The Locust's Justin Pearson Talks About His First Non-Jerry Springer Acting Gig
Plus, the Locust's sort-of return and why people heckle them.
photo via Asia Argento's Instagram
Anyone who was ever into spazzy, noisy grindcore knows the name Justin Pearson. Pearson has played in a seemingly endless list of bands known for short songs and abrupt timing changes like the Locust, Swing Kids, the Crimson Curse, Holy Molar, and Retox. He’s also the founder of San Diego based label, Three One G, which has a reputation for releasing stellar looking records by a close-knit community of bands like Das Oath, the Blood Brothers, Some Girls, and Arab on Radar.
Pearson just returned from Italy where he was filming a movie directed by notable actress who’s cool having sex while her dad directs it, Asia Argento. We talked to him about the movie as well as the sort-of return of the Locust.
So what was the name of this movie?
Justin: I can't necessarily pronounce it, but it's Incompresa. And it means "misunderstood" but in the female context. So like, you know in Spanish, there's two versions of a word, one for masculine and one for feminine? So it's the feminine version of "misunderstood."
What's it about?
Well. [laughs] It's about this child named Aria, and it's basically her life. It's kind of funny. So the script that I got was completely in Italian and I think I'm the only English-speaking character. I mean, there's English dialogue between Charlotte Gainsbourg and myself. And there's really, really, kind of fucked up dialogue between me and Aria who's a 12-year-old child. She speaks very little English and I speak no Italian, so we have dialogue together but it's broken and it's odd. So basically, yes, what was the question? [Laughs]
What is it about?
Oh yeah, so it's about this child and her life growing up. So anyhow, what I was trying to say is when I got the script, it was entirely in Italian so I don't really know a lot about it, to be honest. I know about my character and as he develops, who it is, and the personality and stuff.
Who is your character?
Well his name's Ricky and he is... originally when the script was presented me, he's an 18-year-old boy—I don't think I look 18—I'm flattered, I guess, because I'm 38, but—
You look young.
[Laughs] Yeah, well. It's funny because after I filmed my part, I saw one of—so Charlotte Gainsbourg is like this mother of this child, Aria—and I saw one of the other boyfriends because I'm one of a few boyfriends in the film. And I saw the other boyfriends and I definitely feel like an 18-year-old compared to that guy. I mean he was a fantastic actor. But a total like, scumbag, just like, shithead or whatever. So I don't really know about the whole entire film, I just know it's about this kid's life and about the things that happen to this child.
We kind of—me and the kid, kind of like... we "get" each other, I guess. I play this musician kind-of-a-guy, like a punk or whatever. And it's set in the '80s and so I feel like stylistically it's sort of really funny because there's wardrobe and all these things but I wore my own clothes and did my own hair. [laughs] I just kind of like rolled in as myself. I even play my own bass. I wrote some music for the film and I perform two of the songs in it and they're gonna be kind of interlaced with the... like, they're not just...
So they're not Locust songs?
No, well, it's me and the drummer who played in the Locust, but they're not Locust songs. So it's just bass, drums, and vocals. And they're not just played over the visual aspects of it. I'm actually playing it in the movie to this little kid and like, jamming or whatever. I don't know, it's weird. I was just this restless, weird punk dude who managed to meet the mother of this child.
How did your real life prepare you for the role?
Well, I play music, so I grew up listening to punk or whatever. I didn't date an older woman. I wasn't the character. But stylistically and I guess characteristically, it was very similar to who I am in real life. Honestly, sort of like me when I was 12 and me now mixed. It was set in the '80s and I was 12 in the '80s. There's one part where we destroy the apartment, me and these two children, Aria and her sister. There was this horrible painting on the wall, and I pull it off and punch through it and destroy this painting. And the kids are like, "Yeah!" And we're all stomping on it and shit. And so I was told, directed, "All right, spray paint some shit on the wall and then like you're gonna smash all these plates and bottles on the wall." And there's this scene of us like just going berserk. Kind of in opposition to this sort of pseudo-bourgeois culture, that I was brought into. And so I was like, "Cool, what do I write on the wall?" And Asia was just like, "Just come up with something." It had to be from that time and relevant to the mid-'80s.
Please tell me you drew the Locust logo.
No. [laughs] I didn't do that. I'm not good of an artist, for one. But it had to be simple. So the little girl, Aria, is obsessed with this boy who's a skater in the film and so I was thinking like, OK, skateboarding. I grew up listening like to those Thrasher skate comps so you know, I know Septic Death started in 1981, so I just spray painted "Septic Death" on the wall and I thought that's kind of cool because it seems very negative and it seems kind of weird to people that wouldn't know that it's a band or whatever. And then also, people that know, are like, "Fuck yeah, that's Septic Death!"
Yeah, it's an inside joke, almost.
Yeah, but it's not even me writing like "fuck the world" or something like stupid, it's a little bit more, I guess, thought out or something?
You mentioned that Aria is the character's name. Did you know that Asia Argento's real name is Aria?
Yes, I just found that out, actually.
Is it autobiographical at all?
No. I'm not at liberty to say.
Can you tell me if there are any weird sex scenes in this movie?
Not with me personally. In the script, I had to make out with Charlotte Gainsbourg, which is totally odd and we didn't actually make out. The way the two camera angles were, it just like seemed pretty slutty but it was mainly because what happens is I meet Aria and then it's this awkward thing because Aria's used to these shitty boyfriends her mother. And I'm assuming her mother in the film, is not that great of a mother. But it proves to this point, so Aria sits down. Charlotte and I start making out and Aria looks up and sees her mom making out with this dude she just met, which is fucking shitty, I guess. So yeah, as far as sex scenes, I don't know. But as far as making out with someone, that was kind of weird. But I mean, it didn't happen. It was just kind of like—you know, I'm trying to play it cool. I've never fucking acted except for music videos or Jerry Springer or something. So I'm thinking to myself, do I ask her, like, "Hey, are we gonna make out?" Or do I just be like, "It's cool, I know what we're doing." And I have no fucking idea.
And so our lips touch and she's supposed to make this kind of moaning noise which is what triggers Aria to look up at us. So she makes these noises and I'm like, that is fucking weird. I don't know, but that wasn't even the weirdest part. I'm really allergic to cigarettes and I had to smoke in the movie and I was like, this is fucking strange, like I've never smoked in my life, I totally should not be smoking. But I had to do this scene where I kept smoking. And it's supposed to be a joint but there's no weed there—well, weed's not legal—and so anyhow, like I'm smoking this gigantic cigarette. That was the weird part for me.You were like, "Can you put weed in it, please?"
You mentioned the Jerry Springer thing, and I read somewhere that you said that at this point, you're pretty sick of hearing about the Jerry Springer appearance, but in a weird way, you said it was kind of helpful in getting you this role. Is that right?
Yeah. Asia and I have a mutual friend who does music supervision for films. She's the one who introduced to Asia to me and said, "Check this guy out, he's done these things and he does this stuff." That was kind of like the main thing that got her attention, I guess.
Right. So it paid off then. Because you are kind of sick of hearing about it, right?
Why is that?
Not only am I sick of hearing about it, I kind of get bummed because my other band members are like, "Dude, we're a fucking band, not like, you and Jerry Springer. Can we not have this be brought up all the time?" So you know, I do these the Locust interviews or Retox or something and then they'll be like, "So let's talk about Jerry Springer!" And it's like, dude, this is not that band.
Tell me about the Locust return.
Well, we did have a hiatus for about five years and then we got talked into doing ATP with Yeah Yeah Yeahs whenever that was. I don't know, a few months ago. So we did that and then it kind of gradually worked into a couple more shows and then today we just announced an Australian tour. But I'm not really sure that we're going to be very active coming up because for one, Gabe, our drummer, is about to have a baby. So that's going to slow things down. And then we can't really be a full-time band because Bobby's a professor and everyone has a lot of stuff going on and so I think it would be really difficult for the Locust to be able to do what we used to do when we were fully active.
The shows that you have played, how has the reception been at those?
Well, there's been two so far and they were—the one, the ATP with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was awesome. It felt really good to play with my friends and my family in the Locust. It was rad to do that. It was rad because it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and there were a couple artists that I really wanted see that were part of that specific festival so that was really nice. But we were also like the totally odd band on the bill. The last show, we were in the UK with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it was violently wrong in respects because people wanted to kill us. It was rad for us. We got a kick out of it, but it was super fucked. People were trying to fucking kill us or whatever. Like, throwing full pints of beer and I fractured my collar bone because someone hit me with one. We had to be escorted by the police one night. So it was pretty weird.
Maybe not to that extent, but that was definitely a trend when you guys used to tour regularly. It was like, "heckle the Locust" sort of became a trend.
I think so. It was not something to be embraced. We were just like, fuck this. It's kind of weird because I feel like we would do things like, "We're friends with Rocket from the Crypt, let's go on tour with them." Or, you know, "We're friends with the Bratmobile, let's go on tour with them." And so we'd do these tours with these bands that I don't think necessarily would fit with the kind of music that the Locust plays. But they're our friends and we enjoyed it, and we don't want to pigeonhole ourselves to touring with the same or similar kind of bands, you know? So we would do these tours and there were all these different factors that I think that would add a negative context to our live performance and to the band in general. So at some point, we decided that we were gonna bridge all our songs together so no one could even talk to us. And that became the sort of the next step. Because it got so old because the heckles were similar or they were really, really one dimensional.
"Play the short song!"
Yeah. You know, "Play 'Freebird!' Play the fast song!" And anything from like "Faggots!" to you know, making fun of our uniforms or whatever. It's like yeah, we're fucking ridiculous, fuck you. Can you at least say something good? There was like nothing really good. Occasionally there was good heckling. Like, oh, finally, a fucking good heckle.
What was the best heckle you ever heard?
I don't even know. I mean, I'm not even that big a fan of the heckles that we got, but just—I don't know—mainly the ones that would just confuse me. I was like, "What the hell was that? What does that mean?" But after a while, we just bridged our songs together and eliminated any kind of communication or dialogue and it actually became really nice. And then we enjoyed playing much more at that point because it alleviated this sense of hostility that we were exposed to, you know? Maybe the people still wanted to say shit or thought we were assholes or whatever, but we didn't have to hear it and it was great.
But for all the hecklers that there were, you guys also had a lot of super dedicated fans. And if your Instagram is to be believed, people are still getting Locust tattoos.
Yeah, yeah. It's a trip. It's weird.
Why do you think it is that people are still getting them? Why get a Locust tattoo now as opposed to 2003?
I don't know. Maybe for nostalgic reasons, I guess. I'm not really a big fan of nostalgia, but I could see myself you know, like—I don't want to say a band and equate the Locust to something because I think that just might come off as arrogant. But for me, something I grew up with that kind of influenced me or maybe something that meant something special or particular to me, I could see that going, "Oh, I'm gonna get that." And to be honest I think the image, it looks nice. It's not like you're getting the words "The Ramones" tattooed or something. It's a picture. If we just said "The Locust," that would probably not be that cool. But it's an image that's a little ambiguous and I think that makes it cool.
It's almost like a secret society thing too.
You were talking about nostalgia. That scene seemed to produce a lot of bands whose records themselves became a culture, even now. And I feel like The Locust is a band that like really is at the height of that sort of record collecting, memorabilia-type of thing. What do you attribute that to?
I don't know. The scene area is what I don't really understand. But as far as the record collecting and stuff, I think all of us in the band, and especially Sonny Kay, when we started doing records with GSL, and myself, with 31G, we all kind of grew up really appreciating that other aspect of art. It wasn't just like, here's the music and it's on a record or cassette or something. Here's kind of this cool collector's item, I guess. But not even a collector's item in the way of it being rare, just interesting to look at and more interesting than just like, here's the record inside of a cover and there's a picture and the band photo and there's the lyrics.
I think I own a Locust 5".
Yeah. And I couldn't even play it.
I can't play it either!
I think I could now, but at the time my record player, it would release before it got to the record.
Yeah, like you try real subtly to move the needle to the starting grooves of it, and it would just shut off. And you're like, godammit.
It was really frustrating, but you know, it looks insane. It's so small, it's so thick and it's just so colorful. And I think it's rad. I think it's better than just—I don't know, a 7".
Dan Ozzi is the nerd that owns all the Locust 7"s on different colored vinyl and also, a Locust bar of soap. Seriously. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi