Interview with Justin Pearson of The Locust
Here’s the full e-mail interview I did with Justin Pearson, head of Three One G records, and member of numerous punk and hardcore bands over the past 17 years (Struggle, Swing Kids, Crimson Curse, The Locust, Holy Molar, Some Girls, Head Wound City, Ground Unicorn Horn, etc.).
The interview was originally done to be part of CityBeat’s oral history of The Casbah that ran last week, but much of it didn’t pertain to the club itself. I was just as interested in how the local all-ages scene has evolved over the years, and being thorough was one of the goals.
Pearson’s newest project, All Leather, performs tonight at the Che Cafe at UCSD.
I know you were born in Chicago and spent some time in Phoenix. When did your family come out to San Diego? What neighborhood did you live in? What was it like at the time?
I moved out to San Diego when I was twelve, which was 1987 I think. I moved to Clairemont and lived there until my mom kicked me out of the house when I was 16. Clairemont was a drag. White power skinheads, tweakers and surfers surrounded me.
How did you meet the other guys in Struggle?
We all met via high school for the most part. Jose Palafox, the drummer, and I ran into each other at a PIL concert when I was 14 and I talked him into going to the same high school as me. We met Dylan Scharf, the vocalist, there. We had a couple different guitar players; one was Toby Nathanial, who is now in Black Heart Procession.
What were your main influences (musical or otherwise) in forming the band?
With Struggle I think that our influences for the most part were not musical per se. We were getting into politics and working with organizations like the RCP, ALF, ARA, and a few others. But we were all part of this community that was soaked in music. I suppose a lot of early hardcore was what brought us together as a band originally. But for all of us, our musical taste was all over the place. Anything from Carcass to Bradford Marsalis to The Crucifucks. Being friends with bands like Born Against, Downcast, Unbroken, and so on sort of set an air for the way things were musically I guess.
Were you directly inspired by Gravity Records, or was that something that just happened to be going on at the same time? What ideological commonalities did you find between the Gravity bands (Heroin, Angel Hair, Antioch Arrow, etc.) and yours?
Well I grew up with Matt Anderson. He was a bit older but I think him and I became friends when I was 14. When struggle did our fist tour when I was 15, it was with his band End of the Line. Then over the years we sort of were involved with things, or people that tied us all together in our community. I think that subconsciously, Gravity, as well as me and what I was part of all had this sort of code of ethics. It was
unspoken but just seemed to be in a lot of what people were doing. I’d equate it with San Diego in general. Even with bands like Crash Worship, or Three Mile Pilot who were not in a similar genre as what we all were, it all sort of came together as one. And for the record, Angel Hair came a bit later and was from Colorado. People often think they were a San Diego band.
Because you were so young when Struggle started out, you obviously weren’t able to play 21+ clubs. What were the venues you played on a regular basis? Was there a strong community of young bands in SD at the time?
Well even before I played music, I was always at a couple bars trying to catch a glimpse of bands through the door. I remember trying to see Danzig when he first started. I just knew it was related to Samhain and I knew some of the guys in Pitchfork who opened so I went to hear and maybe see something. Or even the Spirit Club, I think it was called back then. I stood outside of that place to see GG Allin, Nomeansno, Melvins, and countless others. But I was able to find cooler stuff. I mean I remember going to some fucked up shows, at houses with crazy metal bands, loaded with skinheads and drunk fuck heads. I’m surprised I didn’t die actually. Taking the buy, or walking forever to places. I’d see all these crazy fights and sketchy shit going on, but I was too young to see it at a proper venue. That was until I found out about the Che Café, which was a place that I would have the ability to see some of the most amazing bands, and essentially helped me have a sense of community, and a place to eventually play music at. It was right up my alley. I remember seeing Blast, Chain of Strength, Carcass, Chumbawumba, Crossed Out, Inside Out, Filth, Sleep, and so many other amazing bands there. So growing up, it was the Che and house shows for the most part.
What was your perception of the San Diego music community from ‘91-’97 outside of the punk and hardcore circles? Did you find anything else of interest occurring?
Well in San Diego, back then, it wasn’t about hardcore, or punk, or any genre in specific. I remember going to the Che for an all you can eat where I pigged out on spaghetti, while this great 3 piece jazz band played, then heroin took the stage after. Or having Struggle play with Three Mile Pilot or Rocket from the Crypt. Even years later, The Locust did a tour with Rocket, which made sense to the bands, but once we got out of So Cal, I think it didn’t make sense to anyone. So my perception on the San Diego music community was specific to how it is here. I’m not sure that what we have or had, depending on how you look at things, exists elsewhere.
Who were your favorite bands coming out of San Diego at that time? Were there any local and/or touring groups you didn’t get the chance to see because you couldn’t get into 21+ venues? How did that inform your decision to play all-ages venues even after you turned 21?
Over the years I was so glad to see and know bands like Unbroken, Antioch Arrow, Black Heart Procession, Cattle Decapitation, Crossed Out, Battalion of Saints, Run for your Fucking Life, The Creepy Creeps, Crime Desire, Drive Like Jehu, Heroin, Pitchfork, End of the Line, Tit Wrench, Tarantula Hawk, Secret Fun Club, Tourettes Lautrec, and so many more. I think I did miss a lot of great bands being that I was under 21. But there was not much I could do. As far as the decision to not play age restricted shows, I think it just happened. A lot of bands that I was friends with didn’t want to or just didn’t do it for whatever reason(s). For me, it just stuck. It made sense. I wanted to play to younger people and people who were more interested in the music than a scene. People who would get into it, and react to the music and essentially are part of the show.
When and why did you make the decision to start Three One G?
My initial decision to start the label was due to the fact that I started to work with labels that would alter artwork, cut corners on packaging, and manufacture merchandise that was not approved. I realized that I could do what those labels were doing, and if not as poorly as they were, better. So I decided to re-release the Swing Kids S/T EP and at the same time, was given the opportunity to release some of the best tracks by Unbroken. Right off the bat, Three One G was holding a pretty solid roster of bands, as Jenny Piccolo, (The) Locust, and a slew of other bands joined our musical family.
Did you model Three One G on the ethics and practices of other labels you respected, or did you make it up as you went along?
I think subconsciously I was using some sort of guidelines for how things were running. I guess you could trace things back to Dischord, then onto labels like Ebullition, Vinyl Communications, and Gravity. It was those DIY ethics, but I wanted to take those ideals and make it DIO, do it ourselves. But in the heat of the moment, I was definitely making it up as I went along, or at least it seemed that way.
What were the early years like for the label? I know there’s not any money in doing it, so how did you stay afloat?
I started the label with my financial aid that I got from the community college I was attending. I was living below the poverty level, getting my books for school for free, so I sunk money into putting out records. It sort of all fell into place over time. But still to this day, we don’t make money. At times, we are putting more money into the label. I think a huge reason for this lack of financial growth is the fact that we pay a high royalty rate, where a lot of labels pay none (at least in my experiences over the years). But also, we would do absurd packaging. That would put us in the hole a bit more than we would like at times. I suppose we stayed afloat due to fan support and also by the fact that The Locust was getting bigger and touring relentlessly all over the world, and it became more and more known that a member of The Locust was running Three One G.
I’ve seen six or seven bands associated with Three One G over the years, and it’s always been at all-ages venues. Have the majority of bands that released material on your label over the years shared your desire to play all-ages shows? Is that more by design or coincidence?
The all ages’ aspect is merely a personal decision for me. If you were to look at the bands on the label, most actually have no opposition to playing age restricted shows. I’ve been in a few bands on the label so those bands would essentially avoid age-restricted venues. If you take the bands case by case though, some never would have had the chance to play bars like the Casbah. I mean back in the day when bands like Jenny Piccolo or The Crimson Curse were playing, we could not get shows at good venues like that. It was the Che in San Diego and houses, which sort of took place in all the cities that the bands were playing. This was fine as it served its purpose. Ironically enough, on the end of the first Antioch Arrow LP, there was a sample from the film Another State of Mind, where it was some guy going off how the Cramps were playing a 21+ show and how their fans could not see them play. Just after Antioch Arrow broke up, and the majority of the members were onto Get Hustle, they were in fact playing at The Casbah, which I thought was odd. But what it all came down to for me, is that they are friends, great bands, and the decision to perform only at all ages venues was my own personal moral decision.
What has been your biggest difficulty in performing/organizing all-ages shows in San Diego?
Well over the years, I think I paid my dues as far as getting on good show. I worked at the Che, and knew so many people who have booked there over the years. Also, I have been part of the musical community here for so long, I have become friends with people who book around town. I mean, for San Diego, we are sort of screwed. Id love to see a venue like the Troubadour, where it’s all ages and had a bar. But for whatever reason we don’t get that. So in place artists tend to gravitate to playing houses, in parking lots, art galleries, and even secret underground sewage areas. These days I mainly work with Tim Mays who books The Locust and in the past has booked for other bands that I was part of like Some Girls and Head Wound City. If it’s not Tim booking at the Epicentre, its be booking at the Che or other random places. But for bands coming through, I know a lot of them have serious problems getting shows, especially if they want to play a good venue like the Casbah and not some dive bar where there is little to no promotion.
This may seem like an obvious question, but have any of your bands ever played The Casbah? If yes, have your experiences been positive or negative?
Nope. But I have been there a gazillion times to see bands that are on Three One G or even people whom I am or have been in bands with, play there in other bands. I think it’s a great venue and I’d very much like to play there. But it’s just not going to happen as far as I can tell.
I’m assuming you attend 21+ shows, but correct me if I’m wrong. If you do, what was the first show you saw at The Casbah? Who were you with? How was the show? What did you like/dislike about the club?
Yeah, like I said, I have gone there so many times. Its one of my favorite places to see live bands. I’ve even been thrown out when I went to see Das Oath play there. The first time I went, was to see someone play, but I was under age and watched from the door, back when it was up Kettner a bit more. I’ve even gone there with my mom to see shows. As far as dislikes, the only one is the age restriction. Sometimes the audience, but that can’t be blamed on the venue.
What was the most memorable concert you’ve seen at The Casbah? What happened that made it great and/or a total mess?
Awe man, there were so many. I’m pretty selective about shows I go to as I spend over half the year on tour playing shows. So when I go to a show at the Casbah, its friends like Melt Banana, Quintron, Melvins, The Chinese Stars, Zach Hill, and so on. So seeing friends perform is always memorable. The sound is great there, the people who all work there are cool, and the venue over all accommodates the artists who play there, making the shows good for the bands and the fans.
Aside from providing an opportunity for a younger audience to see your bands, what do you think the other advantages are in playing all-ages venues like the Che Café or The Smell in L.A.? Do you think it provides for a better live experience? Do you appreciate the communal aspect?
Well with the all ages’ circuit, you tend to get an audience who is more enthusiastic about the music. Like I said before, a younger all-ages crowd tends to be part of the show, which makes for a different feel. But I’m speaking for a type of music that I play. I suppose if I played in a band like the Bad Seeds or something, I’d be more apt to play age restricted shows. But I don’t want to lump all ages shows into one category. There is a definite difference between venues like the Che and the Smell compared to once like the Epicentre. And even with that, me and other local artists have drawn an ethical line with venues like Soma, who has ruined aspects of the San Diego music community for years, even since I was 13 or 14 years old. Len, the owner would shut down places like the Che, Soul Kitchen, Grape Street Alano Club, and many others. So I’d suck up my morals and play the Casbah, where the people involved are looked at as part of our musical community before I’d play Soma.
Do you think clubs like The Casbah appeal to more touring bands because they’ll almost always make more money there than if they play an all-ages venue? Do you think The Locust would be more or less successful and widely known if you regularly booked both 21+ clubs and all-ages clubs?
Bands probably get paid better playing the bar circuit. A cut of the bar that can be applied to the bands pay is always a plus. But then again, if the audience is at an all ages venue, they can’t buy booze, so what else can they buy? Merchandise! But as far as pay, ultimately what it comes down to is booking agents, and promotion. I think if the Che put more effort into promoting, it would have better turnouts at times. But you are talking about a collective who is all-volunteer compared to a paid staff. As far as what would be more successful for The Locust, I have no idea. I’m sure our morals and ethics for many things have harmed us. But you can’t buy dignity and integrity, so we opt to stick to our guns.
Do you know Tim Mays personally? Have you ever worked with him to book all-ages shows? If yes, what are the key differences between dealing with him and dealing with other show promoters in town?
I do know Tim. I love the guy. He has booked some of the bands I have been in, I have brought bands to him, and he treats everyone very well. He is a rare breed of promoter I must say. I have come across some real dick heads in my years of touring, so it’s always great to work with Tim here in San Diego.
Are there any show promoters in town whose business practices are deplorable? Anybody who’s a complete dick and shouldn’t be worked with?