Justin Pearson’s New Lyrics Collection Is A Catalogue of Caustic Songwriting

'The Race To Zero' compiles lyrics throughout Pearson's career in bands including Swing Kids, The Locust, Dead Cross and Head Wound City

justin pearson

Photo by Becky DiGiglio

Justin Pearson is many things: bassist, vocalist, actor, and record label owner, to name a few. He’s also an author, and his newest book, The Race To Zero, is currently available for preorderThe Race to Zero archives Pearson’s lyrics dating back to 1994, and it also includes bits of fiction and previously unpublished work. Pearson’s lyrics are caustic and sardonic in equal measure (choice phrases include “pissant fries” and “stale dead dog fuck all fuck bag”) – and they’re perfectly complemented by the photocopied zine aesthetic of the book’s layout. The Race To Zero is Justin’s third book, following How to Lose Friends and Irritate People (2011) and From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry (2010).

We asked Justin to answer some questions about The Race To Zero via email. Read our Justin Pearson interview below; you can also listen to Justin Pearson on the Culture Creature podcast.

Culture Creature: What appeals to you about this particular book format (which includes lyrics, poetry and more)?

Justin Pearson: To be honest, it’s a bit odd for me. My other books are nonfiction stories of things pertaining to my life, and it’s much easier to write stories of things that have happened. The Race to Zero is a collection of all lyrics that I have ever written up to now. It also has a short story about Head Wound City, which is fiction. The book also showcases which lyrics I wrote in The Locust, as there were three people who wrote lyrics in the band, and it also has some unpublished work that may or may not ever see the light of day with their respected musical projects.

Are there other books of this format that you admire?

I suppose there are quite a lot of books which are collections of lyrics or poems which I admire. However with this book, I tried to compartmentalize the content in a more artistic manner. Everything is in a particular order, so it’s not linear throughout the book. It also has artistic elements in among the writing as well, so it takes on a slightly different life than just a collection of lyrics or pieces.

What kind of memories or feelings does it bring up when you read lyrics that you wrote many years ago?

I will always cringe at the bulk of the stuff I wrote in my first or second band. It’s the more recent stuff, where I feel I grew as a lyricist or writer and can stomach what I’ve put out into the world. But over all, it’s a mix of feelings. Even with the stuff I wrote that I don’t think is very good, it has a lot attached to it, such as the song, or the members, or memories playing it live, etc.

What was your approach to the non-lyrical content of the book (the creative vignettes and prose)? Was some of this material written specifically for the book?

The bulk of the material is lyrics. However, there is a lengthly piece on me and some bandmates, some lyrics that were never used, or never printed, and then just some random things thrown in there which have no real category. So the approach was to throw everything together that I had written, aside from my two previous books, and a couple other random things, and see what it looked like as a collection. Once it was all compiled, to me, it felt like it could be published as a book on its own.

justin pearson book

The photos in the book include live performances, TV appearances and more. Can you describe a story behind a notable photo in the book?

Sure. The idea to include photos was mainly to break up the text into chunks, since everything in it is in alphabetical order. Initially I was going to include old flyers, album art, and stuff that I designed, but most of the images were horizontal and didn’t seem to fit too well with the format of the book. So I used various screen shots of images that were related to some of the content in the book. The designer who I work with on a lot of projects on Three One G, Brandon Moon McMinn, helped place the images in a stylized way, giving it an appropriate feel.

As for a story behind a notable photo in the book, off the top of my head, I would say the still that is from a local DC news television piece which I was on. My expression and the caption are pretty amusing to me. The story behind it is, I was on tour with Retox and playing in DC. I went to grab some coffee and was heading back to the venue as I was approached by a local news anchor. She asked if I wanted to give my opinion about an incident that happened with the police there, and went on to explain the situation. To be honest, it was such a waste of airtime and I thought that they would edit out my contribution for sure, especially since I amusingly said I hate all cops. It was part tongue-in-cheek, part subversive, and all around absurd. Nonetheless, it made it on air and my segment now has a home somewhere on YouTube. For me, the way that photo is relevant to the book is, it fits in with the lyrics for the band that I was on tour with, but also the content, to some extent, as well as the humor and of course the political slant.

Can you name a song by another artist with lyrics that you love?

Some of my favorite lyricists are Antony Hagarty, Travis Ryan, Eric Paul, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, etc. But I think when you consider the lyrics and the music that it applies to, it takes on a much different life. That might be what is the saving grace for the poorly written lyrics that I contributed to many of the projects I was part of, which are also part of the book. It was the music as a whole that sort of saved my lack of talent. So with that being said, lyrics by people such as Sam McPheeters, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, or some closer ties to artists who I work with, such as Jordan Blilie, Mike Patton or the other Locusts, help bring things into a much more larger picture when considering a way to answer this question. There are specific lines in songs that could be the tagline for life as I know it, but the over all song might not fit into the realm of what you are asking for. With that being said, I could easily just leave it with something like ‘Die when You Die’ and I could chuckle a bit thinking that was what I gave for an answer.

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