An Application in Absurdity: Interview with Justin Pearson on Deaf Club's Bad Songs Forever EP
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Having just released their debut LP, Productive Disruption, at the start of 2022, San Diego-based powerviolence band Deaf Club hightailed their way straight into their follow-up EP to hone in on their absurdist sound. In the Bad Songs Forever EP, the band finds a new balance of structured songwriting while still crafting a densely layered blend of hardcore, grind and d-beat. We spoke with frontman Justin Pearson (The Locust, Swing Kids, etc.) on the thematic elements of their latest release, balancing humor with politically-charged messages, and much more.
Deaf Club has come out with two releases this year, and while they both share a lot of similarities, the recent Bad Songs Forever EP has an additional lens of sci-fi dystopian oddball-ness (or as you call it “sci-fi punk from the future”). Tell me more about what brought up that theme for the EP and how you separated those tracks from the debut album.
It's funny because I don't know how we landed on the "sci-fi" description, but somehow we did [laughs]. It partially makes sense because we included a lot of space-like sounds or lasers or whatever. I think the main difference between the LP and the EP, however, is seeing the growth of our band. In the process between these albums, we were learning what we were capable of and where our comfort lies. In retrospect, when I listen to the LP, it feels much more fragmented. Everybody is just constantly soloing instead of us creating a cohesive sound. Up until recently, we all lived in different cities, so we would have to write and mix sections in chunks. We didn't have much time to sit together and reflect on it. After that release, we took a step back and realized a more developed way of songwriting. The songs in the EP have more of a typical verse-chorus-verse sort of structure, which I guess isn't necessarily a good or bad thing. I think it's just that I don't want to fuck with people all the time. We're all on the same page with what we want to do now, so we are evolving.
As far as the album art...well, I personally think the art for the EP is flawless. It's absolutely no disrespect to the LP, it's a great cover too. The LP art was designed by our friend Sonny Kay and it felt very relevant considering everything that happened during the pandemic. So it wasn’t that I just wanted to suddenly switch and do something ridiculous for the EP. There’s still a lot of depth embedded in the EP artwork [created by Paul Rentler], it’s just in a different style. I'm also a big fan of not taking myself too seriously. I like to laugh at myself. And I also think if we're trying to say something that's serious, it's easier for people to accept it and digest it if there's a bit of humor involved, even if they don't realize there's a message in there.
The whole thing with Gene Simmons on the cover is just a “fuck you” to rock 'n roll. I grew up obsessed with KISS for all the wrong reasons. Musically it's just mediocrity, and Gene Simmons is really the butthole of rock 'n roll. I really, truly feel that way. That guy's a dick and takes himself too seriously. I did finally see them live though.
I saw your meet and greet photo on your Instagram. It looked so weird with them posing for photos behind a glass wall.
It was so bizarre! I got hooked up with the passes, 'cause generally they're about $2,000. I definitely wouldn't have paid that [laughs]. It was interesting just to go and observe. I will say that I think Paul Stanley is an amazing performer and musician. And Gene just sucks. He's like this archaic dinosaur of rock 'n roll that's just fucking lame. It's 2022 and his misogynistic garbage is still lingering. He represents a lot of what I can't embrace in that realm of rock music, and honestly same goes for hardcore music. I love a lot of the music in the hardcore scenes, but I have a distaste for that world of masculinity that exists in these genres. It's the machismo energy that I could never embrace for myself.
You obviously show in your music that you have an affinity for campy humor, was Gene an influential figure in that sense for you growing up?
KISS totally had that element in their group, but I think they took it from more of a capitalistic endeavor and not from a place of actual creativity.
Right, it was more about selling bobbleheads and lunchboxes than anything else.
I mean, I grew up in the eighties so I was obsessed with that shit. It all changed after I heard Van Halen in 1984. I mean David Lee Roth was rocking spandex and that whole get up, but it was in a different light. I thought KISS totally sucked after that. From there, I got exposed to The Cramps and the path just went from there! I had to have those stepping stones when I was younger.
I do have a funny Gene story, by the way. It was just around the time that The Locust had finished our first tour in Japan. We flew home, and the same day I got a call from a friend asking if we'd want to perform in a movie, The Toxic Avenger Part. 4, that was being filmed at the Playboy Mansion. We get there and it's such a bizarre scene because there's naked people walking around, but because of the film set there was fake blood everywhere. Super weird. I remember Gabe Serbian was on guitar and he had to stand on a crate in the scene because he was too short. [laughs]
Anyway, we started playing music and somebody had called the cops on us because the Playboy Mansion didn't have get a noise permit. We had to lip sync to our song and it completely didn't work. I'd love to see the footage because it got cut from the movie. And the person that called the cops...that's right, Gene Simmons! He lived right across the street. The guy who supposedly wants to "rock and roll all night".
I guess only until 10 pm!
It wasn't even that late. The sun was still out! That guy is the biggest fucking poser. Anyway, going back to discussing the album art, it's just a great way to kind of tie in all of these themes of how we feel about rock 'n roll and what we grew up with. Gene would be pissed if he saw the cover. He's drawn with a small penis, and it's not about us body shaming people, but you know that would hit his ego because he's stupid enough to care about that kind of thing. I mean, G.G. Allin had a small penis but I think he at least did more for art than Gene did! So anyway, I've derailed the conversation, but all in all, we're looking forward to the Simmons lawsuit that's inevitably bound to happen [laughs].
The term “controlled chaos” comes up a lot when people describe Deaf Club and your music overall. I’d be curious to hear what that term means to you, and what it may mean for you to harness chaos in a musical sense.
Yeah, totally. I don't know if I'd ever used that term personally, because I look at the music in a non-chaotic way. I don’t necessarily hear sound as chaos, but perhaps absurdity, annoyance, intensity or tension would be the more accurate terms. Controlled chaos is an interesting oxymoron, but I don’t know if chaos is something anyone could really control. Our music is very dense, and people probably think the abrasive components of our sound are chaotic. So while it wouldn't be a term that I would choose, I understand why people say it because it paints a picture that people are able to grab onto.
Deaf Club’s music is all about “confronting our collective sickness”, and your lyrics and song titles show that you obviously have a very tongue-in-cheek way of doing that. Talk to us about the importance of incorporating humor, specifically fart jokes, to make a political statement even stronger.
Yeah absolutely. It's one thing to say you're opposed to a certain type of politic or talk about collectively destroying capitalistic endeavors that are oppressive, and it's another to be self-righteous about it. That kind of attitude can really turn people off for a few reasons. For one, you might be preaching to someone who’s already on the same path, or you could be turning people away that find it too divisive. I enjoy alienating people to an extent, but it's less about saying "fuck you" and more like..."fuck off", if that makes sense. For example, we just played in Texas, and I felt obliged to say some things about Governer Abbott and his anti-abortion stance. I'm sure the majority of our crowd is on the same pro-choice stance as us, but if there is someone in the crowd who isn't, I want to connect with them and ask them to consider these things. I'm not exactly sure how to tackle that kind of conversation...so I try to do it with fart jokes and hope for the best! [laughs] I'm not sure how well that works, but at the end of the day, we end up having a good laugh and connecting with our friends, so I gotta look at it as a success.
I also like this idea that in order to confront the loudness of this world, you’re creating an even louder band. There’s definitely something to be said about the sheer volume of noise compared with the urgency of your words.
I feel that art is subjective and the message can be delivered in all kinds of ways. People gravitate towards absurd sounds because of the absurd world that we live in. It's not necessarily always the lyrics, but the overall sound and layers in the song. If we have a minute and half or however long the song is to convey some sort of message, we want to create something that people can react to. Maybe someone will think the music is nihilistic, absurd, or someone can get something from the song that's not exactly what we intended, but as long as there's a reaction then it's good. I think if you have apathy towards what you're doing, then you should rethink things. It's not necessarily my job to make sure people understand our intention, our job is to create something that we feel comfortable with and put it out there in the world for people to take. I'm not trying to wash my hands of responsibility either. It's like when Judas Priest went to court because people were saying there were backwards messages in their music and that kid tried to shoot his face with a shotgun. It wasn't Judas Priest's fault! They just made music and people reacted to it. Of course, that's just an example and not exactly the same kind of thing, but essentially people will take from the music what they are willing to.
That reminds me of a quote from a recent interview where you said “I think the world we live in is reflected in the art we create”, which is so true and also so interesting to see how different people’s realities are by the art they consume. What are your thoughts on the dynamics between worldviews and music consumption?
This idea has come into my mind a lot lately, especially after this Deaf Club tour. Living in California creates this sort of microcosmic comfort zone, so going to a place like Texas and seeing "America Loves Trump'' billboards is crazy. We even played a show where the sound engineer at the venue was wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt. At the same time, though, we're meeting really inspiring and amazing people. At that same show in Texas, I met this awesome young trans kid who plays guitar, and that's our future, you know? On that tour we'd be cruising out on the road, singing into other people's cars and having fun, then driving to the convention center in Austin where Trump was speaking and throwing stink bombs at people selling Let's Go Brandon shirts that are made in China.
There's just levels and levels of irony. There's layers of righteousness, frustration, and inspiration. I mean, you see and feel every element when you're out on the road and out of your comfort zone. There's sorrow, there's anger, but there's also beauty. And then as an artist, I end up farting it all out into the music and into the world. I don't know if what we're doing is the best we could do or relevant or whatever, but we do it for ourselves first and foremost, then however the world takes it is cool. I'm grateful when people like it. I'm grateful when people don't like it. I'm just grateful when people react to it. And that's the point.
Absolutely. Shifting gears a bit here, what advice do you have for aspiring young kids that hope to get tinnitus one day?
[laughs] Well, I don't hope that anybody gets tinnitus. It sucks! Though I think there is some beauty in the fact that people will go and do shit that damages themselves. For an absurd question, it's actually really good and relevant to the way I look at my life. I feel like half of the stuff I do is super fucked up and dumb. It's probably not great considering the longevity of my life and how bad I've damaged myself. The other half is like, I need to be this way. This is my insurance for my survival on the planet. There's like the yin and yang of it. Punk and hardcore is this sort of release and exchange of energy. It's frustration and all kinds of emotions. It might not be the best for our bodies, but it's the best for our minds. We're always told not to listen to loud music, but I mean...we probably shouldn't eat half the foods we eat, we probably shouldn't shit on the planet like we do because we're going to destroy it. So at least with music, we do stupid shit but we do it for reasons that are relevant, or at least helpful, to our daily survival. At any rate, I'd still tell kids to wear ear plugs [laughs].
It’s good advice!
Tinnitus is crazy though. There's times where I'm on stage and experiencing the destruction in my eardrums in real time. When we're performing on stage, it's that first snare hit that shifts everything from rational life to something that's irrational and beautiful. I really appreciate how in that thirty to forty minute stretch of time, dangerous stuff happens to us. Wonderful stuff happens too, but there is a dangerous element. Tinnitus can really get into weird parts of your brain. Sometimes it feels like...am I in outer space? Or am I transcending to some other dimension? I haven't smoked DMT, but I imagine there are some parallels with that. [laughs] It's wild how sound can really just take your brain into some crazy places.
You’ve been teasing the documentary Don’t Fall In Love With Yourself about your life and San Diego punk scene. How’s it been coming along and what else can you tell us about the film?
I would love to have an answer for you. I think it should just come out, but it's up to the director and the people producing it. It seems weird to have a movie that's based around me, but I feel like it shifted into something that's outside of myself. It became about Three One G and The Locust, which I think is cool. Gabe Serbian is in it a lot, and I think the movie should really be about him. His parts in the film are absolutely brilliant. I really do think that he was a brighter star in the universe than I am. But I will say it's a cool film overall and it's very flattering. The parts I appreciate the most are the clips with Gabe, obviously, and then also the interviews with my mom. My mom is so cool. There's a part where she just talks all this shit about Mike Patton and it's so funny. I know Mike very well and I think he would be absolutely so psyched to hear my mom talk shit about him. I think they may have cut that part in the film, but here's hoping it'll be a bonus feature.
Do you have anything else lined up for Deaf Club this year? Or anything else you’d like to mention via your podcast, label, or other bands?
We have a tour coming this fall with Melt Banana. I love them so much and think they're incredible. A lot of this past tour was making up for COVID dates, and things are definitely different touring now, but I'm just so grateful that shows exist.
Finally, to end this interview off on a serious note, please name three things that the Deaf Club tour bus smells like.
We tour in a van that has 400,000 miles on it, so I'm just surprised we even made it! [laughs] Honestly, I'm like a clean freak so it doesn't get too bad. As far as smells, we don't have AC so that's been pretty awful. It occasionally smells like socks. And let's see, one day someone's bottle of shampoo exploded so that was a pretty strong lingering odor.
That doesn't sound too bad at all! You guys must be doing something right if it's not getting that stinky.
Totally. We did have a bunch of stink bombs and fart bombs in the van, but those all got saved for the Trump rally. Save the smells for them!
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