The Locust: Catching Up with JP

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.

your world is not pure perception

There is beauty in ugliness. Its sometimes hard to find why an image can inspire certain thoughts and feelings. I think this Banksy graphic is telling . There is a place we’ll eventually end up, and there isn’t a castle or golden arches waiting. Can you guess what it is? Neither can I.

Situation of Noise: An interview with Justin Pearson of The Locust

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In our Starbucks coffee driven fast food and reality based short attention span world, certain challenges arise to the creative minds of our generations. Sometimes these challenges are met with variant modes of creative outlet and of recent years it seems to be occurring in music. The base for era spanning communication has always had a home in that many of societal problems coexist in the ethereal world of sonic composition and creation of ART. Art is merely a means to an end. It can take many forms, painting, poetry, architecture, and most importantly for the purpose of this feature, music.

The Locust are in the trenches of their self-described “noise terrorism” war on contemporary and conventional thought. Formed in 1995 from the ashes of San Diego based noise core bands, Swing Kids, Struggle, Crimson Curse and about a dozen other notable bands, they have seen their fair share of current trends rise and fall with the fickle youth of America. Themusicedge.com had an opportunity to speak with Justin Pearson; the bass player of The Locust and his musical background is about as peppered as the bands laundry list of line up names.

According to J.P., “I’ve always liked music since I was a little kid, when I was 5 or so I was going to go see KISS but my mom said I was too young. We used to always pretend with tennis rackets and stuff. Then when I was ten or eleven my mom’s cousin let me borrow his guitar then eventually I picked up a bass.”

J.P. adds his history on lessons by saying, “I taught myself. When I first moved out to San Diego I took lessons from this guy and all he would do was show me how to play rock songs, so he’d show me this riff. But I never really learned how to play. I only took like three or four lessons from the guy and I thought it was a waste of time so I ended up messing around with other people. My friends and I that also didn’t know how to play, we didn’t know together so we figured things out that way.”

The Locust not only manage to destroy conventional thinking about how music should be arranged but they also have a tendency to create from that chaos some pretty technically proficient song structures. Their sound is somewhere between chaos and harmony, with an emphasis on controlled chaos. When seeing them live recently at their record release show (the new record is called Plague Soundscapes, its on Epitaph/Anti Records) at San Diego’s, Off The Record, playing to a packed house, it was noticeable to most in attendance that it was really hard to see them if you happened to get there one second late, like I unfortunately did.

Their sound is brutal and not for the faint of heart but one cannot deny the musician ship it takes to create such music. Not only does The Locust have an amazing zeal for creating music, but also most of their cleverness comes in the way they merchandize. Instead of your typical T-shirt, hooded sweatshirt fare, most Locust items consist of Skateboards, compacts with “The Locust” logo on the mirror and the standard aforementioned products.

J.P.’s musical tastes are as eclectic as his music, although he retracts his former fascination with KISS, “I think they are so lame. I hate KISS a lot now and I’m not into how misogynistic they are, but when I was a little kid I like the way they looked.”

Adding, “I really was into Styx and Boston when I was really, really little. Then I got into break dancing and early rap like Run DMC and Beastie Boys. It’s weird though because I grew up in Phoenix Arizona, it’s a total hesher state and everyone is into heavy metal. So I got into metal, I ended up living a couple blocks away from some of the guys in Slayer and that really intrigued me. The whole metal punk tie and I ended up getting into punk. The first band that got me really interested in music was the Sex Pistols. I stumbled upon some of the really early skate punk tapes that Thrasher (magazine) used to put out like Septic Death, but I didn’t want to limit myself musically so I take from everything.”

J.P. has played in some of the early GSL Records-style noise-core bands, like his first band which he states, “I got into my first band when I was about fifteen years old called Struggle, that was the first band I was in that was a real band. I was in a band called Swing Kids and The Crimson Curse and I’m also kind of still in this band called Holy Molar, it’s a weird project band. The Drummer lives in Portland and the singer lives in New York. I started The Locust about seven or eight years ago.”

The Locust has for all intensive purposes, felt their share of success. What could be construed as more successful than being used in a John Waters film (Cecil Be Demented)? And with their recent sign to punk rock powerhouse Epitaph and its subsidiary, Anti, The Locust have no choice but to prove that you can be aggressive in your approach when playing music without being predictable. And it’s unpredictability that separates The Locust from other bands. “A lot of people, especially drummers play the same beat, they obviously aren’t being creative. Whatever makes that band works is their deal,” says J.P.

As far as the writing process goes, J.P. says that its group oriented, “It kind of mutates over time and we all kind of write equal parts it just depends, someone will come to practice and they’ll have a couple parts to work with and we’ll build off of them. For instance Joey (Keyboards) will have these parts that are virtually impossible to translate onto guitar and base so it will force Bobby (guitar) and I to write around it and work with what he’s doing but not be playing the same exact riff which is good because it adds some great dynamics. Also Gabe (Drums) writes some insanely complicated beats on drums and we’ll work around those parts and Bobby and I will add some riffs that we add. And after we have a basic skeleton we’ll dissect it and take it apart and make time signatures weird and slow certain parts down and speed certain parts up. Make it a little bit confusing a little bit more creative and over time over a period of a week or two we’ll butcher it some more, then the last step is adding vocals to it and we’ll all decide what parts to sing.”

Beware of The Locust, their music will challenge and dare most people to rethink their concepts of what songs should sound like. Most importantly, The Locust are composing songs of the future and Plague Soundscapes is the vessel they are using to slowly bring in the fans from the conventional crowds.

the locust
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Done in June of 2003, without having a home I figured I’d post here and as such I haven’t changed anything from the original, just added this little footnote. Justin Pearson was one of my very first interviews for themusicedge, which is hilarious considering how conservative the parent company of the site was and is and the kind of ‘obscene’ content The Locust always get lambasted about. At a later time some ‘concerned’ perpetual meddler wanted me to take down the article, luckily I stuck it out and provided a compelling argument to the suits that if our ultimate job was to inspire young people to create music then who are we to sensor what kind of music is created? I also thought it fitting for a first feature, especially after my dour interview with Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas who had, at the time, just added Fergie to the group. Justin is one of the few people, aside from Ben Koller (Converge, Cave In) who supported the basic tenants of that site from the beginning and has always made himself available for interview(s) and linked to whatever it was I happened to be working on at the time. He suffers from being incredibly likeable, maybe that’s why I think of him as an artist more than I think of him as a musician. Maybe I’m just full of shit too. He’s doing a post called “From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry” for HYPEzine.com. Its a tour diary.