For the uninitiated, Three One G Records is one of the most influential independent record labels for the past 30 years for the development and continuation of math rock and other forms of experimental rock and punk music. Founded in San Diego in 1994, Three One G Records is the brainchild of hardcore legend Justin Pearson, founding member and band leader of The Locust, and the label is still going strong today. Look no further than Paper Mice’s 2021 album, 1-800-Mondays that was released by Three One G as an indicator that the label is still very much connected to mathy and experimental music. The label has worked with an enormous amount of influential bands in the math, noise, hardcore, and punk scenes over the years including Pearson’s musical projects like The Locust, Swing Kids, Head Wound City, Retox, Dead Cross, and Deaf Club, as well as Metz, The Blood Brothers, Arab on Radar, Black Dice, Doomsday Student, and Zs just to name a few. I could keep going, and if you want to see the full label roster, check out Three One G’s website and catalog.
We are incredibly exhilarated to be able to share with you an in-depth interview with Justin Pearson discussing the oral history of how the label started and the early days of The Locust and his varied music projects over the decades. We cannot stress enough the importance of The Locust is the development and evolution of math rock and experimental forms of hardcore music, but don’t just take our word for it, their music speaks for itself. Three One G also has a new release to start 2022, and it’s the debut album by Deaf Club called Productive Disruption. The band describes the album:
“Being recorded on the same day as what would become known colloquially as The Insurrection – January 6th, 2021. While the actions that day at The Capitol were aimless, unplanned, asinine and delusional, this album was created in direct opposition without even knowing it: it is intentional, tactical, bitterly relevant. In short, it serves as a productive disruption to the bootlicking, copsucking, flag-fucking frenzy we’ve found ourselves surrounded by.”
FB: Thanks Justin for talking with us, and maybe easiest place to start is if you could give some background on how you got into kind of the San Diego hardcore punk scene and how you how you got into the music that you do?
Justin: Sure, yeah, good question. So, I mean, I think I think there’s a lot of things that came in to play in my childhood. I was born in 1975. So I’m around, you know, the early 80s, I was really into breakdancing and like some sort of hip hop and rap, at the time. And at the time, a lot of rap music was being released on labels like Tommy Boy and stuff like that had a lot of strange, electronic or like, strange sounds or like vocoders or whatever. So it kind of it was already prepping me for like weird shit, I guess.
And then skateboarding happened in my life. And I got really into all the skate rock compilations, and that just opened up this floodgate of just crazy shit. Aside from the Thrasher Skate rock comps. I was really into the likes of Sex Pistols, Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits, Cramps, and then and then discovering those comps exposed me to more underground stuff, so you know, Septic Death, and like all these weirder bands. So it was like it was this constant evolution or devolution, however, you want to look at it as stuff to get into.
And then when I was 12, I moved to San Diego and quickly started to sort of assimilate myself in the music scene without really knowing anything about it. I mean, I was 12 It was weird, but I remember going to shows that and meeting bands and seeing like underground stuff, and also going to shows that I probably shouldn’t have been going to as a kid when I had a fake ID and so I was getting into shows that were 18 and up and I was you know, 13 and seeing like kind of gnarly shit as a young teenager. So, um, you know, I go to Mexico a lot in this scene, there’s a venue in Tijuana which it’s like a half an hour from San Diego and I go there and see all kinds of new music and bands you know, like seeing Neurosis as a teen in Tijuana. As a child, like, I was already fucking set and I already had all the cool shit.
FB: Back then in the 80s, before the internet and how things work today, being that young as a teen in Southern California, how easy was it to find out about these shows?
Justin: Honestly it was pretty easy, or it was at least pretty easy to find. I think around like age 10 I got really into collecting records. So I knew where all the cool record stores were and, and my mom was pretty cool. She would put up with taking me to the stores to look for shit. I don’t think she fully understood what the hell I was doing, and the funny thing is, she takes me to these stores, and I didn’t work or whatever so I kind had to ask my mom to buy me shit haha. When I moved to San Diego I was like where are the record stores? I found one and asked them like, hey, where are the other ones? They told me about this one, that one. So when I would go to the record stores, I would see the flyers for the shows. I’m like, holy shit, you know, Bad Brains are playing or Public Image Limited or Pixies it was crazy. Just knowing where to look was a really simple thing to be able to go see that, which was crazy, because most kids I assume, at my age, probably were not interested in the more obscure shit. I mean, if they were into music, like I was, I was very obsessed with music, but I think they were probably mildly into it, you know, where I was trying to figure out ways to go to Mexico to see a band, or I would convince my mom with some elaborate bullshit story to drive me fucking to the ghetto to some sketchy makeshift venue and come back and get me in two hours.
Sometimes it didn’t always pan out very well, like my friend getting arrested or getting beat up or fighting skinheads. I can remember someone getting stabbed and I’m like, fuck show’s over, now I gotta wait three hours in the hood for my mom to come pick me up. But I did it. And I was obsessed with it. In retrospect, I’m like, we did a crazy bunch of that shit. I remember going to Tijuana to see a show. I was with some older friends of mine, some of them are on acid. So the DEA raided this venue. I had a fake ID and it said I was 18, but I was only 15. They were going to arrest everyone because everyone was like there illegally. They knew I had a fake ID and the DEA officer was gonna give me shit. But luckily, there was some dude that had a bunch of meth on him and tried to climb out the window. So the DEA agents shot him. And I don’t I guess they kill them. I don’t know. Anyhow, they shot him, so they let everybody out. I was like 15 in Tijuana, and my mom had no idea. And if I would have went to jail, it would have been really fucking bad, like, terrible, but I got through it and was fine. So there’s all these things that kind of led me to where I’m at.
FB: Were you playing any music at this time?
Justin: So yeah, I started playing in my first band going on my first tour around the age of 15. Like, there was no option. It was just what were gonna do. And it seemed totally absurd, but we did it and my earliest touring band was called Struggle. And then soon after I was in this band called Brain Tourniquet. So both of the bands toured a bit on the West Coast all the way up to Canada and back and around the West Coast. It was cool to do that stuff. It was so strange to me, because most 15 year olds weren’t thinking like how’s the show gonna be in Seattle tonight. I think it just made things a little odd for me, but then also to elaborate on how did I get into this stuff thing coming to San Diego was really interesting, because I feel that it’s very conservative and not very open to the arts, in the sense of like underground kinds of art.
So I would go to punk shows, and it would be this sort of mixture of just stuff like for instance, I remember going and seeing Heroin play and there was a three piece jazz band and it was an all you can eat spaghetti dinner, and that was like the show, you know, and so it was so strange, because here I am mainly going for this punk band Heroin and I’m gonna get a rad spaghetti dinner and then there’s a jazz band and I started thinking this shit is cool too. It was a trip and we’re sitting there and focusing on the band and watching the musicianship and kind of appreciating something different than what I would normally be exposed to. There was this that kind of weird element and then my band Struggle would play with Three Mile Pilot or Rocket From the Crypt and we’re just like wow, like what the fuck? This music is so weird, but it made sense to everybody there.
FB: Going off of that and being young and already playing in touring bands and gong to all these shows, when did you first start thinking about starting a label? Were there a lot of independent labels at the time in San Diego when you were growing up? Where did that kind of inspiration come from?
Justin: When I was younger, I was really into Dischord and Alternative Tentacles. Those two labels kind of set the ground work for what I would end up doing. Dischord, I thought was so awesome. They had a variety of kinds of bands, and I really liked it was all Washington D.C. stuff. So I was like that’s cool, this sense of community. It’s not just Virgin Records or you know it’s not like this label is just putting stuff out, it was a community instead. Without really realizing it, that was something that I think I subconsciously was absorbing. And then there was also some technical stuff, which I was into. If you bought a record you would get the catalog inside the record, and that’s how I discovered NoMeansNo, which fucked me up as a bass player. So, it was those two labels that kind of set me on the path. And then it was discovering Gravity Records and Vinyl Communications in San Diego and becoming friends with those people that ran the labels and seeing how they did it on a DIY level. They were the ones that had rubber stamps and spray paint and shit like that on the covers. And I was like, that is weird and cool. Those labels made things seem a little bit more feasible financially for me. And so that was kind of all the elements that I had to take in to start the label.
So there was that element for me to do a label. But the thing was, Eric Allen, who was in Unbroken and Swing Kids kept pushing me to do a label, he’s like, “You should start a label. We have these two Unbroken songs, you should release that and then you should reissue the Swing Kids seven inch.” So that was Three One G number one, and number two, and both those bands were kind of popular at the time, and somewhat easier to sell. And I was on tour a lot, so I was able to just sell them. So it wasn’t like, I’m gonna start a band, I’m gonna start a label and put on my friend’s band, but that’s how it happened. Like 10 years later I still had 500 copies in the closet, but the 10 years later 500 copies in a closet thing has happened a lot with Three One G. At the start, I was like, oh shit, these are easy to sell, whatever, and I just, without knowing how to do it, figured it out all the different ways. I figured out how to take out an ad in a publication, how to get a distributor, how to make the distributor pay me money after you know, they tried to not pay me. So there was all these different ways to do things, and I figured out how to make it work.
FB: When around did you start the label? Musically at the time were there bands that were around San Diego different kind of noise rock almost mathcore kind of thing Swing Kids and then The Locust were doing? Where there bands in that period of the 90’s that you saw yourselves as contemporaries of or that you were trying to be like?
Justin: Three One G started in the mid 90’s and at the time like around 95’ I had barely toured the entire U.S. The Locust was the first band that toured the full U.S. Swing Kids had made it out as far as Michigan for touring, but for the most part was in this sort of corner pocket of the country which was strange because we were a little bit away from Los Angeles, two or three hours, but San Diego didn’t have all the cool bells and whistles that like a regular city would have. We had to kind of force something to happen and make something happen with limited resources. I think at the time, we kind of had this idea of like, we’re just gonna make something for ourselves with what we have and not pigeonhole ourselves, which made for a very creative outlet. Looking back, Struggle seems like pretty run of the mill metal, like kind of heavy hardcore or whatever, we were really influenced by Downcast and then Swing Kids were very much influenced by Drive Like Jehu, which that band I think is a huge, massive element of San Diego. Drive Like Jehu says San Diego all over it.
The Locust set out first and foremost, to sound like Crossed Out, we wanted to be just like Crossed Out, and then by accident, we discovered Moog synthesizers and we’re like, fuck, we’re getting a keyboard player. I remember getting really into like Gary Numan and stuff so it just it made sense. Then we were like well blast beats and hardcore mixed with synthesizer sounds like a pretty good idea. It wasn’t you look out in a bigger perspective, and most people told us that’s a fucking stupid idea. You know we were told that by a lot of people at the time about The Locust. Bands like Naked City, that was a huge influence because it was rooted in certain genres of music, but mainly it was rooted in absurdity. And that was kind of like where we were, that was like our jam, we wanted to make people feel something uneasy or confused. Every time we would see a normal punk or hardcore band or something come through, you’re just like, oh, it’s another normal band thing. It didn’t always have to be musically normal because a good example would be Unbroken. At the time in the mid-90’s Unbroken sounded like Slayer, but they looked like Morrissey. And they were straight edge so it was like this kind of different thing and was cool. I fucking hated straight edge hardcore at the time, but you would go to these shows that Unbroken would play and everyone had straight edge white dude hardcore attire, and that was the culture and then Unbroken would play, and the people in Unbroken looked like they’re from another world and that was just from the way they looked. They were also better than most bands at that time, and the fact that they just had like swag about them, and that shit was cool.
FB: With Three One G having started in the mid-90’s in a pretty much non-internet era, how has the internet changed how you ran the label today? Has the internet made things harder to do on a day to day operational level?
Justin: Okay, so punks are kind of like the cockroaches of the planet, and we’ll survive the apocalypse and be like, oh that’s cool. You make do with whatever you have. I can be a douche and pull Lars Ulrich and be like Napster fuck you or whatever, but it’s like, it’s happening and it’s a thing that’s out of our control. The internet and file sharing, and even now streaming in the really shitty rate that artists are paid from streaming it sucks, but there are positives and negatives. We could put out a song on the internet and the world can hear it instantly. And before you had to hope you could reach anyone.
I remember being a kid and getting a letter from someone in Germany that like Struggle so much. I’m like, holy shit, someone in Germany has heard my band! Like that’s blowing my mind. But now it’s instant and you’re like, oh, someone in Germany heard my band like one minute ago when our song went up online. So there’s that. But then there’s also the fact that there’s 200,000 new songs streaming on Spotify a day. Okay, well, the playing field has been leveled for sure. How do you get noticed? I try my best with the resources I have, the knowledge that I have, and work a lot to put a lot of time and effort into stuff.
FB: What releases this year are you excited to be putting out on Three One G? Anything big stuff in the works?
Justin: Honestly, every single release has that element of excitement. Because I’m grateful that people solicit their music to Three One G, and I appreciate that. I mean, to be real most have a very slight chance of getting through, but people solicit the label their stuff and I listen to it all the time. I listen to everything. I listen to everything which sometimes can be kind of painful. Especially when they’re like I want to know what you think. And I’m like, no, no you don’t. I don’t want to know what people think about my bands. Yeah, so for me to agree to put something out on Three One G, I really have to love it, and I have to be psyched on it. So I’m excited with everything we put out.
Be sure to go check out the entire Three One G Records catalog over on their website, and we highly recommend the new Deaf Club album coming out on January 6, 2022 via Three One G Records. Productive Disruption by Deaf Club feels right at home with the rest of the Three One G roster, and is a shock to the senses of technical music prowess mixed with hardcore punk energy and wrapped in experimental song form with sound exploration. And it’s a great album to kick off the hangover of 2021.