Hardcore veteran Justin Pearson keeps it brutal with Retox
Throughout a music career that’s already past the 20-year mark, Justin Pearson has never played nice. From early ’90s politi-crust act Struggle, to sci-fi grind weirdos the Locust, to underground hardcore supergroup Some Girls, among others, the San Diego native has been abrasively bashing a bass guitar or screaming his lungs out, sometimes simultaneously, since his teens. Defying the natural inclination to mellow out over time, Pearson’s latest frontman position in Retox might actually be his most menacing
“I didn’t grow up, is what you’re saying; people grow up and they’re not punks anymore,” he says, jokingly, of his affinity for sonic aggression. He’s on the line from Boston as the band’s van is getting an oil change. “It’s just one of those things: as cheesy as it sounds, I just have to do it.”
Pearson formed Retox in late 2010 with drummer and fellow Locust member Gabe Serbian, as well as guitarist Michael Crain and bassist Thor Dickey. The outfit quickly jumped into the game via a self-titled EP that doled out eight high-speed hardcore blasts in under eight minutes. Last summer, the group delivered the brutalizing Ugly Animals LP, but shortly after its release, and once the prospect of touring came about, Serbian split. Drumming duties are now handled by Brian Evans.
“Not that we established it’d be part-time, but it wasn’t serious [at first],” Pearson recalls, saying of Serbian’s departure, “I don’t think he was able to devote the time that the band seemed like it needed. He peaced out and we continued on.”
Though the vocalist describes Ugly Animals as a work in progress—“maybe the band wasn’t as developed as it could have been at that point?”—the terse, 13-minute outing isn’t undercooked. Tracks like “A Captive Audience” and “Cement Sucking” jackhammer listeners with their rapid-fire riffs and heavy-artillery beats. “Thirty Cents Shy of a Quarter” may be the band’s poppiest tune, but only if you consider stuffing the spookiest surf leads this side of the Dead Kennedys’ East Bay Ray and punishing double-kick drums into a heavy metal meat grinder to be the epitome of easy listening.
The blast-beat–heavy “Boredom Is Counter-Revolutionary”, meanwhile, has Pearson shouting out the tongue-in-cheek admission: “All my life I’ve acted very wrong,” a feat the punk lifer is proud of, considering the alternative.
“The norm is what I consider to be boring: ‘Let’s sit at home and watch television, have 2.5 kids, get a career, and suck,’” he explains, before further ripping into the complacent populace’s lack of passion. “People have this perception that the opposite of love is hate, but I have to disagree. Those two are almost synonymous. I think that the opposite of love is apathy.”
Pearson could never be called a slacker. On top of his band duties, he’s maintained the prolific Three One G record label since the mid ’90s, and has written two books—2010’s memoir-style From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry and last year’s tour diary, How to Lose Friends and Irritate People—with a third on the way. Retox is also in the midst of recording a new album, tentatively titled YPLL. While the lyrics on the cyclical, punishing thud of Ugly Animals closer “Piss Elegant” paint a cryptic vision of humanity’s futility, Pearson’s tireless work ethic, no matter the project, can be best summed up in his final furious exclamation: “The beat goes on.”
Retox opens for the Melvins Lite at the Venue on Sunday (July 15).