lyrics and contribute to the whole,” which resulted in three variant perspectives on one theme combined into music and lyrics.
Our conversation didn’t end there. In fact, after a long discussion with JP we decided it’d be pretty cool to get a play by play of life on the road when they went on tour. well if you have been paying attention, that worked out sort of meh…with JP dropping the charge of updates from the road, a continuous piece called, “From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry.” I’ve blogged about the impact reading it had on me. It was some of the most honest writing I’ve read about a band since reading Get In The Van, the story of Black Flag by Henry Rollins.
Please visit The Locust for tour dates and info on the new record.