By Drew Ailes
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By Tom Murphy
The abrasive San Diego-based noise quartet the Locust receives fan mail on a fairly regular basis. In fact, the group's press release uses the following anonymous love letter as its lead paragraph: "Go tweak yourself to death, you rich, big-headed rock stars. You are nothing but a bunch of image-concerned ass-wipes. All of your side-projects suck. And I hope you guys realize the only reason any of your side-projects are big is because you're in the Locust. By signing on to Epitaph, you will just destroy your underground following; and the mainstream will not catch on. So, you'll just end up destroying the Locust. Not that I have a problem with that."
"We get a lot of that crap, unfortunately," says Justin Pearson, bassist/frontman for the experimental San Diego-based spaz-core outfit, the Locust. "We just got one from Cleveland saying 'Next time you come here, you better bring your fuckin' bodyguard.' We don't have bodyguards, so we'll have to deal with it ourselves. We'll see what happens."
As bewildering as the threats of violence are to the scrawny members of the Locust -- guitarist Bobby Bray, keyboardist Joey Karam and drummer Gabe Serbian round out the group of malcontent twenty-somethings -- it should be old hat for the band by now. Controversy has shadowed the act since it inked a deal with Epitaph's subsidiary Anti-, last winter. Considering the indie imprint's eclectic roster also includes Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Merle Haggard, Eddie Izzard and Buju Banton, you'd think the addition of a noisy, avant-garde underground band would lift the spirits of misguided elitists and jealous scenesters rather than inspiring ire. It's Epitaph after all, not Geffen, not Warner Bros., and definitely not DreamWorks. Yeesh. Pearson blames the misconceptions on the information superhighway.
"The Internet spreads all kinds of horseshit for everyone to feed off," he says. "That we're racists. That we're firefighters. That we're rock stars with big egos. That we're rich and have a four-thousand-dollar guarantee for every show -- which we've never been paid. It's weird. Why would anyone even take the time to say that? They're wasting their time hating some fucking thing that doesn't really exist."
The vitriol has not been limited to just the intangible, though. At a show the band played in Florida ("Probably the shittiest state to play in the United States," Pearson notes), an enraged reveler hurled a barstool at the stage.
"I guess certain kinds of humans aren't very progressive," Pearson explains. "People are stuck with tradition and repetitive crap, so when someone different or new comes along, it's just confusing and frustrating, and they don't understand it."
The Locust's penchant for creating incomprehensible music probably hasn't done much to ease the confusion and frustration. Lost in a deafening barrage of tag-team histrionics, pummeling bass lines and double-kick drumming is a bleeding mass of sound somewhere between John Zorn's Torture Garden and the '70s-era sci-fi moog synthesizers made popular on Creature Features. Twittering electronics hold onto fast-paced, metal-gnashing noise for dear life. Non-audible lyrics spit in the eye of primal apprehension. And the average Locust tune rarely lasts longer than a minute ("Solar Panel Asses" sets the band's land-speed record at 26 seconds). Pearson and company seem to be celebrating the so-called short attention spans of today's youth.
Or it could just be happenstance.
"We'll get through about 25 songs in twenty-five minutes," Pearson says. "It's just four of us creating art in response to the world we live in. We never really set out to sound this way. It just kind of happened; I don't know why."
Relentless in its sonic assault, the band also injects its performances with a conceptually enhanced wardrobe that borders on insectoid: Skin-tight, mesh body suits the color of snot enhance each bandmember's rail-thin frame. "They have a terrorist sort of feel," says Pearson, "and this homoerotic, sexual thing."
Fittingly, the band's bizarre image and sound caught the attention of deviant filmmaker John Waters. During the making of 2000's Cecil B. Demented, Baltimore's renowned "Sultan of Sleaze" lifted a pair of Locust tunes for the soundtrack: "Nice Tranquil Thumb in Mouth" and "An Extra Piece of Dead Meat," both of which appear on the band's 1999 self-titled full-length release.
The qualities that color the band's Waters-approved tunes crop up on its Anti- debut, Plague Soundscapes. An impressive musical effort, the disc favors the sprint over the marathon, using jarring time signatures to constantly reroute shards of blistering instrumentation. Producer Alex Newport (At the Drive-In, the Melvins, Sepultura) separates the sounds like a master carpenter, building a steady but sustained feeling of dread and hopelessness. Propagating its own variation of the amber-waved apocalyptic nightmare, the Locust thumbs its nose at earthquakes, greets dementia with open arms, and pushes rednecks' buttons to the point of brawling. Meanwhile, the goofy, surreal titles of each outburst (enough to make Captain Beefheart proud) offer nanoseconds of comic relief: "The Half-Eaten Sausage Would Like to See You in His Office" rivals "Pulling the Christmas Pig by the Wrong Pair of Ears" for top absurdist honors. There's also "How to Become a Virgin," "Who Wants a Dose of the Clap?" and "Anything Jesus Does, I Can Do Better."