The first time I ever listened to the Locust, I hated it. Granted I was probably 12 years old and hadn’t really grasped anything outside of the pop punk of the early 2000s. I mean I hated it, but for a kid who seemed to always look for a little more in punk rock, it intrigued me. To me, punk was supposed to be political; it was the Bush years and I had gravitated towards Anti-Flag and NOFX to channel my blind rage towards a system I barely understood. The liberal framework of Fat Wreck’s Rock Against Bush, was not far reaching enough to grab me, and neither was the music. The Locust was barely digestible when I first heard them but I kept going back because they offered something more than just fast punk music. One doesn’t just get into the Locust, they have to go into it looking for something more. There’s a philosophy there that bassist Justin Pearson eloquently sneaks into not only his songwriting but also in every way the band conducts their business. From The Locust, to Head Wound City, Dead Cross, and Retox, Justin Pearson is notorious in the punk and hardcore scene not just for his chaotic and groundbreaking style of grind and hardcore but also his unique way of conveying his philosophy within his art.
When I first got into punk music it was at the height of the Bush administration and I remember it being pretty optimistic as far as the push for organizing went (punk voter comes to mind) when Obama got into office it just looked like it died down a bit. Now that we are in the age of Trump and it seems like we’re living in this weird late capitalist dystopia, what have you seen within the punk and hardcore community in response to Trump and what does it have to offer the leftist resistance movement that goes beyond the liberal framework of the democratic party?
I see why you or one would have the same outlook which would sync with the political climate of the time. I assume I’m a little older than you, as I grew up in the 80s with punk and hardcore of that decade, and really feel in line with a lot of the anti-Reagan type stuff. Bands like the Dead Kennedys (towards the end of them being a band), or Reagan Youth, MDC, etc. For me, going from the dog shit of Reagan, to Bush 1, and then even to the Clinton administration, which for a lot of people on the left, never really get to experience that lull in politics. I never once looked at a democratic president and thought that things would be ok, or were honest, or good for the people. I think part of me feeling that way, is that I fall pretty far left on the dial. So even those who “get soft” with a democratic presidency, such as Clinton or more recently, Obama, never really was something I could grasp, I still see a lot of the stuff that a president on the right finds suitable for creating such political climate. Clinton had a lot of involvement with the Middle East. It was that which was interesting considering the focus on Al Queda, which became better known in recent years, where you could see the strange ties from one administration to another which held no relevance to political party. Even in more recently, considering Obama’s illegal drone strikes, and his true stance on immigration, where more people were deported under his two terms than any other president, of course considering that the term “deportation” took on a new definition during that administration. Therefore, I saw a lot to be upset about and fight for in the word of punk political ethos. It was interesting to hear and see people get upset and fired up with the “election” of Trump. A lot of people were saying “at least punk and hardcore will be good again”, where in fact it never got bad, or however you want to address it. Sure, musically things suck, but that is just a matter of opinion. But there were still relevant and punctual bands. It was that people on the left, or I guess even the middle, just got lazy and complacent. In all honesty, I think the democratic party and the republican party are pretty similar in a lot of ways. The bigger issue(s) might fall on the bureaucrats, and the CEOs who are really running this country. I don’t believe this is a democracy, so in my eyes, this is a farce that makes people feel empowered by having what is presented to them as a choice. That is why the shit show that presented itself and led to the election of Trump was interesting and eye opening. And back to the initial mention of optimism in your question, I constantly try to hold onto optimism. But I think embracing elements of pessimism is relevant as well. It’s that pessimism that pushes people to create such bands, or art, or activism. Perhaps things are polarized more than ever, or perhaps it’s just all the shit that was swept under the rug for both sides of the political spectrum for so long is finally being exposed. I do know that I’m sick of hearing how the groups like Antifa is just as bad as the Alt-Right, and hearing people share their institutional racist shit on social media platforms as some sort of acceptable, or maybe disguised libertarian mindset. I grew up with punk bands saying, “fuck you” to fascism and reacting exactly how progressive humans should react, which is fighting against oppression, and fighting for the good of humanity and the planet we live on. But when you bring in the genre of punk, I think people need to look at that term and see that there are artists who are way more punk than a lot of bands out there that somehow get thrown into that category. Think about Barbara Dane, Antony and the Johnsons, Dave Van Ronk, Paris, etc. To sum up the answer here, I think people are way too soft, even when we have one of the worst people as a president.
Looking back at past interviews with the Locust you often make connections to politics and punk music, however, it’s brought up a little differently than other punk bands like Anti-Flag. How would you say your political ideologies line up with the punk/DIY ethos and how does that bleed into your work and how is it different than bands like Anti-Flag and Rage Against the Machine?
I think that I realized being overtly political all the time turns people off. It also opens the door for a lot of criticism. Not that politics are unimportant, but I did that when I was fifteen, with the first band I was in, Struggle. As much as I wanted to be in a band that was openly anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist, etc. I felt that much more could be accomplished in other ways. I also realized that there were a lot of really important aspects to being political that are ignored, which leads to the criticism that I mentioned. Something as obvious as a band like Rage Against the Machine being on a major label, which is part of the capitalist system left a bad taste in my mouth. Anything from using Che Guevara on their shirts and have complete assholes wear that image on a sweat shop made item of clothing that was sold for way too much, to Tom Morello wearing his campy “Commie” baseball cap was a bummer for almost everyone to see, including actual communists. I think for me, and The Locust, we found politics extremely important. However, we found it way more impactful when you can choose to blur the lines of political messages, or draw people in and then attack issues with subversiveness. Or confuse them in hopes to at least get them to at least think and not just write you off. I also think that at the time when The Locust was really active, we were not only combating the mainstream bullshit ideals that say Rage was up “against”, but we also were dealing with the underground scene, fighting against a lot of the crap that was in what was not supposed to be part of a progressive subculture, like all the isms I mentioned. I also think there were relevant political moves that we as a band wanted to address, even down to avoiding a genre, avoiding certain venues that were owned by right wing Christian fundamentalist, and having ethically made merchandise to bring income in for us to survive on tour. A lot of the things that happen behind the scenes are just as important as the overtly political ones. I just couldn’t relate to certain bands, such as the ones you mentioned, especially when I was part of a community of people and bands like Born Against, Los Crudos, Man Is the Bastard, Bikini Kill, Downcast, Man Lifting Banner, etc.
You’ve been pretty active in the punk and hardcore community for a while. From the time you first started going to shows to now how have world events (neoliberal Clinton era, Bush years and 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and occupy movement, the Obama era, and the rise of Trump, etc.) shaped the overall politics of the punk scene?
Not to avoid this question, but I think everything has always been changing. Of course, politics shift over time, but so does the economy, technology, food, and even music. Even the way music delivers its message, or affects people who listen to it. I suppose in more recent times, the Me Too movement is making a substantial change in the way humans are and have been. I can only imagine that it will impact people on all levels, especially within the punk and hardcore communities. But yes, everything had been changing, even in the microcosm of a music scene.
What would you say punk and hardcore has to offer towards radical organizing and what would you say to kids who are in the scene and want to get into political activism? What are some good ways kids can express their own politics through art in the DIY community?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this, but perhaps it’s more so an existential question. I never had anyone lead me in a direction, that I was aware of. There were millions of simple and complex things that steered me in a collective direction. I’m still being steered to this day, and will for the rest of time that I’m alive. It’s everything. So I suppose those kids should draw influence from the nihilism of GG Allin, or the righteousness of… I don’t know… Anti-Flag. Or both, and figure it out on their own, like punks.
-Carson Schneider (NSC)