INTERVIEW: The Locust
The Locust, with their brand of grind, thrash and hardcore, have spawned countless keyboard-driven imitators, with few coming close to the intensity and inventiveness of the original. Plague Soundscapes, the band’s latest full length, was one of the best releases of last year. Released on the Epitaph subsidiary Anti, major league production, cleaned up the mix and provided a devastating sonic palette. Never had the Locust sounded so crushing and so brutal on record, yet with production allowing every instrument to come shining through.
The Locust are currently on tour with the Dillinger Escape Plan and will be hitting Montreal on January 27th. I had the opportunity to speak with Justin Pearson, bassist and sometimes singer for the Locust on a break after soundcheck in Minneapolis. An erudite and quickly passionate speaker, Justin offered his thoughts on the new record, the hardcore scene and the band itself.
In my opinion, Plague Soundscapes was your most cohesive effort to date. When you recording the album were there any specific goals in mind?
We always try to do our best but [with this record being] on a different label so we had a bigger budget, so we were able to spend more time on the recording and hire a producer and get better sound where before we were really rushed....
Was there anything different in your approach to Plague Soundscapes compared to the first record?
We recorded the first album in a day pretty much.... we had like a $1000 to record our first album – or maybe it was $2000 – it wasn’t much to record eighteen songs. It was pretty crazy to try and cram everything in there and get it all. If you only have one or two days to record and mix you’re not going to pay attention to things, you’re not going to be as specific or like “Is that on time?” or “That guitar thing is messed up” or “That drum fill is wrong” [you’re just going to say] “Fuck it.”
What did Alex Newport (Melvins, Sepultura) bring to Plague Soundscapes sessions? Was it nice to have someone there, from outside of the band, to say “Maybe you should approach it this way...”?
He didn’t really approach our songwriting but more our recording techniques. We have never really worked with anyone else at all: we would always produce our stuff ourselves. It was really crazy to spend three days getting drum sounds where before we’d record a whole album and have it mixed in two. The guy just had more knowledge in how to make things come across. The sound is so intense and loud and confusing and you lose things. You lose little parts of the drums, the toms.... so he really made sure that everything stood out and I think you can listen to it and hear each instrument. Everyone thinks a lot of it is keyboards because Bobby and I use a lot of effects, but for everyone that knows what’s going on musically you pretty much can hear everyone’s part, which before it all was just muddy and blended together.
You’ve been involved in the San Diego scene for quite a while now. When most people think of the Locust they think of the San Diego hardcore scene. Has that always been a positive thing to be attached to or, as the group grows on, are you trying to move away from that?
Not San Diego at all. I think that hardcore in general..... I think it’s really conservative and pretty narrow-minded and it’s not open to new ideas and. That’s kind of a drag. As far as San Diego, I wouldn’t really pin it down as [just] “hardcore”... but the music scene in San Diego is very diverse. A lot really, really good stuff has come out of San Diego. For instance we can play with any musical style of band and have it be effective. San Diego is an interesting city because it’s really conservative politically and socially and there’s a lot of really interesting shit that goes on there and there’s a lot of really fucked up racist stuff from being so close to the border of Mexico. The social structures are just not really open for having art or having people be creative and especially things for the youth so it comes out in these weird facets. People there are just really creative and more open-minded than other parts of the country and other parts of the world from what I’ve noticed....
Because it’s a reaction to what‘s going on....
Yeah, I can go to a show there and I can see a hardcore band play with a hip-hop band and it’s not a weird issue where that is kind of rare in other parts of the country. And I don’t want to say that people are messed up everywhere.... I just think people aren’t really willing to push the envelope and do things that are different like that.
The lyrics to your music are particularly obtuse. Is it important for the audience to know what the songs are about or is that secondary to the music?
I think that we create our art for ourselves initially. Of course we would like people to like what we’re doing, but it’s not like we’re trying to write a political manifesto for people to tie into. We definitely have meaning in our lyrics and it’s important to us and it’s from our hearts. I think a lot of people kind of criticized us in the past about the way we write lyrics... like it’s too obscure.... but I’d rather do it on more artistic, or for lack of a better word, more poetic terms, than like having it be, “We hate the government” and “Fuck you pigs”....
So instead of being super literal you’re trying to play with the language.
We spend all this time trying to write music that’s not typical and it’s kind of obscure and interesting, and you have to think about it and I’d rather people just have to think about as a whole package. With the band it goes on beyond the music too, it’s just us as people and our live performance and embracing different dynamics and being obscure and being ridiculous and irrational and having all these different entities come in and be one.... and therefore people have to think. Mainstream music is a drag when it’s prepackaged. “Let’s sing about breaking up or how we tried so hard and it failed and I’m pissed” and that’s just boring so I’d rather push it and make people think about it.
Since day one The Locust have had a small minority that have been hostile towards you either in print or at shows. Does it ever get you down? Are you ever about to go on a tour and think, “Do I really have to put up with this shit for the next thirty days?”
[Laughs] Not lately in the last few years but in the past there’s been times when it got pretty overwhelming, [and] at points you’re like, “What the hell is going on here” At the same it’s not like it makes you wanna go “I’m going to quit doing this” it just makes kind of look at.... the typical hardcore crowd. It’s pretty assbackwards I guess. At least we’re creating something and pushing people’s buttons....
You’ve been in the scene a long long time. Have you seen a shift towards a more conservative scene?
It’s really a weird thing. Culturally it’s really interesting because you have younger people getting involved and all these different dynamics being brought in. The times are changing socially and a lot of artists and the way they produce art is not necessarily a reflection of society but I think that society – the people that are creating any kind of art be it music or film or whatever – people can deny it, but I think everyone is influenced by society and everyone influences society at the same time. Like I said, times are changing. We’re not writing rock ‘n roll like they did in the ‘50s, it’s definitely a lot different now. I think over the lifespan of the Locust or previous bands we’ve been involved in, things have changed and I think it’s better but there’s also different obstacles that we’re dealing with as artists as well. I think now with things like Clear Channel – that wasn’t really a threat 10 years ago. People didn’t have to worry that there’s this huge conglomerate that’s controlling art and what mainstream society is going to have access to. That’s a really important thing that people need to start dealing with now.
Do you think the music of the Locust could possibly become popular?
I was in this band Struggle when I was younger and at the time that was considered extreme music and now I don’t think it. I would watch M2 now and stuff and see bands that are similar in that vein of sound. Like I said, times change and society influences people and it can make room for that I guess. Look at the Blood Brothers, they’re on a major label. I think that’s a very interesting aspect to look at. I don’t know, it’s weird, I mean marketing and MTV and big business and corporations and all this shit getting involved is a very weird thing when it comes to art and how far they’re going to go and how far people are willing to invest or fund what people are doing and what their art consists of. There’s people like Marilyn Manson – I don’t really like him musically – but that guy is seriously pissing people off and doing some crazy shit and it’s huge and everyone has access to it. I don’t see it being that far off, I mean, I would turn on M2 and see bands like Converge and they’re from the same community we are.
Do you think the whole question surrounding “indie bands” signing to major labels is a moot argument at this point?
We had all this criticism for signing to Epitaph. When we started the Locust we didn’t say: “We’re only going to be on a really small label and shoot ourselves in the foot and play to these critical, conservative, kids in the suburbs who don’t really give a shit about anything except veganism and these really minimal one-dimensional politics.” When we did what we did, we did it to get our music exposed to a wider audience. I don’t want to limit ourselves to playing to a certain sect of music listeners. I think it’s shitty and I think it’s boring and I think it’s sad that people won’t support a band [when they sign to a major label]. I run Three One G records and I put out the Blood Brothers album before they signed to a major label. I should’ve been bummed or sad; that’s the biggest seller on our label. At the same time I was so happy for them and as artists they are able to do things that we couldn’t have helped them do and I was all in support of that. I think that’s an important thing. There’s only so much some labels can do. We all really like [the Locust’s previous label] GSL and it’s a great label to be on but we had to move on and do something different. We wanted to branch out. The audience we’re playing to now is so much more diverse and I think it’s due to the work Epitaph was able to do for us. I think it’s a positive thing. I’m all for it.
Running a label, does that give you a different perspective? Do you think if you were just in the Locust and not running a label at the same time do you think your perception of the artist/label relationship would be different?
I think it helps me out on both perspectives. It helps me out as an artist and as a business owner and a label owner. I know how it feels. I’ve dealt with labels where I’ve sold .a lot of records and never been paid. I honestly love writing a cheque to everyone in Arab On Radar for selling a shitload of CDs. It’s really awesome because I know how it feels. I’m really grateful that I can understand both sides of the coin.
Wearing the Locust uniforms do you ever worry that you’ll be seen as gimmick rather than serious artists?
We don’t care what people think at all. If I was concerned about that I think that we’d all have really nice hair, and kind of look fashionable and handsome and make everyone happy... we’d be a boy band or something. We thought about what we do and we did want to affect people. Let’s look like these weird things and make it a little bit more interesting and also avoid all these different aspects. It’s not gender specific. You see four dudes or five dudes in a band and they play aggressive and it’s a male thing and it definitely takes on a gender identity and I think we avoid that by having this androgynous statement.
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