Noise-core homeboys Retox have been getting some impressive mileage out of their debut album, Ugly Animals, which appeared on Ipecac Recordings back in August of 2011. Knocking out the remainder of that year with a definitive roundhouse kick of international road trips and festival gigs, the hard-hitting punk getup, founded by vocalist Justin Pearson alongside drummer Brian Evans, guitarist Mike Crain and bassist Thor Dickey, attacked 2012 with a renewed sense of purpose.
“I don’t think there’s a word in existence that can define the power of Retox,” 37-year-old Pearson says. “You could say we have a SoCal sound, like that’s a specific genre of punk or hardcore or something, but the term is vague to the point that SoCal could also mean a shitty band like Social Distortion. My SoCal sound is anti-establishment and aggressive — more along the lines of a Suicidal Tendencies, Drive Like Jehu or Crossed Out. We’re all part of the same family tree or community.”
Retox repurposes the decommissioned munitions of the Reaganomic-era thrashers like Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and puts them to use against society’s present ills. Primal, passionate and seriously at risk of throwing themselves over the brink, Pearson and company are most at peace when railing against the U.S. government and mass media’s unabated love affair with war.
“I feel like the entertainment industry is the one who’s on the outside looking in,” Pearson says. “They are being held captive by their desire to find the next turd to polish. So you could be their next project and at the end of day you can go to bed thinking ‘I’m cheap!’ Now look at a band like the Melvins — not only were they innovators from the start, but they’ve been able to adjust and morph around pivotal times throughout their lineage. They are as relevant and creative today as they ever were. I admire how something so strange and crazy has become so widely accepted, but at the same time has kept an edge on it and kept pushing forward.”
Driven by a will to generate unique music that is at once relatable and provocative, the band’s louder-than-life material liberates Pearson’s memories of childhood abuse and adolescent disenfranchisement with a furious howl. He blurs the borders between rock, punk and metal, effectively blazing a new path to sonic salvation.
“I think the problem with a lot of artists is that they limit themselves to musical forms of inspiration,” Pearson says. “Buddy Rich was once asked who his influences were and he replied ‘Bruce Lee.’ I think that’s a pretty spot-on comparison. For myself, my influences come from anything from my mom to the food I eat, to crime and politics. Musically speaking, I tend to draw from bands that are sincere and have soul. I seek out originality across the whole spectrum: punk, metal, jazz, spoken word, folk, country and rap, whatever. There are cats that got it and those that borrow.”
Hooking audiences and grinding curbs since 1991, Pearson has earned his chops pushing the envelope with outfits like Holy Molar, Ground Unicorn Horn, The Locust, Struggle, All Leather and Swing Kids, many of which released records on his label Three One G. The blushing, smog-tinted sunsets of San Diego and Los Angeles that provided the backdrop to an anything-but-rosy upbringing have cast a violent shadow over Retox’s metaphorical wonderland. Relieved not be playing bass as he usually does, Pearson finds solace and substance in devoting himself to the patterns and melodies he uses to energize his acerbic lyrics.
“The band is definitely finding our own skin and I’m concentrating more on just being a lyricist,” he says. “We’re working on a new Retox record right now and we really want to step up to the challenge. Music is, and should be, a reflection of the society we live in. A lot of the stuff we write is intertwined with the current status of the world: brutal and annoying. It’s not always appealing, but I would rather offend than avoid something that’s crucially important.”